Late Bloomers, Grandma Moses and Henri Rousseau

“I’ll tell you, there is nothing better in life than being a late bloomer. I believe that success can happen at any time and at any age.”

-Salma Hayek, Actress

Normally it is assumed that talent and creativity peaks during youth and then gradually declines with age. But it may not be always true, in some cases; people discover their talent later than usual and achieve fame late in life. Such people are called as late bloomer.

grandma moses

Anna Mary Moses worked as housekeeper and farm hand, due to her and husband’s hard work they were able to buy farm of their own. In 70’s she developed arthritis which made it difficult for her to do embroidery work, so she started painting.

sugaring off

“I get an inspiration and start painting; then I’ll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live”

-Anna Mary Moses

moses painting

She started painting rural life (pre modernisation). Initially her paintings were ignored, but later they were appreciated and were in demand. Her paintings were appreciated even more after her death in 1961 at the age of 101. The press used to call her Grandma Moses.

GrandmaMosesStamp1969

“The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.”

-John F. Kennedy, President of US

Portrait_of_Henri_(Le_Douanier)_Rousseau,_1910,_photograph_Pablo_Picasso[1]

Henri Rousseau was an octroi collector in Paris. At the age of 49 he retired from his job and decided to become a painter. Like Grandma Moses he has no formal training and was self-taught. His subject was wild life and jungles. Henri has never seen jungle in his life; he imagined things based on his visits to zoos and drawings in children’s books. Initially his work was ignored, but later he achieved fame.

negro-attacked-by-a-jaguar-1910Surprised-Rousseauhe_Equatorial_Jungle

 

 

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Latin American Literature, United Fruit Company and Banana Trade

. . . The Fruit Company, Inc.

Reserved for itself the most succulent,

 The central coast of my own land,

 The delicate waist of the Americas.

It rechristened its territories

 As the “Banana Republics”,

 And over the sleeping dead,

 Over the restless heroes

 Who brought about the greatness,

 The liberty and the flags,

It established a comic opera. . . .

– Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, won Noble Prize in 1971

In 1871, American enterprenur Henry Meiggs was constructing railway line for government of Costa Rica. To feed rail workers he came up with idea of planting banana trees along the railway line. Soon he started exporting bananas to US and found it to be profitable business.

Henry_Meiggs

This lead of formation of a company called United Fruit Company. The company in order to earn more profits started using unfair trade practices. They forced the governments of banana growing countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras to grant company more and more land at concessional rates to grow bananas. This annexation of land resulted in many farmers becoming landless; they were then employed as labour in banana farm at low wages. The company maintained its monopoly by preventing other companies and individuals from competing with it.

kurtz-phelan-600[1]

This combination of forced monopoly, acquisition of land at concessional rate and use of cheap labour resulted in low cost of production for company, while they sold product in US at high price.

The company did not stop here; it started interfering in political system of the countries and ensured that government of their choice was in power. They also started controlling economy of the country as country was now dependent of export of bananas. Writer O’ Henry coined term for such countries – Banana Republics.

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This had influence on literature of Latin America. Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez talks about exploitation of labour by Banana company in his book One Hundred Years of Solitude (where company massacres banana plantation workers who have gone on strike to protest against inhuman working conditions and dump their bodies in sea.)

one-hundred-years-of-solitude-by-gabriel-garcia-marquez[1]

Guatemalan author Miguel Ángel Asturias has written three books on how a banana company exploits local people, prevents them from competing with company- The Green Pope, The Eyes of the Interred and Strong Wind

strong windgreen popeeyes of interred

Both Miguel and Gabriel won Nobel Prize for their works.

Dutch Disease, Nauru and Diabetes

“The author points to the impact of what he called Dutch disease, where the discovery of found wealth from a particular commodity causes a culture to atrophy with respect to work ethic and broader development. Continuing wealth from the single commodity is taken for granted. The government, flush with wealth, is expected to be generous. When the price of that commodity drops, a government which would remain in power dare not cut back on this generosity.”

 ― Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power

In 60’s vast natural gas deposits were found in North Sea, this discovery of natural resource helped in increasing wealth of Netherlands, and should have resulted in making Netherlands richer than before, but in long term in did not happen.

Increase in wealth due to discovery of natural resource also resulted in other things like rise in currency rate, with rise in currency rate non-oil exports become costlier and hence non-competitive, this retards growth of non-oil industries and in addition they also lose manpower to oil industry.

But once the natural resource gets exhausted, the economy is worse than it was before discovery of resource, because boom period has either retarded or killed non-oil industries, plus exhaustion of resource results in unemployed manpower. In economics it is called as Dutch disease.

One country infected by this disease is small island nation in Central Pacific called Nauru. It has population of less than 10000. Decades ago the residents of island earned their livelihood by fishing and farming.

One day it was discovered that island had rich deposits of phosphates, so Germans and British made millions by mining of phosphates (while residents were paid peanuts as royalty). The labour that did actual back breaking work of mining was from China.

phospate mining

Post mining the land became rocky and barren. Soon most of island was stripped of phosphates making it a barren land. The residents benefitted from this in monetary terms. The amount they earned as royalty was enough to make them one of the richest nations in the world. But unfortunately the political leaders lacked prudence and foresight, they wasted money on uneconomic ventures like Air Nauru, national airline with hardly any passengers but aircrafts flew with just one or two passengers. There were no taxes and social welfare expenditure was huge.

Former presidents used to commandeer Air Nauru’s planes for holidays, leaving paying customers stranded on the tarmac

Air_Nauru

Soon money and phosphate deposits got exhausted. Meantime people had grown lazy; they had no interest in fishing or farming. Infact they hardly worked, so they started importing processed food from Australia and continue to survive on it. Unemployment rate is 90% and of those employed 95% are in government sector, whose work ethics will put even our sarkari babus to shame.

obesity

Then Nauru government started looking for some interesting avenues for earning revenue, it allowed banks with shady deals to operate from their country, it also allowed mafia to get citizenship of Nauru for certain fee. But due to international pressure they had to stop these activities.

Finally, they came up with new source of income. Many wish to seek citizenship of Australia, but process takes time, so to prevent them from landing in Australia before that, Australia was looking for some place to dump them. Nauru offered solution in form of opening a detention camp in Nauru.

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So running detention camp is now a new business for Nauru.

It is darkly joked on Nauru that refugees are the new phosphate, meaning the industry is very important to the economic survival of the country.

detention centre

After closing of phosphate mines the Chinese labour has started running Chinese restaurants in Nauru. So residents now have option of eating Chinese food in addition to processed food. They are just not interested in growing or eating fruits and vegetables.

diabetes

Eating only processed food and no physical activity has resulted in health problems for residents. 90% of residents are obese and 50% of residents suffer from diabetes.

 

Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nigeria has some similarities with India in terms of human diversity, art & literature and history.

While there are many communities/tribes in Nigeria, four of them dominate social, economic and political space – they are Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. Hausa and Fulani live in north and are predominantly Muslim, Yoruba, who live in west, has mix of followers of Islam and Christianity, while Igbo in South are predominantly Christians.

Like India, Nigeria was colony of British and gained independence in 1960. Colonial rule resulted in spread of Christianity, education, civil services and communal tensions.

Like partition of India, Igbo dominated regions seceded from Nigeria and formed Republic of Biafra, which was later, reunited with Nigeria after Nigerian Civil War.

By the way, just as we have Bollywood, Nigeria has Nollywood.

Nigeria is world’s largest producer of yam. Other important crops are palm and kola nut.

This brief background is necessary to understand certain themes in Nigerian literature.

Nigeria has produced many authors; prominent among them are Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Elechi Amadi, while Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the rising stars.

Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda are Igbos; Elechi belongs to subsect of Igbo, while Wole Soyinka is a Yoruba.

chinua-achebe

Chinua Achebe is known for his African trilogy- Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God. It covers period from beginning of British colonialism to end of colonialism.

ThingsFallApart[1]

Things fall apart is about self-made, hardworking warrior called Okonowo. He hates his father Unoka, who was lazy, debt ridden and in Okonowo’s opinion effeminate. Okonowo is respected in his clan and to maintain his position he works hard and keep tight control over his three wives and children. His biggest worry is his son Nwoye should not become like Unoka, rather he should become a warrior like Okonowo.

“Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.”

― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

 But Nwoye is not interested in becoming like is father, and converts to Christianity and changes his name to Isaac.

No longer At ease IV (Chinua Achebe)[1]

Story of Isaac and his academically brilliant son Obi is theme of Chinua’s second novel- No Longer At Ease. Obi is educated in England and joins civil services; he hates the old boys network of civil services and wants to get rid of corruption. But due to economic circumstances is forced to accept bribe, gets caught and is brought for trial.

I am against people reaping where they have not sown. But we have a saying that if you want to eat a toad you should look for a fat and juicy one.

-Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease

arrow of god

Third novel of trilogy is about chief priest of Ulu god Ezeulu, who hates Christianity, but at the same time is curious to know more about it. He takes decision to punish his own people for betraying him, but his action boomerangs and whole village abandons him and embrace Christianity.

“Do you blame a vulture for perching over a carcass?”

-Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God

Being an Igbo, Nigerian civil war and atrocities on Igbos disturbed Chinua and this become theme of his novel There Was a Country.

chimamanda-ngozi-adichie

Another Igbo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has written about civil war and sufferings of Igbo in her novel Half of Yellow Sun.

 “…my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe…I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”

 ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

half of yellow sun

 Chimamanda rose to prominence with her first novel Purple Hibiscus, where she talks about a zealous Christian convert Eugene. Eugene has split personality, he is generous when it comes to donating money for charity but beats his children Jaja and Kambili and wife Beatrice for slightest faults. He also hates his father who follows pre Christian traditions.

purple hibiscus

Elechi Amadi, who belongs to Ikwerre tribe (a sub group of Igbo), too has written about civil war in his novel Sunset in Biafra. He felt war was forced upon his tribe by dominant Igbos, and war was unnecessary.

elachi

“An African writer who really wants to interpret the African scene has to write in three dimensions at once. There is the private life, the social life, and what you may call the supernatural.”

-Elechi Amadi

Elechi is famous for his novel Concubine. It is story of a beautiful lady called Ihuoma. It is believed that whoever marries her dies, reason being she is a concubine of sea god, and sea god being jealous of anyone who marries her, kills that person.

sunset in biafra TheConcubine

“Achebe is not father of African literature”

– Wole Soyinka 

wole-soyinka

Wole Soyinka, a Yoruba novelist is known for his novels and plays. He won Noble prize for literature in 1986. His famous works are The Lion and the Jewel, Kongi’s Harvest, Death and King’s Horseman.

Lion and Jewel is about Baroka, chief of a Yoruba village (Lion) who is in his sixties, and how he manages to get married to a beautiful lady called Sidi (Jewel). Baroka has competitor in from of a village teacher called Lakunle. Lakunle, who is in his twenties, tries to win Sidi by telling her that Baroka is too old for her and she will rot in his harem. But crafty Baroka manages to win her.

Lion and Jewel

Kongi’s harvest is about President Kongi, who is a dictator of African State, which he is trying to modernize after deposing King Oba Danlola, who is being held in detention. Kongi demands that Danlola present him with a ceremonial yam at a state dinner to indicate his abdication.

Kongi's_Harvest

Wole has been harsh critic of dictators, and shows that dictators are only interested in their own welfare.

“Under a dictatorship, a nation ceases to exist. All that remains is a fiefdom, a planet of slaves regimented by aliens from outer space.”

– Wole Soyinka

death and King's horseman

Death and King’s Horseman is about a ritual where horseman of a king has to follow king after his death i.e. he has to commit suicide. In this story the king’s horseman Elesin, has to commit suicide to follow his dead king in another world. The British rulers want to get rid of this ritual. They arrest Elesin to prevent him from committing suicide; Elesin tries to explain them that not committing suicide will bring disgrace to his family. The British refuse to listen to him, finally to save family honour his son Olunde commits suicide in Elesin’s place. Ironically Olunde is beneficiary of western education and a doctor.

In all novels certain themes stand out.

One of them is importance of yam, especially importance of Yam festival and food habits like consumption of kola nut, yam soup with bitter leaves, palm oil and palm wine.

Toddy_Bottle_and_Glass[1]  Cola_nutsEgusi%20Soup

Second theme is inspite of conversion to Christianity, the social norms of earlier religion still have grip on people.

Osu are people dedicated to god (just like devdasis), they are treated like untouchables and cannot marry normal people.  Embracing Christianity helps them to get rid of stigma and provides them social mobility. Clara is an osu who is educated in Britain and is a trained nurse, Obi falls in love with her and is ready to marry her, but his father Isaac and mother Hannah though believe in equality are against marriage.

bride wine

Lakunle is a teacher and feels that giving bride price is an outdated custom. But this fails to impress Sidi who feels that bride price is related to her self-esteem and not paying bride price is insult to her. She ends up marrying Baroka.

Thirdly there is liberal use of metaphors, proverbs and folktales.

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I will be discussing more about these authors and their novels in my next articles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forensic accounting, Al Capone and Lindbergh kidnapping case

“Prohibition has made nothing but trouble”

-Al Capone

From 1920 to 1933, prohibition was declared in the United States resulting in a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.

This in turn lead to bootlegging and soon bootlegging became an industry. One person who benefitted from prohibition was gangster called Al Capone. He earned money through bootlegging; he soon “diversified” into other areas like gambling, running prostitution rackets etc.

“Some call it bootlegging. Some call it racketeering. I call it a business.”

-Al Capone

Though Al Capone loved American capitalism, he did not believe in competition, so he eliminated his rivals. He was arrested for killing his rivals, but charges could not be proved. Similarly police could not prove other charges related to bootlegging etc. against him. So inspite of committing serious crimes Al Capone remained free bird.

“I’ve been accused of every death except the casualty list of the World War.”

-Al Capone

boot legging

Frank Wilson was accountant working with Internal Revenue Services. He decided make use of forensic accounting to get Al Capone arrested.

In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled that illegally earned income was subject to income tax.

Capone’s_criminal_record_]

Frank investigated illegal income of Al Capone and soon found documents to show that Al Capone had not paid income tax on his illegal income worth millions. So finally Al Capone was arrested on grounds of not paying income tax. Evidences given by Frank resulted in Al Capone getting imprisonment term for 11 years.

They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money.”

-Al Capone

news

In 1932, a 20 months old child Charles Lindbergh Junior, son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped and ransom was demanded by kidnapper for his release. Charles agreed to pay ransom of $ 70000.

Frank Wilson was involved in this case. He advised Charles to package ransom in a wooden box that was custom-made so that it could be identified. The ransom money itself was made up with a number of gold certificates that were to be withdrawn from circulation in the near future. It was hoped that anyone passing large amounts of gold notes would draw attention to himself and help aid in identifying the abductors. Also, while the bills themselves were not marked, the serial number of each bill was recorded. Inspite paying ransom, Charles could not get his child, later the child was found murdered.

Lindbergh_baby

A person called Bruno Richard Hauptmann paid petrol pump attendant $10 in form of gold certificate. The attendant got suspicious; he noted licence plate number of car and called police. Police arrested Hauptmann, and found wooden box with gold certificates which were paid as ransom in his house.

Hauptmann was tried for kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh Junior and executed using electric chair.

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Hauptmann never confessed his crime. He said that money belonged to his friend and he was just using it.

“I am absolutely innocent of the crime with which I am burdened.”

-Bruno Richard Hauptmann in Lindbergh kidnapping case