Friday, July 31, 2009

Minister flicks mobilephone

I mean you, must grant the old man his due for the sheer ingenuity of it. I have decided to take his side and build up the plausibilty of the accusation, which detractors may feel is on the weaker side.

So here I go:

He has his stuff in sackful but a little more is always helpful - PG Wodehouse

Monday, July 27, 2009

Verisimilitude,Credibility and Literature

Apparently in one of her scrapbooks when writing Fountainhead, Ayn Rand wrote a note to herself that read: "Don't dialogue thoughts". Guess that's some kind of inside joke, as dialoguing thoughts is what she majored in.

Kurosawa apparently used to have a co-writer whose only job was to blow the whistle. i.e. say " are cheating. That's a convenient conversation. That character won't speak/act like that himself. You are making him speak/act thus because your story demands it".

In Unbearable Lightness, Milan Kundera dismantles characters in full view of the reading public. He pauses to comment:"It would be senseless for the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother’s womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two or from a basic situation. "

Yet we, I mean I, remain perpetually wedded to notions of credibility. That what we are reading is a life and we can't help trying to draw parallels to universalize. So much so that the process sometimes go overboard :

Acquaintance with literature leads one to the extreme of looking for metaphors and inner-meanings in day to day occurrences. We pause a moment to contemplate whether in most cases, 'meaning' is an attribute of the occurrence or is something we attribute to the occurrence. To create a lifelike verisimilitude and at the same time make possible a relevance more universal than the locale specific to the story is the core challenge of a story-writer says a reader

The writer responds: Realism in literature is a pretence and shouldn't stop its pinnacle. The pinnacle would be a hyper-conversation/emotion. A conversation/emotion of such quality is rarely encountered in real life. Perhaps never. So it is an admitted departure from reality. The writer's job is to be credible enough to lead you up until that point.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sesame Balls

A confection whose taste defies classification. Prepared once a year for grandfather's remembrance feast. It easily trumps rationality and makes a sufficient case for upholding tradition.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Red earth, pouring rain and context

What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain

- translated by AKRamanujan (Kuruntokai 40)

The identity of the man who wrote the original lines is unknown. He goes by the attributed pseudonym sempulappeyalneerar (quite literally 'the red earth and pouring rain' dude).A few years back I read about AKR's translation making it to the series of international poems in the London subway. I was naturally excited that something I thought intensely local was sufficiently universal in context to make it there. "Well it was deemed universal enough to be translated into English, dummy" I had to remind myself.

Popular culture then took away my baby. The lines made it to film songs... twice.There was an Indianenglish novel with that title. It is a matter of time before newscasters use the expression daily and wring the imagery dry.

The sense of proximity that language gives is illusory. That something written ages back manages to make sense today is amazing in its universality. However I am always riddled with doubt regarding our understanding/appreciation. Time should have rendered it impossible. The changed priorities, change in social structures and other such biggies should have made the emotions and central concepts substantially irrelevant. We may be looking at it upside down and not knowing it at all.We are most certainly looking at it wearing today's glasses.

PuranAnooru praises kings for their 'valour' in being determined in gutting the houses of opponents and being unswerved by the wails of women and children. Of course there are exceptions,but this is the rule. That is too alien to us to have a shot at universality. The 'life' of a work of art is tied to the limited perceptions of 'acceptability' that have evolved over time.

Ajivakas - a sect of wandering religious philosophers who existed in the last few centures of the BCE and preached a kind of determinism. This was so not karma, in that the Ajivika philosophy says "things just happen, don't try and attribute reasons". For want of a religious vehicle (like Jainism and Buddhism) they dwindled in importance in recorded history. And as irony would have it their theory mingled with what grew to be a pan-Indian force: karma. The difference is hardly noticed in today's common understanding.

Oozh (ஊழ் external pre-determination) and vinai (வினை cause-effect based reasoning for events) became jammed together as one word oozhvinai (ஊழ்வினை) ! How's that for reconciliation.

Now coming back to the poem

In today's reading the emphasis of the poem is on the love.The romanticization of the unlikeliness of the mingling of disparate people. But under the Ajivaka lens (it is said that they had much sway back and many of the anonymous Sangam poems may be Ajivakan), the reading of the poem would de-emphasize the love. The emotion, so to speak, would be irrelevant as the moving force in a pre-determined scheme of things. Earth and rain are as willess as one can get.Perhaps I am running it aground by over-reading and making too much out of ti.

But the extent to which, something as free-will-y as possible as literary appreciation, is actually restrained by the movements in history is fascinating. Pre-determination I guess !

PS: Thanks to a interesting article in magazine thamizhini's June edition about oozh vs. vinai by karu.Arumugathamizhan (ஊழிற் பெருவலி யாவுள)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Preserve it in Colloquial

Accent is something other people have.

Kind of the same with colloquialism too. I came to realize only when I moved to Chennai that many of the bread-and-butter usages in my Tamil were local to Madurai. However certain colloquialisms seem to be chaste expressions that have lost currency in the more 'formal' language that exists today. I keep running into them very now and then. Here's the most recent one...

மொத்து a common expression for 'a good thrashing' is something I haven't heard outside Madurai.

Yesterday I was in Thiruvaathavoor. Birthplace of the poet-saint ManickavAsagar. The temple of had a sannidhi for him with one of his poems written in a plaque outside. Describes legends about SivaperumAn including the story of how he was whipped by a Pandiyan King.

பண்சுமந்த பாடற் பரிசு படைத்தருளும்
பெண்சுமந்த பாகத்தன் பெம்மான் பெருந்துறையான்
விண்சுமந்த கீர்த்தி வியன்மண்ட லத்தீசன்
கண்சுமந்த நெற்றிக் கடவுள் கலிமதுரை
மண்சுமந்து கூலிகொண் டக்கோவால் மொத்துண்டு
புண்சுமந்த திருமேனி பாடுதும்காண் அம்மானாய்

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In no case shall the said Bernard Bodley be

The man returned to the lower office and sat down again at his desk. He stared intently at the incomplete phrase: In no case shall the said Bernard Bodley be... and thought how strange it was that the last three words began with the same letter. The chief clerk began to hurry Miss Parker, saying she would never have the letters typed in time for post. The man listened to the clicking of the machine for a few minutes and then set to work to finish his copy. But his head was not clear and his mind wandered away to the glare and rattle of the public-house. It was a night for hot punches. He struggled on with his copy, but when the clock struck five he had still fourteen pages to write. Blast it! He couldn't finish it in time. He longed to execrate aloud, to bring his fist down on something violently. He was so enraged that he wrote Bernard Bernard instead of Bernard Bodley and had to begin again on a clean sheet.
- from Counterparts by James Joyce

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ignore a Pun at your own Hazard

Let us consider the rebus principle utilized in logo-syllabic scripts. Most signs were originally pictures denoting the objects or ideas they represented. But abstract concepts such as 'life‘ would be difficult to express pictorially. Therefore the meaning of a pictogram or ideogram was extended from the word for the depicted object to comprise all its homophones.

For example, in the Sumerian script the drawing of an arrow meant 'arrow', but in addition 'life' and 'rib', because all three words were pronounced alike in the Sumerian language, namely ti. Homophony must have played a role in folklore long before it was utilized in writing. The pun between the Sumerian words ti 'rib' and ti 'life' figures in the Sumerian paradise myth, in which the rib of the sick and dying water god Enki is healed by the Mistress of Life, Nin-ti. But the Biblical myth of Eve's creation out of Adam's rib no more makes sense because the original pun has been lost in translation: 'rib‘ in Hebrew is Sela no connection with Eve's Hebrew name H‘awwa:, which is explained in the Bible to mean - mother of all living

- Asko Parpola ( Is the Indus Script not a writing System)