Inland Schizophrenia

We have a WhatsApp group.

*

Classmates. Living a peripatetic life. Non-linear overlaps across the length and breadth of India, in varying time slices. Born early seventies, all of us. Gen X. Gen X is a fancy name for a generation that didn’t have access to technology. Obvious. This Gen was supposed to build the technology. So, in our early days we were dependent on the technology that the Baby Boomers used.

*

Letters. Post. Mail. (not email). In India specifically we had Inland letters and Postcards. 25p and 15p respectively. If you had to write a really long letter, you had to shell out 50p for a postal envelope. But, we had to be careful, there was a weight limit. That’s when we discovered onion sheets – extremely thin paper. We could now stuff more sheets in the 50p envelope than before. We weren’t quite smart then, we used to pay a fortune for the onion paper pad, to save on postage. Go figure.

*

Times have changed. Classmates grew up, and are doing well in their lives. If we feel like meeting out friends, we just hop on to a flight in the morning, spend a day with them, and return in the evening. We have WhatsApp, we have video calls, and such (which our generation built, mind you). We now live in a world of hyper-connectivity. Just the other day, mates from Goa, Dubai, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat met one evening. Easy-peasy.

*

Indian Inland Letter India Post Rs. 2.50

The 25p Inland letter is now Rs. 2.50. I have taken it up upon myself to write letters to my friends. Notwithstanding the WhatsApp group. It’s not easy. But writing letters is muscle memory. It’s all coming back, no thanks to the changed format of the new expensive inland letter. All my letters start by asking my friend – what do I write in this letter, given that we already know everything that is going on in our lives. What should be the purpose and content of the letter? And as my out-of-practice trembling hands ask this question, an answer emerges. Purpose and content in this context don’t matter much. It is the intent, and the sense of sending you something tangible – is what matters. WhatsApp messages get deleted every night – to save space. Their nature is transient. A paper and scrawled ink is forever. When we are no more (like the deleted WhatsApp messages) these letters are an ounce of us that will be with you forever.

I should know, I have letters from dead people. And they are a part of me. And a part of them is with me.

*

I have an old briefcase full of letters from all of my friends, from the early 80s. It is one of my most prized possessions. May the briefcase become a suitcase. May there be many more letters. May there be many more fragments of our lives in each other’s lives.

*

Some gratitude is due. To my teachers and friends. I may not be the best letter-writer, but I understand something of structure and format and choice of words. Here’s a big thank you to all my teachers for helping us learn how to write letters and follow know the rules. To break a rule, you first have to know the rule. Here’s a big thank you to all my friends for helping me to learn how to break those rules.

*

PS: I really, really wanted to use “peripatetic” – Happy now.

Friends As Homing Devices

A peeking rose

 

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

I read this poem a couple of days ago. Only because I stumbled upon it, while I was reading a book. A book, which I had no idea existed, and discovered it only because I saw a movie, which was recommended to me by a dear friend, which, I would have never watched, if it was left to me. How and why this poem found its way to me, intrigues me. In an amusing way, i.e., not in a way that makes me weave the wool of conspiracy with needles of reason. Ironically, this book had itself alerted me to this phenomenon that I was to soon experience. I had smiled, when I read it; it was cute, but to have experienced the exact phenomenon couple of score pages later, was a revelation, it said:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

Importantly, the above line ended with, “How delightful if that were true.”

Ah, well, dear author, here is a perfect example of why I believe that books have homing instincts. My time to tell you the story.

*

Time-travel is my favourite movie/series genre. It fascinates me, much. The actual time travel not so much, but the implications of it all. The scientific and the philosophical. Needless to say, all time-travel themed movies and series have been binge-consumed and there is nothing left. I move to the War genre.

Out of the blue, a friend asks, if I have watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – I tell her, it has been nagging me on Netflix, but it seems (because of the poster) too mushy for my taste. She urges me to watch it. A few days pass. I do watch it. I love it. I tweet about it. Amit thinks I am talking of the book. I say, no, I watched the film. As gently as he can, he curses my wretchedness, that I haven’t read the book, and Amit being Amit, he explains why. Point well taken. I buy the book. I flip through it. I know, what Amit meant. I start reading the book. It’s enjoyable. Then I stumble upon the homing device statement. I smile. Cute, I say to myself. Then I stumble upon the opening line of a poem, that the character in the book writes of; he doesn’t recall the author. Well, I have Google.

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

These are the opening lines of Malcolm Arnold’s “Hymn to Empedocles,” part of Empedocles on Etna. I’ve never heard of Malcolm Arnold the poet before. More Googling ensues. I am reminded of something else, in the book”

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

And suddenly, late as it is, I am reading “Dover Beach. for sheer enjoyment.”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I feel blessed. I thank my friend who suggested the movie. I thank Amit for making me read the book.

I am grateful to the homing devices, that are my friends.

Of Disrespect

When we were young, we didn’t like some people. Because we didn’t know words like ‘obnoxious’ or ‘haughty’ or ‘disdainful’ — we could never explain why we didn’t like those people. Yet, our parents ensured that we ‘respect’ them. Mostly, it was about age. “That person is elder; show respect.”. Respect your elders. (So said, Baz Luhrman, in Sunscreen)

The respect was cautious. While we didn’t feel respect, we feigned it. In the least, we didn’t exhibit disrespect.

Most Indic languages have addressable word-forms that inherently define who you address. So, we have a different word-form for a sibling, a friend, and a senior. In Hindi, e.g. we have tu, tum, aap — you (casual/street), you (formal/common), you (official/respectable), respectively.

IMAG0528

By virtue of my upbringing, my education, and having lived in North India for a while, I default to aap — the respectable form, when I speak in Hindi, irrespective of the age of the person. And over time, I discovered, respect and age have nothing in common. Respect is how you see people.

I recently was addressed in the “street form” on Twitter. I did not take exception to it, and continued the Twitter banter. Yet, I was amused. The person was tweeting from an organisational account. I know that the person knows I am “elder” — but I am a fan (of that organisation) as much as a 12yo is a fan. I was not upset; as I said before, I was amused. I live in different times. There’s a flatness, that I live in, which I understand, but confuses me.

Respect, makes the world go round.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of my head, it takes much, to know that person is not worthy of respect. When I see casual mentions of disrespect, I generally ignore them. Not that those who are disrespectful are making it difficult for us, though.

Instinctively, I believe, we are tuned to be respectful. But in recent times, it seems to me that we have been conditioned otherwise. Our default is now to ignore respect; which, mind you, is different from disrespect. Our tired fingers are losing the grip on humanity; our adventures of science (science not in absolute terms, but how we abuse it), are perhaps, the reason we will drop, deep down.

Deep, deep down. In a dark abyss.

Irawati Karve

I know it’s titled as such, but this post isn’t really about Irawati Karve.

*

There’s never a dull moment with my mami (aunt; mother’s brother’s wife).

I recently finished reading a book in Marathi – and I am proud of it. So proud, that I suffer from the shout-it-from-the-rooftop syndrome, now. Given that it is my mother-tongue, and I’ve formally studied it only for three or four years. My aunt devours books, mostly Marathi literature, but many other genres as well. She is not very unlike my mother, actually. Needless to say, I told mami about this achievement of mine. Again, needless to say, she was very proud of me. Further, needless to say, we got into a conversation about writers she has read, respected. She mentioned Irawati Karve.

She was telling me about a relatively complex analysis of the characters in the Mahabharat: and I was intrigued. As she was speaking, I instinctively reached for my phone (which was nowhere close to me, because it was being charged, at the other end of the room) – I wanted to Google Irawati Karve.

Here she was, telling me all about Irawati Karve, about her life, times, and her work. Yet, in my head, I was automatically reaching for my phone. Of course, I let my phone be where it was and re-entered the conversation. It was time for our ritual 1AM coffee (something that all my cousins are fond of), and we were now talking of Kamala Sohonie. After a while we were back to Irawati Karve. And I got to know a lot about her. My mami recalled that I had finished a book in Marathi, and urged me to read more. It will be a while before you can digest the presentation of Irawate Karve, but, keep at it. It’s only a matter of vocabulary, for now.

What I learnt about Irawati Karve, from my aunt — I could not find on Wikipedia (Yes, I Googled her the next day). And, perhaps, therein lies the difference between information and knowledge. While consumption of information is not a bad thing; acquiring experiences is more important; is what I thought after I saw myself reaching for my phone.

There’ll be more reading. For sure. And there will be more listening, than searching. Thank you, Mami!

Learning Bangla

Circa 1979-80.

The family moved to Hyderabad. Far away from a known language and culture. Far away from roots. Everything’s new. School. Climate. Neighbourhood. Everyone speaks a different language. Thankfully, some folks speak Hindi. I get by. And it happens soon enough; I learn to speak and understand Telugu. I can’t read or write it, but I don’t care much. As long as I am able to say, “it’s my turn for batting” and “let’s meet tomorrow at the same time”, all is well. We spent five years in Hyderabad. When we were transferred out, I was fluent. Spoken. Not written.

Cut to 2016. Circa a few months ago.

Bengali or Bangla is one of the sweetest language that man has ever created. My parents learnt this language a long time ago. And I guess they were good at it. None of their language learning books survive. The yellowing moth-eaten Bangla novels, neatly covered in brown paper by my father, are witness to the progress that my parents made in learning this language. They have become delicate with age, and I am often amused with the reverence with which I handle them.

On my own, I have been discovering the literature of this land, yet it comes to me, second-hand. Some are well-translated, some, ah, well, let’s not talk about them. I’ve heard my Bangla friends speak, and the sounds are laced with the beauty of innocence. It would be good, to be able to speak like that. It would be good, to learn the language, for I already feel the beauty of it. Not that all experience of beauty requires expression, but I am greedy for the experience of that expression.

So I begin. This time, I shall learn a language so that I can read, write, speak, and understand.

Learning Bangla

Learning Bangla

As soon as I am on the third row of practicing the first six vowels of the language, I am already petrified. I am untimely scared of how ugly my Bangla handwriting is. Yes, this is the first time I have written these letters. Yes, I am scared. I am copying from a stroke-cheat-sheet that I found online. Bangla letters too, are artistic. There are soft curves and sharp angles that are fused; topped with flourishes that challenge left-to-right writing. Of course, I have no intention of my Bangla handwriting to look like a system font, but I would like that I get the proportions right. My mother, when she writes in Marathi, has the most decorative flourishes, she tends to swash the last letters of a word, as if they were curious tendrils.

That this script is artistic, it follows that you need a light hand, and a manoeuvrable grip; like an artist holding a brush. Akin, perhaps, to when you write in Japanese. But here I was, like a five-year-old, pressing hard, writing slowly, reverse-embossing the page below. I remembered the time when I was in 3rd, my teacher asking me to write n and r twenty times each, so that they would look different (We used to write cursive, but I used the non-cursive r). One of the slowest days in my life. If I remember well, I made it a point to inward-tendril-ise the end of the r for that imposition. It didn’t work for me, however; later I adopted the cursive r and it has been my ally since, against misinterpreting the n for the r.

Early days still, for my Bangla handwriting. First I need to learn the language. I think I’ll worry about the handwriting a little later.

The Challenge

I don’t remember the last time a book challenged me.

Reading non-fiction, for a long time has, perhaps slowed me down. In a way, non-fiction is the book of answers, fiction is the book of questions.

This one book has me in a frenzy. For many reasons. One, it was written in a language that’s not native to me. It’s not alien though. Both my parents learnt this language, and were good at it. Two, it is written by a person who is known as the father of the revival of this language; I know little about his work, but I am learning. And I am fascinated. Three, it is historical. That should explain a lot, of my interest in the book. Yes, it’s fiction. Four, it was written about 125 years ago, and it is timeless, for it holds within it answers that society is asking today. If we can see it through our own eyes and not through a lense that belongs to another. Five, finally, the questions that this book asks of me, that are appearing in my notebook, are those that I do not recognise. I am excited of what answers will come.

image

The Questions I Was Asked

But they’ll have to wait, those answers, I need to read two more translations before I know. And I think my life will thank me for it.

Moblogged. E&OE

Being Sceptic

There are moments, when I feel I should be a sceptic.

A while ago, I was at the Therekol fort. It is at the border of the states of Maharashtra and Goa. At the place where the political separates us as Maharshtrian and Goanese, is defined, they had put up a board. This is Goa, this is Maharashtra, the board said. I was there with a few friends. And we were jumping across the border – once in Goa, once in Maharashtra. In one moment, we could be here, or there. It was fun.

2016-01-01 12.15.02

Does denying (or convincing) require more effort? Or does accepting? I have no idea. My default has been to accept, and then discover, if there’s truth in that which is said. If our natural tendency is to deny, then, perhaps, there’s not much motivation to discover.

This king, said the tourist guide, with what seemed like pride, had a sword made of 80 kgs. “80 kgs?” I almost shouted back. Maybe I yelped. Or shrieked. Either ways, a friend smiled at me, recognised my pain, patted my back, asked me to let it go. That would have been a wonderful time to be a sceptic. But I wasn’t. I took my friend’s advice, I let it go, and researched armoury of that period.

Hyperbole, for example, is a device used in poetry. It is a legitimate form of expression, like a simile or an alliteration. The degree of exaggeration will vary from poet to poet. When poets don’t use it, the connotation; = lies. Therein, we have to be careful. In poetry and other literary writing, it has a specific purpose. Every device has a purpose. Every device has a name. When you take the name, out of the situation, use it as a transferred epithet, to suit your needs, that artifice.

Most sceptics are cynics. They do not know the difference. Being sceptical is respectable. So they call themselves that. There are sceptics who are real sceptics. But, few. The others are just being fashionable and trendy. 

I’d like to be a sceptic. For the sheer convenience that it offers. To be able to transfer the burden of proof. You say this? I don’t agree, prove it. And then I can go back to saying the something to someone else. It’s not too difficult to harbour doubts if you are a believer (and I use this word, only as an opposite to a sceptic; no other connotation). Being a sceptic closes some doors and templates the narrative.

No, I don’t feel I should be a sceptic.

The Writer’s Paradigm

Any other day, I would have used the title above, and ranted about the compelling need I feel, to write. And then perhaps dissect and analyse this emotion, or gloriously abstract it away. I know of many other who feel this compulsion. But the knowledge is only a feeling, really. What does it really mean, to want to write? While I never gave it a thought, somewhere, I always believed that the need to write could be expressed only through words; spoken or written.

I was recently proved wrong. I saw the compelling need to write. I experienced it with someone.

*

2016-01-01 10.29.03

Click to enlarge

I met him on a sunny morning, the first of 2016.

We were at the cenotaphs of Orchha, and had stopped right outside, at a makeshift tea stall, slowly waking up to the new year. While the lady, perhaps my age, but seeming far elder, was brewing the tea, I sat at the platform, and opened my diary. It was, after all, the first day of the new year, I had to write something. Needless to say, I had no idea what to write. Half-clear memories were still reeling from the party last night. I had some important things churning in my head, but they were too metaphysical, for me to deal with, right now. Some words, reluctantly, made an appearance. I started writing.

A snotty little kid came and sat quietly beside me, looking at my writing. We looked at each other, smiled. He had one of the broadest smiles I had ever seen. His face was marked with vitamin deficiency, but that did nothing to diminish the warmth of his smile.

“I can write ABCD,” he said, just like that.

“Very good,” I replied with a smile, and returned to writing what lessons in life I have learnt and the ones I have ignored.

2016-01-01 10.29.10

Click to enlarge

“Here, let me show you,” came the reply and without warning, my passionately guarded Moleskin, was snatched from my hands. “Give me the pen.”

I couldn’t think very clearly, at the time. The surprise element was strong. My compulsion to write, was weak. I handed over the pen.

“A for Apple,” he told me and wrote it down, and the alphabet continued it’s journey, double-spaced, no less. We reach G. He doesn’t recall what G is for. Funnily enough, neither do I, i.e. what the nursery G is for. Groggy came to mind, but I was projecting. Glock came to mind, because of a conversation, yesterday. Yet, the word gun, didn’t cross my mind. I kept my mouth shut.

“It’s ok, let’s go ahead,” I said, and we continue. At O for Orange, I wanted to tell him, how the “r” should be written. I think better of it. Tea was served around Q for Queen, and as you see, I wasn’t paying attention, so that slipped through. (Yes, the Monkey also escaped). I take time to check if knows the meanings of the for words. He does. The pressure he uses on the paper is much. At least four pages down, the alphabet will be embossed, I imagine.

I remembered my English teacher from Class III; No, Atul, there is no need to dig into the notebook with your pencil. Hold it lightly. We will need the other pages in the notebook for the rest of the year.

It was a lesson for me in letting go. I did, though mildly upset. At Z for Zebra, he was all done, but wasn’t letting go of the notebook. I politely snatched it back from him, praised him for the wonderful work, wished him all the best, and joined my friends in touristing. He smiled back.

2016-01-12 22.16.32

It was the broadest, happiest, toothy smile I had seen, in years.

*

The cenotaphs are a photographer’s paradise. Come sunset, we returned, after visiting a couple of grand palaces. The same lady was there at her open-to-air tea stall. We had finished our photography (of the cenotaphs) and it did seem like a very good idea to have some more chai-biskoot (Tea & Biscuits).

Tap on the shoulder. “I know ten colours,” same sweet mumbly voice. Without a word, I took out my notebook and pen, and handed it over. No snatching business this time. He listed a few, in his own inimitable style. Saying out loud everything that he wrote, letter-for-letter. I was more interested, and more curious, now. We were now having a sort of conversation. Mostly, I was being a spelling Nazi, but gently.

2016-01-12 22.17.15

“I also know ten animals.” The list continued, after a line that separated the colours and the animals, so that they don’t get mixed up. He finished the animal list. It’s a bit of a quandary for him, I imagine. I will want my notebook back. But he, very clearly, wants to write more. He doesn’t look up from the notebook. Starts re-writing some of the things he has already written. The left page is full.

I congratulated him. His mother, the lady making the tea, is quite proud at our conversation. I ask him some questions about his life; the conversation goes on in Hindi. Then, I ask him to sign his name. Boom. He didn’t not know how to write his name in English. He wrote it in Hindi. I spent some more time with him, and taught him to write his name in English.

2016-01-01 17.33.47

Click to enlarge

That’s when, I met Ram Ravat, who can now write his name in English. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed that quick breeze of pride, that passed me by.

But Ram Ravat was not done. He now wanted to write questions and answers. Sentences. The right page is his resume. I could see he was desperately thinking of more things to write. He was at a loss. I did get my notebook back, with much, much, much reluctance.

I spoke with his mother later, apparently he is not to write in his school notebooks anything other than classwork. So, if Ram Ravat wants to write more, and more and more, he has no way. I imagined, the happiest time of his day, is when he is in class, and gets to write. Amongst managing other things, Ram Ravat’s mother cannot afford another notebook. I give her some money. I ask her to buy a notebook and a pen for Ram Ravat. I tell her to let him write as much as he wants.

Because I have known writers who have the best notebooks, papers, pens, and gadgets, at their disposal, but cannot write. And they go through their own fire in hell before they can write again.

But never, never should a writer not be able to write, for lack of paper and pen.

A Different Kind of Post

I wrote a real letter, after a long time.

There’s a context to real. It means that it was handwritten on paper, put in an envelope, was addresses by hand, postage stamps were applied, and it was dropped in a proper post-box.

India Post - Post Box "Indian Post Box". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

India Post – Post Box “Indian Post Box“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve recently written a few letters. Some are incomplete. Some complete, but not posted. Some completed, and sent — but as scans, some nearly perfect, but sent via courier.

There were two challenges with this letter; one that it was being written to someone who was less than a third my age, second that it was (in all probability) the first letter for my young recipient ever. After all was done, I had to go to the post office. I had no postage stamps. And though my mother had some old ones, I had no idea how much postage would be required for my letter’s destination.

So off I went.

It’s five rupees now. For less than the cost of a cutting-chai two pages of a letter can travel anywhere in this country. For those of you who may not have cutting-chai as a benchmark, it costs US$0.08. Less than a dime. The Indian postal system is an institution that I have always respected, and nothing has changed in that department. No pun intended. The post office is much cleaner, spacious, and instead of letters being bang-stamped there is a whirr of a dot-matrix printer. The post office looks brighter and happier.

I owe a bit to my recipient, else this was an experience I would not have had.

*

Writing the letter was a very interesting experience. Especially with the spellings, because another friend had pointed out, that I should be careful with the spellings. I discovered, the speed with which I can write, has reduced considerably. I wrote the letter as I would have written when I was prolific with letter writing. I do not know if the style will make sense to my young reader. Well, in the least, my reader will know how we used to write letters 20-25 years ago. Yet, I did not feel like making any changes in the style. In the end, I was very happy with what came out.

Postal Envelopes and Stamps

Postal Envelopes and Stamps

I knew I’d write more letters than before. And I want to write letters now. Let me know if you’d like to receive one. So, while I was dropping this letter, in the post office, I bought some prepaid envelopes and a few stamps.  The prepaid envelopes look very different now. But I’ve changed too. So has my handwriting. So has my paper. So has my pen. So have my thoughts. So have the people I’d write to.

In this ever-changing world, the sense of writing a letter has stayed the same.

I Do It For Your Love

What makes a lover say no to the love that stands, with open arms, asking only, that he take one step towards love?

What purpose or gain, if you love me
Other than being scattered in the whirlwind of my milieu.

What makes a love think so much of the life he has lived and the life that he sees in front of him, that he does not take that step?

I am the denizen of the hovel of grief and pain
It’s only me, who can stay alive in this haunt.
Why would I dream a dream whose reality is remorse
For, in my remorse, you may rue it too.

What makes a lover not see a better life and drives away the love to a better future?

Pray, what purpose, that anyone share this anxious weariness
Let my world remain dreary and dismal
Let the steps in your life be easier, in the least
In traveling with me, nothing but regret awaits you

What makes a lover hope for a good life for his lover, away from him?

What of me; there are many admirers to come
Many tunes that will echo of love, for you
Many tales of love that life is yet to tell you
You have no reason to believe you will not forget me.

Love.

*

I’ve taken serious liberties in translating the song, but have stayed true to the sense this song causes, within. There is an inherent beauty in sad songs, like I mentioned earlier. Even in your happiest moments, these songs remain beautiful, because of the weave of the words and the purity of the emotion that they convey.

It’s love.

*

“Pyar Mujh Se Jo Kiya Tumne”, from Saath Saath (1982), sung by Jagjit Singh

Happy Teachers’ Day, Mr. Shukla

I’ve been having interesting conversations with Mr. Shukla; the last few mornings.

Our conversations have mostly been about Hindi. No surprise there, Mr. Shukla did his Masters in Hindi literature, from his hometown, near Kanpur. He was also a teacher in the local school, teaching Hindi up to Class 5. We’ve duelled a couple of times with beautiful verses from various poems in Hindi. We’ve discussed the structure of the language, and argued about the value of learning and teaching Hindi in schools. Once in a while, he talks of his experiences in school. His students, his hometown. Once, we lamented the side-streaming of the language in society. Mr. Shukla also knows Sanskrit. Quite well, I’d say. He rattles off Sanskrit verses with equal ease. In those instances, I turn listener. Hindi or Sanskrit, the conversations have been interesting and educational.

Next week onwards, I’ll miss him, because I am moving away from this guest house. He’ll continue his work here, as a security guard, long after I’ve left.

He moved to Delhi a few years ago, when being a teacher became unaffordable. This person, who would have otherwise be securing our future and our children’s future, is now securing just one lifeless building.

The Fault in the Pattern

Happy Teachers’ Day, Mr. Shukla.

And, a Happy Teachers’ Day to all the teachers in this world. Never mind, whether you are working as a teacher or not.

Why Do I Write?

Good writers are concerned about their writing. Often to the point of anxiety. The worry spans many concerns.

Do I write well? If I do, how do I know? Does anyone read what I write? How do I know that someone is reading what I write? How many read what I write? Do they like what I write? Do they know who I am? Are those who read what I write smart as me, or smarter? Do they like me or do they like what I write? Should I write more or should I write less? Should I write for the masses or for the classes?

These and many other such concerns are a good writer’s constant companions. Different writers are concerned differently, with varying intensity of the concern, and apart for their other interests and intelligence, these concerns are what makes them good writers.

MacBooking

Recently, while writing On the Write Path, Amit asked if writing has value outside of its readership, and I said yes. He then turned the question over its head and asked if readership has a value for a writer (apart from money), and I said yes.

The value in both, the writing and readership is intangible, but is valuable indeed. Writing helps refine our thoughts, create expression, and plants the seed for a conversation. Readership creates conversation, broadens our thinking, enables us to write better. That’s how the cycle starts and keeps going on.

That, you will agree, is a very simple, insipid value statement.

What makes the cycle exciting is all the traps and the escapes that a writer goes through. Staring at the blank page, every writer, has questioned, at least once — Why do I write? While the answer to that question is yet to be discovered, the writer writes, and the question permeates the writing, even though no word will betray it. The writer waits for a reader. Or, waits for at least an acknowledgement, that a reader exists. The writing resonates with a reader. Reader acknowledges the writer. It feels like an answer to the writer’s question, but the writer is mistaken. The writer, in turn, acknowledges the reader. Writer continues writing. More readers arrive. The writer becomes a reader. Writes. Reads. Writes, again. The writer forgets the original question. A new question emerges — Who do I write for? A new trap. And new escapes. Somewhere, while all of this is going on, social compulsions attack the writer. Promotion, engagement, statistics, popularity. Multiple skirmishes occur. New questions are born (see second paragraph, above). New escapes. The writer becomes a warrior. In a few cases, the readers become an army. Some battles are won, some lost. Much experience is gained. Over time, a few from the army, desert. The writing continues. New readers are conscripted. The question — Why do I write — remains unanswered. It bares itself at its whim. Every other question is either answered or discarded as worthless. This one question, just refuses to get answered and go quietly into the night. And the writer continues writing.

All the writing, whether it is read or not, whether appreciated or not, becomes a value in itself, over time. The cumulative experience of writing and reading, that intangibly laces the words, curiously determines their placement, and stealthily deepens the meaning, is the value. Impossible to measure or define, but most easy to feel, right after we write. Part of this value accumulates to the writing, part of value to the self.

Perhaps, that is why I write.

The Book and I

The same wise man I referred to in my previous post is the reason I love reading. I have many books, and may I say — just like him. As I have said before, I haven’t read all the books I own. I’ve seen books go out of print, in my lifetime, so buying them while they are available makes good sense. It’s, what has been called an anti-library.

*

As I have grown, I have toned down my belief in books that are life-changing. There was a time I believed that. Apart from God himself (or herself, as the case may be), I believed Richard Bach and Paul Simon to be Gods. Perhaps, I still do, but I don’t pay as much attention to them. Amit recently shared a trailer of a documentary on Richard Bach. I liked it, but I am not sure I want to see it. God may, indeed, be a human.

*

Our Prime Minister, in a recent public address, exhorted us citizens to read biographies of great people. I took it up with some seriousness. And I am glad, I did. I am more than half-way reading a biography of a great person, and it is inspirational, to say the least. It is changing how I think. In a nice way.

113508: Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

*

I have recently developed a phobia of publicly claiming books that I am currently reading. I discovered, I end up not finishing that book. And this is backed up by personal empirical evidence. So, this particular book that I am reading, will show up after I have read it. I am more than half-way through it. A little over 600 pages.

*

Superstitions, and all.

*

Books aren’t life-changing by themselves. We are influenced by what we read, learn, and assimilate. There may be an impressively life-changing book and we may ignore all that it has to offer us. Or we may find meaning in the trashiest of all books. And while Amit (yup, same guy as above) said this in a different context, I think its pertinent to this post:

It’s a sorry state of affair, two misdirected iconoclasts going after each other when they have a lot of common foes to go against, and common ground to build on. Good literature is beyond language. So is shitty literature. And thank [G]od for that! We’re richer because of the vernaculars, and because of IWEs. [Indian Writing in English] Give me more, not less … [Emphasis, and [Edits], Mine]

*

And while I have not been able to do justice being a member of a library, I am glad that they are doing a wonderful job of spreading the love of the written word. In an inimitable way.

*

Grudge not the unread book. Each one of them has something to say. It’s just foreplay for now. Those inanimate pages will express themselves, when the time is right.

*

Meanwhile, embrace what you are reading. May there be a union of what you seek and what is on offer.

History’s Freedom Struggle

The number of blogs (not posts) I write, has increased by one. I’ve started a new blog to redeem old historic texts from the grips of scanned PDFs and machine OCR’ed text files. The blog is at History Telling: Open; a take on His Story Telling; a blog which I have maintained for some time about history, of posts that are mine. History Telling: Open (aims to be) a collection of all open-source resources related to Maratha History between 1600-1820. Most of this content is available on sites like Archive.org and Project Gutenberg, and other OS sites. So, I am not creating any new content on this site. However, the idea is to free this content from restrictive and unfriendly formats and offer an accessible way to consume this content. When you think of the disparate sites that host open-source content, you cannot but imagine, why there isn’t a design-oriented way to present it all. As an example, I suggest you have a look at UNESCO | Women in African History. I think that this is a wonderful example of design, presentation, context and content. I’ll get there, some day. For now, I am a lone wolf. And since I have all the time in the world, this blog will progress, slowly.

Histories, unfortunately, get locked down to the languages in which they are written. So we end up knowing only the popular, generalised, and biased versions of it. It is true of Maratha history, it is true of so many other histories. The written word needs propagation, and that in turn, often, means, translation. But translations have lenses, perspectives, and cultural connotations.

“Anthony Burgess once wrote: ‘Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.’ Each language has gems waiting to be retold.” : Lost in Translation: The Fine Art of It | Swarajya:

I am extremely grateful to the various sites that are the source of this content, and I will make it a point to contribute back as much as possible to these sites.

What is love? : #Anthem 2

I am continuing the #TenAnthemsChallenge that Paul offered, us bloggers. Here’s a quick context about this challenge: Due to an English education, I don’t read/write my mother-tongue very well. English happens to be the language of communication, Hindi, my national language, happens to be the language that I use to think and feel, Marathi, my mother-tongue, unfortunately is the language where struggle, yet find myself.

2525: Garden

Flashback

I am somewhere in college. It’s vacation time, or teachers have gone on strike. Irrespective, the college is closed. I take of to my Aunt’s place — an industrial town. My aunt’s husband, my uncle, works there. Absolutely nothing beckons. If there was ever a definition of being lazy, this was it. I have absolutely nothing to do. The town I live in revolves around the factory that the town survives on. There are sirens going off; life in the town revolves around the shifts. The factory never closes down, because the furnace never sleeps. Unlike me. I sleep all day long and indulge in laziness.

Except, when I play cassettes of Marathi songs in the hot afternoon.

My aunt has finished her chores for the day. I even help her out, somewhat. in the boombox, I insert a cassette, and play a song. I ask my aunt, what the song means. Some words in that song do not belong to my vocabulary. She explains the meaning. She is smart enough to give me the meaning without context. I build my context. I ask her, did I understand it right? She says to me, you have understood it in your own way.

The one song that I play over and over is a song of love. The kind of love that normal human beings will never experience. I ask my aunt the meaning of each and every word, hoping she will give me a context. She answers all my questions, without ever giving a context. I end up making my meaning for that song.

Flashfront

It is a song that is the epitome of being in love; of the expression of love.

I dare not translate this song, like anything else that I dare not translate. So I Googled the “translation” of this song. I made a few edits, and here is what I can offer you as the essence. But, what follows is so much less than what the song is all about.

All the directions seem foggy on such an evening
As the moon is rising in the sky…
On this lovely moon night my sweetheart is with me
And my emotions are overwhelmed

Both of us are speechless in a sweet puzzlement
Like confluence of rivers, (we have) become one
The air is filled with the fragrance of “Raat-Ranee” flowers
And the flowers of love are blossoming
Can hear the romantic songs play
Even though there are no words in the song

Unknowingly we are tinted with evening glow
By playing the strings in heart …
By singing the duet and by becoming one
Let us show our true love …
By becoming one; let’s show our love
The romantic picture is visible in impressive colour combination
Even though there is no paintbrush.

All the directions seem foggy on such an evening
As the moon is rising in the sky…
On this lovely moon night my sweetheart is with me
And my emotions are overwhelmed

And the only reason I add this translation, is that some of my readers will not understand Marathi. The translation you see above does less than 1% justification to the intent and feel of the song that you heard. Yet, I hope, you all can feel the same sense of pure love that I feel when I listen to this song.

I am proud that I am born into a family that descends from great artists, poets, warriors, and administrators; it is unfortunate that my English education distances me from my heritage. It’s late, but I am making amends.

Paul, I have to thank you for this meme. You are extracting some amazing stories.

Flavours of Funny

Funny has two flavours.

One that makes and one that tastes.

We can be both, but we are not necessarily both.

One cooks, one eats.

One can eat what one can cook. Not always, though. It’s always better when someone else eats what we cook.

A friend refused to come to my place ever, because he discovered that I cook. I am now referring to ‘real’ cooking. Like food. He is afraid of dying of food poisoning.

That is funny.

I tried to be funny once. I wrote a post.

Tried.

You are funny or you are not.

Perhaps you cannot always be funny.

Or, once you were funny, now you are not. Maybe you will be funny later.

What you cook remains the same but their tastes change.

Maybe you will cook differently in some time.

Maybe it will appeal to the new tastes.

Maybe not.

What’s important, is the food.

Not whether you cook it or eat it. 

One who eats is as important as the one who cooks.

The kitchen needs the dining room. And vice versa. 

 

Up in the Air

There’s too much of more. There’s a new fanatic in town, and her exposed argot has more words that end with -er.

Faster, smaller, thinner, longer. Sharper. And the sorts.

In Victor Hugo’s apt words, however, argot is the language of the dark; a language of misery.

Here’s a blurred photo.

1787

It’s blurred. You cannot see much detail. There is hardly any specificity in the image. What does this mean for the image? Not for the photographer (that’s me, and I do not care much about what you think of me). Does it become a bad image because, alas, we cannot see the twist and the weave of the fibre that makes the thread that have revolted out of the binding Rexine?

A friend would take up this argument and talk of test cricket and the T20 format.

I’ll digress. If you don’t want to, skip the marked section.

<Start Digress>

I quit Flickr Pro and moved to 500px because it was a suggestion by a well known photographer. I hated it as soon as I saw the “top” photos. They just do not seem real to me. 500px is a muscle show of post-processing. Not that post-processing is bad. I use it all the time. I was looking for a word when I was discussing 500px with a friend. I didn’t find it then, I have it now.

Synthetic.

Over the years, the 500px platform went through a number of revisions and changes, growing together with technology and photographers, and keeping focus on the highest quality photos. Via 500px  (emphasis, mine)

500px offered a way to sell photographs, but I was not (and am not) interested in it, anyway. I’ve (mostly) quit 500px.

</End Digress> 

There is no doubt that our tastes are changing, our attention spans diminishing. We have lesser time for our friends and no time for ourselves. Enough research floating around to prove that. 2831215 is the phone number of the travel agent of my first company. This was when mobile phones didn’t exist. Now, I don’t even remember my fourth travel agent’s name. Hell, I don’t even remember if I use a travel agent anymore. I have to remind myself to add keywords to her address card. My choice of keywords defines what I will forget about her and what I might use to search for her. It’s exhausting, in a way. Her’e a worthwhile exercise – how many mobile numbers (of close friends or family) do you know by-heart?

I need to travel a bit. But I digress. (I should have warned you)

Adobe recently announced that the Creative Suite will now be cloud-based. To make the news worthwhile they included some super sharpening tools to the CS. (Now you know what triggered this post)

Apart from the irritating plugin that I *have* to use with browsers, I do not use any Adobe products because of their bloated sizes and prices. But this post is not about Adobe, at all. Software is a tool; it makes sense in a way that you use it. I find arguments about tools pointless. As long as you do your work well, the tool doesn’t matter. Hammer vs. Pestle. Mac vs. Win or Can vs. Nik. Same difference. 

This post is about simple questions.

How much sharper do we need our images to be? How slimmer should our phones be? How faster should our computers be? How much thinner should our laptops become?

And while the inanimates around us become more ‘-er’ and ‘-er’, what about us?

What ‘-er’ should we be striving for?

A French View

My blog-addiction was under control for a while. Gladly, I lost control.

Defying concern that the folks at WordPress might actually limit the number of blogs I can have, I have started yet another blog.

A View from the Top

This one is interesting. I have started learning French and have chosen not to attend classes. Yes, there are other sites out there (and I’ll link to these resources as I find them — and as my need to learn more French grows), but they are mostly structured — usually in the same way. Greetings, family, check-in to a hotel, ask for a taxi.

What if I am not travelling to France or a French speaking country? What if I want to learn to write poetry in French or watch French films without sub-titles? What if, I want to write a blog in French?

This one is a double experiment: Learning the French language and Exploring how you can learn a language through Web 2.0 — through people who are learners or teachers or just plain old you and me (who know or are interested in French). I plan to leverage all possible Web 2.0 means to learn French. Twitter. Facebook. Goodreads. Blogs. Google (I have been warned against translate.google, though).

I believe in the Web as it is today. I think I’ll learn well. I may not learn it quickly, but it will be a fun experience and more-so — a very fulfilling experience. In any case, I do not have a deadline. I am not going to France soon (but hey, I already have learnt useful French phrases).

So if it sounds interesting (whether the experiment, the language or the experience), I’ll be Learning French

Fluttering Thoughts

This time around, she didn’t challenge me. But a gentle conversation was good enough to push me into writing a very satisfying post, after a long time. In recent times I have not liked what I have written, here. There is a tense tentativeness in the thoughts.

In any case, it seems that I am forgetting the advice from Forrester, and waiting for the clear thought to permeate a cloudy head.

And for the same reasons, I have begun wondering if there is anything called the clear thought, in the context of expressing one. Is this the only noun doomed to be celibate? Never to have a perfect adjectival companion?

Thoughts, at best are caterpillars — they carry within them the future expression of beauty. But unless expressed, they remain just that – ugly, creepy creatures.

Thoughts should aim to become butterflies.

Blog Talk

We all have a language we speak. We all have a language we understand. Blogs speak too. Not just through what you write in them. Through their understanding of the words that we fill them with, they make their own language. And it looks good too!

Wordle

What does your blog have to say? Find out!