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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

*

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.