Tuesday

On rants and reminiscences

There are two easy ways of writing an article. When the creative juices dry up, when the mind aches as it is made to cogitate over novel ideas, and when one is at one's wit's end, there are two kinds of topics which are almost insultingly easy to write upon.

The first is a rant. One just needs to think about an issue that sends the splenetic juices of fury raging in his veins and lo and behold: the article writes itself. It is always easy to write upon something that makes you foam at your mouth and sweat in your palms. Your adrenaline and anger are so high that you have the capability of literally squeezing out ideas from even a respectably cretaceous skull. That's the reason why we have so many blogs that do nothing but present tirades after tirades of tired trite. That's the reason for the success of reality shows which, for example, put two people who do not like each other together to see what happens. That's precisely the reason why mainstream satire/criticism has morphed into such a sorry spectacle. As someone brilliant once said, 'Emotion is always more easily accessed than reason'. No wonder then that such a form of writing/entertainment, after a point, not only becomes mundane but almost insulting to human intelligence. I like to think that for all my shortcomings as a human being (and there are many), I consistently make an effort at not being a hypocrite. Therefore, I have to admit that this blog fell for such cheap gimmicks once and I do not look back proudly at it. Every now and then when I glance back I feel almost ashamed at how quickly something that started out as genuine satire and innocent fun disintegrated into a dishonest diatribe. Dishonest not as in something unethical or immoral but the dishonesty that comes when you start pandering to the wishes of others as perceived in your eyes. Dishonesty with oneself. I am happy that the phase got over. I might be writing crap now, it might be completely irrelevant, mediocre, pungent and senseless. And it might not be any of those things. For all the fun I have, it doesn't really matter.

The second topic in this list is nostalgia. When you are out of ideas, nothing better to save the day than the memory of that heavenly taste of freshly cooked meal that your mother used to make for you as you scurried into the house after a particularly unforgiving day at the school. There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea. The problem though is the popular saying, 'Hindsight is 20-20'. From behind the rosy glasses of nostalgia, every sweet memory becomes sweeter and every tart one is conveniently ignored; or reassessed in the very least. And that is the reason why every campy show that you ever watched during your childhood now appears as the pinnacle of creativity. Everyone is in a hurry to grow up as a child. No child actually likes his life. But as adults none of us can help yearning for it. How absurd! I get reminded of Carrol's lines:

I'd give all wealth that years have piled,
the slow result of life's decay.
To be once more a little child,
on one bright summer's day.

or Jagjit Singh's famous lines from 'Kagaz ki kashti':

Ye daulat bhee le lo, ye shohrat bhee le lo,
bhale cheen lo mujhse meri jawaani.
Magar mujhko lauta do bachpan ka saawan,
wo kaagaz ki kashti, wo baarish ka paani.

But for all its emotional drive nostalgia is merely an innocuous occupation. In moderation, it may even act as an able vehicle for creativity. Much like anger.

Speaking of nostalgia, I was looking at some old mails today and that is, in part, a reason for this post. So much has changed! I can hardly believe how far and removed the past looks now. Even a time merely a couple of years back seems separated from the present by an abrupt discontinuity. Even the memories from the beginning of this year come in an aloof, almost unrecognizable technicolor. Maybe it is a natural fallout of the passage of time. Maybe this disconnect has something to do with the particularly eventful year I have had. I'm not sure if it's a common phenomenon with everyone but I personally never like the person that I was. Which is another way of saying that I would rather be the person that I am today and the position that I am in today than any other. I suppose there are reasons to be happy and contended in such a scenario. But you see, it's a continuous process. Hindsight, for me, has never been 20-20. But I'm afraid that it shall never be.

Monday

Comedy

I must have said it before but I would like to say it again that comedy is one of the most exhilarating experiences I generally have. It ranks up there with good music, sports, literature and art. I have very limited understanding of these fields but then as they say, 'to each his own'. Interestingly, only very recently I was having a very enlightening chat with a person whom I admire a lot for the breadth of his knowledge upon this very topic. 'Is there an objective goodness and merit in art and literature or indeed any human endeavor'. That's another issue though.

It all started with P.G.Wodehouse I guess. To me he is still the master and commander of all that is funny and ludicrous in the world. With his innocent almost farcical plots and queer, idiosyncratic characters he managed to weave a world that was completely devoid of malice and contempt. His was a rosy, shiny world that was forever lost in the benign vision and understanding of pre-pubescence. His stories were lost to our insistent demand of morals and social satire and to some degree, our bourgeois (I like to use this word :)) need for making sense of humanity through the creations of its champions. And then was his language. I cannot even begin to start to expatiate over the quality of his language. Just suffice to say that he was definitely one of the greatest linguist who ever took breath.

Oscar Wilde is another. He is funny to me not because he intends to be. He is funny because he seemed to have the measure of the world with such precision. He looked through the haze and glared at the world naked and ashamed in all its glorious hypocrisy, ludicrity and pretense. He was just too damn blunt and too damn right. But that's just me. I admire both his intelligence that frankly speaking most of us can never match and his guts to say things as they were. And when you are so frank and so incisive, things automatically become funny.

Then obviously the great satire of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, John Cleese in his flying circus and Fawlty Towers, Voltaire's Candide, Gulliver's travels, satirical writings of Pope (particularly 'Rape of the lock') and Dryden and many many more. But if there is one single creation that completely tops them all, it's Catch 22. Joseph Heller created something that just makes me go numb. I was talking to a dear friend recently about the book and without even realizing I was gasping for breath after some time due to all the excitement. It's just so bloody difficult to create something that is so imaginative and so stupid at the same time. I mean, it's beyond my grasp as to how he managed to write something that has such brilliantly colorful characters with such glorious quirks in a plot that is so mindbogglingly intense. And that's not all. The story has a freaking moral. It says so much to us. Beneath the ball-bouncing stupidity, there is a huge Huge HUGE eye-opener. I can feel the goosebumps already.

We make the mistake of not taking comedy as seriously as we probably take other things. We think it doesn't deserve the respect that something like classical music has. Well, try and write something funny and you will know how hard it is. As with anything creative, a notion that is probably too alien for our disposition, it's bloody difficult. For understanding what makes people laugh, for having gone the distance of developing the linguistic apparatus necessary, and for having the intelligence and creativity to actually come up with something 'new' (how many of us in our sorry existences ever come up with anything new), the proponents of the art remain one of the most venerable artists I can indulge in.

Friday

Only today it dawned upon me that the word 'certain' can be used in two exactly opposite senses. As in:

'I am certain that...' and
'He was referring to a certain Mr. Mullins'

The same word shows both concreteness and ambiguity when used in two different sentences. It is easy to find words which have more than one meanings obviously. They are the bread and butter of the cheapest stand-up comedian and the most brilliant satirist but a word which can convey completely opposite meanings is quite another thing. It's quite amazing really and I would be thrilled to find some more! Anyways, a quite interesting pair of words is 'overtone' and undertone' both of which, contrary to common sense, convey the exact same meaning which again is quite smart I think. Another similar phenomenon goes by the name 'faux amis' or 'false friends'. These are words, in different languages, which started with the same root but came to mean completely different and often opposite ideas. One which readily comes to mind and which is completely beaten to death is the word 'ass'. As we all know, the word means a 'donkey' in Britain and a 'butt' (=a British 'arse' !) in the US. Then there is the word 'preservative' which comes from the Latin pr├Žservativum. Somehow the Latin root has morphed into words in different languages like French, German, Spanish, Italian etc. and in all of them it refers to male contraceptive! Quite interesting. Demand is a word whose derivative in French is 'demande' and it means 'to request'!

There are a few more interesting words that I recently came across. 'Honorificabilitudinitatibus' means 'being in the state of receiving awards' but obviously it would be quite boring if that was all it had for boasting. It's the longest word in English with alternating consonants and vowels. It was featured in Shakespeare's 'Love's labour's lost' and is a 'hapax legomenon'!!! 'Hapax Legomenon' refers to any word that an author uses exactly once in all his writings. On the other hand, if an author invents a new word which he does not intend to use any further, it's called a 'nonce word'. It should not come as a surprise then that James Joyce was a master of 'nonce words'. He gave the word 'quark' to quantum physics and is mentioned in his irritatingly opaque 'Finnegan's Wake' (I started it but gave up in the first 2 lines). Lewis Carrol has provided so many of these in the form of portmanteaus (joining two words to form a new one) in his entirely lovable although completely nonsensical poem 'Jabberwocky', some of them being- slithy (slimy and lithe), chortle (chuckle and snort), galumph (gallop and triumph) etc.

In hindsight, it's a very episodic, disconnected and slightly pompous post. But pomposity was not the goal. It's just that language excites me in the same way that different hobbies excite different people - or at least I hope that they do.

Monday

Language poses several important questions to me. I mean several moral and rational questions since for me it is sort of a representation through which other deeper issues of life manifest themselves. And I guess that is quite alright since with every thing that is created by man, language in the process of creation has also been bestowed with his dreams and joys and insecurities and dilemmas. Therefore, the ghetto rap of South Central LA is not just a polluted form of English. It is so much more than that. It's the lives of the people who speak it. It's as much a symbol of their glorious notoriety as Victorian English was a symbol of its proponents' sophistication and to our eyes, their pomposity. Language hardens into an unforgiving brute in the hands of a military establishment and the same language turns into a conniving, calculating fox in the company of the legal. It drips like honey from the mouth of a well educated, well mannered scholar whereas it becomes completely incomprehensible when the speaker is one from the traditionally nether regions of the society. It's like us human beings. Both brutal and generous, both harsh and mellow, both noble and ghastly.

The reason I have said all this is to drive home the point that to say that there is one correct form of language is a gross mistake. We might as well say that a person is objectively right or wrong, an idea that has been used far too often by society and its machineries to control and make us do things that no man in his right mind should ever do. If there is no 'right' language, what should we make of grammar ? Believe me the issue is not as trivial as it sounds. Below the banal surface lies the age old friction between rules and freedom. As soon as we understand that grammar is nothing but a set of rules that tries to contain the unrestrained proliferation and mutation of language (which is freedom, metaphorically speaking) the analogy starts becoming clear.

Some people argue too easily against the necessity of grammar. They find it too stuffy and limiting. I would have tried to sympathize with their point of view had it not been the case that most of such people say this not because they have an informed opinion but only because they have been too lazy to put in the effort required to understand language. And I am not demeaning them. Their opinions are just like my opinions on American football. Half baked and arm-chaired. But then I do not expect my opinions on American football to be of any value whatsoever. The fact is grammar is as necessary in language as the theory of consonance and dissonance is necessary in music. You cannot expect a child with no musical training to produce tolerable music when given a piano. He at least needs to be told as to which notes go well with which ones and only then will he be able to play anything remotely resembling music. It's only when we know the rules are we qualified to break them and the final result is so much more agreeable then.

Human spirit, it seems to me, finds its true liberation when it is made to work under some confines. Given an infinite wasteland it is almost impossible to make a garden out of it but a small patch of land can be very tastefully converted into one. Grammar is such a confine. So are metrical rules in poetry or compositional guidelines in photography or the Wisden in cricket (:)). If we take the analogy slightly further it is not hard to see that human freedom and the rules that limit it are not so antagonistic after all. Beyond the obvious observation that one has no identity in the absence of the other, it might not be far fetched to say that beneath the surface hostility, each one only serves to strengthen the other. History has proved time and again that the greatest geniuses that humanity could offer were produced during periods of censure and formality. There is nothing to revolt against when everything has already been revolted against or in other words when there is complete freedom. What then is the territory of the modern avant-garde ?

Well. Too much thinking for a Sunday night :).

Saturday

The Barman

Man: Barman, there seems to be something in my shot.

Barman: Well sir, I suppose that is an entirely personal matter.

Man: What do you mean ? It was you who gave me the shot surely.

Barman: What an absolutely rib-tickling idea my dear sir ! I would concede that in my capacity as a dispenser of cocktails, I might be susceptible to becoming more friendly to some than social norms generally allow, but to suggest that I might have in fact presented you with a pair of undergarments is truly amusing.

Man: What? What are you talking about?

Barman: Your short sir, your boxer short. Now I do not want to sound apathetic and callous to your difficulties but I would rather not comment upon anything unnatural and unexpected that you might be experiencing in there. For all the gregariousness that this job demands, I am afraid sir, I draw the line beyond which I have to make small talk over a customer's underwear.

Man: No no you dimwit. I was talking about this shot. This Tequila shot.

Barman: Oh, oh! I am deeply sorry sir. Please wrench off my sideburns and stamp on my toes with steel toed boots for this embarrassing misunderstanding. Is there something wrong ?

Man: Yes there is something in it.

Barman: In what ?

Man: Shot dammit shot.

Barman: Where where ? I didn't hear it ? Is everyone fine ?

Man: What are you talking about ? There is something in my shot I said.

Barman: Well sir, I suggest you contact the department store for a refund then.

Man: No no no. THERE IS SOMETHING IN MY TEQUILA SHOT YOU NINCOMPOOP.

Barman: Then you should have said it earlier dear sir. Rather than taking me on a wild goose chase involving shots being fired in a bar with patrons having questionable items in their undies running amok trying to save their lives, you could just have said, 'Barman, there is something in my shot'. Well here, a sparkling new glass of twinkling beverage, just for my dear sir who, I must say, seems to be a bit woozy today.

Man: Well thanks... Finally... Anyways, can I have the ashtray. I need to dispose off this butt.

Barman: Sir, my wife and seven kids stand testimony to my lifelong interest in the female of the specie but I must say here that I do not see anything wrong with your bottom. I would perhaps go even as far as saying that if ever a popular vote is sought over the issue of disposing off your butt, I would heterosexually vote in to veto the idea.

Man: No no the cigarette butt you birdbrain.

Barman: Oh oh! I am sorry sir. I thought... never mind what I thought. Here take this. Are you comfortable in there ?

Man: Well, the stool has been slightly off color for me I must say.

Barman:...

(Well we won't go any further, if only for propriety :) ).

Mr. Numb Nuts

Nuts: It would be a matter of immense satisfaction and great mollification to my increasingly dehydrating and, by now, almost parched laryngeal part of the pharynx, which colloquially, I am assuming, is denoted by a 'throat', if you would be so kind as to furnish me with the means and ends for soaking these cracking lips of mine with a sample of di-hydrogen mono-oxygen providentially placed in a receptacle that, in the name of all that is healthy and sprightly, is devoid of agents, known to humanity, for being the root cause of many an ailments.

Waiter: wtf! (under his breath). WHAT ?

Nuts: Oh dear me! I have confused you, haven't I ? Forgive me for this unintended insolence for God may set fire to my ass if in his infinite wisdom I come off as person who has not taken every possible measure left at his disposal at making his wishes as clean as a carriage windshield that has recently been cleaned. That a person as sagacious as you, whose sagacity is dripping from that broad forehead and that puny chest, is evidently befuddled only points to my incompetence and failure, despite my best efforts, at effectively tabling my thoughts across to you.

Waiter: WHAT ?

Nuts: Merely that I would be extremely grateful to have a speck of a soup├žon of the most minuscule fraction of that element that flows in such abundance in Nature's warm belly and the municipality's cold conduits. That my appreciation would know no bounds if the sample of that elixir that you would be presenting to me is neither hellishly scalding nor hellishly frigid but hovers around acceptable Rankines and is devoid of its crystalline form for that would not suit my fragile constitution. That I and my forthcoming generations would indeed be obligated to you if...

Waiter: I do not know about God. If your next sentence is longer than 4 words, I would personally set fire to your ass.

Nuts: Water. No Ice... ... ... Please.

About Me

My photo
Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.