Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Language Love

Call it all bilge, but every language has its own personal delight of usage. Each one of them brings its own signature set of ideas, expressions, locutions and a constitutional curiosity while spoken out. It's difficult to see any foreign language in the same light as you would do to your mother tongue, and that's where the beauty lies. You develop a singularly new inner voice with each language you learn, for many of the expressional experiences and subtle nuances of one language can't be translated to another.

In childhood, I used to love Hindi, knowingly or unknowingly. Not that I was found of Hindi Literature or was a high-scorer, but because Hindi would often surprise me by furnishing words that could easily dissolve and evoke certain complex feeling of mine, hitherto inaccessible--like the way hot winds carve out sharp sand dunes over the desert. For example, the word 'dampati' means a married couple, but it is often used in comic, tongue-in-cheek manner, such as when you have to crack a joke on a couple's slapstick antics, or on the mundaneness of their internal life. I learnt this word and I "tagged" many couples around my family, and giggled inside. Then the words 'dampati' and 'jhagraa' (fight) would often appear together, and I would consider them under a single cluster-thought. Why should both of them so near to each other? They need not be, it was just so because that's how it was used around me. I raised no questions either. Those who do, tend to become highly creative, lateral thinkers. Creativity is just about connecting disparate disciplines/subjects which conservatively don't mix well.
Nevertheless, that's how with time you learn to form an association of words together, which later ferments your language-sensibility and overall thinking mindset and world-view. An idea cloud grows as your vocabulary grows. And your thought process flows only to the peripheral confinement of these self-made word-nodes that you've "learnt" in life hitherto--true to their core. That is, you are essentially confined to think, reason and perceive the world based on the limits of your vocabulary. 

Every word represents and encompasses a strictly irreplacable idea on its own.
Please dump the fucking Thesaurus.

I learnt the word 'budhiya' (old woman) way earlier when I was still sucking thumb in my mouth, but I was then also told not to use it for my own grandma or the elderly aunties. It always used to be either for that "other" person, some old lady on the roadside--that I won't be knowing of personally--or for the story-writing that I would have to do in school. Hindi surprised me again. This is the other sort of discovery of childhood everyone makes somewhere along the way--that most things and people have referential duality meant to deceive the words they are labelled by. And no way saying 'old woman' in English could substitute the figurative pleasure of imagining a 'budhiya' in Hindi, until unless you know specific words such as: 'termagant', 'harridan', 'crone', 'hag'... whatever closest it could be. But that's not the common colloquial English. That's the multiplicity you have to bear with while  practicing two languages in abundance--one the mother tongue and the other that everyone else says that its everyone else's tongue and you are supposed to master it [English].

Nonetheless there used to be many savouring discoveries like the ones mentioned earlier in the growing years. The just way of learning the language as an art; in its pristine form. But I didn't use and pursue the Hindi words much, didn't pursue my 'inner-voice' and interest of learning new terms (ideas) and giggling while using them, and that's why my Hindi is rickety weak now.

Early years you would also have learnt phrases such as 'gusse se tilmilana' (extreme rage) in your list of difficult words in the Hindi textbook, but those times you can't use it upfront to describe your dad's violent rage. Or hardly did. The word was always meant for your school study book. Always to be written as-is during make-sentences-of-the-following-phrases assignments. The study of language and literature in early years suffers from this duality. Just see how much of words from the lyrics of beautiful Bollywood Songs people actually use in their conversations. Not all of them are too lyrical to be of daily use.

And then Sanskrit shook my life. Sanskrit came and it appeared what Hindi would look just before committing suicide. It was forceful and aggressive, demanding extra effort in all of its verbs and nouns and phonology and what else. It was a loose baggage of crawling, pointy characters that aberrated the admirable compactness of Hindi. In writing as well as speech. Ask anyone the perils of studying Sanskrit in higher classes and s/he would've story to tell. S/he would be either a hit or miss. 

I missed the beauty of the language. 

After bungling with Sanskrit for few years, and realizing the future inevitability of looming English, my solidarity for Hindi grew a million times.

There's one thing Hindi has given to people that's too subtle to realize. You've the word 'Jantaa' in Hindi for 'public', and 'Jaagruk' for 'enlightened'.  Note that both start with the same letter 'j'. Needless to say, words starting with same consonant occasionally club together as distant lovers. It gives a lyrical swing to the sentence or the idea. The commenest of the Common Sense of a language. Look at the these phrases: Lady Luck, Tinkered Thought, Memento Mori, Perilous Plight, Part n Parcel etc. These coupling phrases have a greater impact than what would it have been without the ryhming first letter. 

So there you have the word 'Jaagruk', which is often used in Hindi to mention some sense of awakening of a being. The vernacular is ripe with its usage and cliche. However ask any native about this and the picture s/he gets of word is that of collectiveness and bordering out of the periphery of the self. That's because it is more too often used alongwith 'Jantaa' , or any other bloated rhetorical construction. Pardon my expertise in this, but I've rarely heard 'Jaagurk' in use for another construction in the common parlance. 
Just to test, start talking in Hindi --about a topic themed around 'Jantaa' for one minute long, and someway or the other you would jump to the idea of 'Jaagrukta' (enlightenment) in your line of thought after a an ant eventually finding its way to food after several iterative paths. Such realizations take time to settle inside your head. You are "wired" to think a certain way, based on all the words that you have only learnt/known, and the language leaps you into the word web you've woven for yourself --if you are not conscious enough to break through.
Similarly, think of the term aadmi (Man/Individual). The cloud of image that pops up in your head when you would start thinking around this term would invariably subsume the phrase aam aadmi (Common Man), because you are used (wired) to view it that way.

Hindi has given us that elegance in expression which allows us to float above the central idea of fact being stated, and savour in its longitudinal craft, rounded vowels and tense phonetics (credit also goes to the import of grace of Urdu). Hindi has given us the structural closeness of 'Bura' with 'Bhala'--a folksy illusion--which 'good' and 'bad' lack in English. Hindi has so much of a romantic word as 'Lamhaa' (a moment's time), without meaning romantic; Hindi has given us 'Jaagruk Jantaa'.


Image: Flickr

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sparks. Committed To.

A spark flew from there to there*
Unbecoming, unfinished and undone
It coasted and it sought no direction
Nor did it find some cement to adhere
As we sat and we watched it together, 
Watched it shedding its own dominion.

Perhaps it strayed off on this shore
From some rabid wind-buffetted flame
And she said 'Go douse it before...'
'Before it can become a fire a fiend'
But I thought, 'Why to? What For?'

For some Sparks outlive themselves
And it wasn't one of those for sure.

A Spark flew from there to there; And it lay 
Like those inconspicuous Sparks instead
Which shoots up within us every other day.

The Spark within us
Of an obvious but ever-renewed prosaic idea 
Of cageless passion and the hint of a rainbow
Of a romantic intuition and unfathomed areas
Of sincere reproach and disowned choked ego
Of all imaginative love and wellspring-ed will
Of fresh energies and flashes of clairvoyance,
The Spark within us
Of the dawn of a slightly different tomorrow.

'I should try this, I should visit there'
'I should explore more, I must ask her'
'I should quit here, I should start anew'
'I must learn lots, I should be more hued'
But none of these or suchlike, we ever do.

And which all Sparks wither more too often
Less for the need for daily bread,
And more for the need for greed
Oh this Lazy Ass! Oh this Dickless Snobbery!
It leaves us grim and gormless, 
And it leaves us criminally bare
But Hey wait! I've grown out of this snare
Which is what I try telling her.

The Spark that flew from there to there
This she said not I...
I just sat there close to it, close to her
But for me, both -- She and the Spark,
Seem to be unattainable...
Both of whom I wish to be committed to,

*This line is not mine.

Image: Flickr

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book: Known Turf

Few days back I had my turn with an eclectic read --'Known Turf' by Annie Zaidi.

The book on the whole had a mooring effect on me. In parts, I found it as one of those rare reads which manages to connect with the confused middle-class twenty-something youths (like me). Confused between the liberal upbringing we've received, and the larger hard-lined realities which, if ever had touched us --it was only intermittently, like reaching in waves.

Dalits in Punjab, Value system in Dacoits' lives and families, Exploring Sufism, Displacement, Identity-crisis, Weavers of Benaras and many more --Annie has covered a wide gamut of subjects in her book --and shuffling through each section unfolded a separate shimmy world in itself for me; petal by petal to a bloom. 

I liked the way she talks about the life and times of Dacoits using Bollywood's Sholay, Dushman etc as point of reference, and especially parts which come out as personal memoirs...such as the place where she felt queasy while calling the 'legendary' dacoits such as Raghuveer Singh Gussi or Lokman Dixit (Lakku Daaku) --the ruthless murderers in their hey days --as 'Baba', while meeting them in person. This was amusing and unique. Through the reportage I got to learn about Bandits and Dacoits sans their comic aroma, that is in a way I or most of the current growing generation hadn't read before.

I loved reading about Sufism and Sufi shrines, especially at places where Annie gets Sufi defined as "anyone who stood against caste, and stood for humanity, could be called Sufi", or where someone tells her: "Sufism offered us an alternative reality of Punjab, one which is not talked about..."

I also loved the tender descriptions Annie presents of cities like Allahabad and Patna. There's an unindulgent delight that comes while reading miniature details of life at places you've yourself grown up. And one advantage of having grown up in a small town is that you remain aware how impersonal a larger monster of a city would always be. 

While reading about the rickshaws in Bihar that the author describes about with good charm and amusement, I was reminded of the scene from the movie Haasil (set in UP, India) --where the gorgeous heroine is riding at a vulnerable place in a rickshaw, a loud goudy rickshaw full of bling and baubles and tassels, and she feels so embarrassed from the shrill and, sort of jolly jingling caused by the decorations, that finally she grows too self-conscious and reprimands the rickshaw-puller:

"Itti saari ghantiya lagaane ki kya jarurat thi, lagtaa hai dashahre ki jhaaki jaa rahi hai..."
(What's the fucking need of putting so much bling around, seems like I'm the  joker of a festive procession)

-To which the rickshaw-puller replies, in a typical crude insouciant (Bihari) style:
"Arre! Rickshaw jawan hai, sajayenge nahi to rooth naahi jaayegi. Aaein..."
(Whoa! My Rickshaw darling is young, if I don't adorn her, won't she be furious? You hear?)

Besides, I also liked the shriveled-up train journey descriptions (having experienced similar fate), and Annie's unselfconscious search for identity, and her quest for defining 'home', as accurately as possible; such a conny little word it is. 
Her stories stand as worthy cultural mouthpieces of the times, with a capital bit of warmth and humor.
And her writing did to me what any sincere piece of writing does; it refreshed my sense of the world around.

Way To Go.

PS: Great that I managed to meet Annie at the book lunch and get a Signed Copy :)