G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Taj Mahal could be "a bloody hurdle in the middle of the road"

"Scientific American" July 2007 has an article by Steve Mirsky An Earth Without People -A new way to examine humanity's impact on the environment is to consider how the world would fare if all the people disappeared”.

It is based on “World without Us”, a new book by science writer Alan Weisman.

“According to Weisman, large parts of our physical infrastructure would begin to crumble almost immediately. Without street cleaners and road crews, our grand boulevards and superhighways would start to crack and buckle in a matter of months. Over the following decades many houses and office buildings would collapse, but some ordinary items would resist decay for an extraordinarily long time. Stainless-steel pots, for example, could last for millennia, especially if they were buried in the weed-covered mounds that used to be our kitchens. And certain common plastics might remain intact for hundreds of thousands of years; they would not break down until microbes evolved the ability to consume them.”

“If all human beings vanished, Manhattan would eventually revert to a forested island. Many skyscrapers would topple within decades, undermined by waterlogged foundations; stone buildings such as St. Patrick's Cathedral would survive longer. Weeds and colonizing trees would take root in the cracked pavement, while raptors nested in the ruins and foxes roamed the streets.”

It reminded me of a program “The Future Is Wild” (year 2003 joint Animal Planet/ORF (Austria) & ZDF (Germany) co-production) which was shown in India on Discovery channel as- “Past is Wild Future is Wild

In Vasant Sarwate’s वसंत सरवटे picture below, today’s sheep, coming across a milestone, are saying: “who knows why men erect a bloody hurdle of such a stone right in the middle of the road

In a world without us, a lot more animal species of tomorrow will be expressing similar feelings-"bloody hurdle in the middle of the road"-about all our grand monuments, including recently announced Seven Wonders of the World!



Artist: Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे Source : "Savdhan! Pudhe Valan Ahe!" Mauj Parakashan 1990-19997

Twisted Construction, Intricate Compounds and Linguistic Hell

My 13 year old son Jaydutt Kulkarni goes to an English medium school at Pune and struggles, like most of his classmates, with Marathi language syntax- called Shuddhalekhan-“chaste writing”- in Marathi. My wife and I express horror seeing some of his bloomers. He does not make such mistakes writing English. Surprisingly, he does not make them in Hindi too. Mind you, we all speak Marathi at home and live in Marathi speaking neighbourhood.

Therefore, I wonder what the real problem is. Has it anything do with the structure and/or teaching of the language?

D D Kosambi has an interesting take ("An Introduction to the study of Indian History", Popular Prakashan, 1956-2004) on grammar of mother language of Marathi - Sanskrit.

“…The founder of Sanskrit grammar was Panini, who combined the efforts of many predecessors with his own profound observations to give us the oldest scientific grammar known anywhere in the world….Nevertheless Panini killed all preceding grammatical systems, nearly killed further development of the language…
Floridity became increasingly a characteristic of Sanskrit so that the use of twisted construction, intricate compounds, innumerable synonyms, over-exaggeration make it more and more difficult to obtain the precise meaning from a Sanskrit document…

The distinction between Sanskrit and Arabic in this respect should also be considered. Arab works on medicine, geography, mathematics, astronomy, practical sciences were precise enough to be used in their day from Oxford to Malaya. Yet Arabic too had been imposed with a new religion upon people of many different nationalities. The difference was that ‘Arab’ literati were not primarily a disdainful priest-caste. Those who wrote were not ashamed to participate in trade, warfare, and experimental science, not to write annals…”

“Intricate compounds” remind me of a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940). The scene is tyrant Hynkel making a long speech and his secretary typing up just a couple of words; then saying just a couple of words only for her to type furiously many paragraphs.

Vasant Sarwate’s वसंत सरवटे picture below is equally funny. The boss has started dictating a Marathi letter to his secretary and instead of airing some meaningful matter, has ended up explaining how every single letter of every single word should be written.

Is this linguistic hell? I am sure at least my son currently feels it that way!



Artist: Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे (Source- “Khada Maraycha Jhala Tar….!”, Mauj Prakashan, 1963 – collection of his cartoons from 1950 - 1962)