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."

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sanskrit, That’s Why You is Dead

My 15-year-old son enjoys learning Sanskrit. I too liked it at his age.

In school, I read and reread a story- there exist a couple of variations on this- of Kalidasa.

It ran something like this:

“A poor Brahmin enters Dhara- the capital town of King Bhoja- where Kalidasa lived. He aspires to visit the court of King Bhoja and earn a prize on demonstration of his knowledge of Sanskrit.

It’s an early winter morning. He sees a young woman drawing rangawali in front of Kalidasa's house. Poor Brahmin thinks she is not adequately protected against the winter chill and asks her- in Sanskrit- if she is not afraid of getting harmed by the cold.

She answers that she is not being hurt by the cold but by the faulty grammar of the poor Brahmin.”

Then I thought- very smart. Now I say: What hubris!!!

In Sanskrit, the exchange in Dhara reads as follows:


अपि शीतं ते बाधती इति
सा अवदात
ना तथा बाधते शीतं
यथा बाधती बाधते

api shiitaM te baadhati iti
saa avadat
na tathaa baadhate shiitaM
yathaa baadhati baadhate”

[api shiitaM te baadhati iti= does cold bother (trouble) you?

saa avadat = she said

na tathaa baadhate shiitam = no, cold doesn't bother (trouble) me in that manner

yathaa baadhati baadhate = just like the word 'baadhati' bothers (troubles)

baadhati is incorrect usage and the correct usage is baadhate ]

Over the years, I have heard native speakers of Marathi teasing native speakers of Kannada when they speak Marathi. Even some big names in Marathi literature have fallen prey to this temptation in their writings.

It's so vulgar.

When I lived in Kolkata, Bengalis encouraged my wife and me to speak Bengali without any fear.

And finally English. It's as flexible as a Chinese gymnast.

Michael Skapinker writes in FT June 15, 2009:

“…But in their study “Was/were variation: A perspective from London”, Jenny Cheshire and Sue Fox of Queen Mary, University of London, write that those who say “you was” have history on their side. “You was” is hundreds of years old.It has been used in many parts of the English-speaking world…

… But there is no single standard of correct grammar. “You were” would be as much of a howler in some (non-Bangladeshi) parts of east London as “you was” would be in this newspaper…

… In his book, The Fight for English, David Crystal says: “The only languages that do not change are dead ones.”…”

Why didn’t Sanskrit change? Are today’s Indo-European languages, that are native to India, changing fast enough to survive the onslaught of Hindi?

Look at the picture below...She is concerned about his grammar...Is he talking dirty in Sanskrit?


Artist: Zachary Kanin, The New Yorker, May 25 2009

For more pictures of Zachary Kanin, click here.