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."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Who is the Greatest Indian Bilingual Intellectual?

Matthew Arnold:

"We are often told that an era is opening in which we are to see multitudes of a common sort of readers, and masses of a common sort of literature; that such readers do not want and could not relish anything better than such literature, and that to provide it is becoming a vast and profitable industry. Even if good literature entirely lost currency with the world, it would still be abundantly worth while to continue to enjoy it by oneself. But it never will lose currency with the world, in spite of momentary appearances; it never will lose supremacy. Currency and supremacy are insured to it, not indeed by the world's deliberate and conscious choice, but by something far deeper, -- by the instinct of self- preservation in humanity."

Damodar Mauzo:

"The first traces of the Konkani language were written by Sant Namdev..."

Ramachandra Guha has written an essay that

"interprets the rise and fall of the bilingual intellectual in modern India. Making a distinction between functional and emotional bilingualism, it argues that Indian thinkers, writers and activists of earlier generations were often intellectually active in more than one language.

Now, however, there is an increasing separation of discourses – between those who operate exclusively in English and those who operate in the language of the state alone.

The decline of the bilingual intellectual is a product of many factors, among them public policy, elite preference, new patterns of marriage, and economic change."

(Economic & Political Weekly, August 15 2009)

While reading Guha' essay, my thoughts strayed to arguably the greatest bilingual intellectual of India: Sant Nāmdev (c.1270-c.1350 CE)

He wrote in Marathi, Konkani, Hindi and Punjabi. Sixty-one of his compositions are included in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Oh my word! He knew how to write!

One of his Hindi abhangas:

एकै पाथ र धरिए भावो। दुजै पाथर धरिए पावो।
जे एहु देवा तो ओहु भी देवा ॥

(a stone makes a step on which we plant our foot, another stone makes an image of god in which we put our faith and worship it. Both are really stones. The difference is in belief.)

Namdev's resume is still not finished!

M V Dhond म वा धोंड argues that it was Namdev who created one of the most enduring 'myths' of India- Lord Vitthal.

Namdev animated Vitthal. Vitthal started walking and talking.

Namdev dragged Vitthal to the homes of his devotees and made him do menial work for them.

[ऐसा विटेवर देव कोठें! ("Aisa Vitevar Dev Kothe!") 2001]

Namya's poetry will never lose currency with the world, in spite of momentary appearances; it never will lose supremacy. Currency and supremacy are insured to it, not indeed by the world's deliberate and conscious choice, but by something far deeper, -- by the instinct of self- preservation in humanity.

This is how I saw the following picture: the artist (say Namdev) creates the myth (say Lord Vitthal) and the myth in turn places a laurel wreath on the artist's head. (Vasant Sarwate is a big fan of Steinberg. I should ask him.)


Artist: Saul Steinberg, The New Yorker, Jan 6 1962