Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vacuous and Verbose-21

In a Tamil play written by Cho Ramaswamy, a middle-aged man constantly dreams of a role -even a small one-  in the movies and keeps honing his oratory skills. One day, a director succumbs to his begging and agrees to cast him in a single scene in his movie. He would play the role of a postman who had to deliver a letter at the hero’s house. His entire dialogue would consist of the two words, “ Sir, Post”. He is asked to  appear for ‘shooting’ the following week.

The whole week or during the countdown to the shooting, the wannabe actor is shown practicing his dialogue and attempting several variations. Should he say “ Saar, post” or “ Saaar, pooost” or “ Saar ( pause) post” or a more musical “ Saaaar Pooost”? Ultimately, during the actual shooting, he has a nervous breakdown and ends up messing it up completely.

I remembered that scene on reading in the papers today that President Prathibha Patil will inaugurate the CWG, by uttering the words, “ Let the Games begin”, soon after the Queen’s message is read out.

I am not sure if that is all the President has to say. If so, she must be in a state of extreme agitation now.

In anticipation of the event, her speech writers would have smacked their lips and sharpened their pencils to write a grandiloquent speech which would cover in its broad sweep, our ancient civilizations, the embedded meaning in the Vedas, the archery competitions described in our epics, Buddha’s enlightenment, Shivaji’s valour, Gandhi’s ahimsa, excerpts from Vivekananda’s brotherhood speech, memorable lines fom Nehru’s “tryst with destiny’ speech, extract from Rajiv Gandhi’s “ I am young. I too have a dream” speech, etc and end with a flourish by referring to India’s booming economy, its vibrant people and its colourful customs. The President’s inaugural speech would start on the Opening day and continue in the background for the next week or two while all the events are conducted and finally end during the Closing ceremony.

That’s how it should have happened in the normal course.But then the CWG committee imposed this restriction and has asked the President to utter just four words. I can see her now practicing her speech. Which word should she lay emphasis on? Should she say, “Let the Gamesss begin” or “ Let the Games Beginnn” or “ Lettt the Games Begin” or " Let the Dames start Begging" or " Let the Blame Game Begin" or....

The President is going to end up being paralysed by the unreasonable brevity that is demanded of her. It is like asking a morose Russian author to compress his novel to the size of a twitter message.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Collective awakening-2

“Is there something that is embedded deeply now in our collective consciousness as normal, right-thing-to-do, which we will, through a process of enlightenment in the future, realise is a terrible mistake and will make us let out a collective gasp, wondering why we did not even question that it was wrong all along?” I had wondered in a post two years back. (Aside: Can someone help me re-construct that sentence? Or maybe break it up into two simpler ones?)

Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton University asks the same question in his recent article, “What will future generations condemn us for?” in The Washington Post and provides some answers too. Our prison system, our treatment of the elderly, industrial meat production and our lack of concern for the environment….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Flights of fantasy

In the introduction to his book, “Other Colours”, a compilation of his writings on Life, Art Books and Cities, Turkish author Orhan Pamuk says:

An imaginative novelist’s greatest virtue is his ability to forget the world in the way a child does, to be irresponsible and delight in it, to play around with the rules of the known world- but at the same time to see past his freewheeling flights of fancy to the deep responsibility of later allowing reading to lose themselves in the story. A novelist might spend the whole day playing, but at the same time he carries the deepest conviction of being more serious than others. This is because he can look directly into the centre of things the way that only children can. Having found the courage to set rules for the games we once played freely, he senses that his readers will also allow themselves to be drawn into the same rules, the same language, the same sentences and therefore the story. To write well is to allow the reader to say, “I was going to say the same thing myself, but I couldn’t allow myself to be that childish.

Sadly, about 15 years ago, I lost the ability to appreciate novels and movies. As Pamuk explains, to enjoy the experience, one must let go and allow oneself to be manipulated by the author or the director. This is precisely what I guard against. When I watch a movie, I am so conscious of the movement of the camera, the rapid zoom-in and zoom-out and the background music that is played with clear intent to create the necessary effect and to stir my emotions. Due to this constant vigilance, every scene looks artificial, every story completely unrealistic and every Rajinikanth movie over-the-top.. The net result being that I deny myself the simple joy of reveling in fantasy or even absurdity..

Clearly, such periodic and child-like flights of fantasy are necessary to re-charge one’s brain, improve powers of imagination and foster creativity. The old theory of right-brain complementing the left brain.

Note to self: Loosen up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leisurely cricket

While watching the Champions League T20 match yesterday, I took a break for about 10 minutes. When I came back I found that 2 wickets had fallen and 14 runs scored.

Far cry from the days of Neville Cardus who could get out of a match to get married without having to worry about missing too much of the action. Here is his report:

"There are many things about cricket, apart from the skill and the score. There is, first of all, the leisure to do something else. Cricket, like music, has its slow movements, especially when my native county of Lancashire is batting. I married the good companion who is my wife during a Lancashire innings. The event occurred in June, 1921; I went as usual to Old Trafford, stayed for a while and saw Hallows and Makepeace come forth to bat. As usual they opened with care. Then I had to leave, had to take a taxi to Manchester, there to be joined in wedlock at the registry office. Then I - that is, we - returned to Old Trafford. While I had been away from the match and committed the most responsible and irrevocable act in mortal man’s life, Lancashire had increased their total by exactly seventeen - Makepeace 5, Hallows 11, and one leg-bye

Update 13/09/10: Speaking of long or dull innings, here is a description of one played in 1931

Bruce Mitchell’s 58 for South Africa v Australia at the Gabba in 1931 was hardly an earth-shaking event. However, it may well hold two world records. Mitchell started on Saturday, 28th November 1931, and at stumps was 45 in 2.5 hours. Sunday was a rest day, and the next two days were washed out. On Wednesday, play did not start until 4:00 pm; Mitchell moved to 53 in the two hour session, failing to score for the first 90 minutes. On Thursday, he was out for 58 in 291 minutes.

The total elapsed time for the innings was about 4 days, 21 hours, which is the longest time, between first ball and last, ever played for any Test, and possibly first-class, innings.

Secondly, the 90 minute scoreless gap in his innings encompassed at least 35 overs. We don’t know how many balls Mitchell faced, but he almost certainly faced over 100, making it the longest scoreless gap known in any Test

Vacuous and Verbose-20

Queried about India’s chances against Brazil, India’s former Davis Cup captain Ramesh Krishnan says:

“….. On Friday if we can win two singles, then we should win 3-0. If we can win one of the singles, we are in with a chance for we can go into the last day up 2-1. But if we lose both singles on the opening day, it will be an uphill battle”.

This is as reported in the Indian Express today.

I don’t know if Ramesh actually said something as banal as this or the reporter made him sound so.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Left and Right Hand castes

In his  column, “Madras Miscellany”, in The Hindu today, Mr S.Muthiah reports on a program hosted by the Chennai Freemasons last week. Referring to one of the speakers there, he asks:

“Who are the Left Hand and the Right Hand Castes about whom K.R.A.Narasiah spoke? From the first days of Madras till well into the 18th century, they were at odds with each other, participants in the most common communal rioting during that period. With generally known caste-communities being found in both groups, the basis of the two groups remains a mystery. Narasiah felt it could be a division based on merchants being the right hand group and artisans the left hand group- but going through the caste-community lists of each of the two groups which kept changing over the years you’ll find even that broad definition comes nowhere near solving the mystery.”

Curious, I logged on to Google Books and found several references to the ‘left-hand, right hand castes”, in books dating back to 1800 AD.

A sample is reproduced below from page 79 of the book, “ Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar’ by Francis Buchanan, MD, Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries, London and a Fellow of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta. The research was commissioned by Lord Wellesley and the book was published in the year 1807.

In this country ( Mysore), the division of the people into what are called Eddagai and the left and right hand sides, or Eddagai and Ballagai, is productive of more considerable effects than at any place that I have seen sides' in India, although among the Hindus it is generally known....

The origin of the division of Hindus into the right and left hand sides, is involved in fable. It is said to have taken place at Kunji, or Conjeveram, by order of the goddess Kali; and the rules to be observed by each side were at the same time engraved on a copper plate, which is said to be preserved at the temple of that place. The existence of such a plate, however, is very doubtful; both parties founding on its authority their pretensions, which are diametrically opposite.

The different casts, of which each division is composed, are not united by any common tie of religion, occupation, or kindred: it seems, therefore, to be merely a struggle for certain honorary distinctions. The right hand side pretend, that they have the exclusive privilege of using twelve pillars in the pundal, or shed, under which their marriage ceremonies are performed; and that their adversaries, in their processions, have no right to ride on horseback, nor to carry a flag painted with the figure of Hanumanta.

The left hand side pretend, that all these privileges are confirmed to them by the grant of Kali on the copper plate; and that they are of the highest rank, having been. placed by that goddess on her left hand, which in India is the place of honour.

Frequent disputes arise concerning these important matters; and on such occasions, not only mutual abuse is common, but also the heads of the divisions occasionally stir up the lowest and most ignorant of their followers to have recourse to violence, and encourage them by holding out the houses and shops of their adversaries as proper objects for plunder.

A very serious dispute took place at Seringapatam since it fell into the hands of the English. Thirty families of the weavers, belonging to the left hand side, joined themselves to the Teliga Banijigaru, and were encouraged by them to use all the honorary distinctions claimed by the right hand side. This gave great offence to the Panchum Banijigaru, and the Whalliaru were let loose to plunder : nor could they be repressed without an exertion of military force, by which several people were killed. In order to preserve the peace of the garrison, and to endeavour to bring the two parties to an agreement, it has ever since been thought expedient to prohibit any marriages from being celebrated within the fort.

(Pages 77 and 78 provide the names of nine castes included in the Eddagai ( left hand) group and the eighteen castes included in the Ballagai or right-hand group).

I am sure that a more diligent search through Google Books will clear the 'mystery' fully.

P.S: Browsing through the book, I also found this sketch of a “Brahmin with his wife and a son”.

 Striking colours for a 200-year old book, I must say..