June 21, 2019
June 20, 2019
Found this speech by the late Girish Karnad, theater colossus– the First A.K. Ramanujan Memorial Lecture. He speaks about the litterateur and translator AK Ramanujan himself.
“He was among the first of Indian thinkers to take a serious look at oral tales, lullabies, proverbs, songs, in fact, at the richness of the world of women. He was a much-acclaimed translator from Tamil and Kannada”.
Karnad speaks about the Ramanjuma the collector of oral folklore, the translator and ethnographer. He collected Kannada proverbs and swear words and he translated Vachanas, poems composed by eleventh-century poets. It was while he was studying abroad that he realized that Indian folklore had such deep roots.
“Oral tales are narrated on different occasions in different contexts, but the context that had been totally ignored even by Indian scholars until then was the kitchen.”
This is such a delightful read! Karnad talks about the kitchen where the women weaved their stories for children of different age groups. He talks about folktales as symbolic of women’s agency, something that was lost in translation and in prose. Reading this story was the highlight of this speech for me….
“A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sung the song.
Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when she was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man’s coat, and hung on a peg.
The woman’s husband came home, looked at the coat and the shoes, and asked her, ‘Who is visiting?’
‘No one,’ she said.
‘But whose coat and shoes are those?’
‘I don’t know,’ she replied.
He wasn’t satisfied with her answer. [So they had a fight.] The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket and went to the Monkey God’s temple to sleep……
All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God’s temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—except one, which came late.
The others asked the latecomer, ‘Why are you so late tonight?’ ‘At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,’ said the flame.
‘Why did they quarrel?’
‘When the husband wasn’t home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man’s coat somehow got on to a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn’t know. So they quarreled.’
‘Where did the coat and shoes come from?’
‘The lady of our house knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn’t even know.’ The husband, lying under the blanket in the temple, heard the lamp’s explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten both of them. ‘What story, what song?’ she said.”
–The Flowering Tree by AK Ramanujan
Reading this lecture is a cathartic experience.
June 19, 2019
A spelunker is a Latin sounding term for caver. According to Merriam Webster, the word came into adventure sport lingo because of the author and outdoorsman Clair Willard Perry.
The word seems to be used a great deal in literature:
“I have no special desire to go crawl around in caves, but I really like the word [spelunking] and want to use it in conversation. I do a lot of things just to use words I like.”
― Evan Mandery, First Contact-Or, It’s Later Than You Think
“I love vocab. It’s like spelunking in a cave you’ve been in your whole life and discovering a thousand new tunnels.”
― A.S. King, Please Ignore Vera Dietz
June 18, 2019
June 17, 2019
Apurba enjoyed reading Farthest Field, a book by Raghu Karnad, Girish Karnad’s son. Incidentally, Girish Karnad the veteran writer passed away today as I write this post.
Farthest Field is a nonfiction epic that tells the little known story of India’s role in WWII. There were over 2.5 million men who served in the Indian Army and though the war in Europe was fought on principles like freedom, there was a lot of hypocrisy on show. The Indian soldier who laid down his life was given a raw deal. Raghu Karnad had dismissed the pictures of three soldiers that hung on the wall of his ancestral house. It was only after his grandmother, a potential source of narration, had passed away that he learned about the lives of the characters, Manek, Ganny and Bobby, within that frame. The stories of these characters also weave the stories of Europe, North Africa, West Asia and Indo-China in those heady days of war.
“I couldn’t help thinking about the Bengal Famine too, in around the 1940s, and the discrimination that soldiers of color faced in the American army,” Apurba said about the marginalization that was the norm back in those days. She also advised us to go on historical walks like the Bangalore walks.
Watch Raghu Karnad speak about his book here.
Another book that was mentioned in connection with the war was Panther Red One: The Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot by Air Marshal S. Raghavendran, a member of the small group of future fighter pilots who joined the Indian Air Force in 1947. Jaya spoke about a book called The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Dr. Yasmin Khan., again a book about the largest volunteer army in history, the Indian army in pre-independent India. In this book, the reader learns about how the world war created seismic changes in the subcontinent. Another book this reminded me of was Narrow Road to the Deep North, a horrifying story of the building of an impossible railroad.
Diwakar was particularly impressed by the sweet book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a memoir detailing twenty years of correspondence between the author from New York and Frankie, a bookseller in London. In days like these when writing letters is almost impossible and postal services, which were once reliable, have now fallen into disuse in many parts of the world, a book about letters has its charm. Shanina mentioned how she writes letters to her little niece as their own secret way of communication, a charming story in its own right.
Helene Hanff was a scriptwriter with financial problems. She started writing letters to Frank in her quest for antiquarian books. It was the post World War scenario and UK was battling food shortages. Hanff began sending food packets to her new found friends. The letters are unique as they move from the breezy American style to the formal British one. The book was wildly popular and Hanff made a fortune when her book was adapted to radio, theater and a movie. It was her royalties from the book that helped her visit the UK for the first time. She has chronicled this in her second book- The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.
Sticking to the World War II theme, Diwakar spoke about another interesting book that gave a new perspective of the war. Most books feature the Allied perspective and this one called First and the Last by Adolf Galland is a book from the Axis point of view. In a very dry and meticulous manner, Galland talks about war as nothing but statistics being raked up. Even personal loss means just another number in the war. Galland looks at how genius war strategy went horribly wrong.
Sushmith spoke the book Seven Years in Tibet, a memoir by Heinrich Harrer about his brilliant escape across the Himalayas and into Tibet. He was in the Himalayas when World War II broke out and then he was imprisoned by the British. He fled to Lhasa, the forbidden city and became friend and guide to the Dalai Lama who was then just a child. The book has been adapted into a movie too.
Read more about this unique friendship here: https://tricycle.org/magazine/born-tibet/
June 14, 2019
June 13, 2019
Creative writing workshops can be strenuous for writers. Imagine sitting in a closed room with your work being put out there for display. You could clamp down shut, get nervous or lose your train of thought.
We are told that this is how workshop goes: praise and critique, praise and critique. Throughout, the student who is “up” for workshop sits in silence.
June 12, 2019
Matutolypea is the scientific equivalent of getting up from the wrong side of bed. It’s the grumpy cat syndrome that happens when you wake up. The word hasn’t yet entered mainstream dictionaries but it’s one of those obscure words that has gained some popularity on the internet.
This word doesn’t seem to be very popular on any writer’s list. Managed to locate just one usage:
“Well,” Opal said. “I put the pamphlet up because it felt better than doing nothing. We’ll see.”
I nodded, but perhaps not brightly enough.
“Oh my,” she said. “I thought I cheered you up, but I still see a glum expression. Is this a case of matutolypea?”
Now, now–the English teacher! Surely you know what that means? Or are you having a case of the mubble-fubbles?”
Gillian Roberts, All’s Well That Ends
June 11, 2019
June 10, 2019
Michelle spoke about an acclaimed book called Educated by Tara Westover. The book is a memoir detailing Westover’s Mormon upbringing in Idaho. Her father is a fundamentalist and does not trust schools or anything imposed by the government. Her mother is a local healer. Her brother brutalizes her. It’s not a pretty story. In spite of all this, Westover understands that her family’s ideals do not correspond to her own. She finds solace in education, something that had been denied to her but which she later actively pursued, ending up as a Ph.D. holder from Cambridge. Her story talks about a US that is denied education and is okay with it.
“When I read the book, it hit me how much upbringing counts as it influences the very choices we make,” Michelle said.
“Choices, numberless as grains of sand, had layered and compressed, coalescing into sediment, then into rock, until all was set in stone.”
“I was also inspired to start journaling to make sense of things. Tara doubted herself but it was her journals that showed her that she was not to be blamed. Something was wrong with the world she was made to grow up in. Some more quotes that Michelle read out:
“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”
“I could trust myself: That there was something in me, something like what was in the prophets, and that it was not male or female, not old or young; a kind of worth that was inherent and unshakable.”
Watch this conversation between Bill Gates and Tara Westover (recipient of the Gates Scholarship): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7Y6Udf_Nzo.
Sticking to the non-fiction theme, Shanina from the Netherlands spoke about the books that she liked- Atomic Habits, The Alchemist, The Power of Now and others. The book she wanted to share, however, was none of these. It was a light book she had read a year ago by the inspiring Shonda Rimes, an American television producer, television and film writer, and author best known as creator of the television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal.
Shanina chose to talk about Rhime’s very personal book called Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.
It’s hard to believe that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert who would say no to everything but that was why she took up the challenge of starting to yes, even when she was scared. She worked hard to pull herself out of her comfort zone.
“I love the way she writes, as though she is talking to me,” Shanina said. “It inspires you to say yes to a lot of things you weren’t brave enough to say yes to before.”
Watch Rhimes’ Ted Talk on saying yes.
More books in Part 4.