Moving Literatures…..

These days, less and less people are interested in books and literature due to the boom in internet, email and technology. And the quality of literature too, has come down from what it was years back. The imagery that poems, songs and other literature conveyed, like the song, “My favourite things” in the movie, ‘sound of music’ – “ Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” are simply incomparable. Today we have mediocre poetry, prose and literature that gets rave reviews because of the person who wrote it, or because of the meaning behind the writing – the writing itself, is not very powerful. Consider this : “Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity, — the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery, — but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more. Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance. And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him, — the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence, — it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.” – Jack London in “White Silence”. ( He wrote this when he traveled ALONE across Alaska in the late 1800s – just a few years before his death)

Jack London had neither a computer nor a dictaphone – all he had was a simple pen and some papers – it is said that he used to hang up the papers after he had written on them, like clothes in the clothesline, using clips – so that the ink would dry fast, and not smudge. Because he was really traveled, he could write.

But with today’s generation, that is not the case. We see whatever country we want in our living room, using the computer. Today, Televisions, Computers, Laptops and more importantly, the ubiquitous CELLPHONES  have changed the way people live. Today, most of us live continuously envying the Jones next door, rarely bothered about self actualization or anything. This fast paced modern life has little or no place for literature, poetry, and quality prose. Slowly, people will forget what is literature – Computer web pages and blogs with inane writings will become classic literature. There will be no classic writers. No Shakespears, No Hemingways, No Mark Twain, No Emily Dickinsons, No Tagores, No Vikram Seths, No Arundati Roys. Only technical writers of prosaic emotions.

Today, technology is setting the agenda for language development. Any language that is more suited to the needs and requirements of technology, becomes more popular. And some languages, because of their rigid rules of formatting, may lose out on adaptability. One of the most compelling reasons for the adapatability of a language that I have seen is written in a blog by Mr.S.Gopalakrishnan, in his blog But whether technology can and will enrich language at the same time retaining all the present features and characteristics, remains to be seen.

But most of the time, technology seems to be cutting down on the finer use of nuances and feelings, sacrificing syntax for symbols, for wider use. The following humour story, taken from the Net during the formation of the European Union some years back, illustrates the point well:

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, it was accepted that English spelling had some room for improvement and a programme drawn in a five year phase-in plan that would be known as “Euro-English”

In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”.

Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of the “k”. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the second year, when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like “fotograf” 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Goverments will enkorage the removal of double letter, which have always ben a deteremt to akurate speling.Also, al wil agre that the horrible mes of the silent “e”s in the langage is disgraceful, and they should go away.

By the forth year, people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”.

During ze fifz year, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords containing “ou” and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru!

When technology replaces culture, when gadgets and gismos replace emotions, we can be sure that language, literature, and culture could indeed become extinct… With technology producing Couch potatoes out of our next generation, we can only hope that sometime in the distant future, some technical writer somewhere along the line, will break the rules and go back to the basics of beautiful writing – simple prose

Embracing English

When I was posted to Kerala (Palghat) in the year 2000, I did not know a single word of Malayalam, except for the fact that the word “Malayalam” is a palindrome. In my new assignment, I had to often talk to press persons. Every time I used to talk to them, I used to invariably get the answer, “I got it” – which made me wonder as to why, they have a special way of saying, “I got it” – even from normally Malayalam speaking persons. I reasoned, that this may be because of Kerala being the most literate state in the country. Months later, I had to bargain with a vegetable vendor, and for something that I said, he replied, “I got it!” – I was, amazed at the English speaking veggie vendor when it suddenly dawned on me that he couldn’t have possibly said, “I got it” – I then began a research into the term, and found out that all these days, I was being told, “Aikottey” – in Malayalam, which means, “OK” or “let it be” !

But it was not only the Malayalam that confused me. The SIMBLE English that is spoken in Kerala, is a different English altogether. Whenever I heard them say Lorry, I distinctly remembered the North Indian festival of Lori. When Rajini’s movie, Shivaji the Boss was released, many asked me, “Sir, have you seen Shivaji the Bose?” I started calling my North Indian boss as “bose” – and he immensely enjoyed it.

Once, at a new year party at the Railway colony, music was being played, which was a bit slow for party music. Suddenly, a malayalee youth, who wanted the music to be fast and loud, started shouting, “Roke music!” “Roke music!” – Luckily, the sound system guy did not know Hindi, or he would have promptly stopped the music.

When I got transferred, after eight long and very happy years in Kerala, I knew that I had to ”adjust” to the new “Tamilish” that is being spoken in Tamil Nadu. “Sir” was replaced by “Saar” and I found myself at odds with the English that is spoken in Tamil Nadu. To tell about the Tamilish, one requires another full blog, so I will stop here.

Recently, I got an SMS from an acquaintance, wanting a berth on emergency quota, thus : “Sir, please give birth for my son in train No.—-of date—-“ I preserved that SMS for quite some time, and only recently deleted it, after showing it to my wife, who was a “spoken English” teacher once.

In Railways, we often used the term, “Window Trailing Inspection” to denote an open window in the last carriage at the end of the train to enable the inspecting officials to see and inspect as the train moves. One day, I was amused to see a note that said that one of the top officials was going on a WIDOW trailing inspection! I had preserved that note for quite a long time now, hoping to include it in some book that I might write someday.

But in my travels all over, I have found that English, is one uniting factor. English, even though it is a British legacy, is the only language that really brings people together. Imagine people from Jammu, Himachal, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, etc, meeting together and trying to have a meaningful discussion? Hindi will have an edge over other languages, but certainly, English will have an edge over Hindi?

Once, when I had to visit my wife’s place in North India, I had the occasion to interact with some of her relatives, and one of them repeatedly asked me to eat well, and not feel shy. (In North India, the “damaad” is fed, fed, and fed, till he is fed up!). He repeatedly kept telling me, “please eat nicely, and don’t embrace me” – I kept wondering as to how I could possibly “embrace” him when I was atleast a few feet away from him. Only later I realized that I was, actually, “embarrassing” him!

Embarassing or not, English is one language that is embracing us, literally!

(Note : I am from South India, and my wife is from North India – which is why we were able to really appreciate Chetan Bhagat’s “Two States” immensely. We have gone through a lot together because of and despite our cultural and lingual differences, and we have taken a lot of efforts to see that our child is not affected by these two states…..But we fondly hope that the day will come in India, where no one will be able to say, that he is from this state or that, and that, he or she is, simply, a Bharath vasee! ( “Indian” is also a british coinage ?) – The great Tamil poet, Bharathi, speaks of India, only as “Bharatham” – the land of Bharat. When it was decided that India will have her Freedom, Lord Mountbatten received a number of letters from astrologers to not only change the date of independence from 15th August, 1947 (as it was considered inauspicious by the astrologers) but also on naming the country as “Bharat” instead of India…..)