Thursday, July 30, 2015

ಪುರಾಣಮಿತ್ಯೇವ ಸಾಧು ಕಿಂಚಿತ್ - ೪

The popular ಗಾದೆ "ವೇದ ಸುಳ್ಳಾದರೂ ಗಾದೆ ಸುಳ್ಳಾಗೊಲ್ಲ" emphasises the fact that greater value must be placed on experience than received wisdom. In addition, it introduces an unnecessary coupling between the Vedas and random utterances that have found their way into popular consciousness. Proverbs are pithy - they impart a great deal of information in very few words. The older a culture, the greater the number of proverbs it generates. Kannada, thus, has a ridiculously large corpus of profound, hilarious, obscene and wise sayings and it fell to pastor Hermann Mögling to collect as many of them as he could into a collection published in 1852.

Mögling is another great man confined to the periphery of Kannada popular culture but he is at least remembered here, unlike in his native Germany. Arriving in Karnataka with fellow missionary Samuel Hebich, he acquired sufficient proficiency in the local language to read its great classics and gain enthusiasm to publish them. The Basel Mission, who sent him and Hebich and a subsequent preacher called Ferdinand Kittel, reports that the proselytisation efforts of the German missionaries were meeting with polite attention in Dharwad, but unfortunately not with great success. One can almost imagine the characters from Shrinivas Vaidya's "ಹಳ್ಳ ಬಂತು ಹಳ್ಳ" staring in quiet bemusement at the strangely-accented new men in Navalgund and muttering snidely to each other. In any case, being a heathen unto the heathens seems soon to have become Mögling's focus and he invested a great deal of time in it. Apart from starting the first ever Kannada newspaper (ಮಂಗಳೂರು ಸಮಾಚಾರ), with sections such as ರಾಜ್ಯ ವರ್ತಮಾನಗಳು and ನೂತನವಾದ ಆಶ್ಚರ್ಯ ಸುದ್ದಿಗಳು (Na Kasturi's sarcastic headline "ಪಾಲೆಸ್ತೀನದಲ್ಲಿ ಹೆಂಗಸೊಬ್ಬಳು ಮೂರು ಮಕ್ಕಳನ್ನು ಹೆತ್ತು ಮೂರನ್ನೂ ತಾನೇ ತಿಂದಳು" would probably find place in this section), Mögling also published several ancient and medieval works. Particular debt is owed to him for publishing the ತೊರವೆ ರಾಮಾಯಣ, for it is said that this work informed the great MuddaNa's sensibilities while composing his series of works based on the Ramayana. Mögling also had another impact on MuddaNa's life, and thus on modern Kannada literature. He it was that recommended Ferdinand Kittel's name to the British for the task of compiling a Kannada-English dictionary. Kittel went on to publish, among other important works, Keshiraja's 'ಶಬ್ದಮಣಿದರ್ಪಣ', a copy of which MuddaNa is said to have possessed and practically memorised and used to good effect in his works (for more, please read the book about MuddaNa by V Seetaramaiah, Shrinivas Havanur and Ramachandra Uchil, available also on Google Play Books).

Hermann Mögling could not have gone about his work in Kannada had it not been for a gentleman who appeared in a prior installment of this series. James Archibald Casamajor, resident of Travancore  (when Swati Tirunal reigned) & Mysore and arbiter during the troubles of Kodagu under Chikka Veera Rajendra, retired to the Nilgiris and was leading a comfortable life when he was approached by the German for funds. Despite not speaking Kannada, Casamajor was moved by Mögling's sincerity of purpose and agreed to finance the project of going around 'the Canarese country and collecting good manuscripts' (see the article 'Herr Kannada'). The result of this project was the "Bibliotheca Carnataca" published between 1848 and 1853, which contained, among other works, Bhimakavi's 'Basava Purana' and Kanakadasa's 'Haribhaktisaara'. Mögling, in the same years, also undertook the task of compiling 3547 Kannada proverbs known at the time and published them under the title "ಕನ್ನಡ ಗಾದೆಗಳು". One manuscript of that work was what I happened to lay my hands on recently.

How neat the bow, how tidy the wrapping. Although the packaging might be more recent, the pages are the ones put out by the Basel Mission in 1852. As is made clear here:

In place of a preface is a short poem that might have been written by Mögling himself. It is written in the form of a cry by Knowledge herself to mankind, to heed her words and the truths she speaks:

I suspect the hand that inscribed these words was Mögling's because there is a strange usage of case declension here. Instead of the ದ್ವಿತೀಯ, the ಚತುರ್ಥಿ is used in the line: 'ಪುರುಷರೇ ನಿಮಗೆ ಕರೆಯುತ್ತೇನೆ'. A person born into and raised with Kannada would not have made this error; it had to be one new to the language. This is not to diminish Mögling's achievement in any way, it is merely an observation. The poem itself is very nice, as you may judge for yourself:

ಬುದ್ಧಿಯು ಕರೆಯುತ್ತಾಳಲ್ಲವೋ, ತಿಳುವಳಿಕೆಯ ಶಬ್ದವನ್ನೆತ್ತುತ್ತಾಳಲ್ಲವೋ, ಉನ್ನತಾಗ್ರಗಳಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಮಾರ್ಗದ ಬಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಮನೆಯ ಮುಂದೆಯೂ ಅಡ್ಡಹಾದಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ನಿಲ್ಲುತ್ತಾಳೆ -- ದ್ವಾರಗಳ ಕಡೆಯಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಪಟ್ಟಣದ ಬಾಯಿಯಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಬಾಗಲುಗಳ ಪ್ರವೇಶದಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಕೂಗುತ್ತಾಳೆ -- ಪುರುಷರೇ ನಿಮಗೆ ಕರೆಯುತ್ತೇನೆ, ನನ್ನ ಶಬ್ದವು ಮನುಷ್ಯರ ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಗೆ ಶೇರಲಿ. ಮೂಢರೇ ಯುಕ್ತಿಯನ್ನು ಕಲಿತುಕೊಳ್ಳಿರಿ. ಹುಚ್ಚರೇ ಹೃದಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಗ್ರಹಿಕೆಯನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿರಿ. ಕೇಳಿರಿ. ಯಾಕಂದರೆ ಪ್ರಕಟವಾದವುಗಳನ್ನು ನುಡಿಯುವೆನು, ನೀಟಾದವುಗಳಿಗಾಗಿ ನನ್ನ ತುಟಿಗಳನ್ನು ಬಿಚ್ಚುವೆನು.

Another slight giveaway is the phrase 'ಯುಕ್ತಿಯನ್ನು ಕಲಿತುಕೊಳ್ಳಿರಿ', Typically, you attain wisdom, not learn it, so it should have been ಯುಕ್ತಿಯನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿರಿ/ಪಡೆಯಿರಿ. Mögling must have translated something related to knowledge and learning from German to English and then to Kannada. Note also the infernal "ಶೇರಲಿ" instead of "ಸೇರಲಿ".

Some proverbs are available for viewing here (and some others are here) but I will recount a few choice ones below. Proverbs reflect human thought and wisdom arising from commonly experienced situations. However, some from the Mögling collection leave the reader befuddled about the situation that might have provoked their genesis. Some others are obvious while some are bizarre.

There is the Newtonian "ಏರಿದವ ಇಳಿದಾನು", a comment about the rise and fall of fortunes. Continuing with the physics theme, another one seems to be about ductility or malleability: ಅಗಲವಾದದ್ದು ಹರಿಯುವುದು, ಉದ್ದವಾದದ್ದು ಮುರಿಯುವುದು. A telling comment on the importance of taking bold steps: "ಅಂಬೆಗಾಲಿಕ್ಕಿದರೆ ರಂಭೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕ್ಯಾಳೆ?" Caution about not giving up the larger goal when faced with small gains, and not giving up when facing troubles: "ಅಟ್ಟ ಸ್ವರ್ಗವಲ್ಲ, ಘಟ್ಟ ಮೇರುವಲ್ಲ". A profound comment about the state of the world vis-a-vis the power of the rich over the poor: "ಅರಸು ಯಾರಿಗಪ್ಪ, ಸೂಳೆ ಯಾರಿಗವ್ವ?" Sarcastic thanks offered to the three-eyed Destroyer: "ಇದ್ದ ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಗೆ ಕೂಳಿಲ್ಲ, ಮತ್ತೊಂದು ಕೊಡೋ ಶಿವರಾಯ". Picking precisely the wrong person for a job: "ಕುರುಬನ ಮಂದೆ ತೋಳ ಕಾದ ಹಾಗೆ".

There are some inclusions in the collection that are pointless or obvious or barely make an effort to mask the truth they seek to reveal to the world:
ಅಂತ್ಯವಿಲ್ಲದ ಕಡೆಯಿಲ್ಲ, ಆದಿಯಿಲ್ಲದ ಆರಂಭವಿಲ್ಲ.
ಆ ಬೆಕ್ಕಲ್ಲ ಈ ಬೆಕ್ಕು.
ಈತನ ಮಾತಿಗೆ ಆತ ಸೋತ.
ನಂಜಿಗೆ ಮದ್ದಿಲ್ಲ, ಬಂಜಿಗೆ ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಲ್ಲ.
ಬಂಜೇಲಿ ತೊಟ್ಟಿಲಿಲ್ಲ, ಸಂಜೇಲಿ ಸೂರ್ಯ ಇಲ್ಲ.
 ನಾಲಿಗೆ ಇಲ್ಲದವನು ನಾರಾಯಣ ಎಂದಾನೇ?

Caste, religion and regionalism being such important factors in Indian society, proverbs are no more immune to them than are people. So the following make their presence felt:
ಅಂತ್ಯಜನಲ್ಲಿ ಮೆಂತ್ಯ ಕದ್ದ ಹಾಗೆ.
ಹಾರುವನಿಗೆ ಆಳಾಗಬೇಡ, ಗಾಣಿಗನಿಗೆ ಎತ್ತಾಗಬೇಡ.
ತುರುಕರ ಸಂಗ ಎಂದಿಗಾದರೂ ಭಂಗ.
ಕೊಂಕುಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕುರು ಸಲ್ಲ, ಕೊಂಕಣಿಗರ ನೆರೆ ಸಲ್ಲ.
ತಿಗುಳ ತಾ ಕೆಡುತ್ತ ಏಳು ನೆರೆ ಕೆಡಿಸಿದ.
ಬೌಧನಾದರೂ ಬುದ್ಧಿಯಿರಬೇಕು.
ಜಾತಿ ತಪ್ಪಿದರೂ ನೀತಿ ತಪ್ಪಬಾರದು.
ಕುಲಕ್ಕೆ ತಕ್ಕ ಬುದ್ಧಿ, ಆಹಾರಕ್ಕೆ ತಕ್ಕ ಲದ್ದಿ.
ಕುಲಗೋತ್ರಕ್ಕೆ ಕಡಿಮೆಯಾದರೂ ಮಲಮೂತ್ರಕ್ಕೆ ಕಡಿಮೆಯಿಲ್ಲ.

All that talk about urine and shit provides a handy segue into the rich area below the belt. Urine is used to make a point about freedom of choice: ಉಚ್ಚೆ ಕುಡಿದರೂ ತನ್ನಿಚ್ಛೆ ಲೇಸು. The same urine is used to make a lipstick-on-a-pig sort of point: ಉಚ್ಚೆ ಕುಡೀಲಿಕ್ಕೆ ಉಪ್ಪು ಕೇಳಿದ. A short journey thence brings us to the posterior or the ಕುಂಡೆ/ಕುಂಡಿ/ತಿಕ. This area has been mined for some valuable content:
Size doesn't matter: ಕುಂಡೆ ಬೆಳೆದರೆ ಗೌಡನಾದಾನೆ?
The importance of the right solution for a problem: ಕುಂಡೆ ಮೇಲೆ ಬಡಿದರೆ ದವಡೆ ಹಲ್ಲು ಉದುರೀತೇ? and ಮಂಡೆ ನೋತಕ್ಕೆ ಕುಂಡೆಗೆ ಲೇಪವೇ?
What idle hands can do: ಕೆಲಸವಿಲ್ಲದ ಬಡಗಿ ಮಕ್ಕಳ ತಿಕ ಕೆತ್ತಿದ.
Abject despair: ಮಂಡೆ ಬೋಳು, ಕುಂಡೆ ಬೆತ್ತಲೆ.
The importance of not killing monkeys, I suppose: ಮಂಗನ ಕೊಂದು ಮೈಗೆಲ್ಲ ಹೇಲು.

Finally, we come to the most cruelly hilarious section of the book: proverbs involving ಮುಂಡೆs. There seems to have been special relish felt by the makers of these, considering how uninhibitedly they lash out with no allowance made to the husbandless loneliness of their subjects. Laughing at some of these proverbs is like laughing at this joke: "What did the handless, legless, blind boy get for Christmas? Cancer."
ಅಂಡೆಯೊಳಗಣ ನೀರು ಮುಂಡೆಯೊಳಗಣ ಹಣ ಸಮ.
ಆನೆ ಚಾಕರನ ಹೆಂಡತಿ ಆರು ತಿಂಗಳಿಗೆ ಮುಂಡೆ, ಕುದುರೆ ಚಾಕರನ ಹೆಂಡತಿ ದಿನದಿನಕ್ಕೂ ಮುಂಡೆ, ದಂಡಿಗೆ ಹೋದವನ ಹೆಂಡತಿ ಎಲ್ಲಿದ್ದರೂ ಮುಂಡೆ.
ಕಂಡಕಂಡವರಿಗೆಲ್ಲ ಹಲ್ಲು ಕಿರಿದರೂ ಗಂಡಸತ್ತ ಮುಂಡೆಗೆ ಬೋಳಿಸದೇ ಬಿಡರು.
ಗಂಡುಮಕ್ಕಳಿಲ್ಲದ ಮುಂಡೆ ಮನಸ್ಸು ಗುಂಡಿಗಿಂತ ಗಟ್ಟಿ.
ಗಂಡ ಸತ್ತ ಮೇಲೆ ಮುಂಡೆಗೆ ಬುದ್ಧಿ ಬಂತು.
ಮುಂಡೆಗೆ ಮುಂಡೆ ಕಂಡರೆ ಉಂಡಷ್ಟು ಸಂತೋಷ.

These two have to just be random snatches of conversation that Mögling overheard and included as proverbs:
ಈರಾರು ಹನ್ನೆರಡೆಂದರೆ ನಾರೋ ಮುಂಡೆ ಹೋಗಂದ.
ಉಂಡಿಯೇನೋ ಗುಂಡಭಟ್ಟ? ಹೌದು ಕಾಣೇ ರಂಡೆ ಮುಂಡೆ.

Carried away by the spirit of things, I might as well add two of my submissions to the corpus of Kannada proverbs:
ಬೇದಿಯಾದಾಗ ಹುರಿಗಡಲೆ ತಿಂದರಂತೆ.
ಸಾಲ ತೊಗೊಂಡು ಮೋಡ ಅಡ ಇಟ್ಟ ಹಾಗೆ.

Hermann Mögling is today all but forgotten in his homeland Germany and remembered only barely in his karmabhoomi of Karnataka. This pioneer deserves our thanks, recognition and much more.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

ಪುರಾಣಮಿತ್ಯೇವ ಸಾಧು ಕಿಂಚಿತ್ - ೩

Of the many Veerashaiva poets who festoon the Kannada literary landscape, the most important one about whom students learn the least is probably Nijaguna Shivayogi. This is said to be the man who inspired Muppina 'ತಿರುಕನೊಬ್ಬನೂರ ಮುಂದೆ ಮುರುಕು ಧರ್ಮಶಾಲೆಯಲ್ಲಿ...' Shadakshari and Shishunala Shareefa. Shivayogi's backstory, whatever little I know of it, is compelling too. He was the king (or lord or chieftain) of a tiny principality somewhere on the banks of the Kaveri, in the 15th century. He realises the truth that worldly riches and fortune are but fleeting and unsatisfactory and begins meditating on the Eternal Truth in a cave. He emerges a devotee of Shiva, and goes on to compose great works in Kannada. Among the most famous of these is the Viveka Chintamani.

This is an encyclopaedia containing information about a wide range of subjects like music, dance, dramatics, erotics and poetry. As such, there is a theory abroad that Someshwara's 'Mānasollāsa', the 12th century Sanskrit work that is similar in theme and scope, inspired the Viveka Chintamani. In any case, Shivayogi's magnum opus is ambitious in reach. Like any ancient/medieval Indian literary work, the 'original' is lost in the mists of time but several manuscripts of it survive. I chanced upon one which, despite careful preservation, had been eaten through in several locations, leading to a loss of meaning. This manuscript had 140 folios written on both sides. The box containing the folios had some of that typical imperial British writing:

"No 39
Vivaka Chintaumony - A general selection of the Hindoo mythology, translated into the Canad language"
3 Dec 1833

A Canadiga, and a Hindoo at that, is revealed to be the owner of this particular manuscript by the opening folios. And he has come by it by way of inheritance, it seems.

"೧೭೩೩ ರವುದ್ರಿ ಸಂವತ್ಸರದ...ವೆಂಕಟಬೋರೈಯ್ಯ ದುಬಾಷಿಯವರಿಗೆ -- "

If we may stop here for a moment, the ... (ellipsis) there indicate the place on the manuscript where a hole has been made either by time or by insects. Another aspect that puzzled me is the year and the samvatsara mentioned. If we take it to be 1733 AD, it should have been the PramAdin samvatsara. However, if it is the Shalivahana Saka year, it works out to be 1811 AD, which is the PrajApati samvatsara. If we consider it a mistake (writo?), that 1733 was put down instead of 1833, it should still have been the Vijaya samvatsara. A curious detail indeed. Onward, regardless.

"೧೭೩೩ ರವುದ್ರಿ ಸಂವತ್ಸರದ...ವೆಂಕಟಬೋರೈಯ್ಯ ದುಬಾಷಿಯವರಿಗೆ ರಾರಾವಿ(?) ವೋದಿಸುವ ಸಿದ್ಧಲಿಂಗೈಯ್ಯನ ಪುತ್ರ ಗಂಗಾಧರೈಯ್ಯನು ಬರಕೊಟ್ಟ ಕ್ರಮವೆಂತೆಂದೊಡೆ ಯಿದಿತನ(?)ದಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಂಮಗೆ ತಂಮ್ಮ ನ್ಯಾಯಾರ್ಜಿತವಾದ ವಿವೆಕಚಿಂತ್ತಾಮಣಿ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಕೊ...ನಾವು...ಯಿಪ್ಪತ್ತು ರುಪ್ಪೈಯ್ಯಗಳು ಸಂಬಾವನೆ ತೆಗೆದುಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದ ಕಾರಣ ಯಿದಿವನ ಆ ತಂಮ(?)...ನಿಂಮದು ಯೆಂಬುದಾನಿ ಸಾಕ್ಷಿಗಳ ಮುಖಾಂತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ಬರಸಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟ ರಸಿದಿ ರುಜು.

ಸಾಕ್ಷಿಗಳು: ನರಶಿಂಹಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಿಗಳು, ಗೋಪಾಲಾಚರ್ಯ್ಯರು, ಸಾಕಿನ ಗಂಗಾವತಿ, ಸಾಕಿನ ರಾಯದುರ್ಗ್ಗ - ಯಿವರ ಮುಖಾಂತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ರಾರಾವಿ(?) ವೋದಿಸುವ ಗಂಗಾಧರೈಯ್ಯನ ಸ್ವಹಸ್ತ..."

The ? indicates difficult-to-decipher writing. There seems to have been an exchange of the book and twenty rupees between the two-language-knowing Venkataborayya and Gangadharayya (son of Siddhalingayya) and this is attested to by four witnesses. So we may owe a debt of thanks to Dubashi Venkataborayya for this manuscript somehow making its way to the East India Company and being preserved well. It isn't clear whether the "Saakina" in those witnesses' names means those people were adopted as children.

Note the occasional occurrence of ಶ in place of ಸ. This feature was also seen in the circa 1700 AD "ವಡೆರಪಟ್ಟು" genealogy of the Mysore Wodeyars and even in the 1826-1833 letters of Chikka Veera Rajendra. It isn't clear when this habit dwindled in practice - some old Mysoreans still say ಶೀ (with a nasal twang) in place of ಸಿಹಿ, so it's not completely dead yet. Good thing, though, that this strange usage has passed out of favour.

But wait, Shivayogi has begun.

"ಶ್ರೀ ವಿರೂಪಾಕ್ಷಲಿಂಗಯಂನ್ನಮಃ, ಶ್ರೀ ಸಂಬಸದಾಶಿವಾಯಂನ್ನಮಃ, ಶ್ರೀ ಅಸಂಖ್ಯಾತ ಪ್ರಮಥ ಗುಣಂ(?)ಗಳ ಪಾದಾರವಿಂದವೆ ಗತಿ"

Standard salutational start. I heard it somewhere that it is only MuddaNa's late-19th century work "ಶ್ರೀ ರಾಮಾಶ್ವಮೇಧಂ" that, despite being a devotional/religious text, begins in a non-devotional manner; so Shivayogi beginning in this manner is to be expected. We notice here that the deergha is optionally used - it is neither completely omitted, like in the ವಡೆರಪಟ್ಟು nor always used like in today's Kannada. Additionally, there are random samyuktaksharas and anuswaaras sprayed around: the book is referred to by itself as ವಿವೇಕಚಿಂತ್ತಾಮಣಿ, and uses ನಿಂಮಗೆ and ತಂಮ್ಮ, to no added benefit other than mildly annoying the reader.

Shivayogi mentions that he explains the magic of the world and its existence in Kannada to benefit listeners:

"ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಸ್ಥಿತಿಗತಿಗಳಾವ ಪ್ರಕಾರದಿಂದಿಹವೆಂದರೆ...ಲ್ಲೀಲೆಯೆಂದರಿದು ಕ್ರುತಾರ್ತ್ಥರಾಗಿರೆಂದು ನಿಜಗುಣಶಿವಯೋಗಿ ಬೆಳುಗಂನ್ನಡಮಾದವಚನರಚನೆಗಳಿಂ ವಿವೇಕಚಿಂತ್ತಾಮಣಿಯೆಂಬ ಪ್ರಕಾರಣಮಂ ಪೇಳ್ವನದೆಂತೆಂದೊಡೇ..."

Some sentences from the work:
"ಪ್ರವರ್ತ್ಥನೆ ಕೇಳ್ವರ ಚಿತ್ತಸ್ವಸ್ಥತೆಗಳೆಂಬಾ ಫಲತ್ರಯಶಿದ್ಧಮೆಂದು ನಿರ್ಧರಿಸಿ...ಸರ್ವಜ್ಞತ್ವ ಸರ್ವ್ವಕರ್ತ್ರುತ್ವ ಸಪೂತನಾದ ಪರಮೇಶ್ವರ ಪ್ರಣಿತತ್ವದಿಂ..."

"ಅಪೂರ್ವಮೆಂಬ ಪೆಸರಿಂ ಸಂಸ್ಕರಿಸಿ ಬರುವಾ ಗುಣಂಗಳೊಳಗೆ ಮೊದಲು ಧರ್ಮ್ಮಾದಿ ಚತುಷ್ಠವೆ ಸಾತ್ವಿಕಂಗಳು, ಮಿಕ್ಕ ಅಧರ್ಮಾದಿ ತ್ರಯವೆ ತಾಮಸಂಗಳು...ವೈರಾಗ್ಯಮೊಂದೆ ರಾಜಸಮಕ್ಕುಂ..."

"ಅಧರ್ಮ್ಮದಿಂ ಭೋಗ ಶಕ್ತ್ಯಾದಿಗಳು, ಅಜ್ಞಾನದಿಂ ತಿರಸ್ಕಾರಾದಿಗಳು, ಅನೈಶ್ವರ್ಯದಿಂ ವಿಘ್ನಾದಿಗಳುಂ, ಅವೈರಾಗ್ಗ್ಯದಿಂ ಜನ್ಮಾಂತ್ತರಂಗಳಕ್ಕುಂ..."

The Kannada Pustaka Pradhikara has published the Viveka Chintamani, so interested readers may purchase a copy from them (or Sapna Book House, if they hold stocks). Or, if you wish to emblazon on your mind the sight of a common man's writing from a couple of centuries ago and feel his voice reach across time with the ease of Vamana stepping across the earth and the heavens, go to the British Library in London and read the folios.

Monday, July 13, 2015

ಪುರಾಣಮಿತ್ಯೇವ ಸಾಧು ಕಿಂಚಿತ್ - ೨

Veera Rajendra (called Veera Rajendra Wodeyaru in Kannada), known also as 'Chikka Veera Rajendra' and immortalised in the eponymous Masti Venkatesha Iyengar novel, ruled the kingdom of Kodagu between 1820 and 1834, when he was deposed by the British and then moved around like a relic that can neither be used nor disposed of. Between 1826 and 1833, he sent a series of letters to James Archibald Casamajor, the British Resident of Mysore (until 1835) and then Travancore. Casamajor was reportedly one of many people who advised Chikka Veera Rajendra to tone down his cruelty and wanton ways and not pester his subjects or his cousin, Devammaji, and her husband, Chennabasava. The king was after Devammaji and her husband because of money: his uncle and Devammaji's father, Dodda Veera Rajendra, had deposited around 3 lakh rupees and 180000 gold pagodas with the East India Company as a form of investment for his daughter's future. Chikka Veera Rajendra had a counterpoint to this arrangement: he thought the money and gold should be his and he reportedly pestered Devammaji over this point. After news of this and other misdeeds of the king and his minister, Kunta Basava, got around, the British got involved (as usual) and sent missives to the king. But alas, Casamajor's entreaties were to no avail. Devammaji and her husband were killed by the young king and his minister.

Some of the letters that went back and forth between Kodagu ('Coorg') and Casamajor were in a collection excitingly marked 'Documents awaiting identification'. The folder containing the letters wore proudly the appearance of dull officialdom:

It wouldn't be surprising if this was from the time Kodagu and the East India Company were pen pals. Inside the folder lay a multitude of letters of this nature (please click on them for a higher resolution):

Absolutely beautifully written letters that proved to be almost impossible to read. Very decorative script often tends to obscure crucial words or alphabets and that can lead to a complete loss of sense and meaning. This is what happens with a large number of these documents. A sense of what they are can be gleaned from words and sentences whose meanings can be snatched with some difficulty.

The letters begin with an address in Persian/Farsi (an after-effect of the Hyder and Tipu invasions, presumably) and Casamajor is addressed as 'Saheb Vaiz Baksh Vaizer' and so on and so forth and also entitled 'Casamajor Sahib Bahadur'. Then Chikka Veera Rajendra displays his generosity with Persian words over a couple of lines with something that looks like 'RizJaanibE Veera Rajendra Wodeyaravaru rajasthana sallambaadaz....mulaaqaat bOzahat ....marahood (?) ....' until he, or the letter writer, seems to give up and begin to get to the rest of the letter. The date of the letters are mentioned both according to the Hindu calendar (using the Shalivahana Saka method) and the Gregorian calendar, but the Hindu calendar only mentions the name of the samvatsara and not the actual year itself. For instance, one letter says it's the Virodhi samvatsara but doesn't take the trouble of attaching any year number to it. And the writing's a bit weird too. It uses vowels where consonants should be, consonants where vowels would suffice, no deergha where one is required and so on. With the net result that such an important official communication looks rather like the homework assignment of a new student of Kannada who doesn't really pay attention in class. For instance:

'...ವಿರೋಧಿ ಸಂವತ್ಸರದ ಮಾರ್ಗಶಿರ ಬ(ಹುಳ?) ೮ ಶುಕ್ರವಾರದವರೆಗೆ ನಾಉ ಕ್ಷೆಮದಲ್ಲಿ ಯಿದ್ದೆವೆ. ಪರಂಪರ ಮಾಯೆಯವರ ಖೈರಿಯತ್ತಿನ ವಾರ್ತೆಯಂನು ಪದೇಪದೇ ಲಿಖಿತಾರ್ಥದಿಂದ ಸೂಚಿಸುತ್ತಿರುವಂತೆ ಮಾಡಿಸಬೇಕು'

Again, as mentioned before, many thanks are owed to the great people who simplified and standardised the Kannada script.

Some pictures of the letters are in this album. If you can read the letters, please send me the text by comment or email.

Even though he was apparently a tyrant and a man given to vice, it tends to be a bit saddening reading these letters sent repeatedly by the last king of Kodagu, especially in light of what happened to him afterwards. He was kept in Benares by the East India Company and paid an annual allowance. He then went to England to plead for his kingdom back, which naturally did not happen. And he died in London after losing a legal battle for the money Dodda Veera Rajendra had deposited with the East India Company. The man who had always addressed himself with the royal plural pronoun died a singularly sad man.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

ಪುರಾಣಮಿತ್ಯೇವ ಸಾಧು ಕಿಂಚಿತ್ - ೧

There is a very educative book by Dr A V Narasimhamurthy called "ಕನ್ನಡ ಲಿಪಿಯ ಉಗಮ ಮತ್ತು ವಿಕಾಸ" (The origin and development of the Kannada script). It provided some startling (for me) information.  For instance, in the medieval period (and until around the 18th century), the ದೀರ್ಘ symbol was not used and the reader would have to contextually understand that a ದೀರ್ಘ was meant. So this would be a typical sentence in a manuscript:

ನಂಜರಾಜೈಯ್ಯವಡೆರ ತಂಮ ಬಾಳೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಮಗ ವಿರೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಮಕ್ಕಳು ರಾಮರಾಜೈಯ್ಯನವರ...

You would have to make that ವಡೇರ and ವೀರೈಯ್ಯ yourself. The symbol for the ದೀರ್ಘ, although present in some form, was not commonly used. Another noteworthy element is the relative convolutedness of rendering common words, especially if they contained the ಅನುಸ್ವಾರ or some ಸಂಯುಕ್ತಾಕ್ಷರ. These peculiarities presented themselves in a manuscript entitled 'ವಡೆರಪಟ್ಟು', being a genealogy of the Wodeyar/Wadiyar dynasty composed around 1700 A.D. It is available at the British Library in London (Euston road/St. Pancras branch) and the scholarly and knowledgeable should definitely glean more from it than my clumsy amateurish attempts did.

There isn't much of a compelling narrative in this document. It lists possibly every Wodeyar born until the time of its composition and everyone they married or were related to, or even possibly passed by on a typical Mysorean evening walk. The feeling that does envelop the reader is an overwhelming gratitude towards whoever decided to simplify the Kannada script after the 18th century. What used to be a ಬೀChi joke was par for the course back then. ಹೆಂಣು, ಅಂಣ್ಣ, ಪುಂಣ್ಯ, ಮೊಂಮ್ಮಕ್ಕಳು, among others are spread throughout the work. There are also some strange usages like ಕೊಮಾರ್ರು instead of ಕುಮಾರರು and ಯಿವರ/ಯುವರ instead of ಇವರ. Some sample sentences from the book are reproduced below.

Beginning with:
ವಡೆರಪಟ್ಟು ರತಲಲ್ಲೂ ಸಕೊಟಿಸಾಮಾನ್ಯರಗಳು ಬಂಧುತ್ವ ಮಾಡಿದ ಬಗೆ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದು

ಯುವರಾಜರು ಮಕ್ಕಳು ಕುಟುಂಬಕರೆ ಶ್-ಯವಳಿಗೆ ಬರೆಶಿ ಉಂಬಳಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟು ಅದೆ ಬಿಳುತೆರೆಯವರಲ್ಲಿ ಮುನಿಯಪ್ಪ ವಡೇರ ಕೆಂಪಯ್ಯನ ಚಿತ್ತೈಯ್ಯ (?)ಗೆ ಕಾವೆರಿಪಟ್ಟಣದ ಚಿಂನ(?)ರಾಜಯ್ಯನವರ ಬಗೆ ಹೆಂಣು ತಂದ ಬಗೆ.

the book rambles on with repeated iterations of ThisManWhoIsTheSonOfThisManHadAGrandsonWhoMarriedThisWoman. Like this:

ಮಾದೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಕೊಮಾರರು ಚಾಮರಾಜೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಮಗ(?) ಅಂತು ಯಳಂದೂರ ವರ ಮನೆತನಕ್ಕೆ ವಕ್ಕಲ್ಲುತ್ಕೆ(?) ಬಳಿ ಕೊತ್ತಾಗಾಲದ ಮನತನಕ್ಕೆ ವಿಶ್ವಾಮಿತ್ರಗೊತ್ರ ಆದಿ ದೊಡ್ಡಲಿಂಗರಾಜವಡೆರು ಯಾವಂಶಪಾರಂಪರೆಯಲ್ಲು ಕೃಷ್ಣೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಕೊಮಾರರು ಗೊಕುಲೈದೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಮಗ ಯಿವರ ಅಂಣ ಲಿಂಗರಾಜೈಯ್ಯನವರ ಕೊಮಾರ್ರು ಲಕ್ಷ್ಮಿಕಾಂತವಡೆರ...ಕೆಂಪಲಿಂಗರಾಜವಡೆರ...

Until the final paragraph closes with:

ದೊಡ್ಡರೆವೈಯ್ಯ ಅರಶಿನವರ ತಂಮ ಚಿಕ್ಕರೆವೈಯ್ಯನವರಿಗೆ ವಿವಾಹ ಶತ ೧೫೬೬ಕೆ
ತಾರಣಸಂವತ್ಸರದ ಫಾಲ್ಗುಣದಲ್ಲಿ ಸತ್ಯಾಗಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ(?) ಸ್ವರ್ಗಸ್ಥರಾದರ್ರು ದೊಡ್ಡರೆವೈಯ್ಯ ಅರಶಿನವರ ಮಾರಕೆ(?) ತಂಮನವರು ದೆವರಾಜವಡೆರೈಯ್ಯನವರೊಬ(?) ನಾಮಾಂಕಿತ ಕೆಂಪದೆವೈಯ್ಯನವರಿಗೆ ಶತ ೧೫೮೧ಕೆ

Question marks indicate words I could not decipher accurately and which compelled me to adopt the vaunted 'stab in the dark' approach. For instance, the ಮಗ looked very like ಬಗ/ಚಗ.

In other attempts at playing literary detective, I laid my ignorant hands on some letters that Kodagu's Veerarajendra Wodeyar (a.k.a Masti's famous Chikka Veerarajendra) exchanged with the British between 1826 and 1833, and an 18th century manuscript of Nijaguna Shivayogi's 'Viveka Chintamani'. Subsequent posts will contain more about those adventures.

Friday, September 02, 2011


City of dreams. Fount of poetic imagination. Beauty that can inspire divine music. None of these describes Utrecht, which is like any other Dutch city. It sounds like "uterus" and looks like one. No, it's actually quite nice and boasts of being the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, a feat that would impress the unambitious. But I was not there to take in the city's sights and sounds (nobody does that any more) but to take in some alcohol with the man with the aquiline nose.

Sandeep has followed me here as well. He has been sent here for a few months and, by the looks of it, will spend the rest of his life here. To drown his sorrow over this matter, I, of noble heart, take along with me one Glen Moray, a single malt of fitting ordinariness. Wikipedia says Glen Moray "offerings have performed modestly at international Spirit ratings competitions". Goes well with the overall mediocrity of the occasion. I offer him a glass of the whisky, he takes a swig of it and pronounces it smooth. I offer him my hand in friendship, he takes a swig of it and pronounces it smooth. I am appalled.

Our conversations have always revolved around how much our parents struggled for us and how much we haven't repaid them for it. And it soon takes the form of a poker game. He starts off with "My father used to work in some factory". I counter easily with "My father looked at factories and wasn't even allowed inside". He parries deftly with "My parents could not afford milk, on some occasions", which makes me think for a while before I come up with "My father had to take his younger brother along with him to school, and take a loan to get his sisters married, which drowned him in debt for the best years of his youth". But I know he's been waiting for something like this, the swine. He unleashes his trump card, "My father even had to do physical labour". I am stumped, bowled, leg-before-wicket, but I can't let him see it. I mustn't have a tell. So, after looking here and there for inspiration, I submit for the court's inspection "My mother was shot in the leg in the '71 war and she hobbled along on her wounded leg and jumped into a tank and secured vast swathes of Bangladesh for us and then grew a whole new leg in place of the old one. Jai Hind!" and open the window and fly away. There's no point in sticking around after you've won.

We speak to Harish and Arvind, a friends' "Hangout". Arvind is looking delighted like a man who's just had someone sit on his face. Harish is looking delighted like he is that someone. Both inform us that things are normal and LokPal is evil. We are slightly inebriated by this point and promise to vote for Ambedkar in the next elections. I remember relentlessly questioning Arvind about the face-sitting, based on some picture.

This was a couple of weeks ago. I made for Utrecht again last week, this time for free booze and food being proffered by the great Nagaraj (Sandeep's friend, colleague and part-time lover). In my attempts to help them in the cooking by chopping onions, I was set upon by an inhabitant of Andhra Pradesh and his Fu Manchu beard. I am not the best chopper of onions in the world, so he commented kindly on my plight, "'Shall I chop? This fellow is STRUGGLING so much. Businayana Bagepalli Communistu yegenistu Rayalaseema!" That was the gist of it, anyway. I immediately judged him to be one of those guys who prides themselves on being good at something, despite being good at it. Like those idiots with good cameras who put up those infernal pictures of bees, bathrooms, begonias and balls ("High exposure", "f12", "800 metres away"). Fine, I bow to your expertise, stop being anal about it (and then I'll stop being anal about you).

Anyway, Onion Boy was not done yet. He discarded my weapon of choice (a small knife) and picked up a machete. His hand was the size of my thigh and he chopped down powerfully on the hapless onion, mincing it ruthlessly. I felt ruth for the vegetable and it, heeding my feelings, made him cry as he was cutting it. But he wasn't satisfied with just doing the job well, he needed to expound on the best techniques for performing the miracle we had witnessed. For every epic palaver, there needs to be someone who will fan the flames of the palaverer(?)'s ego. Sandeep jumped at the opportunity to do this and asked AbbayiRayudu "How might one best cut onions, O Divine Cook? I saw you 'air-cutting' onions as you said 'cutting onions' and knew right away you were gifted in the art of cookery. Teach us!" And AbbayiRayudu spoke at length for over two hours, as my rotting corpse slowly turned to dust. "Chop the onions lengthwise. Hold the onions with your nails facing the blade. Your onion-holding hand must be perpendicular to the knife, essentially. Then, start cutting and moving the holding hand backwards. Even if your knife is faster than your holding hand, the blade will slide-- haan? -- slide off your nails and you will not hurt yourself. Super, no? I have been cooking since I was 18. In Andhra Pradesh, we play cards for money and you can make tens of lakhs in one night. I visited Y S Rajashekhara Reddy."

OK, those were the things he said over several hours, not in one concise paragraph. Fuck him, I hope he gets amnesia and forgets what onions are. Nice guy otherwise, though.

Cricket, then. Despite being Indians abroad for several years, the bunch of people that Sandeep knows in Utrecht are not complete assholes. They do have an inflated opinion of their own cricketing abilities, however. This is evidenced by the attention paid to (what else?) 'technique' and 'strategy' in a tennis-ball game played in a small park surrounded by slush and trees. Field placement, "That off-cutter you bowled last week was amazing, man!", all these were on show. However, neither that, nor the rain that came down eventually, can conceal the fact that a good time was had by all.

So, in summary, it doesn't matter how you chop the onions as long as you chop them correctly for the occasion. And Andhra Pradesh should stop sending its most epic bladers to annoy me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sharma does Holland

On a fine morning in 1911, it can be asserted, Srinivasa Sarma (as he was then known) stepped into the world and decided this was no place to be tall. So he adamantly refused to grow beyond a modest five feet and strode the dust-paved streets of Thandarai, TN, within this small frame of his. Srinivasa Sarma's mother died young (by today's standards) and his father was left a widower. His father, Vedachalaiah, was no small man, though. A man of notorious determination, Vedachalaiah went on to break up an intended marriage and take the bride for himself after settling certain matters with the bride's father. As a result, Srinivasa Sarma was caught in an embarrassing situation where his stepmother was younger than himself. Both stepmother and stepson were cognizant of this delicate state of affairs and did not speak to each other unless absolutely necessary, for many years. Other casualties resulting from this strange predicament were the birth of Srinivasa Sarma's stepbrothers and stepsisters and the yawning chasm of an age difference between them and him.

TSS, as he was to be known, soldiered on in Thandarai. Madras was 120 km away and it was there that he made his fortune. Such fortune as a modest education and means would allow. The lands back in Thandarai did provide him some financial succour, however, and it is surmised that he purchased his house on Tilak Street, Madras, with monies sourced therefrom. And what a house it was too! Huge rooms and palatial halls filled the house. A bathroom in that mansion was to prove to be bigger than many houses in future Chennai. Unfortunate women hired to serve as domestic help would often marvel at how big the house was and how fortunate TSS and family were to live there.

TSS married, and married again. He took after his father in this respect. His first wife, Raji, passed away before they had produced little Sarmas to dot the landscape, victim to some disease which was to prove laughably curable in the future. Undaunted, and no doubt learning from his father, TSS married again, this time a robust and kind lady named Girija. As though to make up for the opportunities lost by the untimely departure of Raji, TSS and Girija produced five children, two boys, three girls and no hermaphrodites. The children grew up reasonably happily and graduated respectably, securing jobs or spouses or both. It was then that tragedy struck.

TSS Sarma invested his provident fund and gratuity money in some (as it turned out, ill-advised) venture. This was because it was run by trusted friends and relatives and he had known them for some time now. However, as history has shown repeatedly, in matters of money and the heart, trust no one. TSS Sarma, who had by now somehow become Sharma, did not seem to have heeded history's lessons and was promptly defrauded of his retirement savings by his nears and dears. The family was forced to move out of the bungalow on Tilak Street (they had to sell the house to pay off loans and credit) and move into a flat on nearby Thanikachalam road. As they left Tilak Street, Srinivasa Sarma hugged all the pillars of the house and kissed its walls, bidding his beloved home, where his children had played and grown up, goodbye.

His eldest son married in 1981 and failed to produce an heir even when the marriage was as far gone as 1984. Therefore, TSS, troubled, advised his daughter-in-law to read the Sundara Kaanda from the Ramayana because "somebody told me that helps get you a male child". This random piece of advice was adhered to by said daughter-in-law more because she was charmed by his innocence than because she believed reading helped in furthering the human race. These matters aside, in 1985, TSS, locally known as Kullaiyer on account of his imposing frame, was informed by his eldest son, Raghu, that a boy had indeed been borne by his daughter-in-law, in Bangalore. Kullaiyer was thrilled; this was the third grandchild in the family, the first born to his daughter seven years ago and the second born to another daughter five years ago, and this one would carry on the family name. The Sharmas had survived yet another generation through him, he rejoiced. This was still February; Raghu informed him he would bring the boy home in a couple of weeks, after both mother and child had recuperated a bit. In March, Srinivasa Sarma, TSS, Kullaiyer died.

Srinivasa Sarma did not set eyes on his third grandchild; his third, and subsequent, grandchildren did not see him in the flesh either. Tales recollected by parents and relatives, photographs, books collected by him, scrawlings inside those books, these remain testament to his memory. A man of great fortitude, those who knew him say, with a remarkable sense of humour. Glasses as thick as Jayaprakash Narayan's. A man who was, incredibly enough, well known to the Kanchi Swamiji of the time (since that seer wielded no political influence like that of his successor, this acquaintance would prove of no material benefit to TSS). A man who spoke as much as his eldest son, Raghu, was quiet. If he was Vito and Raghu was Michael and Michael was the eldest son instead of Sonny and the family did nothing criminal and instead lost loads of money, this would be the Corleone family.

Kullaiyer would have been happy to know that his son did well for himself, in the coming years. He would have been thrilled to know that Raghu went on to achieve, from humble beginnings, high positions in his company by dint of sheer hard work and determination. Perhaps Raghu would have switched companies and risen higher, had Kullaiyer been alive; the man perhaps would have prodded him repeatedly and said he was worth more than what this company valued him. Srinivasa Sarma would also have been thrilled when his first grandchild went to the US for studies; although he would perhaps have been less thrilled at the news that that grandchild had applied for citizenship thereof. He would no doubt have been ecstatic at the weddings of his eldest grandchildren, and the birth of his great grandchild. He would also have been a hundred years old, this year.

This year, when his eldest son visits his son in Holland. Raghunandan Sharma, son of Thandarai's Srinivasa Sharma nee Sarma, will fly abroad for his first time. Srinivasa Sarma could have waited a bit to see all this. Allow me to address my grandfather, whom I have never seen but heard so much about, as the locals probably would have: Kullaiyere, innum irunthirukkalaamillai? Pottunu poyitteengaLe, enna avvaLo urgent? Paiyyan poyi paerana paakkaraan, neengaLum paatthirukkalaam. Sari, angirunthae paarungo.

[Kullaiyer, could have stuck around, couldn't you? Just upped and left, didn't you? What was your hurry? Son's going to see your grandson, you could've gone too. Fine, see it from wherever you are.]


Sunday, January 23, 2011

A beginning

Happy New Year, merry Christmas, happy DeepavaLi, Id Mubarak and Yo Buddha to everyone. I wish now because all those things are safely behind us. Days of great rejoicing are always to be viewed with suspicion ("With great rejoicing comes great doubt"). I had a very pleasant year. Thanks to tremendous fiscal strain borne by my parents, I was able to visit a couple of countries and look down condescendingly upon their 'culture' and 'cuisine.' My travels have brought me, after a fashion, to Holland now. Very nice people, pretty terrible food. Except for the pastries, those are nice.

The Netherlands seems to consist of genuinely nice people who, unlike those bastards in France and Germany (who have historically shared a symbiotic relationship), speak fluent English and don't get affronted if you don't speak their language after being here for a whole eight minutes. Amsterdam is a great place in which to spend a day. Not much more, I'm afraid, unless you're really into art and can spend days plodding through museum after museum. I thought I could do that but have recently discovered that I get, how do you say it, bored. But it's got that big city feel; I'm a sucker for that feel. Just being in a place with lots of noise, pollution and people jostling past each other without paying attention to anything makes me feel happy and safe.

I visited the pointless country of Belgium last month and was put up with by the good graces of Sandeep, who has now become a dick and made his blog invite-only. The posts there, as I recall, were not of a scandalous variety so I don't understand the fuss. Anyway, we made train journeys to a couple of places and, as we passed through desolate stations amidst snow-swept landscapes, try as we might not to, we could only think of people stripped to their bare essentials, shivering in 20-below-zero temperatures and digging with shovels while desperately trying to stay alive and eventually being thrown into furnaces. Whenever we passed a station, we'd see cattle cars and people being shepherded into them ruthlessly by men in grey suits. This was because we are very sensitive people and also because stereotyping is fun. I don't understand why Germans today are so sensitive about discussing that entire era. Surely, discussing it out in the open is a better catharsis than bottling it all up and letting it explode, one day, on a man with darker skin (this applies also to bodily fluids) ? India has quite a few shameful incidents in its past (admittedly none quite as horrific as the Holocaust) but we don't fight shy of talking about them. The same goes for America, England, Japan and other countries. Except Germany, whose head-of-state publicly says multiculturalism has failed. Quite the prima donna, aren't you, Germany? Most Germans alive today didn't even have anything to do with all that, so why not talk about it and make fun of the cowards who went along with it and pity those who could do nothing about it but look on in horror? Laughing in the face of horror eases some of the pain. As Sandeep said about the Germans (in a quotable quote), "you destroyed half the world, the least you can do is take a joke about it."

Holland is a nice place, historical betrayal of teenage girls apart. I visited the Anne Frank museum for a second time because Harish couldn't bear to go through it alone, could he? Harish, there's nothing wrong in crying, those days really were that horrible, no, there have not been many children named Adolf after 1945. The language is nice as well, pleasant-sounding and with a lot of near-Arabic sounds. Dutch grammar is structured a lot like Kannada's (or Sanskrit's, for that matter). It seems like the language was constructed to be a bridge between the harsh and difficult German and the simpler and more acceptable English.

A minor shameless plea for attention announcement. The honourable Arun, Harish and I were in discussion some months ago at the roadside gaaDi of one Mr. Gangadhar in Jayanagar. I had just finished reading a book by Mr. A N Murthy Rao and Arun was enlightening us of the many correspondences between that man and his friends and family (compiled in another book of his). Talk soon veered into the forms of literature the great writers of Kannada have tried their hand at. "Practically everything" seemed to be the conclusion and we were ready to leave it at that and go home, having complained to Mr. Gangadhar yet again about rising prices and receiving the same "En boss maaDodu?" reply. I piped up with a question to Arun: what about science fiction? Has there been any writing in Kannada in that realm? Arun thought for a moment and said no. I accepted Arun's word as gospel truth, since he is highly knowledgeable in most matters. However, his answer surprised me, since there had been a great many highly talented men and women writing in Kannada. Someone should do something about it, I thought, and that stayed in the back of my mind for a while. It was only recently that I got down to trying my hand at it myself. All this blade to tell you that I'm going to try and write science fiction in Kannada. Short stories, mainly, but I ramble even in haikus, so these will be longer than usual. It may well fail and I may end up with egg-on-face but it seems like fun and I'm giving it a shot (the same attitude is advisable while entering relationships. Or Kerala).

This is where I'll do it. The URL is extremely lame wordplay. Satya miti ("The limit of truth") as also Satyam iti ("Thus is the truth"). Yeah, I know, I'm slapping myself in disbelief but this is the best I could motivate myself to do. The first part of the first short story is up now. Please read it and let me know what you think. I'll try and put up a new part every week, like a sitcom. Or sooner, if I have decent stuff before that. Life does not allow for timetables.

Update: My aunt (in a response swift enough to alarm most photons) brought to notice the efforts of Prof. Rajashekhar Bhoosnurmath in the direction of science-fiction in Kannada. Apparently, the good man has been persevering in this regard since the '60s. My aunt supplies me with this link for more information. Murthy, in a comment, also speaks of the same Prof. RaBhoo and mentions that the man is from the university of Dharwad. So yeah, all my hopes of creating history of some sort have been dashed. Damn you, RaBhoo.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Karnataka sangeeta ('Carnatic' music) fanboy clash

Fanboys rule the Internet. Irrespective (or 'irregardless,' as some people bafflingly insist on saying) of what site you visit, if there is a space open for viewer comments, there will soon be an escalation into full-scale name-calling, slandering and virtual fisticuffs. The general pattern is --> "I think so-and-so or such-and-such is right."  "No." "What do you mean, no?" "You're wrong, is what I mean." "You cant just say no. Back up your opinion." "I don't have to. It's so obvious you don't know what you're talking about." "Was your mother raped by retarded bears in the woods?" "Yeah, one of them was your dad! Ha!" "(pause) You realise you just insulted yourself rather than me, don't you?" "(pause) You're a gay Nazi who loves Muslim suicide bombers." (sudden entry of third person) "Ah, Godwin's law." "Who the fuck are you?" "Yeah, all-knowing bastard. But you are still a gay Nazi, dude." "Heck, maybe I am. Friends?" "Friends."

No? That's not how these things go? Anyway, it's Thing vs Thing or Celebrity vs Celebrity debates that fanboys get most passionate about. On things like corruption, terrorism, greed etc., the responses are usually apathy or a cliched cynicism ("This is India and this is how it will always be." "Our politicians are the worst, man!" "Hindu fanatics are ruining the nation." "I pity the nation that silences Savita Bhabhi."). But something like A R Rahman vs Ilayaraja, Apple vs PC, India vs Pakistan, Congress vs BJP, Team Jacob vs Team Edward (that shit is still around) gets people participating like crazy. In all this, I noticed there isn't a decent fight going on in the grand, gentle old world of South Indian classical music. I like to think that if the great composers of yore had been around today, their respective fanboys would have been almost as vociferous as these other ones. Almost. Our folks are gentle.

(The song that Tyagaraja uploads is 'Endaro mahanubhavulu,' rendered by Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna.)

It's a bit long, sorry about that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Philosophy, die

I haven't watched "The social network" yet. I don't want to, either. The pleasures of creating a website or writing a program are inherent and private, not shareable or communicable to those who haven't tried it themselves. You cannot, I believe, make a movie as interesting as "The Godfather" or "Taxi driver" out of the story of Gmail. Maybe you could, but you would have to be Scorsese/Kubrick/Coppola/Leone to do that. And even then, the bland truth would not interest a wide audience that stereotypes computer scientists and software engineers. I've often wondered how cricketers would feel if someone taped me at my job for a whole day and played it to them. I know I would watch with interest as the events of a typical day unfolded and nod with identification at scrum meeting jokes and people discovering cataclysmic flaws in their design three days before release, but Sachin would probably doze off fifteen minutes into the movie. It is unfortunately the curse of technology that the most interesting movies about it involve its misuse (Metropolis, The island of Dr. Moreau, 2001 : A space odyssey, The Terminator I and II, Endhiran ad infinitum). Even Iron Man is kind of about misuse, although Tony Stark does claim he privatised world peace successfully.

The reason I wrote that boring paragraph above is this review by Zadie Smith of the film. I agree with her spot-on assessment as she says "From the opening scene it’s clear that this is a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people (Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher, forty-nine and forty-eight respectively)" [Unnecessary italics mine]. From what she says, it seems that this film, despite being a David Fincher offering, falls into the same geek-cliche traps as practically every other geek film. Mark Zuckerberg is capable of creating, or stealing, something as massive as Facebook, so he must be "overprogrammed, furious, lonely." This is in accordance with the dictums of dramatic storytelling as put down by Aeschylus: 'He who typeth furiously hath not friends nor kin but hath only the company of the sweat of his brow and his enemies multifarious.' The programmer is socially awkward and inept. The software type is also introverted and not at all given to displays of emotion (OK, maybe Crazyfuck Ballmer is a bad example. But the point is, it does happen in our world). (S)He is altogether disconnected from the 'real' world and 'real' people and has no comprehension of the repercussions of her/his actions/inventions. The only 'real world' object that sparks any interest in the geek is money and there is no end to the extent to which said geek will go to get most, if not all, of it. In the process, love is sacrificed and love interests are either driven away or killed. Smith says the movie fulfills all these banalities very satisfactorily.

And then goes on to make observations as dumb and pointless as those she criticised in the movie. A superficial one first. She says "No doubt the filmmakers considered this option, but you can see their dilemma: how to convey the pleasure of programming—if such a pleasure exists—in a way that is both cinematic and comprehensible?" Why would she assume no pleasure exists in programming? Programmers are not as esoteric a group today as they were in 1968. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people go through the agony and the ecstasy of running their code. Watching it compile and waiting with bated breath for the outcome (if any) is a build-up filled with almost as much excitement and anticipation as the climax of "The good, the bad and the ugly." Even if we leave aside such, some would say, grandiose comparisons, the same pleasure exists in programming as in any other job well done. The doubtful "if such a pleasure exists" is unnecessary.

The rest of her review is devoted to a subject much beloved of luddites -- the philosophical and ethical implications of technology. Smith quotes from Jaron Lanier's book "You are not a gadget" and argues that we are all somehow being tricked into believing that websites represent us wholely and accurately (Lanier is the only software expert she  defers to, in the giant review. He represents the whole software industry.). Our online personas are, we apparently begin to believe, our real selves. To wit:
'We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”?'

This is a patently ridiculous point. Almost everyone who is on Facebook or any other website that involves interaction learns quickly enough not to trust online personas. Cases involving paedophiles stalking fourteen-year olds online and preying on them subsequently have alerted us to the dangers of interactive websites. Unnecessary bullshit like ChatRoulette have alerted us to the dangers of random penises being flashed at us. That's why nobody puts everything about themselves online. Atleast, not truthfully. As Gregory House says, "everybody lies."

The software does nothing to me, or anybody using it. If you're wasting hours on end going through Facebook pages and profiles, it proves more that you're an idiot than it does that the software is some philosophical and ethical nightmare. The purpose of 'social networks' is the same as the Usenet groups of yore: bring together people with similar interests and let them share information (photos, videos, memes, whatever). Attributing anything higher, nobler, more sinister to them is purely alarmist. I apologise for sounding like Eric Schmidt here ("If you're doing something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.") but privacy of information is not in the scope of this point that she raises.

Smith says her apprehension that the whole Internet might become 'falsely jolly, fake-friendly, self-promoting, slickly disingenuous' like Facebook was why she quit Facebook after just two months on it. There are people like that too, so while she's at it, she might as well quit humanity. She also says, again quoting the sole expert in the world, Lanier, that pack mentality is encouraged, and made more efficient, by the social networks we use. We apparently see what other people are reading, watching, eating and do exactly the same. Of course, individuality is exempt here. The mere act of going online and joining something like MySpace or Facebook strips you of judgement, character and taste and makes you a drooling idiot who watches celebrity wedding programmes all day.

I submit another example of pure philosophical psychobabble:
'I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery: this idea of personhood is certainly changing, perhaps has already changed. Because I find I agree with Zuckerberg: selves evolve.'

Make your own LAN and sit in it. Play Minesweeper and Solitaire and send yourself an email and then wonder who it's from. Person as mystery! How the hell do people come up with this bullshit? What kind of a horrible Web would it be if everyone and everything was a mystery? If no one shared anything and remained private. It might just be this sort of idiot thinking that leads to proprietary software and DRM and greedy music corporations trying to muscle in on FM radio stations to extort royalty for playing new songs. 'I dream of a private network of music lovers. With music as mystery and song as puzzle. Where I try and discover for myself what the artist is trying to say. And feel.' I hate feel.

Right after that, there's this:
'Of course, Zuckerberg insists selves simply do this by themselves and the technology he and others have created has no influence upon the process. That is for techies and philosophers to debate (ideally techie-philosophers, like Jaron Lanier).'

Not on many occasions will we hear this but Zuckerberg is right. Selves evolve by and because of themselves and their social environment. Technology is an aid to human progress and does not supplant any stage of it. Atleast, not yet (because who knows when the singularity will be achieved and we will become semi-machines and can finally bid goodbye to loose motions). And no, there is no debate to be had by techies and philosophers. Fuck philosophers, they're smug, boring, pointless people who expend much time, energy, money and paper on things that are little else but common sense. Exactly what has philosophy achieved that could not have been learnt by us through pure common sense and a little reflection thereupon? All those books by Heidegger, Hegel, Mill, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Sartre and other assholes can be efficiently summed up like the Pythons did with the meaning of life:
"Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations."

That's it, short and practical and quite commonsense. I find the 'philosophical discomfort' that Smith feels with Facebook is as foolish as that felt by people who feared printing when it was invented ("Oh noes! Now our memoriez wil becum poorer!") or that photography would consume your soul or that television would lead to depression and alienation. This alienation thing is another concern of Smith. You can be alienated anywhere. As humans, our greatest invention, society, is also our greatest falling. You can be alone in a crowd anywhere, be it online or offline. Did you see Taxi driver? Do you think Travis Bickle would send a friendship request to Betsy, poke her, have the poke rejected and go on a murderous rampage solely because of that? (Hint: no). Our tastes, attitudes, personalities, stance on the music(?) of Justin Bieber and myriad other 'human variables' come together to determine how we interact with others.

Every accusation that Smith hurls at the Internet and social networks is true of almost every mass medium we have.  But we cannot abandon them. Carrying her logic forward, can we afford to take down the Internet because someone somewhere 'dreams of a more private Web' ? Dictated by our attitudes, we use technology as a means to an end ("Hey, I just used my iPhone to find and drown that guy in sewage"), not an end in itself. Fearing Facebook because you're afraid your personal, human weaknesses and inner demons might make you a fool online is a bit lame. As with almost every bloody thing in the world, moderation is the key.

It's this kind of philosophical nonsense that will come in the way of great progress. Not human ingenuity, not non-availability of funds but this kind of pointless discourse on 'ethical aspects' which are not even ethical aspects. When we invent teleportation and time travel, some idiot with a philosophy degree is going to stand in the way. Pay no heed, future generations. Give them a book deal and a spot on a 24-hour news channel and plough on. We have galaxies to explore, diseases to cure, tyrants to kill. We can't afford to waste time on this (although, if you've already invented time travel, wasting a little time to shoot philosophers in the face doesn't matter and is definitely worth it).

If you've made it this far, I apologise for the length of the post. Something about Zadie Smith's attitude towards the web and software irked me and I cobbled this together. I don't think I've put my point and indignation across well, probably kept some of it to myself. Doesn't matter, you probably also like the idea of a 'person as mystery.'

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The seventh part itch -- Harry Potter

Seldom have books been translated into good movies that live up to readers' expectations. More seldom have the movies been better than the books themselves (The Godfather. Leaving out those overlong stories of Johnny Fontane, Nino Valenti, Lucy Mancini and that Doctor Jules were the best decisions made by someone adapting the novel to the screen. What makes it more creditable is that Mario Puzo was part of the writing team. If you agree to chop out massive chunks of your own material, you're either an amazingly generous writer or someone undergoing a circumcision.). But when the book itself is not the best in a series, I suspect it must become easier to make a good movie out of it and satisfy people's expectations. So it was that David Yates had a headstart while making the Deathly Hallows.

The final book of the series ended everything neatly, all ends wrapped up and no loopholes-leaving-open-the-possibility-of-a-sequel of the Super Mario Bros or "Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End" type. And David Yates does a pretty good job of bringing that to celluloid. I didn't understand, while reading the book, why so huge a part of it had to have our intrepid trio out in the wild. Rowling had such an awful lot to throw into this one book, yet she chose to put in this 'on the road' narrative. The search for Godric Gryffindor's sword and the identity of the mysterious R.A.B and the locket that he takes from that cave could have happened in some other, less wayward manner. But whatever.

The thing is, Yates has done a good job of making that less rambling. There's a road movie feel to that segment of the movie, which is almost three-fourths of it. And it feels a lot like Jim Jarmusch's "Down by law," with the crushing silences and long fadeouts and the eerie suddenness of events. Bits of it look like "The Book of Eli" (which looked nice and tasted awful).

What's with the shaky camerawork? Why is Harry Potter suddenly the place to experiment with your cinema verite / Cloverfield / random documentary type of cinematography? Who wants realism in this fantasy world? That was what annoyed me the most about this movie (little else actually annoyed me but this one stuck out). Eduardo Serra, the camera guy, apparently did this deliberately, as he and the director "wanted to experiment." Well, go do LSD or something, stop this nonsense with handheld cameras in important scenes. There's this one where minions of the Ministry of Magic and Harry-Hermione-Ron have a battle of spells. Couldn't see a damn thing, the camera was shaking all over the place. Yeah, having the cameraman running along with actors and stunt doubles 'to capture the realism and feel of the battle' was a great idea, idiot. I'll quote from Maddox here:
"Why does every battle scene in the universe have to have a shaky cam? Just whose view point are we seeing this from anyway? Wow, the cam is shaky, I feel like I'm right in the battle, looking through the eyes of some idiot who can't fight, yet he still can't focus on an object for more than a few seconds. Hey assholes, here's an idea: how about the perspective of someone who got stabbed in the face? The camera would just sit there staring up at the blue sky as an occasional limb would come flying across, or someone would trip over his body. That would be tits."

I kept thinking about this valid point as that scene unfolded and as the idiot behind the camera shook it violently.

That apart, HP7 -- Part I is a pleasant ride. The actors are up to scratch, not being required to do much. I mean, they do a competent job (more than competent, since they're all 20 or so and not annoying. Yet.). And, joy, John Williams doesn't do the music for this one too. Fine, he's given us some iconic themes over the years but he overwhelms movies with the same generic humongous goulash of violins. You can tell when it's a John Williams score. If it's a children's movie he's composing for, watch out for the cliched music. ET, Home Alone, Harry Potter, all have this similar-sounding buildup-crescendo-deflation scheme going on. Where's the man who scored for Schindler's List? Let him out for a change. Speaking of letting things out, I didn't pee once during this 2-hour long movie. Proud of myself.

That's about it, really. It's worth a watch. I've decided to decide that some movies aren't worth a watch without even watching them. You can tell from the trailers and promo pictures and actors that they're going to be deeper piles of shit than a stack of DMK ministers in a Chilean mine. Guzaarish, any movie with Lara Dutta in it, almost all movies of Ranbir Kapoor, a Hindi movie set in a foreign city, movies with more than four words in the title (Roop ki rani choron ka raja, Jal bin machli nritya bin bijli, Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag, Sanjay Leela Bhansali ke films etc). Speaking of Bhansali, I'm reminded of a comment my friend Rishi made. "You want to see what an Alzheimer's patient really is like? Watch Mohanlal in Thanmathra. Not Amitabh Bachchan in Black, I think he had pneumonia in that. Who shakes so violently?"