A problem that has teased me since long has probably teased a number of people before me, namely the problem of commencement. What comes first, language or thought? Character or Plot? Form or Content?
The human mind is a storehouse of weirdly mystifying activity. It is too deep to be fathomed and too abstract to be given shape. It churns out mysterious questions that defy clear-cut answers. Yet the writer must try to attend to some of these. I would love to get the views of readers on these, on my blog.
Writing in English is a tragi-comedy for me, a funny historical accident. How history moulds our lives! The biggest accident India has known was the collision of British and Indian cultures; the crash that echoes still after centuries. The trauma of an accident can stay on as it has in Indian writing in English. A trauma it is but it has left behind in our minds the most delightful kind of pain, suffocation, guilt, confusion, hybridity, or whatever else you may want to call it.
This crash created the passage for the Indian mind’s journey into the West and helped it to come to terms with a more complete view of what the world is. Giving up the purity of what you were maybe painful but not having a more holistic or complete view is even more. This accident forced the Indian to experience the world anew; through the English language, the Western perception of things, through newer avenues that it opened up.
Writing in English can make one feel like an outcaste in India. The Indian who goes to the extent of believing that one should never venture beyond the bounds of one’s own language in one’s attempt to express oneself, begins to raise his eye-brows and questions the legitimacy of such an exercise when you indulge in it. Of course such a view is ridiculous but the writer does become a subject of ridicule because of someone who may have a better claim to be considered ridiculous. In the Hindi belt of India, and in other lingual belts, there is a substantial mass of people of the opinion that writing in the colonizer’s language is a sign of servility. For them the hatred for the colonizer extends to the colonizer’s language. Our countrymen who oppose Indian writing in English could be no more than the victims of politics or they could be victims of narrow, orthodox, mindsets that do not allow them to go beyond Indian languages.
In a democratic set up power groups can be chaotic unless there is widespread education that has led to enlightenment. When the voice of unenlightened orthodoxy begins to affect individuality the democratic machinery needs revamping. India is passing through times in which this is happening in the smaller towns, particularly.
Self-expression is a fundamental right which the individual should enjoy. Any and every language is good and respectable. The one who decides to write in a foreign language ought not to be treated as a second rate citizen. Or if he must remain in that position, he ought to be strong enough mentally and emotionally to withstand the pressure of such an ill-generated public opinion to continue to write confidently.
For Sylvia Plath’s “MIRROR” please go to the following link:
"After great pain, a formal feeling comes--"
Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren
["After great pain, a formal feeling comes"] is obviously an attempt to communicate to the reader the nature of the experience which comes "after great pain." The poet is using the imagery for this purpose, and the first line of the poem, which states the subject of the poem, is the only abstract statement in the poem. The pain is obviously not a physical pain; it is some great sorrow or mental pain which leaves the mind numbed. The nerves, she says, "sit ceremonious like tombs." The word sit is very important here. The nerves, it is implied, are like a group of people after a funeral sitting in the parlor in a formal hush. Then the poet changes the image slightly by adding "like tombs." The nerves are thus compared to two different things, but each of the comparisons contributes to the same effect, and indeed are closely related: people dressed in black sitting around a room after a funeral may be said to be like tombs. And why does the reference to "tombs " seem such a good symbol for a person who has just suffered great pain (whether it be a real person or the nerves of such a person personified)? Because a tomb has to a supreme degree the qualities of deadness (quietness, stillness) and of formality (ceremony, stiffness).
Notice that the imagery (through the first line of the last stanza) is characterized by the possession of a common quality, the quality of stiff lifelessness. For instance, the heart is "stiff," the feet walk a "wooden" way, the contentment is a "quartz" contentment, the hour is that of "lead." The insistence on this type of imagery is very important in confirming the sense of numbed consciousness which is made more explicit by the statement that the feet move mechanically and are "regardless" of where they go. Notice too that the lines are bound together, not only by the constant reference of the imagery to the result of grief, but also by the fact that the poet is stating in series what happens to the parts of the body: nerves, heart, feet.
Two special passages in the first two stanzas deserve additional /469/ comment before we pass on to the third stanza. The capital letter in the word He tells us that Christ is meant. The heart, obsessed with pain and having lost the sense of time and place, asks whether it was Christ who bore the cross. The question is abrupt and elliptic as though uttered at a moment of pain. And the heart asks whether it is not experiencing His pain, and—having lost hold of the real world—whether the crucifixion took place yesterday or centuries before. And behind these questions lies the implication that pain is a constant part of the human lot. The implied figure of a funeral makes the heart's question about the crucifixion come as an appropriate one, and the quality of the suffering makes the connection implied between its own sufferings and that on the cross not violently farfetched.
The line, "A quartz contentment like a stone," is particularly interesting. The comparison involves two things. First, we see an extension of the common association of stoniness with the numbness of grief, as in such phrases as "stony-eyed" or "heart like a stone," etc. But why does the poet use "quartz"? There are several reasons. The name of the stone helps to particularize the figure and prevent the effect of a cliché. Moreover, quartz is a very hard stone. And, for one who knows that quartz is a crystal, a "quartz contentment" is a contentment crystallized, as it were, out of the pain. This brings us to the second general aspect involved by the comparison. This aspect is ironical. The contentment arising after the shock of great pain is a contentment because of the inability to respond any longer, rather than the ability to respond satisfactorily and agreeably.
To summarize for a moment, the poet has developed an effect of inanimate lifelessness, a stony, or wooden, or leaden stiffness; now, she proceeds to use a new figure, that of the freezing person, which epitomizes the effect of those which have preceded it, but which also gives a fresh and powerful statement.
The line, "Remembered if outlived," is particularly forceful. The implication is that few outlive the experience to be able to remember and recount it to others. This experience of grief is like a death by freezing: there is the chill, then the stupor as the body becomes numbed, and then the last state in which the body finally gives up the fight against the cold, and relaxes and /470/ dies. The correspondence of the stages of death by freezing to the effect of the shock of deep grief on the mind is close enough to make the passage very powerful. But there is another reason for the effect which this last figure has on us. The imagery of the first two stanzas corresponds to the "stupor." The last line carries a new twist of idea, one which supplies a context for the preceding imagery and which by explaining it, makes it more meaningful. The formality, the stiffness, the numbness of the first two stanzas is accounted for: it is an attempt to hold in, the fight of the mind against letting go; it is a defense of the mind. /471/
Become a Perfect Devil
It happens daily; let it happen fully. Happen it’ll eventually.
Earn, earn, earn, and churn out a materialistic turn
Of mind. Let earning cut out unprofitable learning.
Let grace seem a disgrace, cultivate a painted face.
Be the flower on top; the underneath you better drop.
Let clothes alone adorn, forget why we are born.
Kill peace. Use bombs and crackers, increase loud speakers.
For self, learn to live; they are fools that can forgive.
Show how misused you are; abused with eternal scar.
Take revenge, retaliate, gather power and confiscate.
Seek authority, flatter, bribe, serve on silver platter.
Praise yourself and others quite condemn. Respect smothers
The ego, let it go to dogs. Live like frogs in wells, under logs.
Keep this up, let it be so. Your Devil’s horns will then begin to grow.
When the Soul is in Shatters
Seas of grief, trees of joy;
Ships of goods, whips of fate;
Mountains of flesh, fountains of hope;
Miles of travel, smiles of beauties;
Nothing really matters when the soul is in shatters.
Every now and again, like the wind and the rain,
Come difficult moments, fraught with grief full of pain.
They punctuate life, like commas and stops. Stop the flow.
Making all slow. Taking out from life its glitter, its glow.
Till some time things are prime, then these moments come,
And whatever went smoothly stands still, glum and dumb.
Why can’t life run on like a bullet train without accidents,
No need for a crane, as for a flattened up car or a taxi with dents?
Why is joy dotted with sorrow; today end in tomorrow?
Why must money get spent, why do we need to borrow?
Why do our plans often fail, and all our efforts entail
Disappointment? Why do our schemes just derail?
Before you realize you are old, lost your eyes.
Even the best of us all are soon cut to size.
There are few answers; but questions are many.
Problems, queries, issues without solutions any.
Difficult moments in life give it depth and wisdom.
Help us see what relief is, what is hope, what is freedom.
The Tailor’s Needle: How Dickens Helped
In India in the 1960s and 70s Charles Dickens was one of the best loved novelists in English for school children like me. Thomas Hardy was popular and so were Jane Austen and George Eliot, but these did not match up to Dickens then. We loved his sentimental situations, his humour and his pathos that he drove home with the help of his exaggeration. His crime worlds and his mysteries blended well for the young mind in search of classics.
When I began to write The Tailor’s Needle, I had no idea that Dickens would guide me on at the subconscious level. I was all the time trying to measure up to his novels and his style without quite knowing it, and that when Dickens had now been reduced to just a name in my life. I never ever discussed him or his art, nor did I think of him.
Some of my characters became Dickensian, then some situations followed suit and when I reached the middle of my novel, I was suddenly gripped by the fear that the novel may have become uninteresting for the reader. I then thought of Dickens’s Bleak House which became a murder mystery somewhere in the middle even though it began as a simple literary novel. Even Great Expectations had this sense of mystery running through it. This helped me to decide what I was to do. I changed Part II of The Tailor’s Needle, making it a murder mystery with the backing of Dickens behind me. The strategy worked and this novel was first published in the UK and then in India by Penguin. Thank you Charles Dickens!
Now I know how many Indian novelists writing now have consciously or unconsciously imbibed from Dickens – R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Manu Joseph, Vikram Chandra, and others.
Fighting the Tsunami
Life like devastating waves goes down or up; to peace or the other way.
Like swings it moves with force yet not unhinged; there’s no escape.
You must return to face what you leave behind; cruel or kind.
People, refined, those who can smile sitting on needles, hoodwink.
Defending everything, validating all; pretending, talking tall, sugary stuff.
Continuing to keep edifices standing, cementing the wall, blocking chinks.
They know how to look the other side when love bleeds or folks ditch.
‘I fight my battle, you fight yours. We’ll meet when storms have gone astray.’
‘Don’t mix matters personal and social. Learn to take the stab calmly.’
A social animal, yet man’s all alone; fighting the tsunami singlehandedly.
There comes a time, when you unwind,
Move differently, to the other side.
When your mind is made up, youth left far far behind.
The mind is seized with things of another kind.
The spirit changes and your moods change too.
All that had “happened” is now just spots of time.
The final act before the curtain, to be braved by you.
An act of matchless colour; not just pink or blue.
You’re fighting the last battle, quite alone it is this time.
Your friends of better times are now nowhere near.
It is all a new experience, quite a new paradigm.
To some it is smooth sailing, to others short of crime.
Preparing for the quittance from this world it is.
One’s uncertain which way the road's to lie.
It’s your last stroke to discover what they call “bliss”.
You either hit a jackpot, or end up with a miss.
Napoleon or Gandhi?
Getting and giving, is great but not always.
There are shades of grey, we are proving ourselves,
Testing our limits like Raskolnikov or Tamburlaine even.
‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends’ said Hamlet.
Does what I give or get follow my action?
Give to the one who responds not to unthinking blonds.
Give to a beggar who blesses not to one who looks back to curse.
Get from her who never grudges or him who never judges.
‘Everything is nothing’, said Lear’s Fool, then why bother?
Giving can be all a selfish affair. When Austen said, ‘It is a truth
Universally acknowledged’, that a man with a ‘good fortune must be
In want of a wife’, she meant the opposite:
A woman in possession of five daughters is on the lookout for
Good husbands. While a Man gives, a Woman takes
And when the scene is reversed one goes through that witchly
Experience that changed Macbeth to jelly. Giving and getting
Must be left to God; man ruins all he takes firmly into his hands.
Would Napoleon win or Gandhi if they had a duel?