Sunday ka Funda

A young student of Zen was going to the market to buy vegetables for the monastery where he was studying. On the way he met a student from another monastery.

“Where are you going?” asked the first student.

“Wherever my legs take me,” replied the other.

The first student pondered over the answer as he was sure it had some deep significance.When he returned to the monastery, he reported the conversation to his teacher, who said: “You should have asked him what he would do if he had no legs.”

The next day the student was thrilled to see the same boy coming towards him. “Where are you going?” he asked and without waiting for a reply continued, “Wherever your legs take you, I suppose. Well, let me ask you . . .”

“You’re mistaken,” interrupted the other boy. “Today I’m going wherever the wind blows.”

This answer so confused the first boy that he could not think of anything to say. When he reported the matter to his teacher, the old man said: “You should have asked him what he would do if there were no wind.”

Some days later the student saw the boy in the market again and rushed to confront him, confident that this time he would have the last word. “Where are you going?” he asked.“Wherever your legs take you or wherever the wind blows? Well, let me ask you . . . . ”

“No, no,” interrupted the boy. “Today I’m going to buy vegetables.”

(A Zen tale)


We, the animals: Bestiality and evolution

A still-born baby would not be news. Unless the baby is a dead lamb with a human-like face. Evolution throws up such surprises. How we react to them also shows how we perceive our evolvement when confronted with other forms.

Erhan Elibol, a vet, had to perform a caesarean on a sheep in a Turkish village in 2010. He said:

“I’ve seen mutations with cows and sheep before. I’ve seen a one-eyed calf, a two-headed calf, a five-legged calf. But when I saw this youngster I could not believe my eyes.”

The lamb’s head had human features on – the eyes, the nose and the mouth – only the ears were those of a sheep.

While the reports suggest that the fodder of the mother had abundant vitamin A, the subtext is the possibility of beast and human cohabitation. A similar example mentioned a goat from Zimbabwe. It managed to live for many hours. The villagers were so afraid, they killed it.

The governor of the province had said:

"This incident is very shocking. It is my first time to see such an evil thing. It is really embarrassing. The head belongs to a man while the body is that of a goat. This is evident that an adult human being was responsible. Evil powers caused this person to lose self control. We often hear cases of human beings who commit bestiality but this is the first time for such an act to produce a product with human features.”

A similar fate, or at least ridicule, is meted out to children with dominant animal features.

Scientific Darwinian explanation would merely allude to the possibility of an ‘antecedent’ strain embedded in the human body and, perhaps, mind. We live in fairly close communion with what we term ‘domesticated’ creatures, much as we refer to human – unfortunately more often women – in such a manner to suggest a comfort with the hearth than with the caveman skills of slaying lions.

Have religious mores made the human less animal? How would then one explain “unnatural sex”, which mimics to an extent animal behaviour when in heat? Humans do not have a period of being in heat. Should one therefore assume that evolution has empowered the homosapien to continue with perpetual animalistic behaviour, and the true test is the amount of value-laden acts that manage to supercede pleasure? However, experiencing pleasure is a human boon; animals do not feel it, except perhaps as relief, much as scratching an itch.

When we read about instances of humans and animals, the preference seems to be for what might broadly be the canine and bovine family. There is rarely an instance of sex with simians, who are closest to us. Is there a ‘morality’ embedded in unnaturalism, where this would be deemed as incest?

Also, would we be able to stretch attraction to pets where the sexual act might never occur but the affection is a compensatory aspect, and indeed the nuzzling, caressing, licking are not too far from human foreplay? These do not worry us, or even cross our minds, because there is a clear demarcation in our ethical paradigm. Bestiality is when the lines blur. A human having intercourse with an animal is termed bestial. We refuse to see it from the animal perspective. Surely, we could not term it ‘humanistic’. And we do not even care much about it. That probably explains how eveolved we are, for we can take control of our acts and how we choose to see them, as also the moral dimension we give it.

“Evil powers” are blamed. Men have used such evil powers against other humans too. In fact, in the animal kingdom, there appears to be more equality in sexual encounters. There may not be long-term relationships, but the act itself is not confined to the male prerogative to ‘take’. In the human context, women who are adventurous may be exciting, but they are termed “wild” by their partners too. Even a progressive man would not fail to notice the uninhibited passion. It is, therefore, seen as a departure from what is common human conduct.

Recently, a 750-year-old stone tablet was discovered in Vasai, a far suburb of Mumbai, that suggests a woman had copulated with a donkey. 

The Times of India report quotes historian Shridatta Raut, of Kille Vasai Mohim, who chanced upon the tablet:

“The stone dates back to the era of the Shilahara kings, who ruled Vasai around 1,000 years ago. It bears a few lines in Sanskrit that we are trying to decipher. Years of exposure to the elements and accumulated dirt have blurred the inscription, but we have read a series of ‘Shri Shri Shri Shri’, which shows that the tablet must have been commissioned by a senior courtier or perhaps a Brahmin. The stone bears an image of a donkey copulating with a human female, perhaps threatening transgressors that a similar fate would befall their women should their menfolk ignore the warning.” 

This suggests that not only did humans a few centuries ago use women for procreation, but were not averse to the idea of bestiality as punishment. The female as wartime booty had become a fairly common occurrence. This ‘tradition’ continues. What is deemed as repugnant has been legitimised as machismo. For the male, woman is property is used to protect other property.

Is it much different from animals marking their territory?

© Farzana Versey


Beyond 'Theek Hai': A Brother, the PM and Media Mischief

Nothing has moved me as much today as the words of the brother of the Delhi gangrape victim. Here are a few quotes from the report:

•“It is like the life we had a week ago never existed. Every day is now passing by in a flash. When I switch on the TV or log on to a social networking site, I see these emotional outbursts about Damini, Amanat, Nirbhaya (the names some media organisations have given the victim). It’s hard to digest that this is my sister they are talking about."

•“I thought the channel in question had got my sister’s name wrong, because they said ‘Damini’s condition is deteriorating’ — they addressed her like that. I was reassured from the first day that our names, my sister’s name would not come out. I was furious."

•“Every two hours, there is a new rumour. On social networks, celebrities and many friends flash her obituaries every night. For them it is just an online status they correct in two hours. At the same time, media channels say she has had a two-hour conversation, she has walked, she has smiled, she has hugged UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi."

It is easy to join the hype and the popular outrage. I felt a bit out of place. But, this young man's words confirms my belief that the media does more harm than good.

He, however, does not completely dismiss the protest movement. But, has it not brought even more fear in his life?

- - -

Read the papers, and suddenly rape cases stare you in the face. This is not sensitising, but is likely to numb people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came on TV and gave a short speech. People know the precise time - 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Had it been longer, would it change anything?

He became the butt of jokes because a news wire service forgot to edit out his post-speech words "Theek hai". It gave the impression that the PM was saying all is well.

>“Since the team got delayed because of the traffic diversions and the heavy equipment, they were unable to set up a teleprompter for the PM,” a source said. The PM’s address was uplinked directly to TV channels with the “theek hai” comment that went on air. Later, news agency ANI clarified, “A question to ANI’s cameraman was inadvertently broadcast by some news channels as we fed the PM’s message. The lapse was rectified.”<

It does not seem inadvertent. The media is upto mischief, especially when the news is hot.

Yet, one has got to be particularly stupid to see disembodied words nullifying the main speech.

But, stupidity is just a click away. It transforms into concern.

So, if you are concerned about security of women, then the government is meeting you halfway. Write to the Justice Verma Committee directly. I know it will deflate the efforts of 'petition' waalas. But this is what you can do:


Diary from Raisina Hill: The voice of a 17-year-old

(This is a fictitious account that I would have written if I were young and at Delhi on this day) 

I live in Delhi and have already been to President’s house and Mughal Gardens. But yesterday, I heard my friends from college were going to protest. I know that girl got raped badly and is fighting for her life. How is the paper calling her ‘Nirbhaya’, fearless one? Don’t they understand she must have been so frightened at the time? It frightened me. I travel by bus. Papa wants me to become independent and not use the family car. My brother and sister are five and seven years older. I know the criminals should get punished forever. Why are police never around? And why are they calling it ‘Shame’. One lady even wrote that raping with penis is different from raping with iron rod. I find this shameless. Why are they calculating? I get angry with this.

Last night I sat to watch news on TV and chatted with Bhaiyya and Didi. I saw big crowds, people saying this is Tahrir Square and Tiananmen Square. Earlier they used to say we were like Singapore and Shanghai. I am getting confused. Then those cops brought out water cannons, put big yellow fences and even ran with lathis. The TV people said the students also threw stones and damaged property.

How do we know whether they were students? And from Delhi? I began to feel stupid that I was not there. They were saying this is voice of India. My voice was not there. Didi, Bhaiyya, Mummy, Papa, even our driver Sohanlal and maid Sumitra were not there. They are also India. How all these big actors become voices of India? Anchors were shouting that no one cares, that the President didn’t come out to meet these people. But who are these people? Why did Swami Ramdev want to come here? If he is concerned about rape, why does he not speak out against all those dirty acts in ashrams and madrassas and churches? Why does everybody want to take to the streets? Annaji, Arvindji, all fighting for the common man, but surrounded by famous people.

I read somewhere that those who don’t support the protest live in ivory towers. We live in Kalkaji. Both of my parents work. We went to good schools and colleges, but are taught the value of work. Didi did part-time voluntary work in an orphanage; she is now an intern at a government hospital. Bhaiyya is studying to be a lawyer, but he helps out at a friend’s CA firm. I wanted to be a journalist. Now I am not sure. The papers are full of stories I already saw on TV or read on social sites. If I join a TV channel, what will I do? Run from one place to another and get people to scream and shout and I will also scream and shout and feel important? Didi was giggling when she was looking at something on the computer. It was about Kanchan uncle and Barkha aunty, and who was on whose side at Raisina Hill. Everyone liked to say Raisina Hill. There is no hill there. Anyway, why should TV and media people be on anyone’s side and why should we, the people, have to be fed this ‘news’? If this is India’s voice then why are different news waalas talking different things about what should be one voice?

They are saying this is reporting from the ground, this is reality, we must get real. We who are not doing anything are elite types. How do they know the youngsters protesting are not from elite families? I know some who went there. They are very rich and many don’t even read papers. I saw their Facebook walls with photos from the site. I don’t want to lose their friendship and I wanted to click ‘like’, but what is there to like about someone running, some climbing electric poles? One dude even removed his shirt. He looked kewl and I like him. Am sure many girls will. He will become popular. Will that girl in the hospital bed know all this tamasha is for her? How will she feel? 

Our parents taught us to be careful. Now some aunty on YouTube was shouting (why are they always shouting? Is this what they mean by being voice of India?) that women can go out anytime, anywhere, wear what they want, it is their right. I want to ask mummy why I can’t wear short skirts and have a curfew time. But then Bhaiyya has to also follow some rules. If he took out his shirt, he has had it. Once he kept a few buttons open and was going out. Mummy gave him such a firing. He will get angry if I say this, but he wanted to look sexy. Papa told him nicely later that it looks vulgar and no girl gets attracted to this. So, we have restrictions.

Now they say it means we don’t have independence. As far as I know, all of us made decisions about what subjects to choose, what professions we want. We wear clothes of our choice – skirts (but not so short that we have to think twice before bending), jeans, salwaars. We have friends and our parents never stopped us from going to their houses or inviting them. Didi has a boyfriend and he is from another caste, another city. So, now someone will again say we are elite. Raveena Tandon is not? Farhan Akhtar is not?

It is true men behave badly in public places. They have no right to. Some girls carry sharp clips in their hair from Mummy’s young days. So in 20-30 years it has been like this, not only in Delhi. I read this article where the words “rape culture” was used. What is culture about it? I asked Didi. She said it is not proper use of word. What is culture, I asked. I know, but I wanted her opinion. She said culture is art and also how each society is different and unique in dress, food, behaviour. So, how can anyone talk about rape culture as though it is part of life?

Why are they protesting when they say people want rights? They are asking for strict laws. Why don’t they file cases? I see so many times youngsters don’t even help out elderly people to cross the road. If they have so much time and energy to protest, they should form groups and do police work. The government has now apologised. But can politicians be on buses to see who is a criminal? The law has to be strict. For everyone. In Mumbai’s Marine Drive some years ago a cop raped a girl inside the chowkie and the residents were more worried about their reputation.

People are saying how dare peaceful protestors are called mobs. All mobs become unruly. They are called ‘lumpen elements’. Go to Kashmir. Go to the North East. Go to small towns.

Who is the leader of these protestors? In a year’s time I will be able to vote. I will be able to choose a candidate, a political party. I cannot do that with these protestors. They want justice. I also want justice, not for one case, but for all cases. Even today, I am seeing protestors versus police. Then, how can we ask same police to change? People are saying it was spontaneous. How can you have posters and flags and all that just like that?

One uncle was proudly saying he has not missed any protest and is sorry he cannot be in Delhi. Just imagine, he thinks he is a proud Indian because of this and all who don’t agree are not Indian. Then people at Azad Maidan, at Ramleela Grounds are most Indian. Why are the other politicians not at the protest, the big people like Shri Adbaniji or Shri Modiji or Mayawatiji or Mulayam Singhji or Mamata Bannerjeeji? Political parties are talking against each other. So, who is the real voice of India?

Please don’t judge those who don’t come out in the streets. Don’t ask ladies to take cabs with woman drivers only because of rape cases. One day you say women should choose what they want. So, let them decide what driver they want. Don’t create fear.

I am very sad I could not be with some of my friends, but I am also happy that I will one day really fight for justice. My Bhaiyya will. My sister will. My maid Sumitra fights everyday to make her children grow up and not be poor. Her daughter goes to school. No one from her basti went to the protest rally. They did not even know about it. They don’t have smartphones and Facebook accounts. One day they will. And they will ask to be treated equally in offices, not only men and women but irrespective of gender. They will put photos of achievements, not screaming and shouting. And I will ‘like’ that.

Sohanlal and Sumitra are also voices of India. Can you hear them?

(c) Farzana Versey 


All images: MSN


Sunday ka Funda

“The biggest cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid people are so sure about things and the intelligent folks are so full of doubts.” 

- Bertrand Russell

Today's choice of music is not directly related to this quote. There is just unspeakable sadness that goes beyond stupidity and doubt. The problems with the world are often best expressed in small personal ordeals. And it does not need each word to be understood.

"Don't talk that way, my cruel lover, 
Let me save you from the ordeals."


Subject: Delhi gang rape

1. Have you cried and publicly announced it?

2. Have you derided the political insensitivity?

3. Have you said, oh, everyone is talking about Modi and no one cares about the Delhi gangrape?

4. Have you applauded Jaya Bachchan for breaking down in Parliament after insisting she have her say?

5. Have you handed out certificates to the last word on rape to someone who is sitting in a posh office and writing about it, just as I am doing now?

6. Have you signed a petition?

I have done none of these. There is a half-written piece. And I look around and see the same old riding-the-bandwagon of a media-propped tragedy.

Look at this ad:

When will we be a shamed India? Is it all about shame? A commercial brand using rape to sell its butter is shameful.

Then, there is this comment at a petition site under 'Reasons for signing' (It has got 170 'likes'):

"I guess until some big politician's wife and or daughter is raped, Indian politicians won't wake up"- B Suri, India

Does anyone realise how regressive it is? You talk about protecting women and allude to the rape of other women. How is a politician's wife or daughter to be blamed for laws and the acts of criminals?

Jaya Bachchan too touted the regressive "In the land where woman is worshipped" line, giving the example of goddess Durga. Her tears became national news.

A 23-year-old fighting for her life is a 'subject'. This is not one case. If we must speak, then speak at every opportunity we get. Speak before it becomes a TRP rating. It does not mean one should not speak about it. Just let's not get into a race to reach some goalpost.

- - -

End note

Raise these questions, particularly about a celebrity, and brown-nosers snigger. I, who have been accused of being too emotional in my writings, am given the riposte that it is okay to get emotional in Parliament, but not on a public forum like a blog. This is so asinine it does not even merit a response.

People who don't understand patriarchy are ready to lecture you.

I bring this up because it is just such an insecure masculine mindset; it afflicts some women too.

(c) Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"Where there's a carcass, there will be vultures"

- Malayan proverb

This truly disgusts me. You are being urged to watch the live mourning of the grief-stricken family of the nurse who committted suicide after a prank call she took regarding Kate Middleton's pregnancy.

What would anyone get from this? Is personal tragedy now all about downloading apps? Will they download tears, too?

Regarding Barack Obama, too, his condolence address on the school shootout in Connecticut has been telecast. This is just commercialising a crime and its tragic consequences.

At least vultures don't pretend to grieve.

PS: I've blanked out the SMS number and website url. Also, fused two ads that appeared separately.


Babri, Balasaheb and Rehman Malik

Overreactions are the new analyses. So it is that one comment by Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik has been described as a "blow to Indo-Pak relationship".

This reveals more about us - that for fake diplomacy we will reuse a comparison that we say should not have been made. How convenient it is. Here is what Mr. Malik said:

"We don't want any 9/11, we don't want any Mumbai bomb blast (attacks), we don't want any Samjhauta Express blast and we don't want Babri masjid issue."

We don't want Pakistan to meddle in our affairs, but why the rage? Don't we talk about minorities in Pakistan? Why, we even discuss Balochistan. The minister has subsequently clarified:
"When I spoke of Babri, I never compared it with terror acts. What I said is that we do not want ugly incidents..."

I don't agree with him. My problem is that anything coming from Pakistan about issues to do with Indian Muslims makes it difficult for the latter. We don't need Pakistan to solve our problems, but we don't lead isolated existences. The US rakes up 26/11 on its 'do India' time. Why does it interfere in what is our problem? It uses it for its 'war on terror' narrative.

I'd also like to state in clear terms that the post demolition riots were an act of terror. On what grounds, do we make a difference? Only because our own people did it, does it become a lesser crime?

- - -

Now that Bal Thackeray is no more, should his legacy be killed? I ask this with reference to drop cases against him in the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots, as well as the active participation of Shiv Sainiks in the kar seva and the act, something their leader was proud of on record.

An IPS officer quoted in TOI said: "The CBI has informally approached the Mumbai police for this purpose. We are expecting a written communication from the CBI in a day or two. We will certainly provide them with the relevant documents."

The relevant documents are the death certificate and not reports of incitement.
The others who participated in the crime are alive. Since the CBI has woken up, can it pursue those 20-year-old cases? It is rather impudent that it openly seeks closing of a case against one respondent who is dead, whereas families of several dead people await justice.

But then, when has justice been top priority, especially when we talk about holy cows?

- - -

If one 'legacy' is sought to be scotched, another is being forcibly kept alive.

"If they mind their business, the Indian Army will mind its own." This is what an officer said about preparations for Vijay Diwas at Shivaji Park.

Why does the army have to even talk to the Shiv Sena? The party is refusing to vacate the space and has put a couple of hundred workers on vigil. Newspapers report that there is concern about a midnight coup to dismantle what was meant to be a temporary funeral stage and not a memorial. This is illegal occupation of land. The state government does not need to use sly tactics. It can legally remove the structure.

The latest news is gratifying. The Shiv Sena has agreed to remove the makeshift structure. We are a nation that creates shrines everywhere. Bal Thackeray, whatever be one's political stance towards him, was a leader revered by many. However, a memorial to him is not a national concern. His party has every right to commemorate him, but it needs to do so with government sanction.

It is a bit surprising they wanted the place itself named after Balasaheb. Whatever happened to their fealty towards Chhatrapati Shivaji? Wasn't their leader a huge admirer who, in fact, mimicked the Maratha king?

Uddhav Thackeray, his son and leader of the Sena had better not fall into the trap of old tactics. The lure of demagogues only works until the rally ends. These days, such excitement cannot work as more than retail therapy.


The Big Bad Ad

The US ad for Virgin Mobile appears to have made light of a crime: rape. The obvious question would be - are there no limits to sexism? But, then, we reduce the argument. 

As you can see, it features a man standing behind a woman, trying to shut her view. He holds a red box. The caption reads: 'The gift of Christmas surprise. Necklace? Or chloroform?' 

I go with the rape theory. However, for the sake of argument, are rapes always planned? By asking her, are we as viewers of the ad complicit in suggesting that a man will ask before he commits the crime, that the woman is to blame for wanting a gift so badly that she might - a very covert suggestion - just say chloroform to humour him? The ad is bad enough; seeing it as a joke on rape seems worse. 

Like most people my first reaction was the same. Then, I looked at the picture a few times. The gesture of her hands does convey exclamation; it could also mean she is protecting her neck from the necklace. Why is she smiling then? Blind trust?

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson took immediate action: 

“Having just seen, for the first time, the Virgin Mobile US advert which has upset many today, I agree it is ill-judged. Although I don’t own the company [it is owned by a US  firm, Sprint Nextel], it carries our brand.”

Will anyone unsubscribe to Virgin Mobile or its US partner Sprint?

Now we come to the business of advertising. Why would a festive occasion like Christmas be transformed into something Gothic? Does it subliminally appeal to consumers, who probably become less sensitive to social propriety in their fervour to buy, and that as a result everything becomes an object?

That is something we should ask ourselves.  


Sunday ka Funda

"There is no happiness; there are only moments of happiness"

- Spanish proverb

Between those moments, we might be in the tunnel. Dark. Silent. Listening to our heartbeat.

Somewhat like this:


Phenyl, Cricket and Pakistan

Not many in Pakistan would have heard about their cricket team for the blind. Fewer would have known about Zeeshan Abbasi, the captain. They are playing in the T20 World Cup for the Blind.

However, one accident and it becomes an issue of intrigue. The Hindu reports that today morning after drinking from a water bottle at breakfast, Zeeshan felt sore in the throat and took ill. Some say it was cleaning acid, others say it was liquid soap, still others say it was phenyl. An endoscopy was performed; he has been discharged.

But the backroom chatter has just started. It is, as happens always, about the tense relations between India and Pakistan. A case of gross negligence by the hotel staff has turned into a whoddunit. (Does anyone remember Bol Woolmer's death in Jamaica?)

I don't wish to sound insensitive, but India is more interested in its international series against England, where it is being trashed.

To even imagine that the phenyl was part of some vendetta is weird. It raises a few questions about whether there can really be normal relations between the two not only despite, but because of, peace initiatives. 'Aman ki Asha' is essentially a Mom & Pop store version of amity. It has not reached the general public.

What if an Indian player drank that 'water'? Would it not be seen as the responsibility of the hotel, and not the organisation hosting the event? Even so, here's the official statement:

Mr G K Mahantesh General Secretary of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) and founder of the Samarthanam Turst for the Disabled, who are organizing the 10-day tournament, termed the incident as ‘shocking and embarrassing’. He said “All players are important to us. The Movenpick Hotel have promised an internal inquiry and we await the results.” Mr Mahantesh added the ‘strictest of actions’ will be taken against those responsible for the incident.

In today's paper, I saw a picture of the Jaipur Foot meant for Pakistan. Our neighbours come here for medical treatment. They come for literature festivals. They come to perform. They come for conferences. These do not need the crutch of peace. These are services and ideas we avail of and share with everyone. The same applies to Indians.

A sports event, especially involving the differently-abled, requires care. However, accidents occur even with those with regular faculties. Haven't  we heard complaints of Delhi belly, food poisoning, sun stroke?

A probe has been ordered. It will reach the authorities who don't care about such people otherwise. A team fighting against the odds of not being mainstream will now be politicised by opportunists. Zeeshan Abbasi will have to uphold nationalism for the seeing blind.

- - -

Image: The Hindu


Is English an island?

How English is English?  Will we ever know why an editor deleted several words of foreign origin from the Oxford English Dictionary? Was he a racist? Or a purist? In the socio-historical context, both these words have been used interchangeably a few times. Nazism and apartheid do believe they uphold purity of a race.

How does language fare as far as this is concerned?

There is a touch of espionage in the manner in which OED’s editor Robert Burchfield went about the process of erasing. Sarah Ogilvie, a former OED editor, writes in her book 'Words of the World' that he started a rumour that the earlier editors were resistant to outside influences. Her research revealed quite the opposite:

"I observed a pattern, that actually it was the earlier editors who were dealing with words in a really enlightened way. They certainly weren't these Anglocentric, judging kind of editors – they were very sensitive to cultural differences and they seemed to be putting in a lot of foreign words and a lot of words from different varieties of English, which must have been amazing for that day when colonial varieties of English were just emerging.”

I’d like to interject here. Foreign words are not the same as different varieties of English. A foreign word may or may not be used in an English context, but has been absorbed into it. Therefore, these are not “loan words”; they are borrowed, or more appropriately, absorbed words. Do they make the English language richer?

As someone from a country that was once colonised, but who has benefited from an education where English was the primary language, I used to try and stick to Anglo-Saxon words when writing, unless they were snatches of conversations. I did make a departure in my columns when I used Hindi headlines occasionally. The bold typeface in 24-point would stare defiantly at the reader. It may sound strange, if not cheesy, but the titles usually come to me first when I mull over the topic I am to write about. I discovered that it connects. Of course, overdoing it would not work.

I still avoid using common Latin and French phrases, but where would our courts be without suo moto and how would we explain that something is the raison d’être? We can indeed go on with several examples. The question here is: how malleable should language be? Let us not forget that it is not merely a literary tool.

When the OED was in its liberal phase, Ogilvie quotes a reviewer who wrote: “There is no surer or more fatal sign of the decay of a language than in the interpolation of barbarous terms and foreign words.”

Can we talk about these two in the same breath? Barbarous, says the OED, means “coarse and unrefined” in the context of language. It could include slang and curse words; they might be seen to degenerate the language. Do foreign words do the same? Is not slang based on specific colloquialisms? Swear words too, which Ogilvie states were in fact introduced by Burchfield, may have varied ethnic roots.  If they are not included in a dictionary, it could well mean they are not seen as polite or do not fit into the politically-correct paradigm. Are they, then, reliable? I discovered that William Gladstone had written a letter to The Times and found this word that we use so regularly as “vile”. Reliable is American. Ain’t that groovy?

Burchfield deleted 17 per cent of the words included by his predecessors and they were all of foreign origin. However, from the reports, they don’t seem to be particularly ripe for plucking out. Is it where they came from rather than what they are that bothered him? If he was so convinced, then why did he lie that those words were removed earlier?

Ogilvie said: 

"The only way I can explain him doing it is that, in the scholarly word of linguistics, the 1970s was when the first work on varieties of English started to come about. Maybe he wanted to be seen as part of all that."

It is interesting that while he had problems accepting other words, he led a dichotomous existence that stood up for those words because it was trendy to do so.

Can we not say the same about ourselves? We often use words that are ‘in’, even if we might not have any sympathy or understanding of their origins or what they mean to the societies they come from. Such words are demonised in the course of their literary and political usage. The N word is not uttered, but does it end apartheid towards Blacks? Why has every war become a jihad, when a jihad in its purest sense is not even an external war? Is fatwa really understood for what it is– an opinion passed as an edict by a group/leader that does not have universal sanction and is not binding upon all? Should languages where these words originate from object at their misuse? Even nirvana is employed casually, as though each time a person sits in the lotus yoga position s/he has attained the ultimate freedom from the Self.

However, the English language would be poorer if foreign words did not embellish it, particularly in symbolic form. Some might wish to pronounce a fatwa against them, but for those who strive to better themselves it is time for linguistic jihad. We may or may not produce a magnum opus but, to use a couple of Americanisms, wouldn’t it be fab if it turned out to be awesome

(c) Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

Two ways of seeing. Two attitudes at two different times. If we are not one-dimensional, then we can understand, and be, both.