(Watched A Dangerous Method in the evening and was once again tempted to believe in the power of the methods of Psychoanalysis. The film in a way inspired this post.)
How I despise the pace at which this moment keeps passing by. It was rich with possibilities and forever in my memory will it remain. From the hinterlands of memory another that comes to mind at once is here in words.
It is an ultra sunny day in July or August in early 80s. The class at the primary school in the village is on. Seated on a mat in line with some five to six other girls and boys I shout with them “Six twos are twelve, six threes are eighteen…” and keep pinging my head up and down in sync with the rest. Ameen is on my right. The color cubes and the paint brush he has in his bag vie for my attention. Ameen draws and sketches very well. The cut quarter of a lemon or that of an apple made to lie neatly beside the whole fruit. Or even a bunch of grapes. The lovely curly motions of his pencil that would bring those berries to life on paper. In the wavelets of the pond overflowing nearby, rays of the sun twinkle like candles. Four naughty ones are swimming across the pond and calling each other names. They did not come to school today. The head boy pronouncing of those judgments on the relations between digits is asked to stop and go to his seat. The bell rings and all of us shout “Chhuttiiiii”. We collect our things, pick up our bags and run out of the verandah of the school. My eyes search for Ameen. Will he get his color box tomorrow? Don’t walk with him beyond a point. He takes a separate route back home. Mine passes through the field where peas are grown every winter. White clouds run amok on the canvas of the blue sky. Panting, running and panting again, I reach home. My elder brother has come home for a few days. It’s his break time at the engineering college. He gives me his glasses, and I try them out. The world around me goes as dark as a night. I remove the glasses and look around. Get disappointed to see that nothing actually had changed. Put the glasses on and it gets dark once more. Believe me, I have searched for those glasses at so many opticians till date and yet none of them have ever shown me one that makes it appear so cloudy and rainy as those first glasses of my life did. My brother is tall, has so many friends. Everyone seems to love him. To talk to the men who till those pea fields, he sits on the cot with one of his legs spread out and the other hinged around the knee forming a triangle of a bridge. A pillow in his lap may be. He laughs, pats me somewhere on the cheek and asks everyone if I was doing well. He has these lovely shirts. Stripes of blue and red and white- I have never seen any of those in any of the shops I have gone to myself. It is raining today and he throws away his plate in anger. Steel bowls make noise and Pooris dance. His motorcycle bathes unabated in the rain. I am busy with a Hindi children’s magazine. Engrossed in finding out the missing resemblances in a set of two photographs in the puzzle section of the same. I have to find out fifteen differences in all and so far have only marked out three. A game of Ludo is about to begin. The four colored houses in the game are receiving their occupants. Four heads will soon lean over them and the ‘tik tik’ of the dice in the small box will decide futures.
Each passing moment when I am up, about and jumping around is the instance of a huge achievement. I hardly appreciate all those subtly active mini processes which go on all the time to make things work for me. It is a taken for granted aspect of our everyday life and is the best noticed when I am in the midst of a temporary disability. When the tiny muscles twitch and inflammation occurs, when a head ache makes everything go in a swirl and when a conversation with that dear friend assumes an unpleasant flavor. The departure of a loved one tells us of his or her presence in our lives. It is only in the event of such ‘breakdowns’ that the meticulous planning and execution of everyday acts becomes crystal clear.
Achieving these small feats with each passing minute is the result of an unbelievable style of many little systems working in absolute tandem with each other. A wave from the brain travels to the limbs, makes it move, a certain chemical composition in the white and the grey cells of the brain keeps me joyful and a series of socially learnt arts of conversing keeps a friendship going great.
These micro systems in daily life are very tightly coupled with each other. A little malfunction here or there causes the system to collapse. The muscles refuse to take orders from the brain, equilibrium in the chemical composition of the cerebrum goes for a toss and the hitherto really nice friend becomes a source of insecurity and anxiety. This tightly coupled arrangement is definitely amusing. These arrangements provide the frames in which we act. If life is a journey, it has its lessons too. These lessons are often imparted loud and clear. Waking up to a swollen ankle or an aching knee is all that is required to understand how Xavi runs in the soccer field!
Why do not I then realize that this passing moment is a spectacular achievement? It is because I am used to this system. I do not really need to understand its nitty gritties it each time it delivers its aim. We plant a phone in our room and never bother to understand all the machinery that is inside the suave looking plastic cover. We know that we can pick up the receiver when the bell rings and we can hear people talking from the other side of the line. Who thinks of the millions of electrons that make this conversation possible?
A friend in the street waves at us and asks “how are you”? We don’t really wave back and say that “Oh! I have a huge backlog of all my research work that is lying unattended and that I am not very happy and sure about the new search engine privacy policies”. I on most occasion smile back, wave and say “I am fine. thank you”. The other one listening to us generally does not care to find out the veracity of our claim. He considers the matter to be over for the time being. To explore this taken for granted aspects of our everyday lives is the task for a sociology of knowledge which aims at understanding how reality is social constructed. Needless to say that we do not wake up every morning thinking that the sky will be falling on our head! We just rely on a recipe knowledge that is readily available in the form of our past experiences.
Accomplishment of the routine is therefore an event with a significance of the first-rate. All that is needed is a malfunction and we come to realize how efficiently do things actually work for us. Life no doubt is a puzzle and truly speaking ‘it’s complicated’ !
The world of languages fascinates me. Given a chance to fulfil a wish, I would jump at mastering as many languages as possible. It is one of my earnest desires. Thankfully my career as a student of Sociology and Social Anthropology does not come in the way. For having a way with languages is considered to be an added qualification in this branch of social science. The level of fascination is so high that on meeting new people, I make all direct and indirect attempts to find out the number of languages they know. People with multilingual abilities impress me so much. I must confess of a sense of envy that crops up in the subconscious.
So far I have been a slightly decent sample of the ‘rolling stone’ variety with a little moss gathered here and there in my brain. My efforts directed towards learning languages have met a mixed fate. Some were disasters, some weren’t as disappointing.
While in college, I enrolled for a year-long part-time certificate programme in French. I passed easily. Basking in the little glories of ‘bonjour’, ‘comment ca va?’, ‘je suis desolee’ and several verb-forms, I enrolled for a diploma in the following year. Things had changed by that time. My attendance at the lectures declined because of my participation in everything else that college and hostel life had to offer.The French syllabus suddenly appeared monstrous to me as the number of lessons had shot up. I remember that my examiner at the viva voce examination asked me to describe to her ‘an imaginary stay at a hotel in France’. I would definitely not like to talk about the look that dawned on her face as soon as I shook my lips. It was clear that she tried her best to find some meaning in the nonsense that I had tried faffing up. Thanks to her strict marking that the French train I rode for those two years came to a screeching hault. It still stands at the same station and waits for a green signal from my side. It has been over ten years now and I have no idea of when and how will my ‘rendezvous’ avec ‘le langue Francais’ resume?
Urdu and Arabic
The experiences of learning French kept me mum for another few years till I finished my masters. The fieldwork for my Ph.D. research
began in 2006 where it was essential for me to learn the language that my respondents used. During the course of my interactions with the members of the Jamaat in Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh, I had to take up learning Urdu with a fresh zeal. This time I was sincere with the classes and made the best out of my year-long association with the masters. Thanks to this attentive phase as it enabled me to comfortably read, write and speak Urdu. I did a large part of my year long fieldwork at a madrasa in Azamgarh where I made many friends. One of the senior Maulanas here was extremely kind and generously helped me polish my Urdu. Satisfied with the progress I made, he gave me around a dozen intensive classes in preliminary Arabic. I could finish a primer with him in those classes. Sincere gratitude to his support and guidance. He made the subject so engaging and I was the most influenced by the method of his teaching. He continuously worked with me to dispel the notion that the language of the holy Quran is tough to understand and learn. He did make it clear by the end of my fieldwork that Arabic could be learnt as easily as any other foreign language.
Having finished fieldwork, I came back to the university. I could now fluently read Urdu newspapers and could use the literature that I had collected for my thesis. I got enrolled for a course in Arabic which was hugely helpful in advancing the basic knowledge I had received from the Maulana. I found Arabic to be quite like Sanskrit in its structure and syntax. The rules of person, tense and number are very similar in both the languages . There are similar verb forms and combinations to be memorised. Arabic surely isn’t that difficult a language to learn as it might initially sound.
One of the most fascinating aspects of university life is that it is a platform where people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds get a chance to intermingle. Numerous ideas, varieties of knowledge systems interact and are discussed and shared. Each time that I listen to my friends using their own language, the linguistic lust gets ignited in me. I quickly add to my kitty some of the interesting sounds from their conversation with a hope that there would be a day when this kitty shall be useful. 😛
Another occasion that triggers the madness is when I watch a film in any of these languages. The wish to learn Bangla was at its peak when a friend gave me a DVD of Ritwik Ghatak’s classic films. While admiring his genius in films like Meghe Dhaake Taara, Naagrik, Baari Theke Paaliye and Jukti Gappo Tarko, I noticed that I was for a brief while intent on learning the Bengali language. Thankfully I did not enrol anywhere and continued paying attention to the work I was supposed to be doing. A similar week-long Marathi phase passed not so long ago. That week was all about the Lavani and Nautanki videos on Youtube.
The latest one to have smitten me is Tamil. The craving began a couple of days back when I watched Mani Ratnam‘s Iruvar once again. Iruvar is a brilliant film that presents a fictionalised account of the friendship and the political rivalry between the cine-political personalities from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu- MG Ramachandran and KM Karunanidhi. Snippets from the Dravidian movement find interesting space in the film. It bespeaks of the power that cinema and poetry can play in electoral politics. The characters of the playwright politician (played by Prakash Raj) and that of the Tamil cine star (played by Mohanlal) are amazingly portrayed. Powerful poetry rules the film from its’ beginning till the end. This unending appreciation for Iruvar is only to slyly mention to the reader that Tamil has made it to my list too!
For this mega project of mine (clearly I haven’t done enough for it) inspiration isn’t lacking. The Indian Prime Minister Mr P V Narasimharao’s mother tongue was Telugu and he had an excellent grasp on Marathi. In addition to eight other Indian languages, he spoke English, German, Persian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Greek and Latin. Thinking of him and the others of his stature thrills me no end!
This is to end by saying that dreams and aspirations are integral life processes. They lead mostly into the domain of the impossible. They at times stand for the best and the worst in us. It can be fruitful to ponder over the dreams that recur. And yes! dreams alone do not and cannot mean much until and unless intelligently pursued!