Archive for ‘college stuff’

January 3, 2011

DU and Hatterr

I was trying to write a short note on G.V Desani’s All About H. Hatterr (one of the best things I read last year) and then I began to digress and talk about my university syllabus and it all got very long and turned into a post of its own. So here it is:

I wanted to talk about a particular aspect of the Delhi University undergraduate English syllabus (of which I am mostly quite a fan). Most people (and I was one of them) have read very little Indian writing when they start the course, and the university has wisely included a compulsory Indian Literature module that introduces them to some of the better 20th century Indian literature. The only problem with this that I can see is that it is introduced in first year. The first year is when we’re also given Victorian literature to read, presumably because this the sort of writing with which we’re assumed (probably correctly) to be familiar. The Indian Writing course has some pretty impressive stuff on it, for all that: almost the first thing we read was Ismat Chughtai’s “Lihaf”. There’s Jayanta Mohapatra, there’s Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal (which is marvellous even though I think we’d have appreciated it more if we’d read it a couple of years later when we were reading people like Dario Fo) and Mohan Rakesh’s Adhe Adhure (ditto but with Beckett) and Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadowlines which, combined with a really good professor, was the text that really taught me how much a text gives you to play with.

Still, faced with a class of undergraduates recently come from CBSE/ICSE schools, I can imagine the university would leave out a few things as possibly being too much. If it was necessary to break us in with the Victorians (for the next two years the compulsory courses all followed historical chronological order), it was equally necessary to keep the Indian literature we did accessible and recognisable. And since this is the only reason I can think of for All About H. Hatterr’s exclusion from the syllabus, I think it’s best to assume that this is why.

There’s an Angela Carter essay where she talks about the enormous importance of James Joyce both to the English language as a whole and to her personally:

Nevertheless, he carved out a once-and-future language, restoring both the
simplicity it had lost and imparting a complexity. The language of the heart and
the imagination and the daily round and the dream had been systematically
deformed by a couple of centuries of use as the rhetorical top-dressing of crude
power. Joyce Irished, he Europeanised, he decolonialised English: he tailored it
to fit this century, he drove a giant wedge between English Literature and
literature in the English language and, in doing so, he made me (forgive this
personal note) free. Free not to do as he did, but free to treat the Word not as
if it were holy but in the knowledge that it is always profane. He is in himself
the antithesis of the Great Tradition. You could also say, he detached fiction
from one particular ideological base, and his work has still not yet begun to
bear its true fruit. The centenarian still seems avant-garde.

And that is what Desani could, should be for us. We are still angsting over the idea that English is a foreign language in this country – there are plenty of issues around our English usage to angst about (like the amount of power those of us who can speak it hold) but this, whether or not we are allowed to use it as if it belonged to us, should not be one of them. Desani owns English. He’s not afraid to dogear it or roll over onto it or do whatever he needs to to get the effect he wants. And the results are bizarre and musical and hilarious, but they also achieve a cadence that feels appropriately Indian even to someone like me who has major issues with that descriptor.

Desani’s approach to language is so far away from the way English is taught and experienced in Indian schools that it isn’t even, as with Joyce and the Great Tradition, the antithesis to it. The two bear no relation to one another; they exist in different planes entirely. And so I’d like to see what would happen if Delhi University undergraduates were to be exposed to All About H. Hatterr. In third year, perhaps– by then there’d be a certain amount of context to help them to make sense of him. Yet if an unsuspecting class of first years were to come across H. Hatterr it might be exactly what they needed for the next few years of college.

March 31, 2010

While on the subject of Messrs. Tolkien and Lewis

Here’s an extract from something else I’ve been reading.

[Alan] Garner … was not an English student: his subject was Classics, and his academic ambition the Chair of Greek. However, he was a member of Lewis’ college and his tutor, Colin Hardie, was an Inkling and a friend of both Lewis and Tolkien: “I’ve no doubt that my tutor talked about things that C.S. Lewis had said the night before.” Garner’s own contact with Lewis was of a fairly unorthodox kind: “I practised abseiling from my room one dark night, and put my bare toes on the bald head of C.S. Lewis, who was leaning against the wall for reasons of his own. He yelped and ran.” As for Tolkien, Garner attended his “bravura demonstrations of Beowulf” out of interest, and was deeply impressed. “He would walk up and down and declaim it, and I used to go to these performances. That’s when I first heard English, and I was thrilled by simply the drama and the music of it.” On the other hand, Garner records that “I once heard him argue that modern English was not an appropriate medium for literature. It was interesting to hear such an intelligent man talk such rubbish.”

Abseiling. Oh Alan Garner.
November 21, 2008

A History of the Kingdom of Mo

I spent the afternoon in a friend’s room studying and discussing embalmed bodies, lost civilisations and other things relevant to a term paper I’m supposed to be working on. In the course of events, William Le Queux’sThe Great White Queen: A Tale of Treasure and Treason (1896) came to our attention and caused us unimaginable joy. Which is why I had to extract this for you – Indian readers especially, you should enjoy this.

There is a strange story connected with this place known to us as Zomara’s Wrath,” Omar said, when together we turned away and mounted our horses to ride back to the camp.

“Relate it to me,” I urged eagerly.

“To-night. After we have eaten at sundown I will tell you about it,” he answered, and spurring our horses we galloped quickly forward.

When we had eaten that evening and were seated aside together, I reminded him of his promise.

“It is a story of my ancestors, and it occurred more than a thousand years ago,” he said. “Ruler of the great kingdom of Mo, King Lobenba had no children. The three queens observed fasts, kept vows, made offerings to the fetish, all to no effect. By a lucky chance a great hermit made his appearance in our capital. The King and queens received the visitor at the palace, and treated him with the most generous and sincere hospitality. The guest was very pleased; by a prompting of the fetish he knew what they wanted, and gave them three peppercorns, one for each queen. In due time three sons were born, Karmos, Matrugna, and Fausalya, who when they reached a suitable age married by the ceremony of ‘choice,’ daughters of a branch of the royal family. When the brides arrived at their husbands’ family and were disciplined in their wifely duties, King Lobenba, who was growing old, thought the time had arrived for him to make over the royal burden to younger shoulders, and to adopt a hermit’s life preliminary to death. So in consultation with the royal fetish-man, a day was appointed for the coronation of Prince Karmos, who had married a beautiful girl named Naya. But the fates had willed it otherwise. Long before the children were born, when King Lobenba, in his younger days, was subduing a revolt in this region where we now are he once fell from his chariot while aiming an arrow, and got his arm crushed under the wheel. The three queens had accompanied their royal husband to the battlefield to soften for him the hardships of his camp life, and during the long illness that followed the wound, Queen Zulnam, who afterwards became mother of Fausalya, nursed him with all the devotion of a wife’s first young love. ‘Ask me anything and thou shalt have it,’ said the monarch during his convalescence. ‘I have to ask only two favours, my lord,’ she answered. ‘I grant them beforehand. Name them,’ he cried. But she said she wished for nothing at that time, but would make her request in due course. She waited twenty years. Then she repaired to her husband on the morning of Karmos’ coronation and boldly requested that the prince should absent himself for fourteen years, and that her son Fausalya should be crowned instead.”

“She was artful,” I observed, laughing.

“Yes,” he went on. “The words fell like a thunder-bolt upon the king, the light faded from his eyes and he fainted. Nevertheless, Zulnam’s wish was granted, and Karmos’ departure was heartrending. To soften the austerities of forest life, Prince Matrugna tore himself from his newly-married bride to accompany Karmos. But the hardest was to be the latter’s wrench from his devoted Naya. The change from a most exuberant girlish gaiety to quivering grief, and the offer of the delicately-nurtured wife to share with her lord the severities of an exile’s life are often told by every wise man in Mo. Fourteen long years Karmos spent in exile with his beautiful wife as companion, until at last they were free to return. The home-coming was one long triumph. The people were mad with delight to welcome their hero Karmos and their beloved Naya. Karmos was crowned, and then began that government whose morality and justice and love and purity have passed into the proverbs of my race. There was, however, one blemish upon it. Poor Naya’s evil genius had not yet exhausted his malevolence. A rumour was spread by evil tongues that she was plotting to possess the crown, and Karmos, sacrificing the husband’s love, the father’s joy, to his kingly duty, while standing on that spot we have visited to-day—then his summer palace surrounded by lovely gardens—pronounced sentence of exile upon her. But in an instant, swift as the lightning from above, the terrible curse of Zomara fell upon him, striking him dead, his magnificent palace was swept away and swallowed up by a mighty earthquake, and from the barren hole, once the fairest spot in the land, there have ever since belched forth fumes that poison every living thing. It is Zomara’s Wrath.”

“And what became of Naya, the queen?” I asked, struck with the remarkable story that seemed more than a mere legend.

“She reigned in his stead,” he answered. “Whenever we speak of the Nayas we sum up all that is noble and mighty and queenly in government, its tact, its talent, its love and its beneficence, for every queen who has since sat on the Great Emerald Throne of Mo has been named after her, and I am her lineal descendant, the last of her line.”

September 6, 2008

Relevant Political Question

DUSU elections are occurring, and there are NSUI and ABVP posters all over the city featuring attractive, smiling and usually fair-skinned men and women.

Not having ever taken part in the DUSU elections, I’m not sure how they work. But I assume that (and feel free to educate me) either the various parties choose their candidates based at least partly on their looks, or their pictures on the posters are manipulated rather a lot. Or a combination of the two. It’s possible that everyone in DU who enters into campus politics is just unusually conventionally attractive, but I don’t think we need seriously consider that possibility.

At the national level I can think of five or six reasonably good looking politicians at most.

What I wonder is this – if the candidate’s looks are such a major factor in the DUSU elections, is it different at the national level? If so, why? If not, why don’t we have more attractive politicians? Teach me, O internets.

January 28, 2008

Some thoughts on Fairytales and Nursery rhymes and politicizing children’s literature

The discussion in the comments at Krish Ashok’s blog got me thinking about this. In his post he referred briefly to “politically correct” nursery rhymes, and some of the commentors expressed their opinions of the idea. A few (unconnected to each other) thoughts:

1. Baa baa rainbow sheep is a hilariously bad idea. It does not scan. It is quite odd when visualised (though I may be prejudiced in saying this – there are references to striped and spotted goats in the Bible, aren’t there? That Jacob creates through divinely inspired selective breeding?) Whoever came up with it seems to think “black” has political connotations but “rainbow” does not (either that or they have a very odd notion of normalising homosexuality). Sheep of indeterminate colour? Neutral beige? (If you got rid of the completely unnecessary “baa baa” this would sound fine).

2. Most of the time when people talk of “reworked”, “politically correct” tales/rhymes/songs disparagingly, they’re taking for granted the existence of an “original” version (the version they grew up with, of course) that fell perfectly formed from the sky but now has been profaned by this modern belief that children’s stories are, you know, politically relevant. Which is rubbish, of course, and if you’re interested enough in the history of fairytales or nursery rhymes you can trace them back, and they do change over time (I used to think modern fairytales were watered down versions of Grimm’s. Only as an adult did I learn how much watering down the Brothers Grimm had done themselves), and they changed because the world around them changed, and if that’s not political I don’t know what is.

Also, lots of fairytales have had very visible morals, and the morals are not always fluffy, context-free things like “be nice to everyone”. Witness the much sexualized Perrault “Red Riding Hood” (don’t have sex, girls! With wolves, or anyone. Don’t talk to strange men, and don’t wear bold colours.) – How on earth is that not politicized when removing the golliwogs from Enid Blyton is?

3. Earnest EngLit students (myself included) often focus too much on these aspects of children’s literature – where do they come from? What did they originally mean? And so on, and completely ignore the fact that they’re not just about indoctrinating/twisting innocent young minds (hah) but they’re part of children’s earliest encounter with language and sound and rhythm, and all those things are probably more important. (If you can see literature for children only as indoctrination, I suppose at some point you’d become one of those people who thinks the gay penguin book would cause ‘rampant’ homosexuality).

4. There’s this bizarre argument that since children aren’t aware of the potential offensiveness of what they may read that it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying this. I remember sitting through a seminar on children’s literature in my first year of college as two of my seniors clutched their pearls and asked us if we were not shocked, shocked at the idea of little children reciting rhymes about the Black Death. I was unmoved – unless you’re telling them where it came from (and there’s an interesting little area- what if you did?) I can’t see why it would matter. But this is because said children would be unlikely to meet people for whom the Black Death was an emotional issue unless some serious time travel occurred. On the other hand, it’s very possible for children to pick up certain attitudes about things like class and race and gender and sexual orientation that might later lead to great awfulness since these things continue to be real issues.

5. I remember someone on a messageboard I used to read complaining that everything nowadays was so PC that books about mothers who baked cakes were practically taboo.
I’m not sure how far this is true, since the vast majority of the books I read (for children or otherwise) stick to traditional class and gender roles.

6. Rewritings of fairytales, nursery rhymes, etc are far more interesting to adults since we can see what ideas are being adapted/reversed. The PL is currently pleasing me by reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Then there’s the marvellous “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman. And lots more.

7. I wonder if the people who dislike PC rewrites enjoyed Shrek?

8. Gak, this is a ridiculously long post.

January 9, 2008

At the risk of (oh noes!) being seen as politically correct…

…I find it terribly annoying that a number of people from on my facebook friends list have added an application called “what mental disorder do you have?”. I know this because every time I open the site I find invitations to add this thing. I have ignored them.

These are mostly people I went to college with (one of them is a teacher, even) who would during class have instances of this sort of thing pointed out in the context of, say, race. Or class, or gender. And they’d gasp and look all horrified at how people could possibly be so insensitive and blinded by their own privelege and so on and so forth.

Morons. One is surrounded by them.

January 1, 2008

How I became a Creature of the Night


It must be about four o’clock, thought Moist. Four o’clock! I hate it when there are two four o’clocks in the same day.*


I’m not sure if it’s just me (and PTerry, apparently), but 4 am has always been a sort of borderline time for me. I suspect my grandfather had something to do with it – when I was young he would wake up at 4 for his morning walk to the temple. And so it had entered my consciousness as a time when people (not myself, of course, but reasonably normal people nonetheless) could wake up. Plus it was close to 5, which wasn’t that unearthly an hour to rise, and 5 was close to 6, which was practically sensible. On the other hand, though, I was surrounded by people who usually slept late. They had been known to finally get to bed at 4, though none of them did it regularly.

As I grew up, I did sometimes go to bed at 4. If I was reading an interesting book, for example, or had been at a party. It was still rare. There was something rather sinful about staying up till 4, for some reason.

But during the exams early in 2007 my lifestyle changed drastically. I would, as a matter of routine, sleep or laze the day away, panic after midnight, and frantically flip through notes till about 3. I would then require something to soothe my brain before sleep was possible.

So I began to watch Postman Pat. On Pogo, dubbed into Hindi, at 3:30 am every weekday. It was, really, the only watchable thing on TV.

Which was all very well. Exams (and Postman Pat dubbed into Hindi) are extenuating circumstances, I suppose. Unfortunately, once they were done with I found it impossible to re-acquire civilized sleeping habits. I became officially nocturnal. Relieved of all responsibility, I entered a life of decadent disregard for my native timezone. I would sleep till noon and read till dawn. At the end of May, Supriya was a horrified observer of my sleeping habits. In November, the PL would shamelessly exploit them by asking me if I’d mind staying up till 5:30 and waking him up so he’d have time to go to the gym. It was a downward spiral. I still cannot break free. I’ve even considered moving to a country in a more conveniently situated timezone. It seemed the only solution. England, now, England would work. 5 ½ hours behind us, yes?

But I am not moving to England just yet. I am, however, moving to Calcutta this saturday afternoon. I suspect I will miss Delhi.

Anyway. A very happy new year to everyone who reads this, though I’m pretty sure the Gregorian calendar is Against Our Culture.

*From my shiny new autographed copy (thanks, Shreyas!) of Terry Pratchett’s Making Money

March 4, 2007

Where places are

(Since Koyel is now All Powerful and can demand updates)

Exams are next month and I have begun to actually read my texts fully (by which I mean the introduction, etc). This weekend has mostly been spent on the contemporary lit paper, because that is the most enjoyable one. But something’s been bothering me.

When I read Chinua Achebe, one of the first pages in the introduction is a map of Africa showing where Nigeria is. When I read Ngugi, another map of Africa is included to tell me where Kenya is.

I’m not exactly sure why this bothers me. I’m rubbish at geography myself, I know where things are, but in a very vague way.(As in, I will make circling gestures with my index finger over a part of a map and go “about…here?”) If anyone should be glad of a map, it’s me.

But still. I’m not sure if it’s annoyance that my intellect is rated so low (I actually do know where Nigeria and Kenya are!), or if it’s that they don’t include, say, a map of Europe to mark Italy when we read study Fo. And I *know* there are understandable historical reasons for that and maybe it is those historical reasons that annoy me. Or something.

I don’t know.

It’s never a good idea to be openly conflicted in as public a forum as this. You only contradict yourself and everyone else winds up thinking you’re stupid. I’m really not, you know.

April 25, 2006

Spamspamspam

so it was like, “Yay! The exams are over! This calls for feasting and debauchery, wildly imprudent celebration! I know! Lets run and buy stripey underwear!!”

Ahem.

My last exam was today, and I’m still rather dazed (also stuffed. Good food, yay). I’m also in my usual post-exam-heightened-emotional state…I finally started to read Tigana and nearly cried during the two-page prologue.

However, I just checked my mail for the first time in a few days, and am now terribly amused. Among the inmates of my spambox (along with those ever so tempting offers to have my penis size increased. er.) are emails from Ostracism F. Tactlessly, Promulgation D. Happiness, Cleanliest P. Hydrating, and (possibly my favourite) Economizes A. Teardrop. I am glad to have made your acquaintance, sirs.

Oh, and perhaps tomorrow I’ll post something worthwhile. My loyal readers (both of you) deserve something better than this after two weeks without me posting.

March 29, 2006

PhDs, Marriage, the difficulty of.

Some books were overdue so I paid a visit to the BCL today. While I was there I unwisely ecided to burden myself with some more litcrit so I could panic a bit more before my exams.
I was looking at the books on one of the lower shelves and decided it would be easier to just sit down on the carpet. A minute or so after I did a woman came and sat beside me. She smiled at me and said my way of looking through books seemed more convenient. Then she asked if I was studying English. I said I was. An M.A? No, a B.A (I really must do something about those wrinkles.) She said she was doing an M.Phil and asked me if I was planning to get a teaching degree. No, I said, I wanted to continue with pure academics. She seemed disturbed. How would I earn? When would I get married; did I not realise that a PhD would tie me up for years? Etc.

I’m rather fascinated by this because while I realise that most people do get married, have babies, not spend most of their lives in academic pursuits, etc., I’ve just never thought about them as applying to me. I’ve been lucky as far as parents go; I’m sure they’d love it if i’d done law or something and then settled down as a successful professional (my mother would have kicked me out if I’d dared to suggest not having a career of some kind) and had lots of little girl-babies my dad could spoil. But they’ve always known it wouldn’t happen that way and have never questioned things like my choice of a financially pointless career…though dad did do his best to let me know he thought law was a very good career. (He still sighs theatrically when we argue because I would have made such a good lawyer)

So I suppose today was a reminder of how utterly weird my life must seem to some people. The lady in question looked rather amazed. I’m not sure how many people in the city still ask women how they’re going to balance marriage and a career within minutes of meeting them, but well. It was interesting.