Saturday, 2 January 2016

Celebrity Demeanour?

Incident 1
Prof. Amartya Sen hasn’t responded; he did receive my mail though—his Secretary confirmed it. He’d won Nobel Prize in Economics a few years ago.

Dear Professor
I purchased ‘The Argumentative Indian’ recently. Here is my feedback. I hope you’ll find time to read through this, and I’ll be extremely happy to receive a reply.

With regards
K R Lakshminarayanan

Thoughts on your ‘The Argumentative Indian’
The book is monumental in its effort, terrific in its approach, stupendous in its research, awesome in its content, complicated in its treatment, severely complex in its exposition, forceful in its argument. After going through its pages, I realized I could appreciate someone’s work without fully understanding it.
To my mind, however, it lacks three things:
1. Your perspective on the argumentative tradition excludes (ignores?) the Southern Indian contribution.
2. More importantly, more fundamentally, the content and its presentation lack simplicity and directness. The book is so scholarly that I get only a general drift of the ‘argument’ though I must say I do possess a fairly good mastery of the English language and can fairly follow a serious analysis.

The demands the book makes on me are beyond my reach. Your lexis, syntax and content are so heavily pregnant they require constant verbal and mental gymnastics, which is tiring (and can become a tiresome exercise with time). The implications arising from the smooth blend of your thoughts with those of others’, which occurs at almost every statement, slip through my fingers at every step I take. Probably, you were so taken up with the ‘issues’ that it may not have occurred to you that readers like me, who are not as enlightened, may want to read the book, understand its essence with and enjoy it through all the attendant paraphernalia.

The quotes, which are one too many I’m afraid, mystify rather than simplify or clarify. Of course, the choice of how you wish to express yourself is solely yours; you could’ve been yourself but, you could’ve spoken as you, but. Yet you have chosen to engage yourself in the webs of multitude of scholars and thinkers and have thus become a willing prisoner and consequently become delightfully incomprehensible. The ‘educated’ me feels glaringly ‘un-read’, helpless, inadequate. The reading is more a three hundred-and-odd-page struggle than an enjoyment, the statements and assertions being far too abstract.

So, the implications (understand and enjoy) inherent in Bibek Debroy’s wish—‘every Indian should read this book’ (printed at the back cover of the Penguin 2005 edition)—which must also be yours as well (why would you otherwise have the content printed)—may not be realised in its entirety.

3. Most importantly, most fundamentally, the book leans and draws heavily on the heavy-weights. Theories and concepts abound but  visibly absent are the key roles of the translator—the common man reflecting these through spontaneity; of course history is replete with instances that reveal ready responses to calls—cultural, religious, social and political with the attendant ills, taboos, superstitions. Is it because the common man doesn’t traverse the realm of ‘ideas’ (only through which Sen has planned his grand tour)?

These observations of mine may not be, I suspect, a lone cry in the     wilderness. Or for that matter they can be mine alone.    
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Incident 2
A few years earlier, I had a similar experience with another Professor, this time in person—Prof. Braj B. Kachru, a noted Indian linguist, living in the USA.

            A grammar very Indian
           
            A noted linguist you are
            a reputed scholar you are
            in a far-away foreign land
            you’ve made your home
            proud I’ve been, seeing
            an Indian making a name
            you’ve done India proud

            never did I imagine
            I’d see you in flesh ‘n’ blood
            but I did!
            never did I imagine
            I’d be listening to you live
            but I did!
            jump for joy I did
            in an international conference
            in 2006
            on English grammar
            at Salem, Thamizhnadu 
            a thought or two of yours
            had occurred to me, too
            as the theme of my presentation
            ‘A case for Indian grammar’

            at lunch break introducing myself
            extended a copy of my ‘paper’
            you passed by
            without so much as a nod
            without breaking your stride
            crumpling and stuffing it
            into your coat pocket
                                                                  
            confess I do—
            a tad disappointed I was
            hope I did
            you’d look at my paper
            at your leisure
            perhaps you did
            perhaps you did
            (printed I had
            my email address)
            perhaps you meant to write
            perhaps you did mean to,
            I’d like to believe

            neither gain nor loss
            there was
            leave Salem I did
            satisfied,
            made I had, like you,
            a strong case
            for a grammar
            very Indian. 

This appeared in an anthology entitled ‘The Melodies of Immortality’—a collection of poems presented at the 54th All India English Teachers’ Conference conducted during December 2011 by Dr Vijay Kumar Roy, Head of the Department of English, SRM University, Modi Nagar, Ghaziabad, U.P.
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In both these instances, I was more amused than angry or hurt. I should’ve known. Even if I had, I guess, I’d still have troubled (?) them the way I did.

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