Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of forked tongues and other miscellanies

I like the title of this post. It is suitably obscure, but sounds like it ought to mean something pretty worthwhile if you take the time to 'stop, traveller', and unravel it. It probably doesn't, but you've got to admit it's pretty effective - you're reading this, aren't you?
And thus ends her first exercise at consciously "grabbing eyeballs" (aside - journalistic/marketing jargon is pretty bloody inane, quite apart from being ridiculously violent, non? {H gives herself a pat on the back at this point for being neither a journalist nor a market, well, er?} anywho,)

Today, she will speak to you of translation. Of tongues having been forked, of writers straddling cultures or falling between stools. Read Bhabha and Rushdie if you like these gorgeous (borrowed) metaphors.

It all started when my ridiculously intelligent friend and erstwhile office-mate Adrienne Shaw who has a Ph.D. in video-game narratives and can be read at asked me if I could think of a Hindi equivalent for 'game' and 'gamers'. I could only come up with 'Khel' and 'Khiladi', but said that there was an inherent physicality associated with these terms, in that Khel-as-Play was more aligned to Sport than to the realm of fantasy, which is, as she explained, something of a key-stone in the gaming pantheon.

It got more interesting and political yet when I posed the same question to Antoine. I asked what the French terms for game/gaming/gamers were, since I couldn't think of any (What with having learnt French just to read Baudelaire and everything. I know. Sue me.). The best I could do was 'jeux' for game, but it carried to my mind the same connotations as Khel. His answer surprised me some. He says the French - a race so ridiculously pleased with their patrimoine, of which language I'm sure bears the heaviest burden - actually just refer to these concepts using their standard English terms. Sacre Bleu and other such exclamations. (Notice how I *don't* use an exclamation point there. It's in the little things, I tell you.) My first reaction was to think that this was because of the obvious fact of the sub-culture in question being one borrowed and 'imported' into their semiosphere, but here I was proved wrong. Instead of this being a recognition by one West that here was a construct/creation of another West, taken on in total, it turns out that the usage of the English forms was the proverbial middle finger being shoved in the face of the man, the machine, the academie. Mainly, because they try to expurgate (in a display of blatant anal-ness and much to the general hilarity of onlookers) their language of any "outside/uncouth" influences, evinced also in near-draconian legislations like the Toubon Law.

The use of one language, so, in the mouths of those accustomed to not speaking it (and this is not language-as-a-marker-of-mobility or 'upwardness', mind), becomes a weapon of subversion-assertion-signification. If you concede that your mouth/tongue (And this is beautiful, really: 'langue' doubles up as tongue and language in French, a fact I've been enamoured with {and how many 'facts' can you be enamoured with, I ask you?} since the day I learnt it) moves in different ways when you speak a different language, and assume the world-view that comes as the legacy of it, then you begin to realise the import of language on identity and its formationcreationappropriation.

Translation is a difficult proposition - the eye that sees, the ear that hears and the mouth that enunciates are involved in a process to render the unfamiliar unfamiliar yet, but not alien. Literal translations are a lost cause because they can't "say" what the original does in an altered world-view. Signifiers are lost because this isn't the semantic system they stem from. Oh, it's hard work. I have much respect for the anthropologist-translators (and all translators need necessarily be anthropologists) that I know. In homage, I give them (and you, lecteur), my little (very) labour of love. My first and only translation to date.


Nature is a temple whose living pillars

Sometimes transmit perplexing messages;

It is these forests of symbols man traverses,

And they observe him with a familiar gaze.

Like distant echoes which, travelling from afar, are confused

Into a several yet profound unity,

As vast as the night, but with day’s clarity,

Smells, colours and sounds correspond.

These are smells as fresh as the flesh of an infant;

Soft like an oboe, green like the prairie,

- While others, corrupt, rich and triumphant,

Possess of the infinite

As do amber, musk, benjamin and incense

- They sing of the transcending of soul and sense.

And for those of you who read French, here is the incomparable original. By the man who made me want to...

learn French (you're filthy animals for thinking it was going anywhere else)


- Charles Baudelaire

La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers

Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;

L’homme y passe a travers des forets de symboles

Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme des longs echos qui de loin se confondent

Dans une tenebreuse et profonde unite,

Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte,

Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent.

Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,

Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,

- Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,

Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,

Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where she laments

To put things into perspective, I have to preface this post by stating that I am not prone to displays of outrage brought on by any contact with visuality in its manifest forms. I don't cry out loud or rage against any machine when I watch the news (hah) or documentaries or films. There's been just one exception to this rule. I saw Parzania. Alone. Late one night. I shouted, screamed, pulled my hair near-out of my head and couldn't bear to finish the movie. This is because it rang too close to the truth; too close to home, for comfort. I lived through 2002, you know.

Today, upon hearing that Binayak Sen's bail petition has been denied, I was on looking for Shiv Visvanathan's open letter to Manmohan Singh so that I could re-post it in a bid to stoke that all too pernicious thing we call public memory. I found, instead, this little animated film on his extra-legal arrest and a reconstruction of the events that led to it.
I now want to cry again.
I want to rave, rant and shout out loud that what is being done to Binayak Sen is a travesty.
But I'm not stupid. I know it will do no good. I've been emasculated-castrated, and I don't even have balls, me, except metaphorical ones. How on earth did it come to this?

I'm too shaken up to write anything cogent or witty or even half-way articulate. It's all I can do to finish this post here and go simmer in the dissent that is my only consolation as a member of a civil society which is not civil (or civilised, even) proof of which comes from its mournful silence and apathy in the face of this - and every other - siege on the democratic right to a life of dignity.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fevered musings of a Saturday afternoon; or the G(u)ilt of Gilt; or Her on her Best Religious Behaviour

Any Saturday - all Saturdays, even - are splendid. This is a priori, and not for us mere mortals to question. The one I'm thinking about in particular was no different, except that instead of seeing me at home, in bed for most of the day before I go sing for my supper all evening, this one saw me in Koh Samui, sitting in the shade of a giant Buddha, surrounded by a sea so green, it made my heart ache with longing. Thinking. Writing. Playing.

Here are a few scribblings, in no particular order.

We take turns
you and I
playing at the air
to each other's sea.

The religious is the secular here; the everyday.
Consider this Big Buddha:
I consumed and meditated at his feet.
Of the two states of being,
I have a little white dress to show for the former.

Lists of a Saturday afternoon

Worship comes in many shapes:
ringing, singing, throwing, clicking
with a smile
a laugh
a grimace
fervent ardour

What do gold, pink, yellow, blue, orange, red and maroon have in common?
Colours apart, the tones build, come together to create the aspect of the Buddha.
All religions need bells, colour; sound and light
to bedazzle - dare I say it - bewitch.
As religions go, this is a happy one -
Throw things at the deity, and he won't smite you with a bolt of lightning.
At least not immediately.

Isn't that saying a lot?
Theirs is not an angry God; not one born of the desert.
His are aqueous transmissions.

It seems fitting
to write
on yellow here.
Gilt~G(u)ilt~Y as charged, m'lord.

Of Sound

Some ring but half-heartedly.
Is it better than not ringing at all?
All the ostentation serves to evoke is its lack:
If every binary only works in conjunction,
This opulence evokes starkness, non-being, non-time.

After all, faith,
that most deadly of all things,
is g(u)ilt-laden.

Is it wrong to catch someone's eye in a temple?
What does it mean to be asked to "dress respectfully" whilst the heroes of yore
ride their murals and tigers topless?
What is the connection between my legs - bare - and how I feel about the Buddha?
If it is so as to not distract the monks,
Why, let them look the other way, I say.

As always

As always,
It is in the aspect of the fingers:
They point~arch above and away.

Palms close differently, hands join differently

Thailand is big on its hands:
This avatar's perspective is broken by his outsized one -
It is held straight, forward, palm-first, up and out,
bidding you 'stop', traveller
bidding you peace
These statues are modern-day P(eace)-olicemen.

An observation

Does one approach him wide-eyed, hair amiss, dress askew?
Or does he like his devotees well-coiffed and contoured?

By all means, comb your hair
In the shade of the Buddha
Pose for your picture
Against the sea;
Why, it's sunny today, and the islands look stunning.

Comb your hair
in the shade of this giant Buddha.
Just don't say you did it for him.