Babel

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People started using a language to communicate at some point in history…They say about a 100000 years ago… could be more… some say 200,000 years ago… Intellectuals and scientists are still trying to figure out that one.

Linguists continue to cogitate and have agitated arguments over the issue of the evolution of the first language. But the point is, they can argue because language and words evolved and they exist. And it is a fact that language is what has separated humans from the birds, bees, lions, tigers, apes, fishes, crabs, whales, dolphins, elephants and Neanderthals. These creatures communicate too (or communicated too, in case of Neanderthals) with grunts, tunes, trills, gestures, dances and notes; but none of them can (or could) talk or communicate in ways as complex as humans.

Neanderthals evidently had the tools in them to talk, but were too primitive to develop speech, which ultimately fell into the forte of our ancestors, the homo sapiens, who evolved somewhere in Central Africa.

Sometimes, I wonder if the famed Ethiopian Lucy of the Australopithecus family called out to her beloved in words or grunts or notes? She has been much celebrated with words by not only intellectuals but also by songsters like Beatles and Elton John. And yet, perhaps 3.2 million years ago, did she speak? Would she be able to understand the serenades for her?

Would she be able to comprehend any of the modern languages we use today? Can you believe that currently there are more than 5,000 languages in the world?! It might seem an astounding figure, especially compared to Lucy’s times, but from a handful of people, the human family has to grown 7,500,000,000 large… quite a leap from Lucy’s lifetime, I believe!

At some point the first language must have started with grunts coming out of descendants of Lucy, the first men and women that lived in Africa and, eventually, in their progeny who walked out of Africa to create homes all over the world. We, the progeny of these walkers, now speak in complex sentences, using varied words in varied languages that probably our early ancestors would have found impossible to comprehend.

Languages, like their users, tend to run into each other. They share some words or some word roots in common. They could all exist in harmony and learn from each other if they did not join their users in a rat race to prove themselves superior or the most spoken. With a cutthroat cultural race among different nations and states, languages have become a commodity. Politicians use it to prove their prowess and power. Some languages have been wiped completely off from the surface of the Earth by invaders and rulers or sneers from people who considered them inferior. Some of the power brokers ironed out the differences among people who lived under their protection by ironing out their language and uniting them under the banner of one language that they called the national language.

Today, when a person speaks, he is immediately classified into a nationality, a class, a creed, a culture and a region. Henry Higgins of Pygmalion (play by G.B. Shaw, 1913) and My Fair Lady (Hollywood adaptation of Pygmalion) fame created more than a century ago made a pertinent observation on this issue. He says,

an Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him: the moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him...

We can apply this well in the context of  the spoken word, not just for English speakers or ‘an Englishman’ as he says, but for speakers of all languages. The minute we open our mouth, we are labeled.

There are people who frown on users of languages they consider spoken or used by hostile groups. But one just wonders, is it the fault of the language or the users? We associate the power of words with the negative impact the users have made on society…much like we associate the power of the atom with the devastation caused by the nuclear bomb.

Then, there is the case of mother tongue… when you do not speak, read or write it, people among your family and friends often frown… I have always wondered why? Perhaps, because of the theory that says language evolved from mother tongue, that is the sounds used by the mother to communicate with the baby… then it must have been in an arboreal environment… now, we do it in more than 5000 different ways! And yet, in this long linguistic list missing is the original mother tongue of all mother tongues that evolved in Africa 100,000 or 200,000 years ago! We do not even know what the language is…

Our research of speech starts with the written words. The oldest known written language is Egyptian or is it Sumerian…? I am confused! Logically, there must have been something they spoke before they built palaces and homes… and that would be the mother tongue of all the human race. That is what we all would be speaking if we went by tradition and culture…that is what our ancient ancestors spoke when they walked out to populate the beautiful green Earth. And that is what we have lost to the dusts of time…

Now the babel of more than 5000 languages have become sources of unhappy divisions instead of a means to communicate to make our own lives easier and happier. I wonder, how our great (to the power a hundred and twenty thousand generations or more) grandmother, the celebrated Lucy, would react to this medley of words …

 

To shave or not to shave?

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Many hundreds of years ago, the fictitious Hamlet was given these famed lines to cogitate over by the bard that gave him life, Shakespeare,

 

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?

 

Hamlet was agitated over his fate. And I stand agitated over the fuzz I see growing on my son’s face. So, these are lines I dedicate to all the men who think the unkempt, unshaven look makes them appear macho… or men who are just too lazy to shave!

 

To shave or not shave… that is the question…

Whether it is nobler in the face to suffer

The pricks of fuzzy growth,

Or to take arms against a sea of hair,

And by shaving end them?

 

It has become my sorrow to see my twenty-year-old son’s handsome face concealed by a hairy outcropping most days of the week. When I tell him to shave, he grunts, and it rarely gets done…

And yet, I remember a long, long time ago, when my son was three-years-old and he had lovely smooth skin, he jumped with delight to see his father shave. He wanted so much to shave on a daily basis that he tried it on his own soft cheeks… luckily we caught him before any disaster struck. I occasionally try to revive his interest in shaving by recalling this incident. But, he just walks out saying,” Mamma!” in a tone laced with embarrassment and reprimand!

My friend had better luck with her seventeen-year-old. She whispered to him that he looked like an unkempt terrorist with his fungal growth. He went to the bathroom and came back clean-shaven.

I tried the same with my son…It failed.

When he was a child, I remember reading to him from a book called the Thingummajigs Book of Manners. In that book Thingummajigs were described as creatures with beards and long hair who rarely bathed and had very bad manners. It was in verse with colourful pictures of these creatures. He even enjoyed reading it himself. And he was so convinced by the book that he used to wonder if every long haired and unshaven man was a Thingummajig. We had to keep telling him they were not.

Then, there were the Twits, created by Roald Dahl, where the husband has mice, stale food and all kinds of filthy things in his unkempt facial hirsute outcropping! A book which all of us enjoyed and I would have thought it would have impacted my son for life…to shave regularly…But in vain!

And now he talks of Movember. That has become a reason not to shave… in May?! I googled Movember…It happens only every November… Actually Movember is about growing a nice, neat, trimmed, well-shaped moustache in the month of November to “change the face of men’s health”.

I, personally, cannot empathize with a moustache either…

I, like Tennyson, would like to mourn. He mourned the loss of his friend, Arthur Hallum, and I weep for the loss of the smooth, clean cheeks of my twenty-year-old. With due apologies to Tennyson’s poetic genius, I adapt his famous concluding lines from Break, Break, Break to express the sorrow of parting with my son’s smooth cheeks…

 

Shave, shave, shave

         At the root of thy beard, O Son!

But the tender face of the past that is gone

         Will never come back to me.

 

 

Peace

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Harmony?

Do you see that distant wave?

I see it rise incarnadine with blood.
A great tsunami that threatens to flood
The world with gore born of hate.
Fear and violence open the gate
Of living, vivid hell
In which garb dwell
Differences drawn by men
They say for kin and ken…

Do you see that distant wave?

I see it lave and soothe
With it’s lulling tune.
I see it calm and blue
Reflecting the golden hue
Of the bright sun ray.
People are happy at work and play.
They say the world is but one land
And, united, we all akin stand.

Do you see that distant wave?

The incarnadine sea with it’s violent grave?

Or,

The calm blue ocean with it’s sunshiny face?

Short story

The Conspiracy Club

Shyam was bored to death.

He had finished a M.Com degree and management course at the local university and was waiting for a job, which for all practical purposes had eluded him for the last one year. He wanted a good job, an easy one with a good pay and designation. He didnot care what the job was but did care that he should have an easy time and plenty of money. Such jobs were hard to come by and Shyam just waited patiently.

Crotchety with boredom and a good life in his parental home, Shyam decided to start a detective agency. He advertised his services online. His advertisement said his agency provided services of all kinds from hunting for lost pets to looking for criminals to delving into conspiracies.

His first case was that of a missing dog. Macho, the dog in question had gone missing from a pet care centre while his mistress was getting her nails done at a nearby parlour. Macho had been missing for one whole day.

Shyam went to the pet care centre, the dog pound, animal shelter, the owner’s home in vain. At the pet care centre, the employees were very cold to him. He got no information. At the pound and animal shelter, dogs in cages barked and bared their fangs at him. Shyam was scared of dogs. He was not too happy. The owner was distressed and kept calling him till the evening, when she informed him that Macho had returned home on his own and therefore his services were not needed.

Shyam took missing pets off his list.

His mother found out about the advertisement. She forced him take criminals off his list.

Now, all Shyam was left with was conspiracies. No one called him to help them solve a mystery. He still didnot have his perfect job or any job. He started delving into conspiracy theories on his own. But that was taking him nowhere and was too taxing on his brain. He needed people his age to interact with. He needed friends. So, he decided to form an anti-corruption and conspiracy club. All members needed to pay an annual membership of only Rs 100 to start with. Shyam got together a bunch of young people who met every evening under the tall banyan tree in the park to discuss politics, corruption scandals and conspiracy theories. They were all young men with not much to do and enough money to spare. Some of them were Shyam’s classmates, who like him, waited for the easiest way to make money and have an easy life. Shyam had collected nearly one thousand twelve hundred rupees, which meant there were twelve members in the club.

Thirteen young people in a park under a banyan tree discussing politics started drawing attention. That is when Shyam thought it would be better to have the gathering indoors. The twelve members of his club agreed. They discussed renting a small room and expanding their club. They raised the entrance fee to one thousand. Surprisingly, they found takers. They now rented a small room in a big house and held their meetings there. Not that the meeting generated action but it helped people voice their opinions and relax. It was an outlet to talk, especially for people who were not getting anywhere.

Over a period of five years, the membership and the annual membership fee increased. Shyam found, a higher membership fee was directly proportional to the increase in number of applicants. Of course, they had to provide facilities like a cafeteria, music, television. So, Shyam rented a small house. The kitchen was handed over to a local tea stall owner. He was quite happy to oblige and run the cafeteria in the dining-drawing area.The music was provided by a rejected karaoke system from Shyam’s home. They installed a big second hand TV in another room, which they called the movie room. The ACC (Anti-Corruption and Conspiracy) club gained in popularity. Shyam stopped looking for a job as he became the founder of a fairly popular people’s club and he started making a lot of money from the annual membership fee.The club’s popularity with rich, unemployed youth invited the attention of the local politicians and journalists, especially as it claimed to be a club dedicated to the unearthing of corruption and conspiracies. They started patronising the club. The local politicians tried to raise funds and clout for their cause and parties and the journalists tried to scent out scandals. The club started becoming the breeding grounds for the young monied and money-makers. The club moved to it’s own building. Now, the club had it’s own restaurant and gym. Then, it acquired a pool table and swimming pool. A crooner, a bar and another posh restaurant further enhanced it’s attractions.

Shyam’s ACC club became popular and the talk of the town. Ten years down the line, it was a prestigious and professional men’s club. Anyone who was someone professionally belonged to the ACC. Young jobless wastrels no longer found their way to the club. The club became a hotbed for conspiring for entry into the club and for gaining influence or finance in or from the government or industry.

The twelve founding members had all become powerful, influential and wealthy. Six had joined politics. One of them was running for the parliament as his godfather, the local member of parliament, was retiring. Four had become leading journalists whose copy had to be re-written, but they were unparalleled in scenting out scandals. People feared them. If a scandal could not be found by others, they were sure to scent it out with their unparalleled skills. Newspapers vied to employ them. The eleventh one had become a godman, a great Yogi. He founded his own ashram and taught yoga to the rich and famous. There were some drug and sex scandals in which his name was implicated but everything was quieted down as the four journalists vouched for his godliness. His holiness was above scandals. If anything, the rumours drew a bigger crowd to his ashram. The last one had become a businessman known for his ‘connections’. No one knew exactly what he did but he was very rich and powerful. It was said that he was the man who created the chief minister of the state.

Shyam, of course, became very wealthy. He had opened chapters of the club in other parts of the country too. The Business Weekly had named him the ‘Man of the Year’ five years running. He had found his niche job among the wealthy and powerful. Here was a man who had achieved his dream.

Or had he? Did he have a dream? What was it? Was it a dream…?

Winning

Winning is about having the courage to fail and rise again.

Conquest

I flit in and out of night,
A dark passage without a light.
And then, again it is bright.
Sunshine blinds my site.
Happiness dulls the pain
That recurs again and again.
I see the gold that lines the clouds.
I see the rainbow the storms announced.
And, yet, when I am hurt, I shout.
My pain twirls me around.
All I can see is black.
There is a lack
Of air.
Claustrophobia sets in.
It hurts.
My lung hurts.
My brain hurts.
My body hurts.
My heart hurts.
I wait for the end.
Again, I am lifted by a gust and carried
Beyond the pain.
Everything is righted again.
The rainbow glitters bright and clean.
Till I encounter another gust of wind
That carries me back to darkness.

With each cycle, I become more oblivious to the change.
The darkness recedes faster.
I can see the light pierce through the night.

I become strong and bold
For fire only purifies gold.

Cleansed

I pour the anguish of my soul,
The pain in my heart, all into one bowl
And then drown it
In the middle of the turbulent river.
I see it sink, sink to the bottom.
Inky, muddy, sodden, it lies there
Till it is picked up by a strong current
And carried to the ocean
Where it breaks
Against the jagged rocks,
Letting out the screams, sighs and tears
Which are drowned by the sound
Of the waves that lash against
The broken bowl,
Shattered to smithereens
By the sea.
The angst is cleansed,
Cleansed by the infinite ocean,
Evaporated to the skies,
Lost in the clouds …
And then,
Sprinkled by the rain…
Till the anger becomes minuscule,
Smaller than a subatomic grain.

And you notice again,

How blue the ocean,
How vast the skies,
How wonderful the entire creation…
And,
Where am I?

To be or not to be….

For real?

People thought Salma could write well. So, everyone, asked her to write. Her brother-in-law in Brazil wanted her to write a script for his speech , another cousin of her husband’s wanted her to write ghost stories. Now, ghost stories is where Salma drew the line. She was terrified of unearthly beings.She had nightmares if she heard/ read ghost stories. She avoided watching movies with ghosts in them, except for funny ones like Ghostbusters or Casper. She had seen some really funny Bengali and Hindi movies too about ghosts. They were not so bad. But, ghost stories….she drew the line. She wrote a frigid email to the cousin saying she never wrote ghost stories! She was afraid she would get nightmares if she wrote one…
One day,Salma met a smart,funny and well-read woman,called Hemlata. Hemlata was about ten years older than her. That made Hem about fifty five.She had crisp,short curly hair. Salma met her when she went jogging everyday. She would go when there were no people around…around two in the afternoon. She used to jog along a lonely wooded path that passed near the University of Santa Cruz. Hem would jog with her. And then, they would sit and chat for half an hour and Salma would return home. Salma found talking to Hem relaxed her. Hem was surprisingly well read. One day, she asked Salma if she would be interested in writing the story of her life..Salma asked Hem ,” Why don’t you drop in for a cup of coffee to my place and we could talk it over.”
Hem replied, ” No. I can’t . I will meet you here everyday and tell you the story. I am sorry but I have certain commitments which make it difficult for me to visit you…”
Salma was alright with the arrangement. Hem began the story of her life.” I was born in a small district in Assam . I married at the age of twenty two. As Assam grew into a troubled state in India, my husband and I decided to migrate to USA. We moved to California when I was in my mid-twenties. I had started work as a journalist in India. I was quite well known as Hemlata Barua in India. I missed my work in USA. My husband worked in the banking sector. He was out the whole day. I decided to learn to fly a plane!”
Salma said,” Wow! So you can fly planes! That is unusual.”
” Yes. It took a long time but I learnt to fly. How I enjoyed flying! I could see the world under my feet stretched out like a map…I could see the clouds float at a distance…I could go anywhere…all I needed was a plane. I also felt empowered by the ability to control the plane…”
Salma looked at her watch and told Hemlata, ” We will continue tomorrow. I am getting late. My kids will be back home from school.”
Hemlata gave a smile and said, ” Goodbye then.”
The next day Hemlata met her and went on with her story. She flew with a passion as she had very few other hobbies other than reading. She learnt how to do loop de loops and even parachute . She had no children, no family in USA. So, she threw herself into her hobby. Then, one day, she wanted to fly over the Bermuda Triangle to see if she could resolve the mystery. Her husband was not very keen on it as he thought it could be risky.
Hemlata complied to him initially. Then, her husband went on a long tour to Switzerland. Hemlata went with him for a short while and returned to USA. She missed flying… Her husband would be out working the whole day and return late in the evening.
Hemlata spent a long time flying…Then , one day, while her husband was still in Switzerland, she decided to fly her plane over the Bermuda Triangle. Her husband was not there to stop her!
Hemlata flew on a clear day into the triangle.
Salma was amazed,” For real?” she asked Hem.” You have been into the Bermuda Triangle and live to tell the story? What happened?”
Hem smiled, ” So, you will write my story?”
“Sure. Would love to.”
Hem said,” Goodbye then.”
Salma said,” Will you tell me the rest tomorrow?”
Hem smiled. “Bye,” she said and they parted.
That evening Salma’s husband’s new boss came home to dinner.She was surprised hearing his name. It was Mr Debjyoti Barua. She said,” You share your surname with a friend. I made friends with this lady called Hemlata Barua while jogging. She is amazing…claims to have flown into the Bermuda Triangle!”
Mr Barua was looking pale.” Hemlata was my wife! She went missing two years ago when she flew into the Bermuda Triangle!”
It was Salma’s turn to look pale!

Trapped in time

What would it be like if time stood still….

Embalmed in time?

If time were to stand still,
Life would be such a thrill.
Frozen in time ,
We would eternally relive
Moments of happiness and sunshine.
The air would be fresh,
The garden, very green.
Eternally,we’d have spring.
The birds would sing,
The butterflies carouse,
Heady with nectar and flower juice.
Years would pause
At the moment when our lives stood still
And our hearts leapt up to behold
The rainbow of all joy and hope.
Eternity would stretch to infinity.
But,would it be tangible?
Would it be real?
Could I touch you ?
Could I feel you?
Can eternity be embalmed in time?

A walk down an autumnal landscape

How nice it would be
If we took a walk by that stream
Down under the autumnal trees.
Red and yellow with splashes of green.
How nice if we went into that painting
And got trapped in time.
Time stopped for you and me.
And we got lost in that moment of eternity!
How nice it would be….
Only you and me
Lost in an eternal moment
Caught in the web of time.
And time would stand still.
……..Only for you and me…….