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 …

 

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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.

 

 

Book Review

 

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Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: J.K. Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the script of the movie of the same name,  written by JK Rowling. It was released on 18th November, 2016. Rowling’s style is distinctive, racy and clear. I enjoyed it while it lasted.

The book takes you on a journey to 1920s New York, where witch-hunts are still common. The dark wizard, Gellert Grindewald, is supposed to be on the loose and has wreaked havoc in Europe.

Newt Scamander, the protagonist of the story, is on a mission to free a magnificent thunderbird, an enormous magical creature somewhat like an albatross. He found it chained and wounded in an Egyptian black market. Being an animal lover, he rescued the magical creature and was trying to return it to its habitat in Arizona at the start of the story. He has a magical suitcase in which he conceals his astounding zoo with many wonderful magical creatures with the help of an extendable charm.

Scamander travels incognito to America and holds a muggle ( non-magical person), in MACUSA terminology, a no-maj, passport. MACUSA is an organization called the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is more or less a parallel to Ministry of Magic in the UK. You have an interesting angle brought in with Salem witch hunters trying to hunt out witches and a new dark energy called obscurial found in children who are forced to repress their magical energy.

Grindewald, under the guise of a MACUSA official, tries to harness the energy of obscurials for his own intent. Scamander, with his kind heart, tries to help prevent the destruction of an obscurial. However, at the end the obscurial is destroyed and Grindewald is exposed. The MACUSA, which had put a ban on all magical creatures that Scamander carried with him in his case, viewed him as an offender initially. When Scamander helps expose Grindewald, they become very positively inclined towards him. He also uses the thunderbird to erase muggle memory off these events, thus helping the MACUSA continue it’s secret existence.

There is a romantic angle brought in by the Goldestein sisters, Tina and Queenie. They grew up in USA and studied in Ilvermorny, the counterpart of Hogwarts.

The story is interesting but too short. The script is exactly like the movie. However, It would have been nice to have a little more, both of the movie and the book. More could have been shown of the fantastic creatures created by JK Rowling. There is a whole lot available on Pottermore in the internet if you want to know. Perhaps, it would be nicer if some more of the Pottermore stories had been incorporated into the script.

You could have stories on how Scamander found each beast, on Tina and Queenie, on Grindewald and his ultimate battle with Voldemort, on how all this led to Harry Potter and his gang. You could do a whole series of books based on the lore started in The Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them.

Fantastic Beasts, is definitely a better read than The Cursed Child, but both these books have left readers thirsting for more books before and after the advent of Harry Potter. The book was fun. It would have been better as a proper book instead of a movie script. The earlier book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  Newt Scamander, published in 2001, has just got descriptions of magical creatures but not Scamander’s adventures. It would be good to have his adventures told.

Like The Cursed Child and unlike the earlier Harry Potter novels, one would have to be familiar with  Potter lore to appreciate this book fully.

I would like to look forward to a Harry Potter series that stretches out like the Star Wars adventures, making for a good read and written by JK Rowling herself…

 

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A Burlesque

PhD thesis

( Inspired by the igNoble awards)

The elephant with it’s pink nose,
Flung up his trunk and with outstretched toes,
Danced a little stuttu
In a a violet-pink tutu.
The tiger stood on it’s tail
And did a jig on the rail.
The giraffe twirled it’s forked tongue
And sang a song with a guitar strummed
By an orangutan in purple pyjamas
With a gold tooth from Bahamas.
The music pranced.
The animals danced.
The future PhD stood entranced
And did a thesis on the hippo’s glance.
The lissome ‘potamus batted it’s lid
And solved problems by Euclid.
The future PhD stood entranced
And did a thesis on the hippo’s glance.