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« I might respect Sarah Palin now. (Joe) | Main | Why philosophical purity does not necessarily make for the best public policy »

May 17, 2010


My cousin recognized the line cited by Rushe. It is the first line of the 6th couplet of the Bhagavad Gita and is meaningless as such. I would Romanize it as "Yudhaamanyushch vikrant Uttamaujaashch veeryavaan" and it means "Yudhaamanyu the courageous and Uttamaujaa the brave ...". It just ain't "he lives life in the fast lane", merely an identification of two warriors in the epic war of the Mahaabhaarata But to McCrummy or Rushe what does this matter? It's not English and sounds like gibberish anyway! If Globish exists it is because English sounds like gibberish to non-Anglophones, so why should they bother learning it at all. McCrum complains that Bollywood English is hard to reproduce in print. So let him learn the diacritical conventions used in the Romanization of Sanskrit. Of course diacritical marks themselves are too foreign to the English to be taken seriously.
I invite readers to send in plausible translations of the following two lines from the Iliad (Book 3, line~150):
" Priam panthous thymoetes / Lampus clytius hicetaon "

Rereading my own (very long) review of Kiran Desai's Man Booker prize-winner, I take Desai's writing to task for its Western take on Eastern situations, the very thing she is extolled for in McCrum's article.

McCrum might have come off a little better had he introduced Kipling into his discussion. As it is, he comes off as though he is stuck in Kipling's times, utterly puzzled by the new Bollywood molding the Brit perception of the subcontinent and its resultant Bombay Dreams and Slumdog Millionaires.

White, if not exactly white-collar, I nevertheless pretty firmly believe I do know others' feelings better than they do. Not that Narayan isn't correct about the boor McCrum. But Desai fille can spout her share of inanities, too. From the excerpt: "Desai says that her book 'tries to capture what it means to live between east and west, and what it means to be an immigrant ....'" Is this supposed to be an invitation to peak at her writing? Has literary writing become nothing more than a mode of capture, an account of meanings? For that I could read an article in a law review, or an economics textbook. Such weak ambition, so little regard for literary forerunners or for any good novelist's solution to "the problem of English," which is to establish your own standards of linguistic acceptability, then to satisfy them, and by doing so to satisfy the reader.

Sujatha, McCrum should have read your excellent review of The Inheritance of Loss before stepping into the squishy territory of mistaken notions about Desai's educational / cultural antecedants.

Dean, I agree with you about the rise in the painstaking efforts by authors to inject "meaning" into their narratives. The tendency I think, is proliferating due to Oprah's confessionals, the explosion of an author-centric culture promoted largely by blogs and internet social networks where it has become important for us to share with others what we ate for dinner last night. The younger generation of Indian born writers writing in English are particularly guilty of this because as Sujatha astutely points out in her review of Desai's book, they also feel the double burden to "explain" their life experiences to the western reader. After a while, this is no longer a novelty but very, very boring.

Last night I started reading Naguib Mahfouz's opus, Palace Walk, part of his famous Cairo Trilogy written in the 1950s. I am only about 50 pages into it but I can tell that it is going to be an old fashioned story, more Arabian Nights than Aesop's Fables. I will not have to search for meanings that the author may have wanted me to glean from it, for I don't think that Mahfouz intended to send me any messages through his story. He most likely wanted me to just enjoy his tale and make whatever the hell I want to make of it. If I want to "capture" facts and meanings from my readings, indeed, I need to read a scientific paper or an article on politics / economics / law or geology.

I once read an amusing exchange that E.M. Forster was supposed to have had with an over earnest reader. The reader asked him if the spectacular monsoon rain scene in the novel A Passage To India was an allegory for the torrid cave scene that later may or may not have unfolded in reality between two of the characters. Forster apparently replied (my words) languidly: "I don't think so. It rains a lot in India and sometimes, rain is just rain."

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