Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.

आम्हां घरी धन शब्दांचीच रत्नें | शब्दांचीच शस्त्रें यत्न करुं ||
शब्द चि आमुच्या जीवांचे जीवन | शब्दें वांटूं धन जनलोकां ||
तुका म्हणे पाहा शब्द चि हा देव | शब्द चि गौरव पूजा करुं ||
- abhang of Tukaram Wolhoba Ambile of Dehu

There's No Freedom Like That of a Child's Imagination

கடலுக்கு உண்டு கற்பனைக்கு இல்லை கட்டுப்பாடு

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Flight of Fancy

"When a single trumpet sounds,

And the armies charge…

…”

Dammit. Writer’s block. No ink will flow in a long time.

But why? Why am I doing this? Mere poetry. Churning out guff from the depths of my soul, and chewing pencils to indigestion just to find the right word. And then send that off to some publisher at own cost with self-stamped envelope enclosed. To be dismissed in an afternoon’s read by an editor whose wife has just nagged him. Is this what the soul really wants?

Nope. It has never wanted this. It did work for bread and writing for jam. It never did anything for itself. So I’m going to break that nib (after I finish writing this), and get down to doing what I want to do most. Give my soul the treatment it really wants.

Pack my bags and head off to the Nilgiris. Get off before I reach Ooty, and trek it to the Toda villages. Find a fellow’s buffalo, pinch it and hide. And as that fellow lets off, record his golden words in my voice recorder. Another village, and tease a girl…no not that far. Tease a man’s pride and joy, and as he gives his best words, pull out that recorder again.

Get back to hotel in Wellington. Replay tape. Jot down the words. Make lists. Continue the process day after day till the wordlist is saturated. Pack bags. Off to Wayanad and Kerala tribals. Repeat entire procedure.

Now, that is a flight of fancy. To travel all over India, and record its dying tribal languages. No, not the whole language. That some talented and trained linguist will have done by now. My business is to record the real bit of language, that those academic prudes will not do. The profanities, the insults. The real expression of their thoughts. The words when a person’s heart pours out his anguish and annoyance.

My life’s real mission is to catalogue and present to humanity its entire richness of expression. A great dictionary of the profane, in every language that has lived and died upon human tongue. To provide to the future a happy legacy.

When your boss has just shown you what an atrociously stubborn donkey he can be, just pull out my dictionary. Call him something arcane. Arcane and profane! Ha ha ha!

Get home to a nagging wife? Pesky kids? That car mechanic, doodhwallah, postman…every name that has ever been called on the soil of this country shall be at your beck. It shall again come to life upon your tongues.

And if I ever live to see the compilation of that project, then I shall set my eyes on world conquest. Follow the trail from Punjab to Macedonia. Visit every village inn and pub to find out what the locals’ ancestors had to say to Alexander’s hoplites when they came marching through. Then turn in to the Caucasus, and hear the ancient Slavs swearing at the Golden Horde. And then take a flight to New York, then on to the Bahamas, and then reach Aruba somehow. Find out the Carib reservation. Ask then what they said to Columbus. And so on.

What I need in this flight of fantasy are converts. Converts to my cause. Those who will go and ask the Vietnamese what they said to the GI Joes. Or ask the Laotians about Agent Orange. All the dreadful oaths the Filipinos swore at Japanese sailors.

Who will do the asking to the Zulus about the Xhosa (and vice versa)? What do the Pygmies call an abnormally tall fellow, too clumsy to go down a forest hole to pick choice roots? What do the Amazonian Indians call others when they’ve been fenced into a reservation for Brazilian fidalgos to chop their rainforest? What did Sitting Bull say to General Custer?

There’s a lot of real history out there that’s unsaid, because a bunch of prudes will shudder. There is about half of the entire vocabulary ever invented by the human race that is at the threat of extinction, that is my sacred duty to save for posterity. The vocabulary in which the best of human thought has ever been given voice – elation and despondence, the triumph of armies and the fall of civilizations.

Now that’s a flight of fancy.

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