‘circular ruins’ vs ‘taare zameen par’ & ‘tinkle’

When I was around 12 or 13 years of age, I read a Tamil translation of  this mind blowingly beautiful short story of Jorge Luis Borges (JLB)- one of the finest literateurs that inhabited the earth, an Argentinian – a remarkable essayist and a fine poet too.

This translated ‘circular ruins’ was Vattach-chidhaivugal – artfully and faithfully done by a remarkable Srilankan Tamil – Dharumu Aroop Sivaramu (AKA Pramil Banuchenran, Bramil et al) – who, in my opinion, is/was one of the finest literateurs too. I remember to have been completely bowled over by the story and recollect that I tried to hunt for more of JLB’s outputs – not with much success though, as my world then was limited to whatever that was available in the local government lending libraries.

Borges is one of my alltime favourites – not so much because of the so called  ‘magic realism’ involved in his writings which is merely a technique, in my humble opinion; he has startling insights into our psyche which are expressed through wry humour and a lots of hallucinatory magic. And, he brings in, his vast scholarship of the world and its affairs to whatever he writes – right down to references to my good ol’ Madras in a short story titled A’l mutasim! His Ficciones is definitely mind bogglingly beautiful in scope and depth… (strongly recommended)

I have been dealing with the erdkinder (adolescents, ‘earth’ children) at NammaShaale for quite a while now and I had been told (gladly!) that, an year back they had worked on one of the works of  Gabriel Garcia Marquez too; so I thought, what the heaven, may be these children would enjoy a reading JLB too – and may be, I should start off with circular ruins!

The children were given a printout of the story each, we did a preliminary discussion about the background of the story – and they were given an assignment based on it – details of which are reproduced here:

Assignment:

This story may make sense only after a couple of readings. Be patient. Coupez la difficulte en quarte; remember?.

  1. List down the words for which you don’t know the meaning – hunt down their meanings and then read the story once again to see if the story makes a better sense. (there would be a spelling as well as a ‘meaning/context’ test based on the story, at some point in the near future)
  2. Paraphrase the whole story in about 10 sentences or 100 words.
  3. Do you think the storyline is plausible? Can it really happen? Is the storyline mildly disturbing? Why or Why not? Discuss.
  4. Can we tell whether we are dreaming or in the real world (what we consider as a ‘wakeful’ state) at any time? Discuss.
  5. Where do you think is the setting of the story? How did you arrive at your guess?
  6. Can you analyse the style of Borges and write ONE paragraph (say 5 sentences) like him? ( No is NOT an acceptable answer)
  7. What are the differences between say, a story in ‘Tinkle’ (assuming you read this magazine) or a ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘circular ruins’? Does it feel like an unfair comparison? Why or Why not? [Notes: Tinkle is a popular Indian kids’ magazine; ‘Taare Zameen Par’ is a popular pulp fiction film]
  8. Have you read ‘Alice in wonderland?’ If yes, what are the parallels between this story and that of Alice’s? If no, go read it – FAST! J (NammaShaale has at least one copy and I have several – feel free to borrow)

    Report to be turned in ON or BEFORE 11th

    scan of a report's title page

    scan of a report's title page

I must say that the children came out with very good analyses and takes on the story – they seemed to have had fun too, in the process. Some of them quickly followed it up with some good doses of Lewis Carrol. Good. Immensely satisfying.

I have reproduced some views of the erdkinder here, verbatim:

‘I don’t know. May be our whole life is a dream till we pass away and then some one else wakes up, maybe you itself’

‘I think it can happen because when I am dreaming it is hard to escape until somebody wakes you up so we could be stuck in a dream with no escape’

‘A Tinkle story is just refreshing to our mind and it doesn’t need any level of analyzing. Most of its content is factual. Similarly ‘Taare Zameer Par’ also has no need of applying our brains to it because all the content is straight forward and the whole focus of the movie is based on melodrama. On the other hand ‘circular runis’ is completely contradictory, firstly it is not a refreshment [entertainment?] to the mind because it makes the reader think about [it] even after reading it. Definitely the content is not straightforward at all.’

‘The biggest differene between them (a Tinkle story and Taare Zameen Par) and this (Circular Ruins) is that they [the former] are meant for TIME PASS and this is not. May be there can be [a] comparison between Tinkle and  Taare Zameen Par because they share a common thing: ‘ENTERTAINERS’ – but it is definitely unfair to have a comparison in between the three.’

Well, we followed up with some more discussions and essentially came to the conclusion that ‘the universe that we perceive and live in is, actually in our head.’ There is an incident that I posted around the theme here: The universe within…

“And if he let off dreaming about you…”

Some links that you may want to whet your appetite with, are furnished below:

30 Days with Borges series – of Jeff Barry – a nice series of thoughtfully put together pages: http://baires.elsur.org/archives/an-index-to-30-days-with-borges/

Borges study center – Borges online: http://www.borges.pitt.edu/helft/helft.php

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