Category Archives: literature

maria montessori said so…

There was this series 12 lectures that was delivered by Ma’am Montessori in the year 1948 – and broadcast from the All India Radio Station, Chennai.

The transcript of this series was brought out by the Publications Division of the Govt of -India – as a 38 page booklet.

Now, thanks to Arvind Guptua this document has been scanned and made available on the web here.

And, for good measure, you can also download it from here:  montradio.

Enjoy and relish the precise approaches and statements of the lady, vis-a-vis education.

studying mahabharatha, ebrahim alkazi

I’ve read the Odessey and the Illiad a few times, soaked in them (not in the original Greek though, sadly), I respect them – but nothing that I have ever read so far, comes even reasonably close to that epic mahabharatha.

It is not because, I am from India or anything that I think so about mahabharata. I would consider the likes of  Kurosawa Akira, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Dawn Upshaw, Parveen Sultana, Kiri Te Kanawa, M S Subbulakshmi (this listing is delightfully endless..) – not to mention ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’  ‘Remembrance of things past’  etc etc – all part of my tradition & hoary past too! In my view, all great and grand things &  people of the world are part of our common tradition. Ahem!

So, one can ask why? What is so significant about mahabharata??

Oh, where do I even begin… I feel that mahabharatha has fine character studies with a significant lack of claustrophobic & premature judgementality; a continued grand celebration of grey areas and the joy (and sometimes sorrow) called life. The attitude that no one is a pure saint, and therefore of course,  no one a pure sinner – each having his / her own foibles and strong points. Rejuvenation and hope; Non-immutable basic ethics and contextual applicability of morals. Time & situation variant dharma… The danse macabre called war. Lessons in strategy and tactics.  Beautiful weaving in of contradictions with stretched limits of grand possibilities. Very tight script. Ingenious storytelling devices.  Carefully woven matrix of characters and scenes, from across times & contexts. Wonderful philosophical diversions – even if one excludes the Gita part from the epic. Deep social, anthropological expositions. Timeless applicability of storylines. The incredible fables & allegories. Adaptability to beautiful stage productions.  Political and administrative craft. No hollow praising of moral high grounds. Oh the variety, the diversity

I also feel that, to reduce mahabharata to a mere soulless item of mindless worship, would be a ghastly waste!

Whather all the events in the mahabharata  really happened or not is not at all relevant.  I think, it is a pure and distilled joy savouring the epic, period.

So, with my kind of, to put it politely and mildly, a  laissez-faire approach to learning (or for that matter, the Rg Vedic hymn approach – aa no badrah, kritavo yantu vishwatah – ‘let noble thoughts come to us from across the world (from all directions)’ – if you will & if you would pardon my self-delusion), that has been very kindly allowed (actually it is more like an indulgence) by nammashaale – I have just started the adi parva – the first part of the symphony called mahabharatha, with our erdkinder and hope to finish ‘the first pass’ with them, in the next term. Wish me good luck and blissful times ahead!

A couple of decades back, I had the pleasure of viewing Stephen Spender‘s inspired theatrical rendition of greek classics – especially ‘Antigone‘ of Sophocles  I wish we could do something like that with mahabharata. Forget about Peter Brook and his mahabharata, sorry;  sadly, Peter’s  rendition was not at all as thoughtful as perhaps, the rest of his oeuvre. To be precise, his idea was puerile, insipid, uninspiring and gaudily executed – hollow… Really sad.

Incidentally, I am sure many of the readers of this weblog would be familiar with our Ebrahim Alkazi. If not, please go read up about him.

There is a very readable and reflective interview with that doyen of Indian Theatre – Ebrahim Alkazi – published by Indian Express.

When I wanted to study the Mahabharata, my tutor said it’s obscene. I said I wanted to study the entire epic’

More on our learning and joint-reading of mahabharata later…

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PS: NammaShaale has a vibrant theatre programme too, thanks to young Manjunath – a theatre (and seed saving) enthusiast. May be we can do something theartical about mahabharata?

‘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

coyote & I

“What’s your view of things, Coyote?”

“Well, it mostly depends on how I’m looking at them, I guess. The angle of perception is important too, of course. And whether or not of open or closed eyes and mind.

“All in all, I’d say I tend to view things thru my crystal, Much more clarity there, and it tends to filter-out misconceptions, too.”

“You know what, Coyote? You talk too damned much!”

“Yes, I agree. And you, Asshole, ask too many questions.”

Peter Blue Cloud

(from his book – Elderberry Flute Song Contemporary Coyote Tales. Peter is one of the finest native american story tellers and poets)