Travelling Expressions

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Cinema, Friends, Literature, Media, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Theater)

It was a normal thing, nothing special or new. Yet again Neeraj and Faizan were pulling each other’s leg and enjoying the act of ‘hammering’ the other. Neeraj this time said, “You seem to be progressing lot these days, look at the grand visiting card of yours,” and laughed adjusting his spectacles. Faizan in his own calm and composed way said, “Door ke dol hamesha suhaane lagtey hai,” a saying which meant- “Distant drums always sound pleasant.”

The conversation had continued between the two but I interrupted in between and asked Faizan to repeat the expression again. “Door ke dol hamesha suhaane lagtey hai,” said Faizan. I was surprised to listen to this expression because even in Kannada we have a similar proverb saying, “Door’ada betta nodalu nunnange,” to mean “The distant hill always looks beautiful and soft.”

Though the images used by Hindi and Kannada are different they mean the same. How the soul of an expression transcended, I was wondering. These proverbs are folk like in nature with no authorship and have been passed from generation to generation in common language and are a part of daily lives and daily conversations. How did the expression travel across its language? Even with similar life experiences the language speakers did come out with similar expression with the same soul but different images and different metaphors, which excited me. But the Kannada proverb is quite visual in nature and the Hindi one auditory in nature hence the earlier one speaks of a distant hill which is visible and the latter on speaks of a distant drum which is heard. But even with these differences the meaning of two proverbs are same and have a similar way of presenting, though the images are different.

Few years ago while travelling by bus to Mangalore a non-Kannadiga person was sitting next to me. He would ask me which place we were in, not when the bus stops but when it was on the move. I was not familiar with all the names of the places which we have to cross to reach Mangalore from Manipal. But he kept asking and I would just think for a while and look outside to try and find out which place it was. Looking at my illiteracy, the man asked me if I belonged to coastal Karnataka. I said yes to which he responded saying, “Then how come you don’t know the name of the places around your town?” I felt ashamed of myself but trying to hide it and to satisfy my ego I said, “In kannada we have a saying which says- Hittala gida maddalla, which means the medicinal plants in our garden do not appear to us as something with medicinal qualities,” and said “similarly we tend to neglect, by nature, what is around us and near us. The man said, “yes yes, in Hindi too we have a similar expression which says, Ghar ki murgi daal baraabar.” (The pet hen at home is equalant to cereals and pulses) Here again the expression was the same with different image to convey the message but the message was the same. Did people at different geographical areas have similar experiences? If yes, how is it that very similar expressions are found? Are expressions shaped out by the common language of life and then capsulated in different images and tongues at the level of speaking language? I think…

Around seven years ago when my youngest cousin urinated on my grandfather’s bed in Byndoor, my grandfather had narrated a story to me, which he must have heard from his parents during his childhood. Did the story take place in real, is a question I don’t ask because that is not my focus point here. My grandfather started his narration in the classical way of narrating stories, “Once in the palace of a king an ordinary man came and asked the King if he would be left to do what he wants to in the palace.” “The king,” said my grandfather, “who was known to be generous gave the permission to the common man to do whatever he wants to, in the palace.” The common man saying he wants to shit on the throne of the king and took an appointment for the next day. The king was in trouble and asked a few people in the Darbar as to what could be done to avoid the soiling of the throne and yet be able to fulfil the promise given to the common man. One of the ministers said that he would take care of the matter the next day. The common man came to the palace and asked the King if he could proceed and the King looked at the minister for help. The minister came to the common man and said, “by all means you can shit on the throne and the King has agreed to fulfil your desire. But you can only shit on the throne and you cannot let even a drop of urine fall on the throne. “The common man went back home accepting his defeat,” concluded my grandfather.

Years after my grandfather narrated the story to me, I read ‘Merchant of Venice’ by Shakespeare. In the play Shylock (my favourite character in the play) asks for a pound of flesh from Antonio, a merchant in Venice. But in the bond it is written that Shylock can have only flesh, which as Portia explains in the play, that Shylock can have just the flesh and cannot drop a single drop of blood from Antonio. Shylock is caught at this juncture and does not get to take a pound of flesh from Antonio in revenge.

The story of Shylock is somewhat similar to that of the common man in the story that my grandfather narrated to me, where a person gets defeated by himself and his words, which blocks their route to their desired destination. Not just proverbs but also stories travel to unknown continents and unknown places. How do they travel? I ask myself…

Few years ago Jayanth Kaikini Sir had hosted the show on Kuvempu, Da. Ra. Bendre and Shivaram Karanth. Soon after the Kuvempu episodes came to an end Kaikini Sir wrote an article for a newspaper on Kuvempu where he quoted a small poem written by Kuvempu on his son Poornachandra Tejaswi, which reads, “Tejaswi neenu ondu varshada kanda, naanu ondu varshada tande. Haagaagi nammibbara vayassu vonde,” to mean “Tejaswi you are a one year old child and I am a one year old father, hence we both are of the same age,” which appealed a lot to me because here was a father who spoke to his child in one is to one ratio.

Some years after reading this line I chanced upon a similar thought expressed by Gulzar in an interview, which Meghana Gulzar recollects in the biography of Gulzar, ‘Because He Is…” When asked about the father-daughter relationship, he said, “It was wrong of parents to presume that they know better or know more than their child does. They may be biologically older than their child, but in their experience as parents, they are of the same age.” “So,” Meghana Gulzar says, “If I was his two year old daughter, he was my two year old father. And we were both learning and evolving together- he as my father and me as his daughter.”

Unoka’s flute and Choma’s drum is another similarity found in the characters of two different novels, in different time and space. While Unoka of Chinua Acehbe’s Things Fall Apart is lazy, Choma of Shivaram Karanth’s Chomana Dudi, is active but both of them have an extended self, in the form of flute for the earlier and the drum for the latter. Both die just with the extended self with them. For both, celebration and mourning, while living, is with their instrument and they die with the flute and the drum and no human nearby. While Achebe wrote his novel in 1950s Karanath wrote his novel in 1930s.

The possibility of Achebe having read Chomana Dudi is quite difficult to believe. So how did the character’s characteristic travel to an alien land? Did it travel or did they exist in the place it was born? Does a collective self of unconscious or sub conscious, exist across the world?

No, like the ‘ibn-e-batoota’ controversy I do not intend to make allegations on Gulzar sahib, Chinua Achebe, Shakespeare and the unknown authors of the proverbs, of plagiarizing, but I am just struck by the fact that how similar thoughts and expressions find different tongues in different parts of the world. I wonder how…

24 February 2010

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