Monday, May 1, 2017

Sharing knowledge - II

The Tamil folktale about the importance of telling your stories that Ramanujan relates goes as follows. A poor widow lived with her two sons and two daughters-in-law who always ill treated her. Since there was no one to whom she could unburden herself, she kept putting on weight and her sons and daughters-in-law mocked her bulk and told her to eat less. Once she wandered away and came to an old, deserted house where she decided to blurt out her miseries.

She told her grievance against her first son to the wall in front of her which collapsed under the weight of her woes and she felt herself becoming lighter. She similarly told of her grievances about each of the other persons to each wall in turn. All of them came down and she felt lighter each time. Standing amidst the rubble, she felt lighter not only in body but also in mood.

While reading folktales, you should suspend logic for some time and not ask questions like 'Won't the roof fall on her head if the walls collapse?' Otherwise you will miss the main point of the tale which is that telling stories has a cathartic effect on the teller even if nobody else is listening. Ramanujan writes that wealth, knowledge, etc must circulate , 'there are danas, or gifts, that, in their nature, must be given.'

Whenever I feel like stopping the blog, I will remember this story and tell myself that I  will end up being the loser if I do it. It gives me something to do and keeps me from irritating others in the house. Of course the unintended consequence is that you will have to bear the brunt of my prolixity, what with me frequently expounding on various weighty matters with, what Gandhi once said regarding himself, ‘…a cocksureness worthy only of a man who knows not that he knows not’. The motivation is similar to what Wodehouse says in the preface to Very Good, Jeeves:
It is some fourteen summers since, an eager lad in my early thirties, I started to write Jeeves stories: and many people think this nuisance should now cease. Carpers say that enough is enough. Cavillers say the same. They look down the vista of the years and see these chronicles multiplying like rabbits, and the prospect appalls them. But against this must be set the fact that writing  Jeeves gives me a great deal of pleasure and keeps me out of the public houses.
 (The poet and satirist Edward Young didn't spare the  likes of Gandhi and Wodehouse and other such cunning foxes in whose pack I find myself: The love of praise, howe'er concealed by art,/ Reigns more or less supreme in every heart;/ The Proud to gain it, toils on toils endure;/ The modest shun it, but to make it sure!)

So there is some uncertainty about when you can finally give a sigh of relief and exclaim, 'All is well that ends.' As Yogi Berra said, 'If you ask me a question I don't know, I'm not going to answer.' One option you have is to wait for the dialogue from Sholay to play itself out, 'Agar Gabbar se koi tumhe bacha sakta hai toh khud Gabbar.'(If anyone can save you from gabbar, it is gabbar himself.) The easier option is to use the mouse aggressively and escape to less taxing parts of the blogosphere.

Actually I will tell a couple of stories now itself instead of waiting for a future post. What was it that Laurence Sterne said? Digression is “the sunshine of narrative”. I love this quote - it gives me the freedom to write pretty much what I like without bothering about unity, order, coherence, and completeness and other such inconvenient factors.

The first story is about the Dalai Lama's impish sense of humour that I  saw in this post by Ramachandra Guha where he mentions an incident during a commemoration ceremony for the Dalai Lama. One of his table-mates went over to the Dalai Lama and said loudly, ‘Your Holiness! How are you!! You remember we met in Calcutta!’. The Dalai Lama did not recognize him at all so the person continued, ‘We met in Calcutta! With Mother Teresa!’. The older man now took off his glasses, wiped his face, and softly said: ‘I am sorry I don’t remember you, but I do remember Mother Teresa’.

The second story is about Gandhi who thought it a sin to waste a moment of one's life and kept a punishing schedule. He would get up at 3 a.m., say his morning prayers and start replying to letters that he has received and writing articles for his newspapers. He would even dictate letters and articles to his secretaries while walking which used to be an average of 10 km a day.  After one disagreement, one of his devoted, long-time secretaries, Mahadev Desai, wrote in exasperation:

To live with the saints in heaven is a bliss and a glory,
But to live with a saint on earth is a differnt story!


  1. I had a professor in college who said that the reason we Indians accept movies without perfect logic or rationality in them is because of folk tales and mythology. Suspension of disbelief comes easy to us.

    And about Taleb - there is a book fair that I pass by every week I go for music class. And I usually make sure to pick up a book or two when I'm there, because they have many second hand books for as little as 50 bucks, maybe 100 or 200 for some. I saw the title 'Black Swan' and I thought maybe it's related to the Aronofsky film Black Swan which I had really liked. It wasn't, but still looked interesting so I picked it up. I didn't start reading it, though.

    Now that you've mentioned Taleb, I think the book has gone a few places up in my reading list. You know, the list in which you have many many books but you unconsciously prioritise some over others, to the effect that some books will never be read by you.

    1. Anjali, Taleb's books are thought provoking but they are not easy reads.