Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Power of Words

The other day I was thanked profusely by somebody for the get-well-soon letter that I had sent instead of making a personal visit. While I was squirming in embarrassment at the apparent sincerity with which my words, written not so sincerely, was being appreciated, I could not help from mulling over the power of words. I’ve always had lot of sympathies for the Roman crowd. It was not their fault actually. Words can have that kind of impact. Tears used to automatically run down whenever those mushy patriotic film songs like Kar Chale Ab Fida or Aye Mere Pyaare Watan got played on radio or TV. Its illogical but it is so. It happens whenever you chop onions also.
I don’t believe in absolutes except perhaps in mathematics (1). I don’t think that I even have faith that any thing like an absolute can exist. Take for example the much used and abused Chinese adage, ‘A picture can speak a thousand words’. I mean, its so awfully, pointlessly, truly wrong. It cannot be an absolute principle ‘coz if its so what happens in case of actual, affected and ignorantly blind people. Not everybody is bestowed with the capacity to see and perceive in a picture or a painting something that the artist wanted one to see. But can a picture really speak the ‘correct’ words? Do you remember that prize-winning photograph of a guy, squatting with watery eyes and folded hands that appeared on front page during Godhra riots in The Hindu? Well, I still remember my first impression of the photo. I thought that it was some petty criminal pleading for mercy to escape lathis from the cops. Without the caption I don’t think I would have been able to connect it with the face of a hapless victim of circumstances pleading for his life.

Its not that I have anything against pictures as such, but words have power and the beauty of words cannot be expressed in the same way or in a better way by any other medium. Can you think of any picture, which can convey the guilty conscience of Macbeths as beautifully as those glorious words have done? I don’t think any painting or any expression of the greatest actor of all times can overwhelm you and depict the sickly, tortured mind and heart of Lady Macbeth the way those words do even if you are reading it the nth time. Can pictorial representations or illustrations convey the grandeur of words? I doubt it. I remember jumping up and down in excitement and showing to everybody in the family Bhasa’s Vasavadatta in which a sentence runs for almost 2 and ½ pages. Of course, at that time the content really didn’t matter much but a Sanskrit passage running for pages was incredible. At one point of time people were just crazy about Charlie Chaplin. But even in those silent movies, which I considered as an idiotic farce, where performance supposedly spoke more eloquently, they had to literally show the dialogues on screen, in between, right. Who haven’t drooled over Words of Bee Gees made more famous during our times by Boyzone? The music, video and of course, the boys did the trick, but perhaps the soppy lyrics drenched many hearts.
I love words. Words are exotic. They can have the effect of your favourite drink or music. If you have read Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient you would know. The movie is bad. I did the mistake of watching the movie first. So for several years I never got around to reading the book. The book is woven around the imagery of words and dreams. Kalidasa’s epic Raghuvamsham(?) starts with this invocation :
Vagarthamiva Sampruttau Vagartha Pratipattaye
Jagatah Pitarau Vande Parvathi Parameshwarau.
The sloka speaks about the inseparability of words and meaning. But its not so always. I am yet to meet a person who has enjoyed reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. Yes, yes. I know people who have actually read it COMPLETELY. Many times we create words, which just float around without making much sense to others but creating a whole new world for those using it.

I suspect, having said initially that I don't believe in absolutes, I have stated many in the above passages. Hmm.There goes my resolution to be absolutely logical and rational atleast in my blog posts!

(1) Needless to say, this is just a conjecture ‘ coz I divorced maths after a traumatic love and hate relationship during my schooling. But I, every now and then, recall my association quite fondly hence can afford to make a conjecture though it’s completely an alien territory for me now. There are, of course, some absolutes, which are believable. Long ago a cousin of mine who wanted to read Gone With The Wind after seeing my undying enthusiasm for it had gone to her college library and asked for the book, the librarian (I believe a nun) apparently had exclaimed ‘of course we have it, what is a library without Gone With The Wind!’ Now, this is one absolute I really don’t mind believing in!

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