Sunday, September 9, 2007

Dumb, Dumber and Dumberer [anecdote, opinion]

Anyone who knows me at least a bit well would know the deep emotional and intellectual interest I have in blondes!

Please don’t be too shocked for I may be doing my Masters and I may pretend to have profound interests in philosophy, language, politics and social theory and all, but let’s face it, the core of me consists after all of being a gay man born with pink ribbons tied to my hair; the first time I walked (was just 18 months old, mind you), I was wearing my mum’s high heels (Aaaah! They were silver in colour, I still remember); by the age of 5, I had managed to amass (let’s not use the word steal) a collection of Barbie dolls (including dresses, shoes, accessories, and I won’t even mention Ken); round 7 I had already learnt to sing I Will Survive (*sigh*); when I was 10, I created a scene when my dad bought us a computer (What the hell would I do with a black computer?? It hurt my aesthetic sensitivity, isn’t pink so much better?); at the age of 14 I was convinced the Spice Girls was the best thing that ever happened to the history of humanity; at 15 started reading Cosmopolitan to take care of my education (thought since education and fashion rhymed, they meant the same thing); at 17 started believing Jean Paul Gaultier was God (well yeah, he is!); and by the time I cleared my A-Levels at the age of 18, I could have significant and meaningful conversations about the philosophical axioms underlying the use of the eye-liner, the political consequences of using lip gloss after having layered one’s lips with lipstick (instead of doing it the other way round), and I could proudly and systematically, in the most rhetorical manner prove that the invention of my purple hair-dryer was the biggest invention ever, the one that contributed the most to the happiness of humanity (does that mean I see myself as the centre of the earth?).

Well now here I am! I still listen to the Spice Girls, sing I Will Survive (*sigh*) and I still haven’t figured out what’s the big deal about coffee machines if they can’t even dispense champagne. But now, at the age of 23, I know a few things that I didn’t know in the past. I know for example that there is no one God, there are many of them e.g. Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Brad Pitt (%!@#$!!!), Aristotle, AJ, Simone de Beauvoir, Sundar Sarukkai… And the other thing that I have learnt by now (yeah, I managed to learn quite a few things! :P) is that there is a limit to everything. Of course there is a limit to everything! Everything! Beauty, pride, intelligence, money, grace, my degree of blondness, the amount one can eat, the amount one can read, the amount one can sleep (concerned people please note) etc… etc…

But, now there’s something that defies my (what I thought was irrefutable) logic. The more I step out of my world- where the sky is purple, there are champagne machines and one finds ready-made joints at the paanwala- the more I realize that there is something wrong with the so-called 'real world'. And I think I know what I’m speaking about, for I’ve been spending a few years here and I came to a conclusion that is revolutionary. I am no Marx, Darwin or Freud, but my conclusion is still one that is ground-breaking, world-chattering, or may be I should say appalling, alarming, scary, terrifying… there is one thing that has no limit in this world, and that thing is stupidity!!!

Well, yeah, I may be a blonde at heart (fine, at soul as well, I grant it) but I’ve never seen such profound dumbness ever! I’ve lately encountered a few people who seem to defy all my scientific rules and philosophical principles of limit. There simply is no limit to how dumb they are!

I shall explain. There are, according to me 5 categories of people:

1- smart;
2- ignorant;
3- blondes;
4- pseudos (i.e. pseudo-intellectual);
5- simply DUMB!

I shall not dwell on the first category, and just take it for granted that all of you know what I mean by smart people. It is just really important- and please take note- that when thinking of smart people never think of yourself as smart. Always take as referent, as example, as epitome, as whatever-you-wanna-call-it somebody else. I would say AJ is an intelligent man for example, or MeerA is an intelligent woman. Well it is true that to me that they are both small Gods, but that’s not the point. (For those who don’t know what I’m speaking about, the above-mentioned people- AJ and MeerA- are Professors who’ve had a major impact on my life and are real sources of inspiration to me).

Now, the reason why I am saying one should never think of oneself as being a major contributor to the intelligence of the world has solid grounds. I shall develop that point later, for it is related to the pseudo category, but for now, I will just mention the fact that there are a lot of people who think so highly of themselves, and so highly of their quasi-inexistent brains that they think they are smart. The point is that THEY ARE NOT!! Further details later…

I am not planning to dwell on the second category either: ignorant. We all know what is meant by ignorant, and I must say, I love ignorant people, for at least they are just people who do not know (whatever the epistemic field is). And the reason why I am so fond of them is that they are way better than the pseudo or dumb categories. They may not ‘know’ but at least they know that they don’t know.

Next we come to the blondes! Well the blondes, we all know them! For those who don’t have a single clue what I’m speaking about, watching Legally Blonde would act as a very good beginning. You know, it’s not about being dumb, but it’s just about seeing the world from a different angle, that is, a blonde angle! I mean, asking what’s the use of coffee machines if they can’t even dispense champagne is a relevant question. Or thinking that ‘caesarian sections’ refer the ‘Roman districts’ or ‘labour pain’ means ‘one got hurt at work’ are mistakes we could all make (okay, may be not!!). My contention is that the blonde-perspective is understandable for the only difference between blondes and non-blondes is that blondes happen to be intelligent beings, but it’s just that they don’t have grey material but pink or purple instead. As a consequence, they tend to see the world from different eyes and live the world from different perspectives, the result of which is that they simply use their brains for different intellectual matters. Their concern seems to be in handbags, hair styles etc, and not in deep existential or politico-economic questions. (AS A RULE: never talk about world poverty to a blonde. Possible reactions: poor people? No that’s not true I never saw any! Oh if we kill them all, there’ll be no poor people left. Well yeah I don’t mind poverty, but why do poor people dress so badly?!)

Next comes the final categories: pseudos and dumb people. It just so happens that the former is a sub-section of the latter. Let us study the smaller section first and see how pseudos are a sub-section of dumb people. The fact is that pseudos are ignorant people, let’s face that fact. The problem occurs when they try to act smart, and that’s where things go wrong. The very ‘dumb-ness’ of pseudos is that they speak of matters they do not know anything about, or may be have a very broad idea of, but they never actually took the pains of finding out what those things are about. I mentioned already that the really smart people are the ones who have the power, inclination and wisdom of recognizing and acknowledging that they do not ‘know’. Socrates is without doubt the prime example, for we all know how the Oracle at Delphi said that Socrates was the wisest man of Athens, to which he replied that all I know is that I do not know anything. His very wisdom lies in his humility, in realizing the fact that there’s so much that he does not know. Now my argument is that when one does not know but pretends to know, that is exactly where that person commits the unforgivable mistake, for that is exactly where one is not only dumb, but also acts dumb! To me, that portrays the heights of being ridiculous, and that too, stupidly so.

I shall now take my favorite example to illustrate that point. See a summer school on philosophy in one of the most recognized research institutes of the country, where for three weeks, we are studying philosophy, talking philosophy and even writing a paper on philosophy. Amongst us are rather mediocre students like me, who study the social sciences and the humanities, and really brilliant PhD students in philosophy who really master their subject. Quite obviously, the interaction gets more interesting by the day where we look forward to the classes, and the discussions with the other philosophy students whom we regard as priceless sources of knowledge. Picture the following: an evening where a few are us are sitting and listening to those philosophy students explaining Kant and Descartes, what they said, and the importance of what they said. One of them was ‘the philosophy student’ (who seemed very close to a Socrates of the modern times), and at a point of time we are joined by ‘baby’ who is a student of English (what a shame!) who thinks doing a Masters in English is solely about understanding the emotions that the poet expresses througha poetry (huh? what is she speaking about?), that there is no such thing as a caste system that in India, who writes assignments after reading Wikipedia, and claims that the ultimate aim of doing a Masters in English is ‘to understand books better’ (somebody please kill me!!).

The Philo Student: Whatever it is, Descartes, Kant and Leibniz are my ultimate favorite philosophers.

Baby: Oh! So you like the empiricists?!

The Philo Student (with a look of stupefied horror on his face that seemed to wonder how one can blaspheme thus): Euuhhh… No… They were all rationalists.

Why couldn’t she simply keep quiet and listen?

Well that’s what I call the prime example of being dumb. When one does not know about something, one learns about it, and does not pretend to know about it. There’s nothing worse than pseudos…

We thus come to the final category now: dumb. I don’t know how to describe dumb people except through the use of examples. We’ve all met them, we’ve all talked to them, we’ve all realized how dumb they are. I shall now give my ultimate favorite epitomic instance of how dumb one can be. That was THE event that made me realized that there is actually no limit at all to how dumb one can be.

Setting: University of Pune, Department of English. There we do see the brilliant minds of the city, the thinkers, the ones who have a passion for literature, for politics, the media, culture studies, philosophy, in short the humanities.

INSTANCE 1: just 5 mins before a poetry exam where we had to study something like forty poems. Princess comes in.

Princess: Can you explain Yeats’ poem Ode To A Grecian Urn to me please?

Amak: Hmmm, it’s not Yeats, but it’s Keats and its not Ode ‘to’ but Ode ‘on’ a Grecian Urn. The exam’s staring in 5. It would take me at least an hour to discuss the whole poem, so may be you should just ditch it and go and find your seat.

Princess: But… But… Noooooo… Teach me the first stanza!

Amak: Just the first stanza would take me 20 mins at least, so just get going.

Princess: Okay, Okay… just the first line then.

Did she actually think that knowing just the first line of a whole 50 lines poem would help her in any way to understand anything at all about the poem?

Princess: Tell me, tell me, why does he say “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness” in the first line??

I knew that in just 3.5 minutes I could not go into the details of the persona’s quest for immortality, of the transience of human life as opposed to the aeonian nature of the work of art and how even if the urn is seen as silenced in the beginning, it ‘voices out' its truth by the end of the poem.

Princess: Does he say that because the bride on the day of the wedding is supposed to keep quiet and all, and not talk?!!!

(I tried my best not to faint, and I told myself, may be she’s not dumb, may be she’s just too stressed out, or may be she just did not read any of the 40 poems she had to study, so I will let it pass and not be judgmental and not call her dumb)

INSTANCE 2: (at the canteen, while talking politics with a group of friends.)

Amak: Well I guess it’s just too much of my Communist ideas that make me think so.

Princess: What?? You are a Communist??!!! (She had tears in her eyes: she did not know what communist meant, but she just knew it was a real bad disease; a pact with the devil, an anti-Christ who wanted to destroy the world. Later on we learnt that our Princess- a student of humanities doing her masters- thought Communist meant something on the lines of Taliban.)

I very nicely did not pass off any comments, shrugged it off under the name of ignorance though I was shocked and highly embarrassed to know I am studying at a university where we even studied Marxism and where somebody did not know what communism means.

INSTANCE 3: (While discussing a poem in class with AJ our kickass-est professor)

Princess: Sir in the second paragraph of the poem…

AJ (cutting her with a horrifying look in his eyes): Eeuuuuuhhhh, PARAGRAPH???

I felt pity for him. He must be the most brilliant mind that is there in Pune and having his M.A. student calling a stanza a paragraph must have really hurt. Sigh… had I been in his place, am quite sure I would have exploded with rage. Now to me, that’s the heights of being dumb. And princess is not a lay-woman, she brags all over the place that she is a ‘tam-brahm’, that she graduated in English and aspires to join the civil services. That was painful to me as well. At least the blondes make me laugh, but that chick was simply painfully dumb!

And as if to defy all my resignation in the face of pure dumbness, she had to come up with INSTANCE 4, and I swear that one nearly killed me. It was the climax of how dumb people can be, and since then I just never ‘see’ her when she is around and I never ‘hear’ her when she speaks for she killed all faith that I could have had in humanity and a better world.

INSTANCE 4: In class, an M.A. class, where AJ is explaining that we will try to study the very notion of poetry. We will seek to find and establish what is that ‘thing’ that people call poetry, if there is any such thing. The method we’ll adopt will be by studying various types of poetry, have case-studies of each, and then by the end of those three months, we’ll hopefully be able to derive the a conclusion as to what poetry is, what makes poetry and what is the thread that connects all that we term as poesy (is there is any such thing). So he tells us that we’ll start off by studying the epic as a form, then move on to the sonnet, the villanelle etc.

AJ: We will read sections from Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad and then have a look at Virgil’s Aeneid, quite obviously spend some time on Milton’s Paradise Lost etc. etc…

Now, mind you, I cannot help myself reiterating the fact that this is an M.A. class, studying literature, and Princess is a student who already studied 3 YEARS of literature in the past.

The class gets over, AJ walks out and we start picking up our books and all so we can be off.

Princess: Tell me please, what is the book he said we will study?

Amak: Homer, Virgil…

Princess: Yeah, yeah that one! What is the name?

Amak: Virgil’s Aeneid.

Princess: Can you spell it out for me?

(Gosh! She’s mad!! At this point Nisha comes to the rescue.)

Nisha: A.E.N.E.I.D; Virgil’s Aeneid.

Princess: Oh yeah! I always get confused! AND WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF THE BOOK??!!!!

Amak and Nisha: #@#$%^^**fgf*&@#!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I nearly died. I wish I could die… Nisha trying to conceal the dread in her expression said it was Virgil who wrote it.

And Princess wrote it in her notebook: Aeneid by VIRGIN…
There'll be no conclusion to that piece of writing. You are all free to infer whatever you want from it. Please check the comments, it has a post-scriptum there.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Tinkle Of Those Gunghroos [a sonnet]

Tap of feet shimmering in my ears,
Eyebrow raised, ivory neck adheres
To Sitar stirring notes of dupatta flowing,
Unforeseen: A Deity in a lotus bowing.

Fingers touch, caress, divorce each other,
Flute, matki, ghat- a form, yet another.
Tabla narrating a Bindravan romance,
He twirls to the flute: Is he in a trance?

Dha Ge Na Ti, Na Ga Dhi Na,
Dha Ge Na Ti, Na Ga Dhi Na…
Suddenly he freezes: a moulded sculpture
A leg raised, hands united in prayer.

Do the Gods beguile me; is he a mirage?
Divine clay immobile he, becomes the Nataraj.