Tuesday, March 15, 2005

From Joyce to vAk

Author James Joyce's short stories: Dubliners

I had heard of James Joyce as the author of the apparently utterly incomprehensible 'Finnegan's Wake' from which the term Quark was taken by Murray Gell-Mann and subsequently used to denote a class of fundamental particles. There is this category of people in Bangalore that prides itself immensely on its trivia knowledge. I used to be a part of this group - but was simultaneously an outsider too - for they were more Western in their outlook and I was more rooted to my traditions. Nothing wrong about both. So the name James Joyce conjures up some weird images in me. But he was never a litterateur/author to me - till about now.

Three or four years ago during my stay in the US, this name began to be heard more and more. That may be because that was around the time I began frequenting the libraries there. And Joyce was mentioned in the most reverential and hushed tones. After reading observations that "Ulysses" was the best English Novel of the twentieth century I was intrigued to say the least. How could I have skipped him? But then when I actually ventured to look at the first couple of pages - the book threw me off. With a name like Buck Milligan mouthing something in Latin - I did not feel like reading it at all.

After this, I read of many people considering Ulysses as something to be read once in their lifetime and telling others that they had in fact read it. One of my acquaintances (I don't know him well enough to call him a friend) - who is a voracious reader - also had the same idea. My interest perked up again.

So a couple of days ago, I actually made bold to visit a James Joyce admirer site and saw that it required the same level of preparation and study as a complete baccalaureate course in English. To fully understand Ulysses - I apparently needed to study Homer (as Ulysses and its characters is apparently parody Odysseus) and the Bible of course and a host of other works. I then thought if Joyce had ever written something shorter and simpler and landed up on the site featured in this blog.

I read "Araby" and "A Little cloud" in a matter of twenty minutes. I must say now that Joyce is definitely a great story teller. The narration is light but does not allow you to lose focus. The choice of words is exquisite. The character development is fantastic. I could clearly identify with the boy in Araby (I am sure every boy in his adolescence must have had a similar experience). Little Chandler is something else too. Both are amazingly well-crafted stories by a master craftsman. So my next job is to read through Dubliners.

After this I will probably look at the Portrait of the Artist as a young man. I will look at Ulysses only after that.

Taking a step back, I see that Language and Literature are amazing windows to one's mind. As much as one can say "bhAShe oraTu yAna" (a line in a poem by Dr. GS Shivarudrappa, a renowned Kannada poet) - Language is a crude vehicle - it is still a vehicle and quite a useful one at that. I never looked at Language this way till now. Good literature being the finest expression in a language has the ability to look and talk directly to the reader's innermost mind. From being a caveman, Man has surely traveled beyond the edge of the universe to his inner mind. Isn't the inner mind of Man farther than the darkest corner of the Universe ? Language is trying to bring a light into the depths of the mind. Which is probably why a kannada poet said that "mAtembudu jyOtirlinga" (the spoken word is indeed the Divine Light).

Language is rightly praised in sanAtana dharma. vAk or speech has been identified by Vedic seers to be of 4 kinds - parA, pashyantI, madhyamA and vaikharI. parA is the Absolute and that streams down from the undifferentiated heights of mental clarity to normal speech (vaikharI). It is really amazing that so many great truths and nuggets we see in literature have come down from the parA vAk itself. The insight in a statement makes the source of the statement quite evident. It depends on the reader's culture and refinement too.

The study of literature has another wonderful benefit. It is a lasting intellectual and mental stimulation which can be had by Nature or sublime music. Most of the other pursuits have this fleeting feeling. They leave the experiencer hollow once a pursuit is complete. The pursuit of Literature is enriching by itself. The after-effects are desirable too. This is one of the few heavenly delights available in this earthly life.

|| iti sham ||

No comments: