अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

February 9, 2010

The Fundoo Funda

‘Funda’ is a Hindi word (or, more accurately, an Indian word, as it is also used in other Indian languages, including English), which is a short form of the English word fundamental. The same is the case with the word ‘fundoo’, except that is it an adjective derived from ‘funda’ according to Hindi derivational morphology. The adjective has two senses. One of these is the sense familiar to a select group of people, the kind who are educated in colleges like New Delhi’s St. Stephen’s and have a circle made up almost exclusively of people from a similar background. For this group of people, the word ‘fundoo’ means fundamentalist. And nothing else.

Thus, for them, ‘fundoo’ (the noun version) basically means a person from the Sangh Parivar. And since they (not the Sangh Parivaris) are mainly ‘secular’, it is a term of derision. Just like the other n-term they have for the Sangh Parivaris.

I first became familiar with this word when I entered an engineering college for my bachelor’s degree. In that college, the word was heavily used. It meant someone whose fundamentals (as in Thermodynamics or Theory of Machines) were very strong, i.e., who was very good at something. It could also be used with some metaphorical extension to mean high praise (with regard to anything) for someone or something. It might sound strange to many, but at that time I somehow thought that this word (and the word ‘funda’) were slang words only used in that particular college.

Later I found out that these two words are among the most heavily used words as far as the young (school or college) generation is concerned.

Being called fundoo can be a big complement, though the overuse of the term means that the complement could be highly diluted.

I didn’t become familiar (till much later) with the other sense — fundamentalist — of the word till I read a particular number of one of the most popular columns in the Indian press, written by Khushwant Singh. I had no idea that the word was also used in this sense. But what was more surprising, almost astonishing to me, was the fact that Khushwant Singh similarly seemed to have no idea that there was another sense in which this word was used.

By the way, I wrote ‘one of the most popular columns in the Indian press’ instead of ‘in the National’ or ‘in the English’ press because this particular column is syndicated by many Indian language newspapers and they publish a translation.

As I then read all kinds of magazines and newspapers etc., I found out that there were others like Khushwant Singh for whom too the word only meant one thing: fundamentalist. What was common among all these people was that they were from the select group that I mentioned in the beginning.

I have spent various periods of time in many educational institutions of India and have lived in many cities and towns and have kept my eyes and ears open, especially to language related things. Nowhere except in the writings of this group of people have I found anyone using the word ‘fundoo’ in the sense that they use. And as I said ealier, it is one of the most heavily used words and therefore I keep hearing it much too regularly.

I am aware that there might, in fact, be some other people outside this group who use the word in that rare sense. And I am not sure about the origin of the word either. It could very well be that the word was initially used in the first sense. But I have heard no one using it in that sense. Not a single person.

To repeat once more to make the point clear, the second sense of the word is used so heavily that I find it hard to believe that if you live in an Indian city or even a small town (and know either English or an Indian language), you could remain oblivious to the second sense of the word. But you could easily be unaware of the first sense because it is used so rarely. The only way this can happen is if that group of people has somehow cut itself off from the life around it and is not much in touch with it.

This cut off has to be fairly radical, because according to many yardsticks, I myself am quite cut off.

But I know the second sense. As well as the first. I knew them long before I started studying Linguistics or related fields.

Or perhaps they are words from two different languages, the first spoken by the top caste and the second by the lesser mortals.

February 6, 2010

The Elite Strikes Back, Fetishiously

From right after the transfer of power from the British to the local English Elite (the Babus in the broadest sense), one recurrent theme in the Indian ‘National’ press, which translates as the English press, has been to come down like a 16 ton weight on anyone who so much as mentioned the case of the Indian languages and the extraordinary privileges enjoyed by the English speaking Elite in the country. So, for example, if any politician of the Hindi belt suggested that students should be allowed to write some important exam in Indian languages or that English should not be compulsory at the primary level or even something much less radical-revolutionary and world shaking, there would be (without fail) editorials in the ‘National’ newspapers about how the language chauvinists are going to lay waste our great democracy.

With the changes that have happened in the last 15 years or so (some for better and more for worse), this trend became less common. But now the lumpen antics of the Thackerays have given the Elite a golden opportunity to come back with a 32 (or is it 64?) ton weight on the ‘language chauvinists’.

The way the Thackerays have been able to carry on their thuggery (in the Hindi as well as the English sense of the term) is so absurd that only a few things can compete with it. And one of those things is the fact that the English Elite of the country have been so amazingly successful in summarily suppressing all Indian languages including the legally National Language (Hindi), the language that has the most chauvinistic support from its speakers (Tamil) and the language of the most intellectual community of the sub-continent (Bengali). These and many others are not endangered languages (at least not yet). Most of them can be called mega languages in terms of the number of speakers. All of this is so well known and so often repeated that I feel weary of having to write this. Also equally well known is the fact that only a very small fraction of the Indian population is comfortable with English. However, as India is a society whose structure is mainly defined by the caste system, no one except the top caste wants to remain in their own caste. They all want to make the transition to the higher castes, even as they list the reasons for the greatness of their caste. And the highest caste now effectively is that of the English speakers, who have replaced the (literal) Brahmins from their perch at the top (I know, ‘replaced’ is not a good term because a large fraction of the Elite is Brahmin). Naturally then everyone wants ultimately to make the transition to the top caste. This has lead to an extremely comic and absurd fetish about any language anywhere in the world. It is the fetish for the English language. This fetish too is a well known, though rarely talked about in the English media. A recent issue of the Outlook magazine was an exception. (The issue was the exception, not the magazine). The ‘language media’, of course, used to talk about it. Innumerable books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it (a recent one being Tashan, one of whose stars is now living out his character’s fetish in the real world). And sometimes politicians have talked about it for electoral purposes. But most of them have learned that it doesn’t pay much as the Indians (especially the North Indians) are not very keen to be seen speaking their own languages when in respectable company. They don’t even want it to be known to anyone that they are not good at English. Parents who can’t speak the language will parade their English learning children in front of any visitor and have a little performance of nursery rhymes being chanted in English, even if the visitor as well as the child feel tortured. They will also mention with pride that their child is very poor in Hindi (or any other Indian language).

It’s not that no one in the English speaking community has noted this. Even Nayantara Sehgal had mentioned this in one of her novels long ago. More recently Arundhati Roy had written about the oustee villagers from the Narmada dam site being scolded by Maneka Gandhi for not writing their petition in English, after they had travelled all the way, enduring hardship and hoping to save their lives. There have been others like Namita Gokhale among the (English speaking) writers and artists who have at least hinted at the absurdity of the situation.

But, by and large, the Elite has managed to suppress all talk about any fairness with regard to Indian languages which account for the overwhelming majority of the population of India. They have used diversity as an argument for maintaining the hegemony of English. They have used chauvinism as an argument. They have pitted one big language (Tamil) against the other (Hindi). They have pitted small languages (the so called dialects of Hindi) against big languages. They have pitted Dalits against the upper castes: no matter that most of them belong to the upper castes themselves. They have used linguistically spurious claims about the superiority of English over the ‘less developed’ Indian languages. They have steadfastly refused to concede even a pinhead worth of territory to the Indian languages.

Talk of divisiveness.

Unfortunately for them, The Market (whose praise they are now singing, be they from any part of the political spectrum) may be a brutal place, but it has allowed the Indian languages to gain some territory. As had the linguistic reorganisation of the states, which also (like the demands for linguistic fairness, not like The Market) they have always kept riling against.

When Pepsi and the others came after The Reforms, they didn’t give a damn about what language can get them more customers. Before that, big companies in India preferred to make commercials in English, unless their product was some low brow thing that no one would want to talk about. It is understandable why: the top advertising agencies are mostly dominated by the elitest of the Elite. It must have been hard for them to get used to the presence of Indian languages in their midst. To give the devil his due, they have managed the transition quite well, at least on the public front. It has turned out that these underdeveloped languages can be used ‘creatively’ after all, whatever may be the purpose. I don’t know what to feel about this.

The people may be ashamed of their own languages and of being seen reading books in them (chauvinism indeed!), but they are hooked to the movies and T.V. serials in those same languages. The movie scene is not any less hilarious either. The people involved in these movies may be making their career, earning huge amounts of money and generally being the gods of urban life in India (along with the cricket stars) through Indian languages, but they too are equally ashamed of the languages they make movies in. The scripts of Bollywood movies are written using the Latin alphabet. More than one big Bollywood Hindi movie star has been on record saying he hates Hindi. One of them said he didn’t want anyone around him speaking in Hindi. Offscreen, all they want is for their lives to be copies of Hollywood stars. And they are prepared to pretend that their mediocre work in ‘foreign’ English movies (to the extent they get such work, the chances of which are increasing now as the real superpower focuses a little bit more of its attention eastward this side) is by far better than their best work in Hindi movies. They will tell you the reason for this too: English movies give them far more exposure than Hindi movies (if they do, what does quality matter?). As for the criticism which suggests otherwise, well, ‘it will die its own death’.

Another of the cards the Elite uses against any demand for linguistic fairplay is that of communalism. The fact that the Jan Sangh/BJP and the Sangh Parivar in general have been shouting the slogan of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ has been used time and again to put down (and discredit) any such demand. This time they are vehemently talking about how the ‘Hindi fetish’ of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar has brought about the Thackerays’ Marathi version of the same. One of them has grudgingly noted, though, that there are differences between the two.

The only part of the slogan in which the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are interested in is the Hindu part, and they have made a travesty of even that. The preferred name for India for them is Bharat, not Hindustan. India is referred to as Hindustan (or Hindostan) more in the Urdu literature than in the Hindi literature or in the literature of these right wingers.

As a person whose mother tongue is Hindi (standard Hindi, Khari Boli) and who wants to write in Hindi, I refuse to surrender all the rights of this language or the terms Hindustan, Parivar, Sangh (or even Hindu) etc. to the Sangh Parivar conglomeration. The Elite has done its best to give exclusive rights for all these to the conglomeration. I keep the rights to these as an individual, not as a member of a group. I also keep the rights to contribute and participate as an individual, without being a member of any group.

The plain fact is that injustices are committed on a large scale every day in this huge country in the name of languages. However, there can be no doubt that the largest number of these injustices are in the name of English. Time and again I have seen (first hand) how careers of even brilliant students go the steep downward path because they are not so good at English. And careers are a just small part of the picture. If you are involved in a court case, you are unlikely to be heard if you use an Indian language.

I am not talking about a polish person’s case not being heard properly in France because he can’t talk in French. Even that, as a lot of the members of the Elite perhaps know, can be a valid grievance.

The plain fact is also, as a prominent Hindi writer said in an interview on Doordarshan, that ‘we’ (the people talking about the Indian languages) have accepted English as an Indian language and as our own: the question is whether ‘you’ (the English Elite) are prepared to accept the Indian languages as Indian and as your own.

She said this when the first great lit-fest was held a few years ago at a former royal palace near Jaipur where the guest of honour was V. S. Naipaul, who came with all his knightly glory. And where hardly any Indian language author was invited.

If you don’t listen to people like her, then some day you might have to listen to people like the Thackerays. And you might have to pretend that you like what they are saying.

Another plain fact is that most of the mainstream literary writers in Indian languages (whatever might be their other shortcomings) are neither chauvinists nor communalists. In fact, they are the most committed opponents of the right wing politics of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. And hardly any of them has ever been able to survive from literary writing alone, except perhaps those whose books become textbooks, which is itself a long story. Dismissing the whole idea of linguistic fairness by waving the communalism card is something that we usually expect from unscrupulous politicians, but the Elite (especially of the Left variety) has been doing exactly this ever since the transfer of power to them. Absurd as it may sound, one can understand this if one realizes that they have always felt threatened that some day the vernacular hordes will take the power away from them. There is a great deal they have at stake. I suspect part of their initial vehement opposition against the BJP was motivated by this. And the BJP saw this and made good use of this: they started talking about political untouchability being practiced against them and they gained a lot of sympathy votes on this point alone. The same Elite later became much more tolerant of the BJP once it came to power. Perhaps they accepted it as the fait accompli.

Fait accompli is another card that is heavily used by the Elite. English is the most powerful language that can give you any chance of a decent career and the possibility of some kind of justice so just shut up and try to improve your English. As one strategic think-tanker recently wrote about the Taliban, if you really want to get something done, then you have to go and talk to the people who have power.

As a not so irrelevant aside, consider the paid news affair, which is causing quite a stir these days. Newspapers have been always been used as weapons by both small and big power mongers. While the big newspapers are used more subtly, the smaller ones (with exceptions and to varying degrees) have either been directly owned by the powerful political and corporate people or have been available for hire. But after the Great Indian Reforms and Liberalisation, some big newspapers like the Times of India started the business of paid news quite openly. Till recently, however, there was only a little murmur of protest from the rest of the English Media. Then the ‘vernacular’ newspapers (for whom it is much harder to compete as they get less advertisements and at lower rates) started following the example of the TOI, but they did it more crudely. Suddenly it became a big issue, with even Dilip Padgaonkar telling us what a scourge paid news is.

Why would the editor of a National daily spend the time and effort to write an editorial about every non-committal language related statement from every two penny politician?

The Left part of the Elite is prepared to talk about all kinds of injustices except those related to language. Except when it is Indian language vs. Indian language. In that case it’s great fun for them.

What we actually have is a strange kind of fanatic language chauvinism practiced by the Elite against all Indian languages: more than just fetishist chauvinism. It’s so real that you only need to walk the roads of any Indian city and read the posters (among other things) of English teaching joints.

Not that there are no injustices in the name of Indian languages. The situation very much fits the big-fish-small-fish metaphor. There is also the infinitely indecent situation in Indian villages of there being separate upper caste and Dalit languages. The Dalits are not allowed to use the ‘upper caste language’. Language is used as a tool for domination, oppression and daily humiliation. In this language-eat-language world, the biggest fish by far in India (as in most parts of the world) is English. Even if it is spoken by a miniscule minority.

Trying to cover up this situation with slick diatribes about chauvinism and communalism might go on paying for a long time, but it might also lead to more dangerous situations than what we already have.

I really haven’t believed for one moment that the Thackerays have any love for Marathi. It’s their only possible ticket to power as of now. If they find some other better ticket, they will gladly drop the whole Marathi Manoos issue. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are a bit more serious about the Hindi part of their slogan, but as their conduct while in power has shown, they care about Hindi only as much as the Bajrang Dal cares about the Indian culture. And everyone knows how much and of what kind that is. I abhor all kinds of chauvinism, but I still think it is an insult to the real chauvinists (like the ones who took part in the anti-Hindi riots a few decades ago) to call the Thackerays (or even the Sangh Parivaris) language chauvinists.

(1) What people like the Thackerays say, goes something like this:

  • Give licenses to taxi drivers only if they are Marathi speakers.
  • If the above is not done, we will get us some North Indian migrants kicked.
  • We will not allow anyone to do whatever we might decide they shouldn’t do.
  • We will thrash anyone who doesn’t agree with us.

(2) Here is what a real chauvinist might say:

  • Marathi is the greatest (or one of the greatest) language(s) in the world.
  • No Marathi speaker should use any word borrowed from any other language.
  • Hindi is actually a corrupted version of Marathi.
  • There is some evidence that the languages of Central Asia are derived from Marathi.

(3) A Marathi fetishist (if there are such people) might say this:

  • I am afraid to read English (or Hindi) books because they bring bad luck to me.
  • I must have a temple in my house to worship Marathi.
  • If my son doesn’t speak Marathi, I think he will become a pervert.
  • The captions of the Playboy centerfolds should be pasted over with Marathi ones before one looks at them.

(4) Then there could also be demands like:

  • English should not be compulsory at the primary level. It should be left to the parents to decide.
  • Students should not be punished for speaking in Marathi.
  • Knowledge of English (or Hindi) should not be compulsory for certain jobs.
  • Marathi writers (and newspapers, magazines, books) should be treated in the same way as English (or Hindi) ones.

There can’t be any debate about (1), (2) and (3), but as far as I can see, the three still have to be treated differently (say, for moral, psychological or political discussion). But there can (and should) definitely be debate about (4). That is, if by democracy you mean something substantial, not just a protective shield to keep your hold on the power indefinitely. If you put all four in the same group and dismiss them all, then there is some chance that this might lead to some bad things, even if Indians are ashamed to use their own language for higher purposes.

To touch upon another taboo topic, a great great deal has been written about Bombay becoming Mumbai, but I don’t remember anyone pointing out that Bombay had already been Mumbai for the Marathi speakers (not to say that it was and is Bambai for Hindi speakers), just as Calcutta had been Kolkata for Bengali speakers and Delhi has been either Dilli or Dehli for Hindi speakers. Is that completely irrelevant?

If we were to take the English Elite’s rhetoric about chauvinism seriously, one would have to call even Orhan Pamuk a language chauvinist. And Satyajit Ray. And Tolstoy. And every French writer. And so on.

In many places in his books Tolstoy resentfully showed how French was treated as the superior language among the Russian Elite and how no one among them wanted to be seen speaking Russian. Except may be when talking to the inferior people: servants, peasants etc.

As one member of the Elite (in a moment of frankness) living in New Delhi narrated in a ‘middle’ in The Hindustan Times several years ago, she was embarrassed when a foreigner from the West came to visit them and tried to talk to them in Hindi. Because for her and for the people in her class, Hindi was a language to be used when talking to vegetable sellers.

Most members of the BJP would love to make a transition to the same class. Some have already done that.

There are schools in India where students are punished for using an Indian language. Not in the class room. Not just for any formal or academic purpose, but even in their private conversation, say while playing in the playground.

So much for chauvinism.

Not to mention the Fetish part.

As for the Thackerays, I wonder why they don’t write their surname as Thakre.

They are defiling the name of one my favourite writers.

February 23, 2009

Hundred (Fictitious) Dollar Oscars

This has been said by someone else, but I will repeat it anyway: if the new ‘Indian’ craze in the West, Slumdog Millionaire, wins one (or possibly more) Oscars, it will be due, to a large extent, to one particular scene in the movie. After the protagonist plays foul with an American (actually the US, lest we forget altogether) tourist couple and is being beaten brutally by an Indian, the American couple rescues him, only to get the retort that ‘you wanted to see a bit of real India’. And the lady’s answer is to get a hundred dollar note (we don’t call it a ‘bill’, nor a ‘bank note’) from her husband and hand it to the offending boy with what we call a dialogue in Hindi, ‘well, here is a bit of real America, son’. As the person who mentioned this scene earlier (although I had thought of the scene in more or less the same way) also pointed out, this American lady (that’s what we now call a woman in Hindi) is shown to be the only really good person in the whole movie.

But the movie is supposed to be all about Indians, so there are no real people other than Indians except this lady. The only Western (White and presumably Christian) person in the whole movie can hardly not be a representative of the average Westerner (let alone the US Americans) as opposed to the wretched, written-to-be-wretched, Indians, especially when she makes such a grand gesture accompanied by a solid dialogue.

Since there still are people out there who are going to (or already have) criticize this movie for some crappy reason like selling India’s poverty to the West etc., one has to give out the mandatory disclaimer that one is most certainly not against this movie for any such reason. In fact, one is not really against this movie at all.

I most probably wouldn’t have commented on this movie had it not become such a sensation and also given that a lot of insightful commentators have already written about it. But now it looks very much likely that the movie is going to get that most-prestigious-in-the-globe-but-actually-the-US-American movie award named Oscar, and probably more than one. This means that the movie will be taken seriously by a lot of non-Indians and perhaps even by some Indians. And, as I indicated earlier, it is not really such a bad movie. The problem is that it is not a great movie at all, which is what it is being made out to be outside India.

And like one other commentator (pardon me for not giving references, but I am tired right now: though I can provide them on need), I find it hard to believe that it is directed by the same person who directed that movie which is in my list of Very Good Movies (in the company of movies by Bergman, Fellini, De Sica, Kubrick and the like), namely Trainspotting. Whereas that movie was exactly what it wanted to be, this movie almost fails completely, although it is still entertaining.

There are so many things which are fundamentally and very clearly wrong with this movie. Accent is, of course, one of them. I wonder whether Danny Boyle knows that the knowledge of English (and even more so its use with a particular accent) is the single most reliable indicator of one’s socio-economic status in the Indian subcontinent. And the movie shows the ‘slumdog’ using the highest caste accent whereas the elite TV show host using a pretty low caste accent (yes, Anil Kapur’s accent is not very ‘good’ and he would usually be looked down upon among a circle of people speaking in almost British accent, as does the protagonist).

I would urge Danny and his crew to go and see Tashan, which has some similarities with this movie and also stars Anil Kapur.

The movie could have been so much better if it was made in Hindi and had better casting and had hired some accent tutors like they do in Hollywood even for the all-(US)-American movies.

The second big problem is that the novel on which it is based doesn’t talk Karma-Varma at all. And the movie resolves everything at the end by saying ‘because it is written’. And Danny Boyle himself in an interview (roughly) said that you simply can’t resolve the complexities of India: they are just there. Then he said ‘they even have a philosophy for this’, which says to me that he seems to know very little about India. Yes, there is a philosophy of that kind, but there are innumerable other philosophies too.

Come on, Danny, no one in India actually says ‘I don’t know, I have got a sort of Karmic feeling about this’ or something like that (as the TV show host does). This Karmic terminology is more used in the West, than in the ‘real India’. No one really talks about ‘Karma’ here. (Even when they do, they don’t do it in this way). Though they do talk of Bhaagya and Taqdeer and Maathe Ki Lakeer etc. Which is not the same thing. And which is the reason this movie can be accused of being indulgent in post-modern Orientalism (someone else said that too).

In many parts of India, if you spoke out the word ‘Karma’ in the way Danny Boyle (or any Westerner talking about India) does, people would think you were talking about a patriotic movie starring an old Dilip Kumar pairing with one of my favorite (favourite for the less dominant party to which Danny belongs) female actors, Nutan. This ‘Karma’ is, of course, not the same word. In fact, it’s not a word at all: it’s a name.

It’s an ambiguous Named Entity that I would classify as either a Person or as an Object-Title, depending on the context.

In the same interview, Danny Boyle says about Mumbai (which we still quite often call Bambai – बंबई in Hindi and Bombay in English) that ‘they call it the Maximum City’. Well, it’s actually Suketu Mehta who calls Mumbai that. A lot can be said about that book too, but I won’t say it now.

Now the music. Well, the simple and solid fact is that A. R. Rehman has given much better music before, right from his very first hit, Roja. If some Indians start respecting him now because he wins an Oscar or two, I can only pity them. And I pity the non-Indians too: for being completely unaware of such great music even in this .mp3 era. Music which has been heard and liked by hundreds of millions of people for more than one and a half decade now.

But let me reiterate. This is not such a bad movie. Your money won’t be wasted if you go and see it. But it is definitely not ‘a gritty and realistic’ movie about India, except in some ways which are of no use to an Indian and could be misleading for a non-Indian.

Let me reiterate something else. The Indian ‘reality’ is much worse than what is depicted in the movie, which is basically a lived-happily-ever-after fantasy.

And featuring the US American lady in the movie with her fictitious hundred dollars is a cheap (pun intended) trick to win over the Western (especially American) audiences whose senses will be offended by what is shown in the movie (for the dummies: this is a deliberate but slight exaggeration). Because if the truth were told, a big share (not all, of course) of the responsibility of this worse reality of India (as of other colonized or near-colonized countries) rests with the West.

Overall, Slumdog Millionaire is in the same league as Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Both movies are inspired by the ‘Bollywood’ style of film making and both have directors who seem to know precious little about India but who wanted to pay some tribute to the country and its films, just as the earlier Orientalist artists paid their own tributes to the seductive, exotic East as imagined by them with their artistic temperament. But as an Indian I feel that the latter movie has a definite edge. That could be partly because it doesn’t pretend to know (and, therefore, tell) much about India.

Slumdog Millionaire’s only connection to Trainspotting, ironically, happens to be a scene that was hard to watch even for the hardened Indians: the jump in and out of the shitpot. And even this scene was done much better in Trainspotting.

There is also a serious matter that is concerned with both the style as well as the content. It’s a very tricky matter to mix realism with fantasy, which is what Slumdog Millionaire tries to do. And it does quite a bad job of it.

As it happens, Danny Boyle came and lived in India for some time for making this movie. One gets the impression that he was overwhelmed by what he saw and didn’t quite know what to make of it. And in such cases the easiest resort is to the Karmic poppycock that the movie ends at. Small mercy that it is done with the tongue at least lightly in the cheek.

P.S.: Also for the dummies, the word ‘caste’ above has been used metaphorically, not literally. Knowledge of English and the accent is a big (perhaps the biggest) determinant of the metaphorical caste in India. Even in the India of Call Centres. Or should it be ‘especially in that India’?

January 12, 2009

Picture of the Future

Orwell described a picture of the future rather bleakly as:

There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face … forever. (1984 by George Orwell: Part III, Chapter III)

This, I believed, was a dystopian picture. I still do. I have my own picture of the future, which has remained almost unchanged for the last decade (at least). Three recent events somehow seem to me to be describing my picture of the future.

The picture is mine, but the future need not necessarily be mine.

But it can very well be.

The first is the unbelievably and blatantly criminal assault by Israel on all Palestinians: man, woman and child. I won’t give references for this. It’s there prominently even in the mainstream media and has been there for some time now.

The second is a recent call by the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission chief (Chairman) for “legislation to prosecute parents with diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, leprosy and dyslexia should they, knowing that they have the disease, have children”.

Inhuman Rights Commission?

The third is the news, or rather the lack of it, about the recent death of a Hindi writer living in Jaipur (yes, the connection with ‘your’ places does make it worse) Lavleen (लवलीन) who was relatively young. She had a reputation as a ‘bold’ writer and woman. She hadn’t really established herself as a great writer, but she was known among the Hindi literary circles. Let alone the Indian English media, (it has been pointed out) even the ‘biggest Hindi daily’ Dainik Bhaskar didn’t report it, even after many requests. And even the small but very vibrant and inter-connected world of Hindi blogging (which is very enthusiastic about events like the wedding of someone’s relative among them) mostly ignored it, though they are trying very hard to find out who ‘the real Tau’ (असली ताऊ) is. Like a lot of other writers, she died with the dream of some day writing a masterpiece.

(But still, I came to know about this from a Hindi writer’s blog).

And, no, I didn’t personally know her. Nor do I know the A. P. Human Rights Commission Chairman. Nor have I ever been to Israel, though a large percentage of the people (in History) I admire happen to be Jewish and most of them (I am sure) would have or have been horrified by what Israel is doing.

I don’t know why but these three events (or should I say sets of events: being a ‘professional’ practitioner of language sciences, crafts and arts is tough when it comes to writing anything) somehow represent for me the picture of the future.

This picture is not quite as horrible as that painted by Orwell (actually, by O’Brien the character, whether or not by the author).

But it doesn’t seem very pleasant.

December 9, 2008

Talking about The Invaders

I am down with (relatively high) fever after a long time. This blog (before this one) had 99 posts. It seems nice to have the 100th. Round figures. The Decimal System of Indian Origin. A milestone. You get the picture. The number. The destination.

Or may be you don’t. What can I do about that?

I am still not sure why Catch 22. Or why Room 101 for that matter.

But I don’t feel like writing a post. So what I will do is, I will reproduce (with some proof reading of my comments) a post by someone else to which I had made many comments. Why do I reproduce? Can’t I simply provide a link to it (I already have)? Well, the reason is that I had a long exchange of comments on the same blog earlier on a matter that seemed important to me. But the post as well as the comment are now gone from that blog.

So, just in case something like that happens again, the exchange can be available here.

The Invaders

By Arfi

They met deep in the jungle almost every other weekend.

They were a motley group of men and women of all ages and professions who had found each other over the Internet. And over time, through discussions in forums or by way of certain books they had all been drawn to the movement. A movement that promised to restore to them, what they believed, had once rightfully been theirs. They met in the small forested area that lay on the outskirts of the city – away from prying eyes and curious onlookers.

That particular morning, at the edge of the forest, about 15 of them had turned up. They had all been sent e-mails in advance intimating them about the time and place of the meet. For some in the group this was their very first meeting and it showed in the nervous twitches that afflicted their fingers. Looking at them, you would not be wrong if you concluded that they seemed overtly secretive about these gatherings. The leader of the group – a gaunt bearded man somewhere in his fifties and clad in old jeans and a khadi kurta – had the air of the old revolutionary about him. He carefully scanned their faces, perhaps looking for signs that could tell him which of them would make good foot-soldiers for the movement. But even he seemed jumpy and constantly looked over his shoulders, as if he couldn’t wait to get out of the open and into the woods.

After waiting a few more minutes for any stragglers that might still show up, he signalled them and they all filed silently behind him. The group started moving into the forest. He had asked them to walk in silence and make as little noise as possible. The morning mist hung in the canopy of trees and the whole atmosphere oozed, of mystery – if not of revolution, as yet. Bird calls could be heard, and now and then, the sharp sound of a dry twig snapping under a pair of purposeful feet would pierce the morning air.

After a fifteen minute trek, they reached a natural clearing in the forest encircled by trees on all sides. The filtered morning light that fell into this clearing had a strange ethereal quality to it. The more spiritually inclined amongst them took it as a sign that their cause was just. In the middle of the clearing, the remains of a dead fire could be seen. The leader deep in thought and running his hand through his beard circled it a few times and poked at the ashes with a twig. He then looked around and suspiciously sniffed at the winter air. The others, looked at each-other in turn. A mixture of fear and excitement played on their faces.

The leader motioned them to form a circle around him. He then pulled out a sheaf of papers from the jhola he was carrying and was engrossed in them for a few minutes. They all waited in silence, nervously shifting on their feet. The leader then stepped onto the small mound of charred wood and ash which had inadvertently become the centre of this human circle, and though hardly a few inches overground, now acted as his pedestal.

He waved the sheets of paper in his hand and addressed them in an impassioned voice.

“Do you know what this tells me ? It tells me we have been invaded. If you read this, you would realise the level of threat we are under. And I am not talking about something that can be left for the government to deal with. They would never acknowledge this and they have already branded us as troublemakers anyway. We need affirmative action and we need it now because what I am talking about is nothing less than the threat of extinction. Extinction from our land. The invasion of our country. And it is time that those of us who understand this, step up and deal with it. Let me read out to you.”

He then read out the summary of the report to them. Having finished, he put the papers back into his jhola and picked up the twig instead. He started waving it around like a conductor, to the ebb and flow of his own rage and continued.

“They came to this country in waves. You could say they were even brought here by our own people in some cases and now look all around you. They have taken over this land, have pushed back the natives. These aliens, aggressive by nature and forever sucking the earth dry, have spread and multiplied right under our noses and what have we ever done about it. Nothing. They are vicious and cunning, quick to adapt and blend in, but do not be fooled because with every passing moment they are forcing the natives out. They breed – if I can even call it breeding – like rats and change the entire balance of the place they show up in, in a few years. They have polluted our environment and now even threaten our backyards. But it’s still not too late. Because now we have awakened. Now we know. And now is the time that we push them out and reclaim and replant what is ours. Trees like Acacia farnesiana and Acacia mearnsii have no place in our ecosystem. We must correct the past mistakes or these alien species; not only of trees, but herbs and shrubs too, would irreversibly change the climate and environment of our land. We must at once begin the process of eco-restoration. We must secure this land for our children and for our future generations.”

The leader stepped down from the mound of ash to a round of applause. The gathering then broke into smaller groups and started studying the flora around them.

Labels: activism, aliens, caricatures, experimental fiction, invaders, Pradip Krishnen, random

Comment by Banno:

The language of inclusion and exclusion remains the same whatever one is talking about, isn’t it? Liked it much.

Comment by Arfi:

Yes, strange but true. Was reading an obscure report on this and later something about Krishnen and it was the language that struck me – the way it was used.

Glad you like it.

Comment by me:

Do you actually realize what you are talking about?

You are in serious danger of becoming something like a Madhur Bhandarkar.

Comment by Arfi:

Hmm.. Madhur Bhandrakar – I hope not. Though in serious danger does sound almost irrevocable.

If you have read the labels with the post you would have noticed that I have labeled it as a caricature.

The point I wanted to make was about the use of language – which is so malleable that it can lend itself to any ideology, even if they stand at opposite ends. The entirely exaggerated narrative, atleast to me, clearly reads as such.

Comment by me:

I saw the caricature label, but I would still say that what you have written translates simply as this:

‘Left is equal to right and both are equally bad. Therefore centre is the best.’

And what is not stated but is usually the de facto meaning in such cases is that whatever is the status quo is the centre. Therefore whatever is, let it be, because that’s the best you can get.

This is the fashionable view in these days of clearly visible across-the-spectrum right-shift. In fact, this view (intentionally or unintentionally) serves to mask the shift.

The problem is that you can only write as well as you can read and, to be a bit harsh again, you don’t seem to read so well. But you are not alone in this. People who are really good at reading are much rarer than is usually assumed. Most people (and here I only talk about the intellectual type) are bad readers.

This is criticism. But it can be taken as an advice because reading skills can be improved. And I am sure you anyway didn’t expect a false pat on the back from me.

It would be a sad thing if, in spite of your writing skills, your writing doesn’t go where you wanted it to go because you can’t clearly see where you are going.

Comment by Arfi:

I welcome criticism, even more so coming from you. It helps unravel the thinking process – possibly at both ends.

The way one reads anything, as you correctly point out, reflects in our writing. And when we approach a text we bring to it our own world-view and politics which act as a sort of filtering mechanism or a highlighter – depending on whether you are trying to avoid or enforce certain beliefs – so one ends up glossing over some things and re-enforcing others. But this too is an evolving process, as we know from reading good literature – as to how it reads differently and leaves you with more each time you revisit it. This tells me that all hope is not yet lost and I might still become a good reader.

Now coming to the post itself, I dont know what exactly disappoints you. Is it that it does not take any stand – as I see it; or that it advocates maintaining a status quo – as you seem to have read it. It surely cannot be that I invoked Krishnen’s name :) (nothing and no one should be sacred, right ?)

Now why I wrote it the way I did was because of certain things coming together. I had gone on a nature walk in Uttaranchal with some local people, who are doing some really wonderful work related to eco-restoration and self-management of forested areas, and the politics of that movement would (and has) greatly stretched the right-centre-left spectrum that you have talked about. It’s quite obvious to which end and to whose discomfort.

But again like I said earlier what I found deeply ironical was the use of language when I was talking about some of those issues with them. It made me smile not in a derisive way but the way we smile when we realise, that strange though it is, the joke somehow is upon us. And that’s where this post comes from.

I cannot go ahead and declare – even though I would like to – that this here is my political stand; simply because I don’t have a one word label to express it. The labeling of views as centrist, rightist and left-leaning doesn’t help because even the connotations of these labels change depending
on the platform and the issues under discussion. Yes, right is centre now and forever pushing across, and yet the left doesn’t move away ? Old story.

But in the end, the fault perhaps lies in the post itself if it translates for you, to a one line false-hood of Left is equal to right and both are equally bad. Therefore centre is the best.

So I guess, it’s time for me to start reading in earnest, though even then I suspect that it would be difficult to know for sure, as to where everything is headed. :)

Good to have you here after a long gap.

~

Comment by me:

I knew what you were trying to say and also the fact that you were interested in the language (so am I).

The process of writing indeed evolves. But the problem is that once you write something, there is unconscious pressure on you (from yourself, your ego etc., if not from others) to then defend and stand by what you have written. This can come in the way of evolution, especially when your writing gets ahead of your reading, as I think is happening in your case.

I am glad that you are prepared to consider my suggestion. Actually, for people who restrict themselves to very narrow domains, this is less of a problem, but for people like you and me who want to write about almost everything, there is a serious risk of getting trapped in a net of our own making. (To digress, that is what seems to have happened with Ram Guha, among others). That’s why it’s very important to be a good reader so that you can read your own writing and decide whether it is expressing just what you wanted to say.

About the language, it is important to note that you can’t really look at such language of politics in isolation and ‘impartially’. Even if you explicitly don’t side with anyone, you are actually siding with the currently dominant party and, in a way, you are supporting the status quo. That the ‘language of inclusion or exclusion’ remains the same doesn’t change the fact that inclusion and exclusion can be very real. Therefore, the use of the same language can be valid in some cases and completely invalid in some other cases. To complicate this, there is the fact that there may be gray areas and partially valid cases or even cases where more than one parties have valid grievances with respect to inclusion or exclusion. Treating the language in isolation and supposedly impartially is thus a very political statement itself (whether you intend it to be or not).

But anyway, since you got my meaning, I hope I will have less (or no) reason for complaint in future.

And, no, Pradip Krishnen is not the issue. I am not even sure which Pradip Krishnen you mean. Perhaps you mean Pradip Krishen the movie maker and of the Trees of Delhi fame. I don’t know much about him. And I don’t think we should treat him or anyone else as too sacred to be criticized.

My main concern is that you have potential for good writing, so you should be writing in a way to realize that potential. You know that I don’t comment too often or at too many places.

Comment by Arfi:

I do concede the point that the use of language does not stand in isolation. Infact a writer steps into a virtual minefield, especially in the realm of fiction, when he dares to venture beyond the traditional fault-lines. He goes there because those spaces – the gray areas – need to be addressed, but at the same time, also require an extremely nuanced handling.

What also interests me is the unraveling and composition of layers, and the ambiguity that a well written text offers; where the reader shapes the meaning which entirely depends on what he brings to it. His interpretation says a lot – both about himself and the writer – and this ambiguity is quite difficult to achieve.

Guha’s is an interesting case. He is currently being heckled down by both sides. It would be amusing to see how it all unfolds.

Yes, I meant Pradip Krishen, not Krishnen. And I do realize that re-reading and re-drafting one’s work is almost a never ending process.

Comment by me:

>> “the ambiguity that a well written text offers; where the reader shapes the meaning which entirely depends on what he brings to it. His interpretation says a lot – both about himself and the writer – and this ambiguity is quite difficult to achieve.”

Is is true?

Partly true, but the meaning can’t completely depend on the reader, can it? And yes, the interpretation says a lot about the reader as much as the writer. That’s part of the reason why I talked about a good reader. The writer is, in fact, the first reader.

Also, what the interpretation can say about the reader includes the fact that the reader correctly understood the meaning. Or one or more of the meanings. After all there are people who know more and who understand more and there are those who know less and understand less, even if there is no objective way of finding out who is which in what case. But over a period of time, once you know someone well enough you might be able to decide whether to rely on someone’s judgment or not. We all rely more on the judgment of some people and less on others’.

About Ram Guha’s article, what he writes there is almost exactly more or less word for word what I used to secretly (as I had no one to actually say things to and I didn’t, of course, have a blog then) argue with the ‘left intellectuals’ about 10-15 years ago (perhaps influenced by the writings of people like Ram Guha who are given very generous space in the mainstream media and who, by the way, don’t talk nonsense most of the time: they are good enough writers). For example, I would (silently) say at that time that it is wrong to call the BJP or Shiv Sena etc. fascists. And I would give the same reasons as he has given in this article. It may be new to you, but it’s pretty stale stuff for me (I can’t help it if it sounds arrogant).

Now I know better. BJP may not be technically a classical fascist organization, but it is definitely a part of a network which has very strong fascistic tendencies. What we are seeing right now is corrupt fascism in somewhat slow motion. Whether it is better or worse than classical pure fascism is a matter of debate.

As for the again-and-again repeated diatribe by Ram Guha against the communist faction headed by Ranadive, how many people today know that the Nehru government had carried out systematic atrocities in suppressing these communists who believed that the independence that we had got was fake. In one of his articles in the Hindu as well as in a long article in the Outlook, Ram Guha ridiculed Ranadive for saying roughly ‘yeh aazaadi jhooti hai’. But was he the only lunatic extremist to say that? Do you remember the most famous poem by Faiz? And all this is very well documented and portrayed in the post-independence Indian literature (in Indian languages, perhaps that’s why the need to keep the literature in these languages down), though not much known to the general public. Just to give one example, Manohar Shyam Joshi, the writer of Hum Log and Buniyad etc., who was also a great writer in the true literary sense, wrote one novel which describes this in quite detail, as an allegory of modern India.

I like to read articles by Ram Guha, but be sure that I know perfectly well where he stands. At the very centre of centre (as the author of that article about Bhimsen Joshi said). He has no problem in saying that the left exactly equals the right. The funny thing is that he seems to be claiming that he is a leftist. And many people do think he is a leftist.

And, as I said earlier, the centre is shifting to the right. Hardly an original observation.

But I still like his articles most of the time. He is not very boring and he does give you a lot of background information about certain things and I want to read about everything. At least so far he doesn’t support the far right.

Comment by me:

And as for saying that Ram Guha is being ‘heckled down’, I don’t think you need to worry about him. He is a very privileged and respected person right in the middle of the mainstream.

It was he who had started the attack against Arundhati Roy, not vice-versa. I just hope that it was a misguided venture, not something deeper.

I don’t have much patience for card-carrying communists, what with their rigid ideology, but I do know that, on the whole, they fare better than most of the others.

Comment by Arfi:

>>”Is is true?

Partly true, but the meaning can’t completely depend on the reader, can it?”

Yes, I think it is true and something I am interested in exploring further. Of course I don’t claim that an entire text (any piece of fiction), can be that ambiguous. But, for example, the use of pronouns or initials (like Roberto Bolano’s B.) instead of a name in a third person narrative might go someway in achieving that ambiguity, if one consciously leaves open the narrative by not establishing the background or cultural influences of a particular character. There would still be other clues for the reader but what would be interesting is how he ‘fleshes out’ the character based on his own views when he reads the text.

Like I said, difficult but something worth experimenting with.

As for Guha’s article, I find his entire logic convoluted. First he applies certain ‘tests of fascism’ to the BJP, to let it off on a technicality and then later advises caution when borrowing terms generated from a different historical context – the very terms that he himself used to argue otherwise. Does he not realize that he cannot have it both ways.

I, for sure, am not going to worry about him anytime soon.

Comment by J.:

Today we were reading Derrida in class. Last couple of weeks Foucault. This in-depth discussion is very funny in this light. Funny in the sense that any talk of meaning is, post poststructuralist deconstruction.

Don’t read Derrida if you’ve managed to avoid him in your (lack of) reading so far. He may put you off reading forever.

Tongue firmly in cheek,

Your ardent fan,

J

;)

Comment by me:

So much for Ram Guha. There is something very ugly about discussing individuals. The only time it can be necessary is with respect to their public, professional or political stances, which is what I hopefully focused on. As an individual, I am sure he is great guy.

I have read tid-bits of Derrida and am familiar with his general ideas, but I most surely don’t apply his ideas because I wouldn’t know how to (TFIC).

For me, reading well is very much like appreciating music or appreciating cinema. It’s a mix of nature and nurture. The latter can often compensate for the former to a great extent. And if there is one thing I am very confident of, that is to differentiate good writing from bad writing, and good music from bad music and good cinema from bad cinema etc. So, though I can’t explain exactly why I think Madhur Bhandarkar is a classic pseudo, I am sure he is by watching several of his movies. Similarly, I know who to rely on more if I am in doubt. For example, I would rely on Orwell much more than I would rely on, say, Dan Brown. And I have been proved right innumerable times (sometimes wrong also, as No-One-Is-Perfect).

About your pronoun example, of course, that is true. You must be knowing that I know that much, don’t you? What I said was about the text as a whole, with the help of ‘clues’ in the text.

So I don’t have any objective arguments in support of my evaluation of your article, but you can either rely on me or not, depending on whether you place me nearer (in terms of my examples) to Orwell or to Dan Brown.

It has turned out to be an interesting discussion. I don’t even mind it being funny.

Comment by Arfi:

J.:

I have not read any Derrida except what surfaced in his obituary. (To be honest even that proved too dense for me.)

And I really have no idea what is meant by post post-structuralist deconstruction (you lost me after post-structuralism) but it does sound funny. ;)

But to be serious, what I am worried about is becoming overly conscious when writing if I venture too deep into literary theory. There is a long way to go and I am not even sure if I really want to or can go there.

Anil:

Yes, I am sure you know about the use of pronouns and initials in a narrative. I was only trying to further elaborate on the point I made earlier.

I rely on your judgement and look forward to further criticism. Indeed it has been an interesting discussion.

Comment by me:

To end on a lighter note, here are two excerpts from the book I mentioned:

(Caution: Hindi text ahead).

A kind of prologue

A popular hilarious passage

His writings, in general, are also very interesting from the language (if not linguistic) point of view.

By the way, I have left out one comment by someone because it was completely unrelated to my comments.

October 28, 2008

सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान

जैसा मैंने पिछली प्रविष्टी (‘पोस्ट’ के लिए यह शब्द इस्तेमाल हो सकता है?) में लिखा था, अगले कुछ हफ्तों में मैं संचय के बारे में लिखने जा रहा हूं।

लेकिन क्योंकि संचय खास तौर पर (आम उपयोक्ताओं के अलावा) सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान या भाषाविज्ञान के शोधकर्ताओं के लिए बनाया गया है, इस बात को साफ कर देना ठीक रहेगा कि सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान या भाषाविज्ञान के माने क्या है, या अगर आप इनके माने जानते ही हैं तब भी इनसे मेरा अभिप्राय क्या है। यह दूसरी बात इसलिए कि इन विषयों (सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान या भाषाविज्ञान) के अर्थ के बारे में आम लोगों में तो तमाम तरह की ग़लतफ़हमियाँ हैं ही, पर इन विषयों के शोधकर्ताओं में भी इनकी परिभाषा पर एक राय नहीं है।

सच तो यह है कि हिंदी जगत में तो अब भी अधिकतर लोग भाषाविज्ञान का अर्थ उस तरह के अध्ययन से लगाते हैं जो पिछली सदी के शुरू में लगाया जाता था। लेकिन बहस की इस दिशा में अभी मैं नहीं जाना चाहूंगा क्योंकि इसके बारे में कहने को इतना अधिक है कि अभी जो उद्देश्य है वो पीछे ही रह जाएगा।

वैसे सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान या भाषाविज्ञान की परिभाषा या उनकी सीमाओं के बारे में भी कहने को बहुत-बहुत कुछ है, पर फिलहाल थोड़े से ही काम चलाया जा सकता है।

तो छोटे में कहा जाए तो भाषाविज्ञान शोध या अध्ययन का वह विषय है जिसमें किसी एक भाषा के व्याकरण का ही अध्ययन नहीं किया जाता बल्कि नैसर्गिक या मानुषिक (यानी कृत्रिम नहीं) भाषा का वैज्ञानिक रूप से अध्ययन किया जाता है। अब यह धारणा व्यापक रूप से स्वीकृत है कि मानव मस्तिष्क की संरचना का भाषा की संरचना से सीधा संबंध है और क्योंकि सभी मानवों के मस्तिष्क की संरचना मूलतः एक ही जैसी है, तो सभी नैसर्गिक या मानुषिक भाषाओं में भी सतही लक्षणों को छोड़ कर बाकी सब एक ही जैसा है। इसीलिए, जैसा कि इन विषयों के आधुनिक साहित्य में प्रसिद्ध है, अगर किसी अमरीकी के शिशु को जन्म के तुरंत बाद कोई चीनी परिवार गोद ले ले और वह बच्चा चीन में ही पले तो वह उतनी आसानी से चीनी बोलना सीखेगा जितनी आसानी से कोई चीनी परिवार का बच्चा। ऐसी ढेर सारी और बातें हैं, पर मुख्य बात है कि भाषाविज्ञान नैसर्गिक या मानुषिक भाषा का वैज्ञानिक अध्ययन है।

कम से कम कोशिश तो यही है कि अध्ययन वैज्ञानिक रहे, पर वो वास्तव में रह पाता है या नहीं, यह बहस का विषय है।

अब सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान पर आएं तो इस विषय में हमारा ध्यान मानवों की बजाय संगणक यानी कंप्यूटर पर आ जाता है, पर पिछली शर्त फिर भी लागू रहती है: नैसर्गिक या मानुषिक भाषा का वैज्ञानिक अध्ययन। अंतर यह है कि हमारा उद्देश्य अब यह हो जाता है कि कंप्यूटर को इस लायक बनाया जा सके कि वो नैसर्गिक या मानुषिक भाषा को समझ सके और उसका प्रयोग कर सके। जाहिर है यह अभी बहुत दूर की बात है और इसमें कोई आश्चर्य भी नहीं होना चाहिए क्योंकि अभी भाषाविज्ञान में ही (पिछली सदी की असाधारण उपलब्धियों के बाद भी) वैज्ञानिक ढेर सारी बाधाओं में फंसे हैं।

फिर भी, सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान में काफ़ी कुछ संभव हो चुका है और काफ़ी कुछ आगे (निकट भविष्य में) संभव हो सकता है। लेकिन इसमें कंप्यूटर का मानव जैसे भाषा बोलना-समझना शामिल नहीं है। जो शामिल है वो हैं ऐसी तकनीक जो दस्तावेजों को ज़्यादा अच्छी तरह ढूंढ सकें, उनका सारांश बना सकें, कुछ हद तक उनका अनुवाद कर सकें आदि।

लेकिन हिंदुस्तानी परिप्रेक्ष्य में परेशानी यह है कि हम अभी इस हालत में भी नहीं पहुंचे हैं कि आसानी से कंप्यूटर का एक बेहतर टाइपराइटर की तरह ही उपयोग कर सकें। इस दिशा में कुछ उपलब्धियाँ हुई हैं, पर अंग्रेज़ी या प्रमुख यूरोपीय भाषाओं की तुलना में हम कहीं भी नहीं हैं। जैसा कि आपमें से अधिकतर जानते ही हैं, यह एक लंबी कहानी है जिसे अभी छोड़ देना ही ठीक है।

पर संचय का विकास इसी परिप्रेक्ष्य में किया गया है, जिसके बारे में आगे बात करेंगे।

October 26, 2008

संचय का परिचय

पिछली पोस्ट (शर्म के साथ कहना पड़ रहा है कि पोस्ट के लिए कोई उपयुक्त शब्द नहीं ढूंढ पा रहा हूं) में मैंने (अंग्रेज़ी में) संचय के नये संस्करण के बारे में लिखा था। मज़े की बात है कि संचय के बारे में मैंने अभी हिंदी में शायद ही कुछ लिखा हो। इस भूल को सुधारने की कोशिश में अब अगले कुछ हफ्तों में संचय के बारे में कुछ लिखने का सोचा है।

तो संचय कौन है? या संचय क्या है?

पहले सवाल का तो जवाब (अमरीकी शब्दावली में) यह है कि संचय एक सिंगल पेरेंट चाइल्ड है जिसे किसी वेलफेयर का लाभ तो नहीं मिल रहा पर जिस पर बहुत सी ज़िम्मेदारियाँ हैं।

दूसरे सवाल का जवाब यह है कि संचय सांगणिक भाषाविज्ञान (कंप्यूटेशनल लिंग्विस्टिक्स) या भाषाविज्ञान के क्षेत्र में काम कर रहे शोधकर्ताओं के लिए उपयोगी सांगणिक औजारों का एक मुक्त (मुफ्त भी कह सकते हैं) तथा ओपेन सोर्स संकलन है। पर खास तौर से यह कंप्यूटर पर भारतीय भाषाओं का उपयोग करने वाले किसी भी व्यक्ति के काम आ सकता है। इसकी एक विशेषता है कि इसमें नयी भाषाओं तथा एनकोडिंगों को आसानी से शामिल किया जा सकता है। लगभग सभी प्रमुख भारतीय भाषाएं इसमें पहले से ही शामिल हैं और संचय में उनके उपयोग के लिए ऑपरेटिंग सिस्टम पर आप निर्भर नहीं है, हालांकि अगर ऑपरेटिंग सिस्टम में ऐसी कोई भी भाषा शामिल है तो उस सुविधा का भी आप उपयोग संचय में कर सकते हैं। यही नहीं, संचय का एक ही संस्करण विंडोज़ तथा लिनक्स/यूनिक्स दोनों पर काम करता है, बशर्ते आपने जे. डी. के. (जावा डेवलपमेंट किट) इंस्टॉल कर रखा हो। यहाँ तक कि आपकी भाषा का फोंट भी ऑपरेटिंग सिस्टम में इंस्टॉल होना ज़रूरी नहीं है।

संचय का वर्तमान संस्करण 0.3.0 है। इस संस्करण में पिछले संस्करण से सबसे बड़ा अंतर यह है कि अब एक ही जगह से संचय के सभी औजार इस्तेमाल किए जा सकते हैं, अलग-अलग स्क्रिप्ट का नाम याद रखने की ज़रूरत नहीं है। कुल मिला कर बारह औजार (ऐप्लीकेशंस) शामिल किए गए हैं, जो हैं:

  1. संचय पाठ संपादक (टैक्सट एडिटर)
  2. सारणी संपादक (टेबल एडिटर)
  3. खोज-बदल-निकाल औजार (फाइंड रिप्लेस ऐक्सट्रैक्ट टूल)
  4. शब्द सूची निर्माण औजार (वर्ड लिस्ट बिल्डर)
  5. शब्द सूची विश्लेषण औजार (वर्ड लिस्ट ऐनेलाइज़र ऐंड विज़ुअलाइज़र)
  6. भाषा तथा एनकोडिंग पहचान औजार (लैंग्वेज ऐंड एनकोडिंग आइडेंटिफिकेशन)
  7. वाक्य रचना अभिटिप्पण अंतराफलक (सिन्टैक्टिक ऐनोटेशन इंटरफेस)
  8. समांतर वांगमय अभिटिप्पण अंतराफलक (पैरेलल कोर्पस ऐनोटेशन इंटरफेस)
  9. एन-ग्राम भाषाई प्रतिरूपण (एन-ग्राम लैंग्वेज मॉडेलिंग टूल)
  10. संभाषण वांगमय अभिटिप्पण अंतराफलक (डिस्कोर्स ऐनोटेशन इंटरफेस)
  11. दस्तावेज विभाजक (फाइल स्प्लिटर)
  12. स्वचालित अभिटिप्पण औजार (ऑटोमैटिक ऐनोटेशन टूल)

अगर इनमें से अधिकतर का सिर-पैर ना समझ आ रहा हो तो थोड़ा इंतज़ार करें। आगे इनके बारे में अधिक जानकारी देने की कोशिश रहेगी।

शायद इतना और जोड़ देने में कोई बुराई नहीं है कि संचय पिछले कुछ सालों से इस नाचीज़ के जिद्दी संकल्प का परिणाम है, जिसमें कुछ और लोगों का भी सहयोग रहा है, चाहे थोड़ा-थोड़ा ही। उन सभी लोगों के नाम संचय के वेबस्थल पर जल्दी ही देखे जा सकेंगे। ये लगभग सभी विद्यार्थी हैं (या थे) जिन्होंने मेरे ‘मार्गदर्शन’ में किसी परियोजना – प्रॉजेक्ट – पर काम किया था या कर रहे हैं।

उम्मीद है कि संचय का इससे भी अगला संस्करण कुछ महीने में आ पाएगा और उसमें और भी अधिक औजार तथा सुविधाएं होंगी।

October 5, 2008

Good News and Bad News on the CL Front

First, as the saying goes, the bad news. We had submitted a proposal for the Second Workshop on NLP for Less Privileged Languages for the ACL-affiliated conferences. That proposal has not been accepted. Total proposals submitted were 41 and 34 out of them were accepted. Ours was among the not-accepted seven (euphemisms can be consoling).

Was is that bad? I hope not.

Don’t those capital letters look silly in the name of a rejected proposal?

Now the good news. The long awaited new version of Sanchay has been released on Sourceforge. (Well, at least I was awaiting). This version has been named (or numbered?) 0.3.0.

The new Sanchay is a significant improvement over the last public version (0.2). It now has one main GUI from which all the applications can be controlled. There are twelve (GUI based) applications which have been included in this version. These are:

  • Sanchay Text Editor that is connected to some other NLP/CL components of Sanchay.
  • Table Editor with all the usual facilities.
  • A more intelligent Find-Replace-Extract Tool (can search over annotated data and allows you to see the matching files in the annotation interface).
  • Word List Builder.
  • Word List FST (Finite State Transducer) Visualizer that can be useful for anyone working with morphological analysis etc.
  • One of the most accurate Language and Encoding Identifier that is currently trained for 54 langauge-encoding pairs, including most of the major Indian languages. (Yes, I know there is a number agreement problem in the previous sentence).
  • A user friendly Syntactic Annotation Interface that is perhaps the most heavily used part of Sanchay till now. Hopefully there will be an even more user friendly version soon.
  • A Parallel Corpus Annotation Interface, which is another heavily used component. (Don’t take that ‘heavily’ too seriously).
  • An N-gram Language Modeling Tool that allows you to compile models in terms of bytes, letters and words.
  • A Discourse Annotation Interface that is yet to be actually used.
  • A more intelligent File Splitter.
  • An Automatic Annotation tool for POS (Part Of Speech) tagging, chunking and Named Entity Recognition. The first two should work reasonably well, but the last one may not be that useful for practical purposes. This is a CRF (Conditional Random Fields) based tool and it has been trained for Hindi for these three purposes. If you have annotated data, you can use it to train your own taggers and chunkers.

All these components use the customizable language-encoding support, especially useful for South Asian languages, that doesn’t need any support from the operating system or even the installation of any fonts, although these can still be used inside Sanchay if they are there.

More information is available at the Sanchay Home.

The capitals don’t look so bad for a released version.

The downside of even this good news is that my other urgent (to me) work has got delayed as I was working almost exclusively on bringing out this version for the last two weeks or so.

But then you need a reason to wake up and Sanchay is one of my reasons. And I can proudly say that a half-hearted attempt to generate funding for this project by posting it on Micropledge has generated 0$.

Sanchay is still alive as a single parent child without any welfare but with a lot of responsibilities.

Now I can have nightmares about the bugs.

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