Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Humpty Dumpty in Alice's Blunderland

Arun Shourie called the BJP leadership “humpty-dumpty” and “Alice in blunderland”, while saying the party was adrift like a ‘kati patang’. His outburst was reported repeatedly and liberally on TV since yesterday through today, and made front-page headlines in newspapers of today.

I have a problem with ‘Alice in blunderland’ which is borrowed from ‘Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland’. How many people in India have read, or seen the plays, film and television adaptations of the popular novel? I ran a quick check among half a dozen researchers in social sciences known to me. Only one of them could tell me the summary of the story. The rest had some vague idea. One of them volunteered to tell me about it after a google search.

I was not surprised, therefore, when newscasters went round about while making reference to Shourie’s Alice in blunderland. The English dailies I could read did not attempt to explain the term; while regional language newspapers preferred to ignore it altogether.

The real problem is for the sub-editors working in newspapers in regional languages, like Marathi, Gujarati or Tamil. The poor souls have studied in non-English medium schools where stories like the Alice are not generally told and heard in classrooms. It is difficult for them to find out meanings of such terms during the rush hours when UNI and PTI send the stories through the teleprinters, translate and fit the text into the front pages as they have deadlines to catch late in the night.

Same thing is true about the other term, humpty dumpty. What does it mean? How would a sub-editor translate this term in the local language?

Any way out please?

For those who are not aware about these two terms, here is what Wikipedia explains:
• Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. The tale is filled with allusions to Dodgson's friends.
• Humpty Dumpty is a character in a Nursery rhyme typically portrayed as an egg. Most English-speaking children are familiar with the rhyme. (Emphasis mine, just to drive home the point above).

Friday, 21 August 2009

Gujarat's ban on book and its implications

I had read news stories on the Gujarat Government's ban on Jaswant Singh’s Book ‘Jinnah-- India, Partition, Independence’, but was not sure if Narendra Modi does not want people to read the book. So I checked with Mr Modi's blog today.

Mercifully, the ban which came with immediate effect on August 19 when Mr Modi was in Shimla attending the party's Chintan Baithak, was only for sale, distribution and publication.

My interpretation therefore is that I can buy a copy of the book outside Gujarat, carry it inside Modi's state and read it at leisure. I can pass it on to anyone within the state for a free read, because I believe, it does not amount to 'distribution.'

Now, what is the implication of the ban if it is zealously implemented by the police? A gujarati friend confides in me: Enterprising shopkeepers in Diu or Mount Abu, which are outside Gujarat, will stock now copies of the book to be sold with an extra profit.

Newspapers in Ahmedabad carried stories today saying that Crossword and other book stores had a number of inquiries after the ban was announced.

Secondly, are you dying to read the book that caused Mr Jaswant Singh's expulsion from BJP? Do not despair.Gujarat does not have a good track record of execution of bans. Just ask any neighborhood hoochwala anywhere in the state which is claimed to be a dry stare. Last month over 125 people their lives after they consumed the desi liquor in Ahmedabad.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Journalists are doing a great jobs

Perhaps this was the fastest response to my blog, in less than half an hour after I sent her mail about this post titled Pesky wannabe actor shooed away! : (Please see the post below)

Dear Dr. Thakur,

I do agree with what you are saying, you have raised a very valid point.

However, if we do not learn a bit of complicated English (please read more advanced English here) from the newspapers, which are our only regular source of English reading, where else do we go to?

So I guess, you journalists are doing a great job by raising the bar. Congratulations!

With Regards

Surabhi Pillai

Pesky wannabe actor shooed away!

I have long been toying with this idea to write on the quality of language used by my colleagues in English newspapers in India. Not to find fault, but to generate discussion on the need to write simple language for the common readers. Somehow I did not pursue this idea so far.

I felt like making a beginning today after I came across the following in the Ahmedabad Mirror dated August 19, 2009. It was in the column ‘Surabhi’s English Classes’, penned by Surabhi Pillai, a college lecturer:

In her column, she reproduced a query from reader Ashok (probably a college student) thus:
What is the meaning for the following heading given in Ahmedabad Mirror a few days back: ‘Ramu fails to recognize Dhoni; mistakes him for pesky wannabe actor and shoos him away’

Surabhi’s reply was:

Ramu (Director-producer Ram Gopal Verma) failed to recognize Dhoni who he mistook for an aspiring actor and drove him away.

I thought Ashok could be an exception; others could perhaps understand the meaning of the headline. So I asked a young man with a Master’s degree. He too was clueless.

Do we journalists have a lesson in this experience?