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).


Aparimita said...

Thanks a lot for providing an insight to the reported news stories and the need of factual clarity for the readers. It is well said that regional news stories do suffer because of the highly cited western terminologies. At times I feel vernacular news editors are really not so well versed with these references. Hence the news story have to suffer from this factual shortcomings.

Even myself who is from a state board school & not so well versed with western fables, (though I have familiarity with our own mythological & Panchatantra stories) I was too clueless regarding "Alice & Wonder Land" story & why Arun Shourie is referring to this one in present political context.

Mudra Institute of Communication Research, Ahmedabad

Chetan said...

Don't know how to address this in regional languages but this article in Hindu does a good job of explaining the same to the readers by giving the context:

The reference to “Humpty Dumpty” was from Through the Looking-Glass, a sequel by Lewis Carroll to his Alice in Wonderland. Just as Alice expected Humpty Dumpty to fall at any time, in the BJP, almost at all levels, leaders are expecting the “fall” of not only Mr. Rajnath Singh, whose tenure comes to an end in early January 2010, but also the exit of L.K. Advani, after the observation by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat that a generational change in the party’s leadership was necessary. This added to the uncertainty, party leaders claimed.