Monday, February 28, 2011


Our last blog ended with favourite poems containing some fabulous versification (sadly not ours!) Well, there is more to it - still lot of steam left in the topic.

Talking about verse, two names spring to the mind readily, Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash. Naming the two in the same breath? HA, HA, (in Asrani style) Blasphemy? Well, this is talking about verse persayyy (another organisation favourite) and not the content thereof. Ogden Nash, acknowledged versifier, will not mind our saying so, for Lewis Carroll aka Charles Dodgson was an intellectual giant. Alice in Wonderland and the other one are some of the most fertile fields from which humanity has reaped the best quotations for years. Flowering and yielding fruit to this day. The Cornucopia of Ideas. Alice was written in 1865, yet it is astonishingly...refreshingly contemporary-truly a Classic! Baba Maharaj always defined a ‘Classic’ as a composition, the relevance or applicability of which does not diminish with its age. Ageless. Ostensibly written for children, Alice is full of insights into the dynamics of human life. His literature is difficult to define. Certainly not philosophy. If meant for children, not prescriptive like Aesop’s Fables. But then how do you classify it? What is the genre? Naturally, it has to be called ‘Children’s Literature’-what else? Goes into shelf numbered 808.899 under the Dewey Decimal Classification, which is the code for Children’s Literature. We trawled Google but all the search engines in the world could not produce a single link to serious criticism of his works. All we found were vague references to the Victorian-ness of his writing, that being its era. Then there is another body of literature, lot of drivel linking Carroll’s life and literature to his supposed sexuality, written by Americans, you guessed it right! The reasoning for this drought of serious criticism of Carroll’s works is as follows. How does ‘thought’ proceed? It involves putting a new observation into an existing compartment or cubby-hole (‘class-ifying’ )in the brain and then extending the attributes or qualities ‘belonging’ to that cubby-hole to the new observation. The ‘observation’ could be a verb or a noun or a dream or any other tangible or intangible ‘object’. As Carroll is difficult to ‘classify’ critics could not lavish their intellect on Carroll’s writings. Posterity has not yet been able to assess or judge the eccentric Carroll properly. Perhaps Posterity is not yet Posterity enough. Mince she is not grown-up enough. And he was a mathematician first, just like YF he, he, he. Carroll had a slight stammer and when he introduced himself, he would pronounce his name as ‘Charles Do..Do..Dodgson’. So.... when he had to make a cameo of himself in Alice, he preferred the name Dodo. He makes appearance as the bird in Chapter 2 of Alice , carrying the dodo-ness to the logical conclusion in the narrative.

Ogden Nash is of course the ‘owner’ (latest organisational shibboleth) of ‘Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker’.

Family loves the following one from Carroll, in The Walrus and the Carpenter:

The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings.

Another favourite verse is the following by Dorothy Parker, who had several tragic dalliances with Suicide, beg your pardon:

Razors pain you, rivers are damp/ acids stain you, drugs cause cramp/
Guns aren't lawful, nooses give/ gas smells awful, you might as well live!

And then:

I wish I could drink like a lady/ I can take one or two at the most ,
Three and I'm under the table/ Four and I'm under the host.

The following gem was mined by us from ‘The Man’ by Irving Wallace:

So odd of God to choose the Jews!

(Heyyy...some of my best friends are Jews)

As we reminded our readers in one of our earlier blogs (Amake Bolte Dao), to talk about ‘cabbages and kings’ is to indulge in rambling small-talk, and the odd combination has a permanent place in English literature in the shape of an eponymous book by O’Henry. The book is famous for the coinage of the term ‘Banana Republic’ standing for the Honduras, to which he had fled to evade an arrest. Some more oft-repeated trade-mark, zany quotes from Carroll:

The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

'What is the use of a book', thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversations?'

You have to walk as fast as you can to stay at the same place, to get ahead you have to walk twice as fast.

(things are getting) Curiouser and curiousor!

Off with their heads!

We were always a little sceptical about free-verse and recall what Robert Frost said about that genre: “it’s like playing tennis with the net down”. Wodehouse fans will recognise this taaike of his on ‘modern poetry’ where Psmith is told by the ‘writer’ at the Paddington station (?):

Across the pale parabola of joy, the sibilant, scented silence shimmered where we sat…"

And the Marathi equivalent by Pula Deshpande goes:

शब्द फुटतसे फुटक्या शंखा, तबकडी ल्या मेल्या गाण्या, खुंटी वरच्या जुन्या पुराण्या, or something like that.

According to Frost the tendency has to do with sheer laziness or untidiness. The genre can be simply called Pretentious Prose. To concede some ground to free-versers, the issue to an extent echoes the ‘words first or tune first’ conundrum. Pan Vikram Seth kadun kaahi shika barka..wacha, Suitable Boy....boyyyy! It’s all in verse, the whole 1349 pages (1488 pages soft-cover) and 591552 words of it!

Well, to return to Poe (b.1809). Apart from The Raven two of our other favourites are the touching Annabel Lee, a favourite of Lincoln’s, and Eldorado, both songs of despair. The first one wrenches your heart, enveloping you with a sense of the futility of it all, and gives you a glimpse of how saturnine or manhoos he could be. And imagine, Poe was basically a short story and literary criticism guy- mince prose was his forte.


Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,

Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o'er his heart a shadow

Fell as he found,
No spot of ground,
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength,
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-

"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?"

"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,

Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought,
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;

With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven,
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;

So that her highborn kinsman came,
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre,
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)

That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love,
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-

And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes,,
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side,
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Well, a word from Poe is worth a thousand snaps aai sayyyyy! Or a hundred movies, be they by Spielberg, Peter Weir or Hitchcock-Whichcock. If a certain unusual word has been used by Poe in a particular place, take it that NO other word exists in the English Lexicon that can take its bloody place. Prose Crafted and Wrought. As if it arose from the moor like a swayambhu jyotirlingam. Forget Poe being dated! We always found Poe’s prose masculine, with the tang and brace of an aftershave . Like Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan’s sitar. Log in to


if you can believe your ears. Lot of great literary ideas originated in the weird laboratory of Edgar Allan Poe called his mind. Unfortunately his works were not patented he, he, he. The entire body of work called detective fiction based on the ‘Method of Induction’, be it Holmes, or Mason or Father Brown or Poirot or Miss Marple, owes a lot to Poe. Remember the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Dancing Men’? Holmes breaks a difficult code, starting from a simple observation that ‘e’ happens to be the alphabet occurring most frequently in the English language. A straight lift from The Gold Bug (‘The Bold Gug’, we joked with Dad as kids). C.Auguste Dupin, Poe’s Holmes, uses the idea to decipher a similar code. And the story is laced with the macabre, much more gripping than Conan Doyle’s work. And then The Masque of Red Death? The name gives you shivers.

We quoted Shaw on Poe in our last blog. Here is another look at Poe by Shaw, the contents of which are self-explicit, he, he, he Chabiwala Bank at work again:

“[Poe] died . . . and was duly explained away as a drunkard and a failure, though it remains an open question whether he really drank as much in his whole lifetime as a modern successful American drinks, without comment, in six months. . . . Poe constantly and inevitably produced magic where his greatest contemporaries produced only beauty. . . . Poe’s supremacy in this respect has cost him his reputation. . . . Above all, Poe is great because he is independent of cheap attractions, independent of sex, of patriotism, of fighting, of sentimentality, snobbery, gluttony, and all the rest of the vulgar stock-in-trade of his profession.” — (George Bernard Shaw, “Edgar Allan Poe,” the Nation (London), January 16, 1909.)

Whew there again...compliments from Shaw, of all persons! One can’t help digress and quote a line from Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift.... “His (Bellow’s Guru Humboldt’s) picture appeared in Time without insult and in Newsweek with praise”.

As Francis Bacon said, and was quoted approvingly by none else than Poe (Ligeia) “there is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness of proportion”. Geniuses are seen to have flawed personalities. The reverse is not normally true. But the phenomenon called genius certainly has something to do with abnormal psychology or physiology. Having a physical basis (why leave behind the third P he, he, he). If you want to see what a footloose character the brain is, just see someone take Prozac or LSD. And don’t you try them. To pass through mental torment is not a happy prospect at all. But then we don’t believe that this torment is a sine qua non for a burst of creativity. Happy minds have done equally well, if not better.

You can name any number of them, bees in their bonnets- Vincent van Gogh, Picasso, Gandhi, Oscar Wilde, Pascal, Evariste Galois, O’Henry, and yours faithfully also, ha, ha, ha! Whatever they loved was immoral, illegal or impoverishing, sorry. Most happen to be Right Hemisphere Persons. Artists. Equipped with a fatal flaw, so to say. But then as said on an earlier occasion in IndrayaniKaathi, who the hell is Normal? What the h... is Normalness..huh? Nashe men kaun nahin hai mujhe batao zara, kise hai hosh mere saamne to lao zara?! Who the sober, eh!

We were determined to do this blog in February as promised to Gopal, so maybe a few loose ends are found here and there. The relevant pictures, and they are quite exciting, specially that of Poe’s original tomb, have been segregated or precipitated into a separate corner, for we are a bit maladroit when it comes to placement of pictures.


Old, old story from Chandamama, the founder of which, Shenoy, died recently:

A poor woodcut is returning from the woods with a heavy bundle, product of his day’s labour, on his head. It’s a hot and humid Indian afternoon and the woodcut is feeling sick of his existence. He sits down under a tree denuded with the heat, wiping perspiration, and exclaims “ Rama, Rama!.... I wish Yama himself appeared before me this moment...” Instantly Yama appears and apologetically says “thanks for calling me, I was somehow running one body short, and didn’t know what to do....” The wise woodcut beats a hasty retreat, and explains..”no,no,no,..but thanks for coming, I was just looking for someone to carry this stack of wood..”

Alice and Dodo

Original Poe tomb in Baltimore: Raven weighed heavily

Dorothy Parker

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