Saturday, December 31, 2011

‘Novels are my first love'

Arts » Books

Published: December 31, 2011 18:20 IST | Updated: December 31, 2011 18:20 IST

‘Novels are my first love'

Sehba Sarwar
Sehba Sarwar
“I allow the characters to guide the narrative,” says Pakistani writer Sehba Sarwar as she discusses with Tamil writer Thenmozhi her interest in writing and the role of literature in the country of “drone attacks and terror attacks”.
Sehba Sarwar is a writer, multidisciplinary artist, and activist, now based in Houston. She moves between the city of her birth, Karachi, Pakistan, where she spent the first half of her life in a home filled with artists, activists and educators, and her adopted city, Houston, where she has recreated a community similar to the one in which she was raised.
Sarwar's first novel, Black Wings was published in 2004 (Alhamra Publishing, Pakistan), and her short stories have appeared in anthologies including And The World Changed (Feminist Press, New York) and in Neither Night Nor Day (Harper Collins, India). Alongside her fiction, Sarwar has published a wide range of essays in publications including The News on SundayThe New York Times' Sunday Magazine and Callaloo, while her poetry has been published in anthologies in Pakistan and the US.
In addition to her writings, Sarwar serves as artistic/ founding director of Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), a non-profit arts-activist organisation in Houston, through which she has created a series of video collages that have been screened in Pakistan, India, Egypt and the US. Currently, she's working on her second novel and a collection of essays.
Your first encounter with creative writing.
I have always been a passionate reader. While growing up in Karachi, I attended a British school and much like anyone who goes through a post-colonial education curriculum, I read a lot of work in English by British writers. I didn't know about a global world of writers till I flew to the US for an undergraduate degree. There, I was introduced to the works of Anita Desai, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others. I also began writing at that time — I was about 19 years old. Before that time, I read vastly, but wrote mostly journalistic pieces for a wonderful eveninger The Star (the publication is now defunct but was the training ground for many amazing journalists, who stayed in the field). After completing my degree, I returned to Karachi and working at The Star, but by that time, I was writing a lot of fiction as well, and have continued to do so. Currently, I explore a variety of writings through my work—and I continue to write mostly in English. Novels are my first love and I am working on my second manuscript. I also write poetry and essays. I am also producing video collages and creating installations for Voices Breaking Boundaries a NGO arts organisation that I co-founded in Houston 11 years ago.
After the 9/11, the Western world turned hostile towards Muslims. Do you face any hardship?
I am a “cultural Muslim” and not a practising one. As such, I haven't faced that many challenges — in that area, at least. This is also because I am immersed in the alternative arts and activist communities in both Houston and Karachi, so I receive more solidarity than anything else. However, many of my male friends from the subcontinent had tough experiences in the US after 9/11 — and as we know, stereotypes still continue to affect the lives of many people in the overall Muslim community, not just in the US but around the globe.
Some insight into your family...
I was raised in an activist family. My father organised the student movement in Pakistan and you can read more about him on a blog that my sister started: He spent a year in jail during the 1950s and was known in the community for his socialist ideals. My mother is an educator and has also been very active in the community. As teenagers during the early Zia years, my sister and I participated in women's protest rallies in Karachi, as the Women's Action Forum was being formed. Our home was unusual in that we were immersed in art and politics. My mother used to organise music, dance, poetry gatherings at our house, and as children, we understood the importance of art and speaking out. My sister, Beena Sarwar, is a well-known journalist who is working on peace efforts between India and Pakistan, and there are many educated women in our family, who live around the world and work in education, medicine and the arts.
You write short stories, poetry, novels and a column. Which form are you comfortable with?
I am most comfortable with novels — that is what I read the most. Since my daughter's birth (she's now seven), I've had less time to immerse into my second novel, and have been producing essays, poems and short stories. I also enjoy writing essays and I maintain a blog sporadically — but my favorite writing form is the novel. As I said, I read novels much more than any other kinds of writings and I love to just stumble into new worlds — imagined and real — through writings. When working on a manuscript (I'm working on my second one), I allow the characters to guide the narrative, and I love the surprises along the journey.
Did you face any obstacle in publishing your works?
I am fortunate to have different options for publication. My New York-based agent tried to get my first novel Black Wings published in the US way back in 2004, but many editors wanted the novel to represent stereotypes of Pakistani women. So, I went ahead and chose to be published by Alhmara Press, an excellent publishing house run by a Pakistani, Shafiq Naz. I am happy that I chose that option. I did not have to make any text changes and was given the freedom to have the book-cover designed by a close friend of mine. As far as my essays, poems and short stories go: I haven't experienced many problems getting those works published.
How do you see Benazir Bhutto?
I first met Benazir Bhutto when I was a 22-year-old reporter for The Star, and Benazir had returned to Pakistan after General Zia's death. I was passionate about her work. But after her two terms as Prime Minister, I became a little disenchanted. However, when she returned in 2007 and was running for office again, I had hope. I felt certain that she could turn Pakistan around, and like most people in the country was devastated when she was killed. My daughter and I were in Karachi that December and we saw the city burn. Till today, my daughter remembers Benazir Bhutto and she asks why there have been no women national leaders in the US.
To the outside world Pakistan means drone attacks and terror attacks. In this atmosphere do you see any role for literature?
There has always been strong writing in South Asia. Of course, today, there is a stereotype about Pakistan being a country on the verge of collapse. The truth is that art always prevails. Even through the tough Zia years, women and men were producing art and literature and we continue to do so.
A new literary festival has sprouted in Karachi, and there are many alternative spaces in most major Pakistani cities (Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad) where artists, poets and writers gather to share work with a larger audience. A large number of Pakistanis are publishing their works in different languages all around the country — so yes, there is a place for literature. There always has been, and we need read work from all sides of the borders — inside and out — so we can learn and grow.
You have mentioned about your daughter Minal in many of your articles. What is the place of a girl child in the Muslim world?
My husband is Mexican American. Minal represents at least five different government carved borders… and she has a place in the world, not just the Muslim world. She already creates and performs poetry and can express herself. No matter where she lives — in Pakistan, the US, or anywhere else — she will do well.
What about the contemporary literary scene of Pakistan? Who are the important women writers today?
Many Pakistani women are producing rich writings in Urdu and other languages: Razia Fasih Ahmed, Attiya Dawood, Hasina Gul, Kishwar Naheed, Zehra Nigah, Fehmida Riaz. Women are also writing in English (which is read by a smaller percentage of Pakistanis, but gets more worldwide attention). In 2006, Muneeza Shamise created an anthology And the World Changed that contained writings by 25 women writers, including Bapsi Sidhwa, Roshni Rustamjee and many more. The anthology was first published by Women Unlimited in India and has been picked up for publication in Pakistan and the US. Rakhshanda Jalil, based in Delhi, also produced an anthology Night and Daywith writings by Pakistani women authors (writing in English).
Do you see any impact of Partition in the contemporary writings of Pakistan?
Sixty years later, most of us continue to be impacted by Partition (as well as the civil war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh). I was recently at a Pakistani education fundraiser in Houston. As slides were being shown about the dismal condition of public education in Pakistan, an older woman turned to me and asked, “What will become of Pakistan?” And I said, “Just think of what our region would have been if Partition hadn't taken place.” She was shocked by my words, and took them to mean that I was “Pro-India” (her words). But as a product of a family that was torn apart because of Partition, I still feel strongly about that issue. To create a country based on religion is a mistake, and all of us are paying the price of the legacy that the British left. As artists and writers, we revisit those violent experiences, and our lives and works are shaped by shared histories. Maybe in another 50 years, the creation of those boundaries will have receded far from popular memory, and might not appear in literature and art. But in my generation, where our parents personally were affected by the wars and we still know our families on both sides of the border, that experience is very real.
What is your opinion about contemporary Indian literature?
India has one of the biggest publishing industries in the world and works are being published in a wide variety of languages. It's an exciting time and I see only good emerging from an explosion of writers and publications.
Do you see any role for literature in building the relation between India and Pakistan?
Definitely. There is much interest in Pakistan about works from India and vice versa. We tell our truths through our art and I think people can better relate to art than to government speeches.
In one of your articles you have criticised the gun culture of America and compared it with Pakistan. Can you elaborate on this?
The gun culture of Pakistan is directly connected to the United States' covert operations in Afghanistan back in the late 1970s. General Zia made sure he took advantage of the situation and the Pakistani army and citizens began getting armed — and that phenomenon continues till today. Meanwhile, in Texas, and many parts of the US, people firmly believe in the “right to bear arms” and I'm always shocked to learn how many “normal” people have weapons in their homes.
Can you elaborate on the VBB project? What are your future plans?
Voices Breaking Boundaries ( is a non-profit arts organisation that I began with a group of women writers in Houston. We have been operating for more than 10 years and our artistic work is political. My personal projects are productions that explore parallels between Houston and Karachi. I hope to see the project grow and hopefully, we can do some work around India, Bangladesh and in different parts of the US — but all that is contingent on funding.
Now you are working on your second novel. Can you share something about it?
I find it difficult to talk about a work in progress. I have quite a bit written, but I'm still not sure about the direction of the story.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dalits: Such a long journey

Dalits: Such a long journey

By Kalyani Chaudhuri
Two books -- one offering a historical perspective, the other bearing the immediacy and thrust of the present -- focus on the prejudices and oppression faced by dalits in India, and on 'battles' fought, won and lost in their ongoing struggle
Writing Indian History: A View from Below Writing Indian History: A View from Below by Achuthan M Kandyil
Pages: 465. Rs 700
Writing Indian History: A View from BelowVenomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics
by Ravikumar. Translated from the Tamil by
R Azhagarasan
Pages: 320. Rs 650    
The bulk of educated Indian urbanites living in the 21st century are reluctant to accept that the prejudices and oppressions of the past are still rampant today. We want to feel good, stand tall on the world stage and boast either about the present or the past, depending on age and background. We were "civilised" when westerners were running around in bear skins. We are at the forefront of dazzling technological advances. The baggage of the past is an embarrassment to be ignored. Dalit issues are boring. Poverty and discrimination are fast disappearing, and anyone can achieve anything with a little hard work. Our main crib is the failure of government to solve various service delivery issues. We live in the quotidian present and do not want to look beyond our noses.  
Books like Writing Indian History: A View from Below by Achuthan M Kandyil, and Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics by Ravikumar shake us out of our complacence, forcing us to look at things from the wrong end of our telescope. The former was researched and compiled, in the words of the author, with the hope that it would help to counteract "the attempts of the Hindu Right to falsify Indian history further to suit its ideology". Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics by Ravikumar is a collection of essays written over some years, each "tied to an event or an occasion", in the words of Susie Tharu in her foreword to the book. The pieces "carry the grainy texturing of incident and location". 
The two books complement each other -- one offers a long, historical view, the other has the immediacy and thrust of the present. Both focus on what man has done to man in India, and on "battles" fought, won and lost in the on-going struggle by dalits. While the first stresses the need to learn "the true history, religion and politics of India", the second is more concerned with current struggles. 
Dalit means variously "burst", "split", "scattered", "dispersed", "broken", "crushed", and is resonant with a militancy and pride in one's identity not attached to the word 'harijan' (People of God), which was coined by Gandhi to identify the former "untouchables", sections referred to in government parlance as "scheduled castes and scheduled tribes" (SC/ST). The word dalit, in this context, was first used by Jotiba Phule, the iconic, pathbreaking fighter for dalit rights. 
Adi Dravida, Adi Karnataka and Adi Andhra are also used in the states of Tamil NaduKarnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The word adi, in the sense of "original" or "primary", added as a prefix to the people of the province named, denotes the original inhabitants of the land and emphasises a non-Aryan identity. When Aryan culture swept across the Indian heartland, these original inhabitants were assimilated but given an inferior status, along with women. They were also marginalised and forced to take up menial jobs. 
The insidious caste system, whatever its origin, mutated into a monstrous creation that, to this day, remains our country's shame. Dalits attempted to escape this vicious circle of oppression by converting and, rarely, by fighting back. The NSSO's 61st round survey found that almost nine-tenths of Buddhists and notable sections of Sikhs and Christians (as well as Muslims, it may be added) once belonged to the notified scheduled castes. 
The definition of dalit identity within the Hindu fold is a contentious issue. Dalit thinkers and writers prefer to highlight the importance of forging a distinct, separate identity spread across all religions of India, and, of course, states. But this has a downside. By equating the entire Hindu religion with the caste system, Brahmins and upper caste Hindus, sentient educated dalits have not been able to influence oppressed fellow dalits who are devout Hindus. Despite having been denied opportunities to a proper education, or a decent job and life, they are apathetic about fighting for their rights and remain in fatalistic misery. They believe in praying to gods and goddesses as a means of easing their suffering. The dalit push to turn away from basic Hindu practices (such as abstinence from beef-eating, or calling a Brahmin priest for rituals, etc), to view these as alien to dalits pushes wide swathes of the lowest of the low outside the activist dalit fold, for they cannot abandon what has been ingrained in them for centuries; that which gives them fortitude in the face of suffering. Simultaneously, rejection of religious reformers such as Vivekananda by educated dalit leaders, on grounds of their being spokesmen for the upper classes, has resulted in a situation where the nearest, acceptable non-dalit ally visible is the Left. But, the leftists believe caste discrimination will disappear when class oppression does, and that no separate specific dalit effort is required. The reader cannot help but get drawn into these debates as the questions raised are fundamental to the future of the country. 
Ravikumar's book is virtually a call from the battlefield. He writes with power and conviction on several issues, many of which, though difficult for a non-Tamilian unfamiliar with the context, still have the power to influence. One need not agree with him, but one feels his passion and it is clear that large sections of dalits feel as he does. Whether his observations on Mayawati or his views on the Melavalavu massacre (1997), his language, translated without any hiccups, is impressive. An incisive analysis of a prize-winning film Knock-Out by a filmmaker called Lenin is particularly thought-provoking; the writer succeeds in standing the average viewer's reaction on its head. The film is about a boxer who becomes famous and dies in poverty. The indignities heaped on his dead body are depicted at length in the film. As the body is stripped of dignity by the gravedigger who steals what he can, Ravikumar challenges our perceptions by presenting the episode from the gravedigger's point of view. 
Such passion is obviously not possible in Kandyil's book, written after comprehensive study and analysis from "below", as he puts it. One has to admire his learning and appreciate the book as a valuable source of reference. But it's an ambitious work and so suffers the drawback of too much material having to be squeezed into one book. Still, the information is succinctly put as in the chapter that deals with "the cultural influence of India" and discusses the historical diaspora. 
Writing Indian History: A View from Below and Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics have several common themes: the Aryan question (indigenous, or foreign?); the advent of Buddhism, its submergence and recent (limited) resurgence; the contribution, if any, Muslim invaders made to dalit uplift; the role of the British; to what degree Gandhi failed the dalits; enmity and attitude of the non-Brahminical classes towards dalits; what Independence stood forthe twists and turns of the dalit struggle, etc. 
Some information about the two authors would be relevant here. Ravikumar is a full-time author, editor, publisher-activist in Tamil Nadu, while Kandyil worked for several years as an engineer in India before joining the faculty of an American university.  
(Kalyani Chaudhuri is a retired civil servant. She is now an avid trekker and occasional writer) 
Infochange News & Features, December 2009 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

‘ வலைத் தளங்களுக்குக் கட்டுப்பாடு தேவையா ? ’

 ‘ வலைத் தளங்களுக்குக் கட்டுப்பாடு தேவையா ? என்ற தலைப்பில் இன்று இரவு ஒன்பது மணிக்கு ‘சன் நியூஸ்’ தொலைக்காட்சியில்கலந்துரையாடல் நிகழ்ச்சி ஒளிபரப்பாகிறது.

ரவிக்குமார் - எழுத்தாளர்
பிரதீப் - தகவல் தொழில்நுட்பத் துறை வல்லுனர்
கிருபா சங்கர் - வலைத்தள வல்லுனர்
பாலு- முன்னாள் காவல்துறை அதிகாரி

ஆகியோர் பங்கேற்கின்றனர்.

நடுவண் அரசின் தகவல் தொழில் நுட்பத்துறை அமைச்சர் திரு.கபில்சிபல் அவர்கள் வலைத் தளங்களுக்குக் கட்டுப்பாடுகள் விதிக்கப்படவேண்டும் என அண்மையில் தெரிவித்திருக்கும் கருத்து ஊடகங்களில் விவாதங்களைத் தூண்டியிருக்கிறது. அதைத் தனியே வைத்துப் பார்க்காமல், ”இந்தியாவில் இருக்கும் பிரச்சனைகளுக்கு விரைவில் தீர்வுகாணவேண்டுமானால் மலேசியாவில் இருப்பதைப்போல ‘கட்டுப்படுத்தப்பட்ட ஜனநாயக முறை ‘ நடைமுறைப்படுத்தப்படவேண்டும் என இன்னொரு நடுவண் அமைச்சர் ஃபரூக் அப்துல்லா அவர்கள் கூறியிருப்பதோடு இணைத்துவைத்துப் பார்க்கவேண்டும் . வலைத்தளங்களுக்கு ஏற்கனவே இருக்கும் கட்டுப்பாடுகள் போதுமானவை மேலும் புதிதாக சட்டமோ விதிமுறைகளோ தேவையில்லை. தேவை சுயக் கட்டுப்பாடுதானே தவிர அரசின் கட்டுப்பாடு அல்ல. சுயக் கட்டுப்பாடு என்பது விழிப்புணர்வுமூலமே உருவாகும். எனவே பள்ளி மாணவர்களுக்கு இணையம் குறித்தும், தகவல் தொழில்நுட்பம் குறித்தும்  விழிப்புணர்வை ஏற்படுத்த ஒவ்வொரு பள்ளியிலும் என்.சி.சி , என்.எஸ்.எஸ் அமைப்புகள் இருப்பதைப்போல இதற்கெனப் பிரத்யேக அமைப்பு ஒன்றை உருவாக்கவேண்டும் என  நான் இந்த நிகழ்ச்சியில் வலியுறுத்தியிருக்கிறேன்.

’சன் நியூஸ் தொலைக்காட்சியின் ‘அவுட்புட் எடிட்டரான ’ ராஜராஜராஜன் இந்நிகழ்ச்சியை ஒருங்கிணைத்து வழங்குகிறார்.   இந்த நிகழ்ச்சி ஒரு மணி நேரம் ஒளிபரப்பாகிறது. இது திங்கள் காலை எட்டு மணிக்கு மறு ஒளிபரப்பு செய்யப்படுகிறது.
வாய்ப்பிருந்தால்  பார்த்துவிட்டு உங்கள் கருத்துகளை எழுதுங்கள்.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Linguistic Interpretation of KaTi Jokes in Tamil Prof. K.Nachimuthu

                        The role of jokes, puzzles, riddles in language learning is explicit. Conversely the use of language elements is one of the key areas in the creation of such items. In ancient literature prahelika,mathracyutaka,sylesas etc.are often mentioned as kinds of pastimes the kings and the learned indulged in. In alankara  sastras such genre are defined  under chithrakavis  a  kind of varthalankaras. It is also part of verbal folklore of communities. The skill in composing such items extempore is considered to be a gift a few only could possess. Such language skilled wizards were well respected and they occupied the courts of great kings. The names of Kalidasa, Nakkirar, Kalamegam, Auvvaiyar, Aantaan Kavirayar and others come to our mind. Many stories of Tenali Raman and Mariyadai Raman famous practitioners in this art exemplify the skillful use of language.(e.g.the stories likes 'unakku viruppamAnataikkoTu','tONTi eTukkoNTu vA,kanci varatappA etc.).

                        In the modern Tamil, jokes form part of the varieties of features in popular magazines and they add spice and variety to them. The jokes are based on funny language use and comical situations. In recent times a type of jokes called kaTi jokes are abundantly created in Tamil. Even the name itself is of recent origin. They are based on puzzling situations mostly language puzzle a kind of riddles. The young are the creators of such jokes. They are not only published in magazines but also kaTi-telling sessions are held on the occasions of pastime and play.

Puzzles: A historical over view
            Puzzles can be grouped into three broad classes: riddles and word puzzles, mathematical and logic puzzles, and physical and mechanical puzzles.[1]
                        Riddle is a question that is deliberately very confusing and usually has a humorous or clever answer. E.g. What is black and white and red all over? Answer. An Embarrassed zebra. It is variously called viTukatai, azippAnkatai, prahelika Indian languages. It is part of verbal folklore and are delivered/performed in group sessions. It has a definite pattern and structure about which folklorists have studied in detail.
A conundrum is a riddle based on puns with the words in a question. The conundrum, “What is black and white and red all over?” uses puns on the words “red” and “all over” to yield the solution: “a newspaper”.[2]
Rebus, anagrams, acrostics, charades, cross word puzzles, and visual puzzles are the other word puzzles.

Rebuses combine words, symbols, and pictures and have been found in Ephesian letters written in the 6th century BC. For example, a very basic rebus might consist of symbols for an eyeball, waves, and a sheep and would mean “I see you” (eye; sea; ewe). Egyptian hieroglyphics contain many examples of the rebus.
Anagrams, a Greek term meaning “letters backwards” involve rearranging letters of a word or phrase to form a new word or phrase. The Greek poet Lycophron, in the 3rd century BC, made a business out of making anagrams of the names of members of the court of Ptolemy II.
Charles Dodgson, who used the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, found a wonderful anagram of Florence Nightingale: Flit on, cheering angel. A word square puzzle was carved in alabaster by an Egyptian, Moschion, in the 3rd century AD. The puzzle was to find a message in the square array of 1,521 Greek letters, arranged 39 across and down.
Acrostics take the first letter from the first word in each line of a verse or group of words to form another word. A double acrostic also uses the last letter of each line to form an additional word. The early Christian use of the fish as a symbol is reportedly derived from an acrostic using the first letter of the Greek words for Jesus, Christ, of God, Son, Saviour.-Tikkalivalivallam.
Charades, named from the Portuguese word for entertainment, charad(o), are solved one syllable at a time. The syllables of the answer are found by solving a series of puzzle clues. The answer to the following charade: “My first is a vehicle, my second is a favourite, and my whole is in most drawing rooms”, is “carpet”.
            The crossword puzzle was invented by Arthur Wynne and first published in the New York World on December 21, 1913. Although popular from the first publication, it was 11 years later when Simon & Schuster published the first book containing a collection of crossword puzzles, that a national pastime was born. They sold half a million crossword puzzle books in the first year.
Visual puzzles with hidden people, animals, and other objects were the subject of many of the popular 19th-century prints of Currier and Ives. A miniature 16th-century painting of a camel included hidden figures of 17 people, 10 rabbits, a monkey, and a dragon.[3]           
In the Tamil Dandiyalankaram 12 types of Chithra kavis are elaborated.
kOmUttiri kUTacatukkam
mAlai mARRE ezuttu varuttanam
kAkapantam vinAvuttaramE
kAtai karappE karantuRai ceyyuL
cakkaram cuzikuLam caruppatOpattiram
akkaraccutakamum avaRRin pAla

            Among them  kOmUttiri,cuzikuLam and caruppatOpattiram are like  cross word puzzle,kUTacatukkam  and mAlaimARu  are similar to anagrams, vinAvuttaram (question answer)is similar to charades. ezuttu varuttanam is equivalent to acrostics.The rest has its equivalent in the western tradition about which a detailed study is called for.An example given for vinAvuttaram(question answer) in Tamil Dandiyalankaram is equivalent to charade .
pUmakaL yAr?pOvAnai EvuvAn Eturaikkum
nAmam porucarattiRku EtenpAr?tAmazakin
pEren?piRai cUTum pemmAn uvantuRaiyum

"What is the word for  bhumakal or maid earth?-Tiru.What will be the word used by the addressee to request the addressed to go?-Eku-What is the word for arrow? –ampu-What is the word for beauty?-am-If you combine all these words you will get the name of the place where Lord Shiva resides.That is Tiru+Eku+ampu+am=TiruvEkampam.,the old name of present Kanchipuram."
            A similar poem quoted in Ilampuranar's commentary to Tolkappiyam 423 sutra and Yapparunkala virutti sutra 62 gives the answer TikkAlivalivallam,name of a place  in this fashion which is a ezuttuvaruttanam or charade.

            In the modern Tamil riddles of various kinds are popular.As stated earlier a particular type of riddle called kaTi is popular among youngsters in recent times.

KaTi jokes in Tamil
                        KaTi means in Tamil to bite in its verbal form and hard in its nominal or adjectival form. Jokes which are biting or hard one to crack could be the etymology of  it.Biting by extension is an annoying or difficult one or a conundrum.Conundrum is defined as a riddle or joke,especially one that involves pun.It is kind of riddle which itself is a kind of puzzle along with other word puzzles.
             The kaTi jokes have become popular only recently and the name itself is of recent origin. Folklorists who studied Tamil Riddles have grouped similar items as distinct but have not attempted  to study the linguistic aspects of it. Here in this paper an attempt is made to look at them from a linguistic point of view and certain hypotheses are made on the basis of it.
                        I based my analysis on the kaTis published in Ciruvar mani a weekly  supplement of Dinamani a popular Tamil Daily.About 1500 kaTis published over  three years (1999-2002)are subjected to the analysis.I am presenting the preliminary findings in this paper.

                        An analysis of the kaTi jokes revealed the typical varieties and the language process and areas involved in their creation.As in the creation of pun or slesha the semantic areas of polysemy and homonymy dominate in the production of kaTis.See the varieties of  such linguistic aspects underlying in the kaTis.

KaTi  Jokes

1.tELukkum muTikkum enna ottumai?
IrantumE koTTum
What is the commonnes between the muTi "hair" and tEL "Scorpian?"
Both koTTum i.e hair "falls off" and scorpion "stings".
It is a case of polysemy

2CiRuvan:pATTi/ Antaikkup pakalil kaN teriyumA?/ Boy:Grandma/ can the owl see  in day time?
PATTi: enakkut teriyAtuTAppA. /Grandma: I don’t know.
CiRuvan:unakku yAru kETTA.Antaikkut teriyumAnnu kETTEn./Boy:I have not asked about you.I asked whether owl  can see ?

The polysemous  word teri has two meanings 1.(of eyes)to  see 2(with dative)to know.The ambiguous interpretation of the reply by the boy creates this kaTi.

Partial homonymy
3.Raja;inta vIttilE ellOrum cutta mocam.cintikka k  kUTa vitmATTInkarAnka
            /In this house nobody allows me to do "cintikka"
Tej: etai cintikka?/which one to "cintikka".
Raja:mUkkaittAN! /Nose only.
It is case of  partial homonymy.Cintikka is the infinitive of cinti  of  11 think.There  is another word to  cintu 5 blow the nose.Normally the infinitive of cintu is cinta but the compound verb cintittukkoLLa with reflexive auxiliary koL will become cintikka in spoken variety resulting in a homonymy with cintikka of cinti.It is a case of lexicogrammatical homonymy which is partial in  nature.

4.Oruvar:kELvippaTTIngkaLA   /Have you heard?
MaRRoruvar:illIngka nAn kOvilpaTTingka./No.I am not from (KELvippaTTi).I am  from KovilpaTTi.
The first one is a spoken form a finite verb with interrogative marker?kELvipaTu+A.But the listner feigns mistake and replies that he is from KovilpaTTi, a place.It is a  homonymy resulted due to the  corruption of the spoken form of  the verb with  noun .It is a case of partial lexico grammatical homonymy.

5.HMT yilE tiruTTE pOkAtu .En?/  Burglary  never takes place in HMT.Why?.
AngkatAn  vATc paNNRAngkaLE/Because they make watches/they are watching.
(HMT is the acronym for Hindustan Machine Tools which manufactures watches.)

The hybrid word vATc paNNu has two meanings:1"to make watch"2."to watch".This is a case of loan hybrid creating a homonymy.

6.Celvi:oru kappal vAngkaNumnA enna ceyyaNum  /Celvi:Suppose if you want to buy a ship/ a cup of teeth what shall we do?
Priya:paNam campAtikkaNum/Priya:You have to earn money.
Celvi:ille.oru pal TAkTarkiTTE oru kappaikkuTuttu vaikkaNum./no.give a cup to a dentist.
Here the Tamil word kappal "a ship'' is interpreted as kap" cup"(English)+pal"tooth"(Tamil) with a juncture to get English plus Tamil hybrid word.This is another case of loan hybrid creating a homonymy.
See below another such case.
7.enta Tavarai nAm  maRakkak kUTAtu/Which tower/man one shall not forger?
UppiTTavarai./ One who fed you.
Here the second part of  the word uppiTTavar"one who fed " is abnormally split out to get the homophonous form of English word tower to creat the pun. Such puns are called pirimoziccilETai  "pun with a juncture" in Tamil.

8.Elumiccam pazam cIppAk kiTaikkumA?Will lemon available cheaper?/will lemon available in bunches.
Elumiccam pazam ellAm  cIppAk kiTaikkAtu.oNNu oNNAttAn kitaikkum/Lemon wont be available in buches it will be available as countables.
Here the first speaker uses the English word  cIp to mean at a reduced prize.The second speaker takes it as Tamil word with the meaning bunch and creates a conundrum.This is another type of  partial homonymy created by the absoption of  English loan words and creating a homophonus form.Such jokes are in abundance in modern Tamil exemplifying the extent of bilingualism.

9.Ramesh:cORu engkE vikkum?/Where will cooked rice is sold/or where will it choke?
Suresh:kaTaiyilE/in the shop.
Ramesh:illE.toNTaiyilE./no ,it is in the throat.

 The word vikku has got two meanings.1  to get choked;choke sell.The word vikku with the meaning to get choked ,or to choke is a normal form while the form vikku "to sell" is a phonetically changed form due corruption in  spoken lanuage  of the word viRkum.(>vikkum) This is a  homonym resulted due to  phonetic change.

Syntactic ambiguity
10.Bharatan;pakkattut teruvulE nEttu oru vITTle pUTTai uTaiccu iraNTu laTcam tiruTiTTAngkaLAmE./ Bharathan:In the next street somebody broke the lock in a house and stole away 2 laks
varatan;pUTTukkuLLE avLO paNamA iruntuccu??Varathan:Was there that much  money  inside the lock!

It is due to the ambiguity created by the ellipsis of certain elements in the sentence(vITTle pukuntu having broken the lock and entering the house) .Or it could be due to  the  transferred sense a case of polysemy-lock means the lock in the safe,a kind of  aupacarika prayokam.or metonymy.

 Polysemy and syntactic ambiguity
11.MANavi:Sir,nIngka ceyyAta tappukku aTippIngkaLA? /Student:Sir!will you beat me/punish me for CeyyAta tappu? –ie.  mistake of failure-uncommited  mistake?
Aciriyar:cE/cE/aTikkamATTEn /Teacher:No no I will not
Student:vITTuppATam ceyyalai Sir?/Student:I have not done my home work/

Here the relative clause /phrase CeyyAta tappu is ambiguous.It could be interpreted as mistake of failure i.e an appositive clause or as uncommitted  mistake an accusative clause. It is a skillful usage creating a dilemma. Compare the logical dilemma as in the arguments in the story of  a mother and the crocodile which caught hold of her  child.
This is a case of Polysemy and syntactic ambiguity.

Signifier signified-Ambiguity
12.Aciriyar:neppOliyanukku bayamnA ennannane teriyAtu…En collungka? Teacher:Napolean did not know what bayam/fear was?Do you know why/
MANavan:avarukkuttAn tamizE teriyAtE/ Student:Because definitely he did not know Tamil.
Pun is played on the word bayam.Here the sabda artha identity or signifier signified is broken and the speaker refers the artha aspect but the hearer picks up the sabda to create the conundrum.
13.vAttiyAr:AciriyarkaLukku mANavarkaLiTamiruntu piTikkAta patil enna?/
Teacher: What is the reply the teachers dont like (to hear) from the students.
MANavan; teriyAtu! Sir /Student;I dont know Sir!
vAttiyAr:rompa karekt,uTkAr./ Teacher: very  correct.Sit down.
MANavan:?!?!?!?!/ Student:?!?!?!?!
Here the word teriyAtu "I don’t know " is interpreted  in its artha and sabda  aspects to create the same kind of signifier signified ambiguity and the consequent dilemma.

Rebus type of kaTis are  also created as in the following examples ,which is not  very common.
14.K7 (kEcavan )OT(oTTi)  vanta 6.5(Ar(u) ancu) paza vaNTi  V10(vi-pattukku-uLLAkiyatu?itu enna?
Kecavan OTTivanta Arancu paza vaNTi vipattukku uLLAkiyatu.(The orange cart driven by Kesavan was involved in an accident.)

 Other examples
15.Varun:kuraikkiRa nAy kaTikkAtu teriyumA?/Varun:barking dog does not bite.
Varsha:teriyalaiyE/ I don’t know/
Varun:reNTu vElaiyaiyu orE nErattulE ceyya muTiyAtu./one cannot do two jobs at a time.
16pUTTait tiRakkaNumnA enna ceyyaNum? /If you want to open the lock what shall one do?
Mutalil pUTTaNum./At first one has to lock it.
These two examples are cases of ambiguity created at the discourse level.

17.pAlil oru kAlai eTuttAl atu enna?/What will happen when you remove the length marker in the word pAl "milk"
Pal/it will be pal or tooth
KAlil oru kAlai eTuttAl /similarly what will happen when you remove the length marker in the word kAl"leg".
NARkAliyil oru kAlai eTuttAl/ similarly what will happen when you remove the length marker in the word nARkAli
NaRkAli/the word naRkAli
AtutAn illE .mukkAli./it is not at all correct.It will become mukkali
Here the questioner shifts his meaning from length marker to leg, because the word kAl means 1.leg 2 and length marker. This is a case of homophony.

1.The creation and expression of these jokes are made mostly by young people.This indicates the excitement young  people get at the exposure of the various  uses of  language use for the first time in their life. A sensitivity towards language and sharpening of the feeling for the language are created-that means it helps them in their language acquisition. So it can be profitably used in language teaching.

2.Unlike in English the kaTi jokes are made more popular than the cross word puzzles in Tamil.It may be due to its briefness and the oral nature of the jokes which makes it easier for reproduction and trasmission,a typical trait of  folklore.

3.In the creation of kaTis the ambiguity provided by homonymy and polysemy is dominant as it is in the creation of slesha or pun in literature. Ambiguities created other wise are also responsible for the finer kaTis.An exhaustive  study on these linguistic aspects is to be  conducted along  with its aspects  of  folkloric nature    in future.

4.Homonymy is of two types one resulting from the absorption of loan word from English and the other one resulting due to corrupt spoken forms. It indicates the high degree of bilingualism and the external history of the language.In earlier period the loan words from Sanskrit played such a role. On the contrary the homonyms created by  the spoken corrupt forms shows the internal changes  in the language.

5.In normal riddles the different aspects of synonymy are exploited.In kaTis polysemy and homonymy are  more exploited.This is the major difference between Kaitis and vitukatais


Dandiyalankaram  with commentary ,SISSPH-Kazhakam, Chennai 1963
Yapparunkalvirutti with old commentary,Ed.Pulavar.Ira.Ilamkumaran, SISSPH-Kazhakam, Chennai ,1976
Dinamani –Ciruvar mani 1999-2002
Kalamegappulavar tanippatalkal Puliyur Kecikan commentary,Pari Nilayam.,Chennai,1977(ivth edition)
Lourdu D.Nattar vazakkarriyal –cila atippataikal.Folklore Research Centre,St.Xavier's College,Palayamkottai 1997
Madhavan V.R.Cittirkkavikal,I.I.T.S.Chennai,1983
Mathaiyan P.Akaratiyiyal,Tamil University,Thanjavur,1997
Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. "Puzzles,"
Pattima Mary E.'Vitukataiyin amaippum vakaikalum' Nattar Vazakkarriyal vol.1No 1&2 Jan-June, July-Dec.1987 pp.49-69 Palayamkottai.
Shanmughasundaram S.,Nattuppur Iyal Or Arimukam,Ilakkiya Manavar Veliyeedu.Chennai.1975
Ramanathan Aru. Katalar Vitukataikal,Camutaya Cirpikal Veliyeettakam, Manchakkollai,1982
Ram Adhar Singh.An introduction to Lexicography.C.I.I.L.Mysore.1982
Thasarathan,Azippankataippatalkal,Pioneer Book Services,Chennai-1988

[1]"Puzzles," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[2]"Puzzles," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[3]"Puzzles," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


வளர்சொல் களம்
தொடக்கவிழா அழைப்பு

வெள்ளி காலை 10.30 மணி
கருத்தரங்க அறை , தமிழ்த் துறை 
காஞ்சி மாமுனிவர் பட்டமேற்படிப்பு மையம்

வரவேற்புரை: முனைவர் பக்தவத்சல பாரதி

தலைமை: முனைவர் ஷைமா

நோக்கவுரை : முனைவர் ச.பிலவேந்திரன்

தொடக்கவுரை : முனைவர் க.பரிமளம்

வாழ்த்துரை :ரவிக்குமார் 

நன்றியுரை முனைவர் வே.கருணாநிதி

உரைவளம் வரிசை- 1 : 

பேராசிரியர் அ.நலங்கிள்ளி

தலைப்பு : உளவியல் - உளப்பகுப்பாய்வியல் - இலக்கியவியல் 

அனைவரும் வருக 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Many Ramayanas: A Protest Letter by Paula Richman

Mr. Nigel Portwood
Chief Executive
Oxford University Press
Oxford, UK

Dear Mr. Portwood,

We have learned with shock and dismay that Oxford University Press
India has formally apologized to the individual who brought suit
against OUP for publishing A. K. Ramanujan's "Many Ramayanas." OUP
India's lawyers have stated in court, "We are instructed to intimate
to our client through you and state that our client have long
earlier stopped selling the book, "Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of
A Narrative Tradition in South Asia", nor have they any plans to
reissue/re-publish the book." And further: "Our client further wish
to assure your client that as publishers of long standing and
repute, it has been their conscious endeavour to respect the
plurality of Indian culture in all publishing activities which they
undertake and very much regret that the essay in question has
inadvertently caused your client distress and concern." In addition,
OUP India has, it appears, subsequently withdrawn from the market
Ramanujan's Collected Essays, in which "Many Ramayanas" also
appears, and has assured Delhi University that it will not keep the
book in print, a pledge that enabled the university's vice-
chancellor to overrule his own committee who had argued for
retaining Ramanujan's essay on the syllabus of the History department.

The scholars who have signed this letter to you, many of us former
colleagues or students of Ramanujan, but also authors who have
published with OUP Oxford, New York, or Delhi, want to express our
deep consternation at OUP India's self-abasement in court. We are
also fully aware that the Ramanujan case is only the most recent in
a series of shocking acts on the part of OUP India--including the
suppressing or pre-censoring of scholarly books--that are inimical
to the open exchange of ideas, the lifeblood of scholarship.

This situation cannot go unchallenged.

We ask that OUP withdraw its court apology, publicly state that it
is committed to the right of scholars to publish their work without
fear of suppression or censorship, and demonstrate this commitment
by reprinting at once Ramanujan's Collected Essays.

If you unwilling to do these things, and thereby effectively attempt
to bury Ramanujan's book, we demand that you publicly relinquish all
rights to his work and return them to the original copyright
holders, so that this scholarship can be published by another press
that understands the importance of freedom of expression, to say
nothing of courage in the face of fanaticism.

Sincerely yours,

Paula Richman
William H. Danforth Professor of South Asian Religions
Department of Religion
Rice Hall
10 N. Professor St.
Oberlin College
Oberlin, OH 44074

fax: 440-775-6910