Dear whoever the fuck is going to read this whole thing,
This is going to be a long post. Mostly, because I am writing after a very long time, and on top of 3 working drafts. All of these drafts are, objectively speaking, very very sappy. And the real reason those drafts never saw the light of the day is because I couldn’t bring myself to finish such exceptionally sad notes. But as I sit in this empty house of mine for one last night, I may as well make something decent out of it.
In the last week, I have edited a thesis, packed 2 years of my existence in 3 bags, packed 4 more bags for my flatmate, moved the aforementioned bags to a new location, edited some more, and moved back to an extremely empty house. And I still have 1 week before I leave this city! Moving houses in less than a year is unfortunate, moving houses prematurely is downright carelessness. Oscar Wilde said that. Or something to that effect.
Lets start with words. This editing adventure of mine made me see a lot of them. Far too many for my own good. However, words are most peculiar; a string of sounds capable of communicating, instructing, and evoking a wide array of emotions. Personally, I am a fairly inarticulate person who has gotten through life by filling the communication gap with a cunning use of gesticulation. While I do have an inordinate fascination for words, and by extension, for language, it feels particularly shitty that I don’t know enough of them. And the ones I do, are lost in recall. This would probably explain the part allure, part disdain I feel for well written articles by articulate individuals, or disciplines which pride themselves in being as esoteric as possible.
Biases aside, I have always wondered why dense or complicated writing is such an integral part of ‘intellectual’ writing. Wasn’t the whole point of creating knowledge to disseminate it as widely as possible? Would writing things succinctly with sparse usage of mega-syllabled words not serve the purpose better? Would it not make you seem less of pretentious in a conversation if you said ‘wish/desire/want’ instead of ‘agency’ every single time?
I have had this discussion with multiple people far too many times without actually reaching any form of consensus on anything. But here’s what I have gotten out of it so far:
1) While language in it’s basic form may be sufficient for mechanical everyday communication, perhaps the very nature of complex human interactions, with each other as well as with the state, may require a more deeper inquiry; not just in terms of feelings, but also with regard to identification and classification using language.
2) If the above is true, then the human race is way better than we think; and we deserve a far more nuanced system of words and terminologies to begin capturing the entirety of our being, the actions we undertake during this period, our reasons for these actions, their implications, and how the social contract that-be reacts to it. This automatically provides legitimacy to the notion that, if one is to write seriously about profound issues, with insights that will blow your pants off, it can’t be simple i.e have a dictionary for breakfast, and remember to masticate it well :p Any call for populist writing would be countered with the impossibility of making a genuine knowledge contribution in light of the ‘toning down’ of the language. Further, convoluted writing may just appropriate a high moral stand, defending its ways as the vanguard of progress, and an inspiration for those who don’t comprehend, to ‘better themselves’.
3) That makes me slightly uncomfortable; you know the moral high horse and a hint of arrogance et al. But apart from that, I don’t know if we really are as complex as we would like to think. In the words of a great cricketer, “see ball, hit ball”. What if the meaning of the word follows its inception. But then why would the word come into existence at all, if there was no need for it? Also, Newspeak a la 1984; a totalitarian seeks to control freedom of thought by restricting language and regulating vocabularies e.g, Good and Ungood. This would indicate the crucial role essayed by words in promoting the creation and sharing of new ideas born in the crucible of human imagination. Yes yes, I know that. I was just wondering if words reflect reality, or in fact, shape it. Note: I am quite clueless about linguistic theory though. Perhaps I should have read that first.
I am not convinced either way. While the debate about words is more fundamental, the more I read about the institutional factors, in-group dynamics, elitism, leading to academic writing being a complex potato (here and here), the more meesa shakes me head. I think that if you find yourself in position of power and knowledge, endowed with the mandate (or desire) to spread it, it becomes your irrefutable duty to utilize your faculties to make sure it disseminates as widely as possible. It is your position of privilege that demands from you the additional effort required to make the knowledge suitable for wider consumption. If you to want to ha! If you dont, dont do jack. Do the disco 🙂
Why was I thinking this? I discovered a word today. Well, not really discovered, or invent for that matter. At best, I found it. You know how sometimes a piece of information is located in your brain, you know it but just can’t find it. It is the most annoying feeling in the world, especially when you can sense the information, smell it, and feel it in your bones! This level of frustration is seconded only by the struggle with an adamant piece of snot stuck in your nose. It’s just like proverbial true love, the more you grapple at it, the more it eludes you. Eludes you like a bugger! This word did exactly that. It resisted all attempts of recall and sent me on an obsessive streak of becoming word-hunter for three full weeks. I will be honest, I expected this one to be a quickey. Or a fling. Quick in, quick out. Boy was I wrong! It was also a trip in self-exploration, tested friendships, and served a scary reminder of my excessive dependence on Google, and its inability to have all the answers. Also remember: When you stare into Google, Google stares back into you. No one says that, but it is true. Try going through your Google Dashboard.
To be fair, if you entered ‘a kind of smile which is sad, but understanding and apologetic, and other stuff too’ in google, it would give you all sorts of rubbish. I tried enacting the smile in front of my colleagues; got blank looks, sympathetic suggestions, and finally just shrugs. I checked with people giving the dreaded GRE, and was summarily declared a fool for “wanting to actually learn words despite having given the exam.” Finally, I asked my flatmate, who suggested that I instantly fuck off. And then I wandered aimlessly, feeling forlorn about the word which was all of the things I felt ; sad, sorry, upset. All of this, just in the form of a smile!
Till the day, I said goodbye to my flatmate.
He is gone now. That ass decided to find the most uninhabited part of the world, and proceeded to use to least motorized form of two-wheeler known to man to traverse through the aforementioned wasteland. The bad-ass that he is, beat me to moving out of the house as well. And left me with all the shifting, bill payments, landlord-conflict-resolution, and general home-alone melancholy. However, the day he left, G and I decided to see him off to the airport, despite his protestations. Short of an actual disaster, not going was not really a possibility, and it would be a while before I saw him again, if at all ever. Him, G, and I have over the course of last year built……….ok no. Not doing this. No sad stuff. So we reached the airport to find him looking most distressed, and found out that his parents were coming there as well. His parents, the sweetest, most catholic, and the craziest couple on the other side of 45 I have ever met, decided to travel 600 kilometers to come see their son off. Well, parents’ love is a different animal altogether. It is also very dramatic. And 3 kms from the airport, they got lost. Most drama. My flatmate was visibly annoyed, worried, and grumpy, while I ferociously attacked the sweets his mother had gotten.
Goodbyes were non-ceremonious, even by our standards. One hug, one smart-ass comment, three jokes, 10 steps, one more joke. And finally they disappeared inside the airport; my flatmate and his friend, possibly the only people I will ever know to carry 4 cameras, 2 tents, 2 metal stands, 2 water bottles, and one t- shirt.
On our way back, his parents said, “He may be grumpy now, but 20 years later he will remember the day his parents dropped everything to come say good-bye to him. And he will do the same for his kids.” It was then that I turned around, and smiled. Not the usual friendly smile, but a sad, understanding one. A contrite smile.