Yesterday morning, a red ant bit me at two places on the arm where my skin turned red and ballooned. The bite isn’t important. Nor is the ant, nor is my using the word ballooned instead of swollen. The bite was itchy and inconvenient. So having looked up cures for ant bites on the Internet, I found clay, baking soda and Aloe Vera as acceptable remedies, so off I went to chop a bit of sticky aloe leaf from the veranda to apply on my big red balloon.
It’s much better, thank you. Nearly gone, no pain, you can just about see the sting. Which makes me think how stupid the girl was who I am about to talk about.
Over lunch last Tuesday, I met a 25-year-old girl, (I thought she was older) who scratched her arm repeatedly, showed it to me (ugly, swollen), and said she was sick of being bitten by red ants. Back then, I didn’t know I was on the verge of disliking her. But know that I know what an ant bite is about, I would think if bitten, one would desperately want it to get better, the first step to which being Google dot com. Her not doing so and instead letting the stinging redness fester for more than a day seems stupid.
This has started happening to me more often than it used to. Not the ant or disliking someone part but the other part. Something happens to someone. My path crosses with that someone’s and soon the thing that happened to someone happens to me. It’s quite something.
It used to only happen with words. I’d come across a word, not know what it meant, look it up, and next day on I’d see that word frequently. I have a feeling I will read Panglossian again very shortly. I read it on Han’s blog and had to look it up. I give myself four days to read the word again somewhere and go aha. Unless being in on what’s up works against me, this will happen to me. Four days. I am the Oracle.
Case in point: Sitting in the reading room of a library in my summer vacations after school, Class 12, I remember reading the word bourgeois on the edit page of a newspaper. I had no idea what it meant or how it was pronounced. A week later, college started. And as anybody who sat through English Literature for an undergrad course knows, the word is a part of your orientation. It gets drilled into your head. It becomes who you are. Hi I’m so and so, and my teacher calls me a part of the bourgeoisie. Pronunciation, usage, application, context, variations -- bourgeois this, bourgeoisie that, hello bourgeois, would you like some feminism with that, bourgeois? – Oh, it could drive you mad, the use of high-flown mostly redundant terms like bourgeois, discourse, tropes and ‘in terms of’.
While studying Dickens, we were forced to incorporate another term in our sub conscience: PROLETARIAT. The word popped up everywhere.
My issue was why we can’t speak properly, normally, like we used to, with simpler words and less arcane bullshit and leave the adopted vocabulary to classrooms and answer scripts. All these MBA-types are forever made fun of... no, wait, responsibility: I am forever making fun of these MBA-types with their jargon, their lol-grammar, their functional English, their revert-backs, and their nuisance ASAP abbreviations.
It’s the devil and the deep blue, rock and a hard place, but I’d go with the lol-grammar because it’s lower on pretension, higher on convenience. Academics on the other hand can’t talk properly, same for our friends in marketing. If you think about it, and I do, journalism is a blessing. They allow you to be normal, with an onus on cutting the crap.
As for pronunciation, I say ‘simultaneously’ the way I do because one of our lecturers – small, fun, elaichi-chewing, short-haired, bent-like-Egor, nasal -- would say it like that – sim, like dim, not saim, like dime; simultaneous like simple.
It was an education for us that one of our more beautiful Bengali lecturers, (what gorgeous skin!) while cruising through Jane Eyre (pronounced: air not ire) would repeatedly invoke one Sinjin character. Us plebeians were flipping pages, lost, wondering who this character was, never mentioned in the text, till some helpful classmate tap-tapped with her fingernail on the line where it said ‘St John’. Big aaaah-moment, that.
My point is, I didn’t know bourgeois, and when I learnt it in the dictionary, I didn’t realise that for the next three years in class, all I would hear was the b-word. Like the Shania Twain song, Ka-ching, I could never seriously say ‘bourgeois’.
What used to happen to me with words – come across a term, not know what it meant, go to dictionary, dispel ignorance, and then for the next few weeks till you stopped paying attention only come across that word– started happening to me with other things as well.
It’s like The Secret, only less phenomenal. Red ant bites, as you can see, happen to me. Did the universe slap me for disliking the girl I met at lunch? Keep reading.
Two months ago, I went to Jhansi to visit my brother, (around the time of the army kids post). There, besides pointing out houses and old marketplaces that she had walked around and knew like the palm of her hand, my mother kept exclaiming at flowers and trees in bloom. I couldn’t figure out what aam ka bor meant and was acting most urban-snob about it. Who? What? Bore? Where bore? When I got it, I got it, okay, aam ka bor = mango flowers before mango fruits. Say so. Don’t judge me for not knowing. Like a tourist, I took a picture. When I got back to Delhi, I saw aam ka bor in a few places and said, look! look! aam ka bor. What I was met with was my ignorant-urban reaction: Who bore? What bore?
Little bit, I think I made a mountain out of an ant bite, but more than a month ago, there was too much about lava in my head. I was editing a story about lava, I was hearing about lava used at an art exhibition, I was watching movies about volcanos – Nim’s Island. All I’m saying is sometimes I feel, more than a black tongue, there is such a thing as a black chain of thought. Those truck drivers don’t hang orange and chillies for no reason. I’ve seen a pattern in myself, I keep an eye out, and boom, it happens. Maybe I’m just an attractive person and the universe can’t help but conspire.
Oh and panglossian, by the way, means extreme optimism, bordering on the foolish.