Friday, November 24, 2006


the cushion of language

a few days back i was at ninoi aquino international airport manila four hours early due to a stupid mistake on my part (as usual) misreading the flight schedule – but this happens all the time as i never bother to check anything or remember anything as far as i can help it – and to while away the time picked up the new GRANTA 94 Summer 2006 issue which i bought at the national bookstore ( Glorieta makati, just a few minutes walking distance away from oakwood hotel where i stayed. ) and to my surprise this recent issue was already on (bargain) sale at only seventy five pesos (approx RM6). This bookstore chain (as other shops ) is currently having one of their sales season and if you are patient enough you can find some real gems in the bargain bins. And my surprise find this time is a huge coffee table book monty python an autobiography by monty python .

As i was saying, if not for this silly mistake i could have stayed in the hotel still and would be able to catch the manny paquiaou vs morales fight which is a huge event it seems to be here. you can see the banners about this boxing match everywhere and since this is a pay per view fight there are many public places that have it live and people will come and pay a couple of hundred pesos or so and watch the match on a big screen. since this is a title fight and a pilipino (paquiaou) will fight the legendary mexican morales you can’t escape the talk of this fight everywhere . on my part i’ve never even heard of this guy until yesterday but can’t help to be sucked in by all the excitement.( paquiaou won by ko in the 3rd round by the way).

so there i was reading granta 94 while waiting for the check-in counter to open in a couple of hours time but which is quite fine with me . as long as i have a good book in hand i can get totally immersed in myself even surrounded by the din and chaotic flux of passengers banging each other with their baggage trolleys in this disorderly place (as many of the philippine places tend to be) .

and granta 94 on the theme of ‘where travel writing went next’ not only is an apt reading at the moment but a good read as all granta volumes always are. These days i tend to pick writings by unknowns first rather than all those writers which we are all familar with and thus i picked the first piece “we went to saigon” by one tia wallman who is described in this issue as having made an LP on folk songs in the seventies and sang once at vieux colombier (wherever the hell that is) and “this is her first published piece”.

i was struck by her observation about the english language in her very first paragraph :
There’s something in the grammar and structure of the English language that lets people down gently. As Paul Scott wrote, it’s an ambiguous language: there’s plenty of room for deception and dissembling, even comfort, if that’s what’s called for; if that’s what the speaker has in mind. It’s the natural language of any peace treaty because it so encourages a sense of vae victis, woe to the defeated without ever seeming so.

i don’t know who the hell this paul scott is or what on earth is meant by “a sense of vae victis” but how true that observation is. i can never claim to be completely at ease with the language as english is my second language (and i’ve only become fairly at ease with it may be as recent as around the past 15 years or so) or able to detect the most subtle nuances of the various dialects and slangs but still i can’t help feeling that it IS a gentle language. At least that’s how i sense when gentle folks converse in most cases. That’s not to say one can’t use it very colorfully but even then you don’t seem to detect terrible malice or inherent crudeness in the words. And maybe that’s why even some of the most violent films or fictions can seem to be almost poetic in their dialogues. but of course you can be knocked out flat with well aimed and choice words of insults as with any other languages. and i recently got a smelly e-mail blast when called a ‘piece of shit” (beg to differ) but even then....

and here’s another thing. only a few days ago i was having a conversation with this swiss german guy at one of these damned expensive dinners (shhh expense) in one of those exclusive restaurants in beijing that has terribly flat tasting food which i totally dislike and all of a sudden he started talking to me in very good bahasa indonesia. And i was quite surprised when he noted that indonesian language is very similar to european languages, in fact very much like italian in intonation and unlike english which is ‘very flat” – the way he described it. And i guess what he meant is that english is a very ‘calm’ language. no panic even in the face of death . and he finds it very easy to learn Indonesian which i suppose is also the same with Bahasa malaysia. (As proven by all those nepalese, myanmar and bangladeshi immigrants that can master the language within a couple of months of stay in Malaysia without any formal study or language trainings).And he so liked indonesia that he bought a house in tanah lot in bali. “Ah, bapak ada cewek di sana ya?” i asked and he was taken by surprise by my comment and categorically said that no he didn’t which took ME by surprise.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?