Friday, May 30, 2014

The journal entry (a short story)

"29th May 2014

I spent the last five minutes trying to start this entry with one of my epigrams. But all I can think of is - I am 86 now. Well, I presume I can be lax and not keep up my "witty and profound style" in my journal entries. I am not deluded into thinking nobody will read this- I am certain somebody will find this 5 years from now and put it up on Twitter for all those silly people to read. Yes, I said silly. I doubt that ten years from now writers would have the courage to call their readers that. I doubt they can do it now, but at least there are a few Shaw fans still around so there is hope. Anyway, I think I can be lax because I choose to be, whether anyone ever reads this or not.

Getting back to business. Today was like any other day in the last 4 years since I lost my hearing. I went through my regular morning ablutions and breakfast and then sat at my writing table for an hour with a book review that I hope to send out tomorrow. Somehow, my writing seems to have mellowed with me, so it takes me much longer to write words that count. Not that it matters in this day. When any buffoon (I am actually thinking baboon here) with a phone camera is able to make it to a few hours of fame like a firefly, it seems moot to even to attempt to write meaningfully.

No, I am not a sour, grumpy, old man in general. I know have had my good days- getting out alive after a World War was a biggie (notice how I keep my language updated. Mr.Dickinson at grammar school would have considered that a sacrilege, but I am the adapting kind. Yes, I am no grumpy old man!), then there was the Pulitzer and more recently the Peace Prize nomination. I am sure I would have got that last one if they had not decided to give it to a politician before he did anything at all. Lest you think I care- I don't. Knowing you shall be one with the mud in a few years leaves little room for desire. When I was younger, I used to want people to think great things about me "after I am gone". Maybe I imagined that I would be watching from the heavens or something. It seems preposterous because it's obvious to me now that if I am not around to notice, how can I give a damn what people think about me.

I have had my bad days too. Death of a spouse, paralysis of one leg and so forth. But I don't want to drag this entry down with the weight of useless immutable sorrow.

I only have one desire. Something that shall not come true, but a desire nevertheless. I wish I had died a century ago. There would have been a quiet ceremony with just a few people that mattered. Of course, there would still be that neighbor Mr.Jones jumping around my grave trying to look like he was my closest friend and like he actually understood me. But at least it would have been just one person like that. The rest of the congregation would know I desire quiet and would leave me alone.
You see, all I desire now is to go quietly. I don't care if nobody understands my work, as long as the ones that don't, remain silent. I don't even care if nobody notices - I could be that tree that fell in the forest for all I care.

But as I said, that is not going to be. Millions of people are going to tweet away their "RIP"s- the ones that had never known me the loudest to proclaim the sorrow at my loss. There will be the auctions next, where men with wads of cash and vain old ladies with inheritance but poor eyesight would want to spend millions on my first published work and my first typewriter. To be honest, I'd rather someone just burn up all of my personal belongings or donate it to someone poor. That auction money could definitely be used better. A fan who wants to own my pen probably never understood that I never thought it was about the person. If someone understood my ideas, what do I care if they did not even know my name. 
Oh well, I assume I will have to put a clause in my will against the auctions one of these days, if I find it worth the effort to make one at all.

But they won't stop with the auctions. There will be the stupid blogposts- what Tamajong's work meant for racial equality, why Tamajong's loss is too big for mankind, and so on. Then the life portraits- "Tamajong moved into the US at a time of great strife", "He shall remain a beacon of hope for millions to come" etc. If I had any life left in me at that point, the din of insincerity would finish me off.

Actually, I don't mind what people would say about me half as much as what they would do to my writing. I do not want those memes with my quotes (and quotes of people I completely disagreed with) on them. And I definitely do not want people sharing a piece of my novel with "This story will make you cry and change your soul forever" (Notice how I started this sentence with "And". Mr.Dickinson is turning in his grave now!). I do not want the commentaries and the throwing around of my name at dinner parties where hosts try hard to impress upon their guests the idea that they are elite and well-read. In fact, I wish I didn't even have a name.

And if someone owns my first published article and think it is to be treasured, what d
" (the handwriting trails off here)

Detailed above is the text of Peter Tamajong's last journal entry. This page shall be auctioned on Sunday the 21st of June at the African-American Writers' Museum; the auction is open for the public. The offered price is 2 million USD but the bids are expected to go up to 10 million.
Peter Tamajong, considered one of the most remarkable writers of the 21st century and certainly one of the most influential, passed away on the 29th of May while writing his last journal entry. This newspaper joins the millions of fans in praying his soul rests in peace.

(Also see Page 4: Interview of Toni Morrison on Tamajong's demise,
Page 5: Fans assemble at the Tamajong house in LA for last tribute
and Special Supplement on Peter Tamajong: One small word for a writer, one giant leap for mankind)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Going back to the routine of posts based on stuff I read- here is something I read today: Why some people might be bad at understanding irony.

If this were an SOP, I would have started with "I have always been fascinated by Irony (and sarcasm)", but since it is not... oh wait, I just did. Anyway, let's just say that unlike the hyperbole, irony is my device of choice. Except that sometimes people don't get it. I remember one time in high school when I had to write a goodbye note to someone I particularly despised (I believe the feeling was mutual, but given the way we were all smiles on the surface, it is hard to tell..). I filled the note with cloyingly sweet compliments in the hope that anyone who read it would know that I really meant the opposite. To me, it was obvious that I couldn't have meant it at all , especially because I use to be much more parsimonious with compliments then, and I was very proud of my handiwork. To my disappointment, only about 2 people who read the note really got it! (I don't regret that anymore. Sometimes it is safer not to have people understand the exact meaning of your words, but I digress. )

Of course, later in life I realized that the best way to combat sarcasm (which is closely related) is to pretend not to understand it.* Unfortunately that knowledge is of no use to me because I simply cannot not get sarcasm/irony - it is one of those things that is hard to 'un-see' once you see it.

Anyway, it turns out that a good number of people don't get irony because it is more complicated than regular speech. I feel this should have been obvious if I ever gave it a little thought- understanding irony requires the brain to perform the additional step of noticing that the literal meaning of the sentence uttered is in fact untrue (while regular speech requires you only to understand what is being uttered). Obviously, this means that people with sociopsychological problems would find it harder to understand it.

The amazing thing about the link I read is that it actually shows how some ironic statements are better understood than others. Basically, some ironic statements are used so often that the brain processes them just like it processes regular sentences i.e. at the same speed. I find that kind of optimization in a system amazing, really!

Anyway, that brings me to the sentence I really began this post for (I should warn you that it is not great, just something too tempting for me to let go without posting :P )- It's ironic that a statement meant to be ironic is still processed like a regular statement, even when you know it is ironic! It almost defeats the purpose of making the sentence ironic.

Thankfully, there are enough new ironic sentences you could make that the brain hasn't had a chance to learn yet.. So there is still hope, folks! :P
*By the way, I am sure there is a comic strip about not-understanding-sarcasm being the best way to handle it, but I am not quite able to find the strip :(

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Day ?

I just figured there is no point tracking the days anymore.. I wanted to do a post at least every other day, but that seems close to impossible now. It's funny how activities fill out time on their own, like a vacuum.

Two weeks ago, I had so much work and was still able to slip in an hour of reading and an episode of House everyday (yes, I am watching House NOW! That's how quick I am with watching series), not to mention the occasional 2 mile run. The first few days after my project deadlines dissolved I was close to restless because I suddenly has so much time in my hands. And then I did what I often did at Georgia Tech (and almost always regretted later!)- signed up for too many activities (courses, in the case of Gatech). Catching up with friends I haven't met in a while, finishing books movies and the like, app/game developing experiments, scripting experiments at work, blog challenge and then trying to get back to a regular running and cooking schedule. The bad part is that only about half of these actually happen, and now I find myself busier than I was 2 weeks ago- haven't touched my Kindle in 3 days, haven't logged on to Netflix in almost a week, and haven't run in more than a week. 

It is so ironical and yet, this has always happened to me. (Maybe this is one of my other fatal flaws). My worst semester in Georgia Tech was not one where I was trying to finish my degree requirements, but the one where I thought I had a lot of time left and signed up for more courses than ever. Admittedly, that is also the semester I enjoyed (and value) the most from my time at Tech- but if you had stopped me any time during those 5 months I would have said I was one inch away from giving up and running away from Atlanta.

Anyway, in light of the fact that I am trying to do too much with my time now, I am just going to go back to irregular posting... Sorry about that.. (But as I said on the description page, this usually means my life is getting more interesting, so maybe it's a good thing after all....)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Day 4- Kerala and women

(PW: This article is about women and abuse. Contains some adult material.)

It all started when many of my friends shared this post. It kept popping in my timeline and I kept avoiding it but then this morning it came up in a different conversation and I read it. It brought back so many memories. Mostly not good ones.

I lived in Kerala for 4 years. It is not a long time- I have lived in the US for 2 and a half already. But the difference is I lived in Kerala in those crucial years of adolescence, when one learns a lot of new things about themselves and the world, when a child has his/her first harsh clash with adulthood. For the most part, I have very positive memories of Kerala (if it were not cliched, I'd have called them green memories). Beautiful place, stunning after the rains, sweet sing-song language, etc. Our school was among the most conservative, but I didn't mind it all that much. So until this morning, when anyone asked me about Kerala, I had nothing but praise to say (it's my dream retirement place btw. It is so beautiful I'd love to go there when I want to relax and appreciate the beauty of nature, and would actually have the time to do it.) It is amazing that I had forgotten.

I had forgotten the extensive chauvinism that pervaded every inch of existence there. Now don't take me wrong, I am not saying that Chennai is by any standards less conservative or more feminist. But maybe it's because I talk about Chennai often, or maybe because the details blur in time, but it all came rushing back as I read the post. And the surprising part was not the reality I remembered, it was the fact that I had forgotten.

I find that amazing because I have not forgotten most of the details of my Kerala stay. From the streets to the junctions to the faces of the innumerable people I knew there to individual events and experiences- most of it is still fresh in my memory. However, it seems that when something is out of sight for a while, one tends to forget the nastier details in light of the overall good effect the place had. 

Now you might wonder- what could I have possibly forgotten or left unnoticed? Why did I mention chauvinism in relation to a place known for 100% literacy, high education rates among women, and especially known as traditionally "matriarchial"?*

Let's get to some details.. (all based on personal experiences, so the usual statistical issues of small sample set, etc. might apply)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Day 3- On Enid Blyton, the extended transferred epithet and religion

If I had to name just one person I spent most of my childhood with, that would be Enid Blyton. I remember spending whole summer months letting myself get sucked into her world- with flying cars and pixies and adventure lurking at every turn. In the early years I even wondered how it would be if all my toys came out at night and had little fights or skated on soap.

Anyway, there was one story (one of my favorites) about a boy who sees an enchanted book at a store. The book opens from both ends- each tells a different story. Both stories are about the boy's own life and what his future would be like. On one story, he makes his choices based on ambition- spends more time at his business, is often cruel etc. On the other- his choices are based on family and love, and though he doesn't make too much money, he is content.

As a kid reading the story, it was obvious which side to pick- the kind side. But you see, that's the problem with the stories kids are told. They have not one inch of the gray that fills real life, or to use the cliched phrase, they are too black and white. Anyway, that's not the point for today.

The thing I really want to highlight is how authors tend to bunch qualities together. In this story, for instance, the boy (when he grew up, that is) would not only spend too much time at business, but would also be mean to his customers and get angry all the time. Then the reader's mind would almost automatically associate the making money with the other "bad" qualities of being cruel, when in fact it is possible for a man to make money and still be a good person.
In contrast, if you pick a story like "Atlas Shrugged", there are the people who make money and sound cruel but are actually kinder through their actions. But there, Ayn Rand also has some fictional associations- like the fact that the smart people are all blunt, arrogant AND successful, while the villains are all not just evil and people-pandering but quite stupid; or the fact that all the "good" people speak the same kind of language and anyone who uses any amount of subtlety in their speech is some sort of conniving villain.

I see this as a very interesting literary device. It is very close to the transferred epithet in the sense that the effect (or our judgement) of one quality is actually transferred on to others. Which is why I want to call it the extended transferred epithet. But the reason it is interesting is because it is also very very powerful.

Take these verses, for instance..

"But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

"Know that a king who heeds not the rules (of the law), who is an atheist, who is rapacious, who does not protect his subjects (but) devours (i.e. mistreats) them, will sink low (after death)"

The first is from the Bible (Revelation 21:8) and the second is from a translation of the Manusmrithi (Ch8, Topic17, Verse309).

In both cases, a set of negative characteristics are combined with the "faithless" and the "atheists". Of course, with most religions "faithless" is bad enough to warrant prosecution- it is often considered evil by definition. But the subtle propaganda that lets religions persist, especially in the age of technology and information, exists in these places- in stories where the villains are evil AND non-believers, where the books proclaim that the faithless are also always immoral (conveniently skipping over the faithless moral human being). Religions are not only full of these; they are so prevalent that most people tend to actually believe them (like believing all faithless people are also immoral). Which is why I said it is a very powerful device.

Anyway, let me finish off today by saying that I think the extended transferred epithet is a beautiful literary device. It is convenient and powerful. But that's precisely why one should be wary of it.

P.S: There may be a real name for this literary device. I tried looking for it but couldn't find it. So I came up with my own name for it instead! :P