An Idiot's Tale

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An Idiot's Tale

Cacography of a madcap story teller, JAYEETA GHORAI

One of the most off-putting aspects of Social Science, I found, was the jargon.

Now, I am a litt guy. (I find this universal application of the term ‘guy’ very liberating, equalizing and agreeable to my brain’s testosterone levels, smart and upbeat.) Words are my mincemeat. I mean, we are the geeks that made libraries, dictionaries, grammar books and spectacles eternally fashionable. Pouring over my Oxford hardbound and Roget’s Thesaurus for hours on ends is my idea of Saturday night fun activity. Picking holes into the written words of dead poets, essayists and novelists and worming out at the blazing end of Enlightenment is my drug of choice.

I shouldn’t find words annoying or boring. They are my bread…and generous slather of butter. I get a kick out of discovering lexical wonderlands, and inventing some. If not for the Oxford & Indian Book House Publishing edition of pepper mint green covered Dr. Peter Mark Roget’s monstrosity, none of my own foray’s into penwomanship would have been possible. To people who’ve long stopped remarking on my unusually quirky and somewhat vast – if I let a little immodesty slip – word repertoire, let me whisper my secret: this one solitary source over all my other reads.

Magicians famously don’t reveal their secrets. Photographers get positively irked at repeated queries to name their gear or machine settings. ‘As if, being told, they’d be able to take the same image,’ scoffed one of my brilliant frame-capturing friends.

Chefs don’t name all the ingredients of their mise-en-place, casually missing out on a twist of this or pinch of that, never clocking the exact timing of action steps for your convenience. My father, a brilliant cook who had the instincts of a sniffer dog about all things culinary, and my mother, while not so dazzling and quite a late starter, is still a formidable force around the gas top, are two close-at-hand examples of this notoriety. The only dish dad taught me to concoct, and the only I can replicate with hundred per cent accuracy, by historical evidence, is the chingri malai kari. It has, possibly by virtue of this astounding statistics of success, come to be my personal kitchen and palate favourite.

Then, he (in)conveniently died.

Ma guards her bastion like the human bloodhound, and I have long resigned to never being able to eat fond childhood savourings after her passing, simply because she won’t teach me! The lady is decidedly selfish and though I sometimes panic, my wailing heart hasn’t managed to tell her ever, “But how will I get this…afterwards?!’

Sigh, some of the practical real-life problems are terribly gauche even for my blunt cranium and sharp tongue to expressly state. My sister, with her inherited food genes from dad, and a remarkable generosity to tender learning, unlike either parent – she looks like neither and behaves often against her congenital afflictions (I have my pet Hospital Switch Theory to account for this unique phenomenon) is my only hope for futurity.

I state these widely prevaricating illustrations to foreclose any such notions of my stinginess. In character defined largeness of spirit and absolving lack of insecurity, I have no qualms about sharing the one master tool of my trade. If you spend as many living hours over the Roget’s Thesaurus as me, you’re bound to pick at the bones of the language; it is a full proof method to the madness, provided you have a natural knack for linguistics and Minerva as aides.

I’d shredded the spine of the original copy bought in 1987 beyond resurrection and had to replace it. Even this binding looks in for a finite end; sadly for such a statuesque tome, the publishers don’t do a better work of production. I also have a soft copy on my laptop, for off-the-cuff reference.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, where the original 1852 manuscript is preserved, and the man’s grave in St John’s Church, West Malvern, Worcestershire are two pilgrim spots high on my checklist.

What definitely gets my goat is the cloistered highbrow act the discourse of Social Sciences sets itself up to be with its exclusive lexicography. I am a simple person with a simple vocabulary, using the tougher word when a simpler synonym exists is not my style. Using a limited pool of terms to express postulations is not so either.

I took admission to a Women Studies course once, with enough misgivings to begin with, and ran from the place, tail suitably tucked between my forelimbs, the earliest chance I got. I picked up fascinating wisdom while there undeniably, but found the department title too restrictive for a start. The environment was too artfully arty for my tastes.

It was there for the first time that I stumbled against a library of posit, trajectory, polity, discourse, dialectic – these are the ones I recall off the top of my head, I know there were others. No one used the humbler, more widely known and commonly grasped ‘suggest, course, community, discussion or argument’. Many years after school I found myself running to the dictionary over every other word: to understand a simple one-page reference text beat my enthusiasm.

Now, I am a great admirer of Science, all branches. I respect such discoveries, think highly of saving lives, the present day hypocrisies of Hippocrates notwithstanding. Its exclusive lexicon I can forgive, defend even. This has a mystique and orthodoxy I endorse.

‘Social Science’ does not save lives. By its very definition it should be easy and comprehensible to all and sundry; the pretentious artifices by which it chooses to set itself on a pedestal out of pedestrian reach is an excess I cannot justify.

Eventually I learnt these words, their context and connotation. I know their correct application and can weave them flawlessly if not effortlessly. I picked up theories and historical references. My devouring amoeba-like cortex greedily lapped up the unknown; I glanced enthralled at hitherto unseen horizons. Yes, I learnt, which never stood in the way of my analyzing and critiquing now, did it?




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