Borges : Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (Summary)

I have been occasionally reading Borges these days and each story unfolds itself like a labyrinth. Ever perplexing as to what those scant pages meant or said. I finished reading "Pierre Menard Author of the Quixote". Like many other stories, it's a literary hoax i.e. to say that Pierre Menard does not exist. The construct is the same as last story, imagine such a book or writer exists and weave an idea around it.

The story is written as a literary piece about Pierre Menard that begins with brief introduction about him and a exhaustive list of his works that range from symbolist literature to algebra. But this is not the focus of the story. The story is about the Menard's seemingly impossible and absurd task of rewriting the Cervantes's Don Quixote. The rewrite is not to be a manual reproduction, but rather coming up with the same work word by word and line by line. He did not want to create another Quixote, but the Quixote itself. The way he attempted this was to learn Spanish language and its cultures, return to catholic faith, forget about events in Europe in these intervening three hundred years and write Quixote through the experiences similar to that of Cervantes but he forgo of this approach (as it seemed less interesting) and instead choose to live in 20th century (with current ideas and ideals) and write Quixote through the experiences of Menard.

In the end the narrator reviews the couple of chapters of first part of Don Quixote that Mernard was able to create. He says that these chapters are infinitely richer to what Cervantes wrote (even though they matched word to word) due to the fact that Menard was able to accomplish this against all obstacles like huge historical and cultural events that have changed human perspective in the intervening years. The same lines now give a reader a much different meaning due to a different context (made possible by the all the world changing events that modern world saw) in which the reader is. So it is the reader who defines the narrative rather then the narrator. The context is the driver channeling the reader response. Thus Quixote written today will be a lot different in meaning to the one that was written in 1600's even though they match the word to word. It is the reader who gives meaning to a work. It is he who is not a passive agent, but rather an active agent in this process. The words may be eternal and unchanging, yet the perception they create on the reader's mind are ever changing with no finality to it. In a way any book in any given time isn't some static collection of pages written by the author, instead it is this packet/case that holds the book and the one reading it and their thoughts and their meanings and there are countless such packets out there. Each packet true and valid to the substance of the book. Borges says that ultimately even the most brilliant books are relegated to the old libraries and says Mernard was a brave man to attempt such a impossible task to keep the book relevant.
A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter—if not a paragraph or a name—in the history of philosophy. In literature, this eventual caducity is even more notorious. The Quixote —Menard told me—was, above all, an entertaining book; now it is the occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical insolence and obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst.
“Thinking, analyzing, inventing (he also wrote me) are not anomalous acts; they are the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional performance of that function, to hoard ancient and alien thoughts, to recall with incredulous stupor that the doctor universalis thought, is to confess our laziness or our barbarity. Every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case.”

The Rubaiyat : Quatrain VI









And David's Lips are lock't; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!"--the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow cheek of hers to incarnadine.









This is the sixth quatrain of "The Rubaiyat". The lines are obscure and interpretation is not very forthcoming. King David's lips are locked for he is long gone and dead. King David was the king of Israel and Hebrew people. He was also an accomplished warrior and poet. The lines of Rubaiyat says that King David lips have gone silent now, and so has the cries of "wine! wine! wine! " in the high and mighty Pehlevi language that used to be a prestige language among the classes. Now even the Pehlevi has die out and been lost. And in this former glory, a lowly nightingale cries out to the rose bloom, chirping pettily. The bird is still singing their ancient song excitedly that has given color to the bird's cheeks.
The underlying tone of the quatrain is same as that of the fifth one. The grandeur of human endeavour and their glories will all be lost in time. The nature and it's simpler ways will outlive each and every single human accomplishment. The loss of human accomplishments and hence its triviality and insignificance will be exposed by the seemingly trivial chirping of a humble nightingale sitting on a rose bush.

Translation - Woh Aake Khwaaab Mein (Ghalib)

woh aake khwaab mein taskeen-e-iztiraab to de
wale mujhe tapish-e-dil, mazaal-e-khwaab to de

Line 1/2 - The poet says that I wait for her to come in my dreams and give me some satisfaction from this never ending anxiety. If only, I had so much burning passion in my heart to give me strength so much to dream. The poet laments that he has lost so much hope and passion that he does not have even the courage left to dream. For if he was to dream, then his beloved would come in his dreams and put his anxieties and restlessness to ease. Therefore he wishes for passion and strength in his start to dream again. As with Ghalib the couplet can be about his beloved or equally a lament to God.

kare hai qatl lagaawat mein tera ro dena
tere tarah koee tegh-e-nigah ko aab to de

Line 3/4 -The poet says to his beloved that your tears literally tear my heart apart with affection. Those tears slay my heart with tenderness and warmth, so much so that I love these ways (momentary anger/emotion) of yours. There is no one like you who can bring tears from those fiery eyes and yet lovingly affect me in this fashion.

dikhaake jumbish-e-lab hee tamaam kar hamko
na de jo bosa, to munh se kaheen jawaab to de

Line 5/6 - Ghalib says that by showing movements of those lovely lips, you have finished me off of my existence and my worries. If you do not feel like give a kiss, then at least give me an answer. The poet in a daringly romantic streak says that those gentle movements of her lips take his breath away and literally finish him off. Don't give me a kiss if you are not for it, but at least say a reply for those lip movements will still be cherished.

pila de oak se saaqee jo hamse nafrat hai
pyaala gar naheen deta na de, sharaab to de

Line 7/8 - The poet pleading to the saaqee (the bartender) that though you may not like me and do not wish to give me the wine. I implore you to give me a drink, even if it is from the palms of my hand. You may not be keen in giving me a glass (for there is animosity between us), don't give me the glass, but at least provide me with the wine. One can also argue this couplet as an address to the God that I need only the knowledge and truth and do not cherish the material paraphernalia for I only seek the truth.

'Asad' khushee se mere haath paanv phool gaye
kaha jo usne zara mere paanv daab to de

Line 9/10 - The poet says that Asad!, I was filled with happiness when my beloved asked me to knead her feet!. Ghalib says that when his beloved expressed her wish that he presses her feet, he was not expecting it and he was so filled with mirth and glee that he could move or say something.

Meaning of difficult words -
taskeen = satisfaction
iztiraab = anxiety
tapish = burn/passion,
mazaal = strength
lagaawat = affection
tegh = sword
aab = water
jumbish = motion/vibration
bosa = kiss
oak = palm of the hand contracted so as to hold water

Read more posts on Ghalib.

Photo Of The Day

Canberra city from the top of Telstra tower

Australian National Parliament, Canberra

Thought Of The Day

It's been long since I have written on Indian polity, not because of there being any dearth of issues but because I believe that in the current set up the more things change the more they remain the same. What we are seeing today is a circus, a self serving act, self-deluding mockery that is being played with the tax payers money and common citizen's life. And I include opposition (of all shades and hues) in this charade. The problem are fundamental and yet fixable, yet no one is willing to fix them and it's not that they require some gigantic effort or big fiscal spend, they just require some imaginative thinking and resolve. But then creative imagination is not our strong point. Is it? I won't talk on it today, maybe some other day. Maybe not even on the other day.

Below the big headlines on any newspaper or news portal filled with some supposedly earth shattering news or gossip, below there lies a slow and steady stream of ruthless banality, of some miserable small death somewhere in the expanse of this big country. Accidents, suicide, human exploitation, mysterious diseases and criminal acts like murder/rape ect. These little read snippets of some gruesome incident often not stressed over in its singularity, yet when you look at how they are numbing the society, how they are killing people (and especially young people) you just shudder. 3000 people die on Mumbai trains yearly, a rape every 22 minutes. Over 150K killed mostly young people in road accidents in an year. Similar numbers for suicide. Every year the same story repeats for dengue, encephalitis ect. There are countless cruel stats like these. I can go on for ever. Yet, whats the point. Such miserable urban planning, no social nets for people who are clutching on to practically no hope. No rule of law to deter crime. No justice for the wronged. No adequate physical and social infrastructure. No proper health care for many who just give up. And on the top of it as if this was not enough, we ourselves do not seem to have commonsense to make the correct decision.

I think it is too much to ask. We are hoping for too much. For people of my age, (early thirties) who have seen both the old Bharat and the new India, we have already lived half of our lives where materially things may have gone comfortable (for some) yet the overall social indicators are still depressing. And I don't think things are going to get much better soon. We are or soon will be entering a demographic bulge where a whole generation will move from teens to employable age group and consumers The country and its infrastructure (both social and physical) is hopelessly short to handle this. Be it roads, be it housing, be it health care, be it courts or police. These mindless and numbing stats will just grow bigger and be still lost somewhere in this media circus or some chest-thumping rhetoric. They just didn't deserve that much respect, either living or either dying.

I just hope our children see a much better country. Something to think about!