Borges : The Garden Of Forking Paths (Summary)

Continuing with my extensive readings on Borges, I read his short story "The Garden of Forking Paths". This is said to be a detective story. The story starts with Dr.Yu Tsun, a German spy in England realizing that he is being pursued by a British agent(Madden). Dr. Yu is privy to information about the location of England's new artillery park which somehow he has to convey to his leader in Germany. We are told that Dr. Yu is doing this not for any love for Germany, but out of desire to prove that a yellow man (whose race his leader so belittles) can save the armies of Germany. Realizing that time is of essence, he scans a telephone book for a name (Dr Stephen Albert) and leaves to meet him on the train. He narrowly misses Madden pursuing him in the station. Yu is elated for he has frustrated his enemy's plan and it has provided him with ample head-start to achieve his goals. He proceeds to Dr Albert home down the solitary road, reflecting on the road that reminded him of labyrinths. It is revealed that Dr Yu is the great grandson of Ts’ui Pen, The governor of Yunnan province who renounced worldly pleasures to undertake two tasks. One to write a vast novel and second to create a labyrinth that no men can solve (practically infinite). Yu lost in these thoughts imagines a labyrinth of rivers and provinces and kingdoms, of past and future and of stars. "He for an unknown period of time, felt as an abstract perceiver of the world." On reaching the gate, a man greets him in his own language and ask if he desires to see the garden that Ts’ui Pen created. Yu discloses that Ts’ui Pen was his ancestor. They both deliberate over chaotic chapters that Ts’ui wrote which no one could understand and the labyrinth which is now untraceable. Dr Stephen reveals that he has solved both these mysteries. The novel was the labyrinth, they were one and the same. To strengthen his argument, Stephen shares a letter written by Ts’ui which says
"I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths."
The Garden of Forking Paths is a un-ordered novel, where the situations fork in time, not in space. In the novel, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses simultaneously all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork. Sometimes, the paths of this labyrinth converge. Stephen explains that the novel is an infinite maze whose theme is time which causes the author to prohibit the use of the word 'time' in its pages. Ts’ui conceived it as an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times unlike a linear and absolute Time. Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. Dr Yun shows his gratitude to Stephen for unraveling the mystery.In the garden, he could see Madden approaching. Yu asks for the letter to be shown again. Dr. Yu fires at Stephen in the back killing him immediately. Madden arrests Yu and is later sentenced to be hanged, but we are told that his task was accomplished. He had communicated to Berlin the name of the city. It was revealed as a riddle of murder of noted Sinologist Stephen Albert who was murdered by a stranger, one Yu Tsun. The Chief encrypted the message for he knew the task was to get the the word Albert out, and Yu found no other way to convey this but to kill a man of that name. End.

To think of this as a simple detective story would be an oversight. As with Borges nothing is what it looks. In this story we are told of a novel that has infinite plots and is ever expanding. The novel looks disjointed and non-linear. It is like a labyrinth that is unsolvable. But instead of a physical labyrinth laid out on a garden, this one is written out. Time as we know moves linearly, from yesterday to today and to tomorrow. It has a definite progression, an order of passing. In this novel, “The Garden of Forking Paths” rejects the notion of time itself being linear. In fact, it forks and the new branches exist and continue and represent possibilities of future. All possible results are part of this "future" landscape where time continually forks. (and sometimes diverges). Each moment in Time becomes branches into many possibilities. It is like a "hypertext", like a page on the internet where one can read from top to bottom or he could click on any links available on the page to get into entirely new page and context. Those new pages link to yet new pages or can link back to previously traversed pages. Labyrinth has been a recurring themes in Borges work. But instead of a spatial, this one is spaced out in time. Time is growing out like a ever-growing ripple of water when the stone hits the water surface leading to multiple worlds and multiple realities. In a way each Time is the point of creation for new multiple worlds, but in the same scheme Time looses its significance as there is no singular line of reference now. Time creates Time but Time looses centrality. Any things are possible in these multiple futures, but we are aware and limited by our sequence of time or context. In the story Yu says to Stephen that in all futures, he would be grateful to him for revealing these mysteries, to which Stephen replies that it is not possible as in one possible future we are going to be enemies. It also brings the question of fate & free will as all possibilities exist simultaneously and are being action-ed, so whatever I choose does not matter for there are worlds where I made the other choice. The characters are bound to act on all possible choices hence forking into multiple futures. Choice is not more a choice. It seems uncanny that Yu finds his ancestor's secrets in England's country side (of all the places). Also the killing of an innocent man to convey a encoded message which someone may or may not understand sounds odd. But then aren't these actions one of the countless possibilities that can happen. And we and Borges somehow existed on this plane of time to write and read it.

The Rubaiyat : Quatrain XIII























Look to the Rose that blows about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:
At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."

This is the thirteenth quatrain of the Firtzgerald's The Rubaiyat. This is the most ambiguous of all quatrains that we have come across yet. I will attempt to provide a meaning for these lines, do let me know if you think of any other interpretation. The first two lines say, Look at the rose that is blowing in this light wind. Look at the pleasant sight of the rose in bloom blowing, cheerful in the wind. In this breeze it blows, spreading it pleasing scent around and its soft red petals flowing in the wind. Giving itself totally to the pleasure of others. At the same moment the silk tassel of my purse broke, and the treasure (gold coins) fell into the garden spread all around. I have nothing to give for all I have are some cold coins in my silky purse. In this moment in the garden with my companion, the lowly rose and its scent and it's flowing petals (in the wind) is something to be cherished and it provides a delight to the senses, something which the treasures in my purse can not buy or provide. What will I do of these gold coins here? What good are they spread here across the grass in the garden? They don't stir a emotion in me! They don't buy a thought!

Photo Of The Day


Mount Wilson, NSW


Hampden Bridge, Kamgaroo Valley

Beckett : Waiting for Godot (Summary)

This had been a long pending read for me. And it wasn't such a long read. Probably more thoughtful though. A very classic example of "Theater of The Absurd". It is the story about two characters (Vladimir and Estragon) waiting for a person named Godot to show up. Their wait is endless without getting tired only to be interjected with their talking, sleeping, entertaining, reminiscing and yet more waiting. Most of the time they end up doing nothing, most of their actions itself are of no importance and that is the recurring theme in the play.

The play itself is divided into 2 acts that are happen over two days. The general tone of their actions over these two days repeats itself loosely. The settings are the same. The people they meet are the same. The day starts with both struggling to sort themselves out and the day end with the realization that Godot is not going to come today and they will wait for him tomorrow at the same place. The realization of time is not distinct here. Probably its even not important. What matters is that they exist and they have spare time at hand. These two days are separated over time for we see the colors of tree change over these two acts. So it appears the two are waiting for Godot probably for a long time and will wait for him endlessly. Time is non-linear as well as periodic. It will repeat. All of us are trapped in it, with no chance of escape. The only escape is the realization of the meaningless of the existence and silently accepting it. As they say it "Nothing to be done", it is exactly Nothing that has to be done. All we have to do is to pass the time, doing something to keep ourselves engaged. All this philosophizing, fighting, writing ect is just distractions in human life to make sure we do not have time to understand that "Nothing to be done". All this waiting for Godot and not really sure what we are waiting for and what it will bring? That is the human condition, busy in distractions and meaningless antics waiting for something and trying to avoid the realization that life itself is pointless.

The complete books fails to fit into a pattern, a clear understanding of it. Time does not move linearly and sub plots also look disjointed over the two acts. Actions happen arbitrarily and characters do not recall what happened the other day. The idea being Universe is chaotic and lacks an order and sequence. Time is disordered and so will be life. But the bigger picture is still the same. Even midst of this great chaos, the human nature will adjust and find something to keep itself occupied and busy and wait for Godot to show up. The purpose (or the lack of it) keeps us busy in passing our time here. We develop a pattern, a semblance of sanity to keep the horror of pointless life away. To keep up with the charade, but then is their a Choice? As they said "Nothing to be done"

The Bitter Harvest Of Inaction

For the last couple of months the biggest narrative in India has been the near precipitous fall of currency and the dark clouds gathering over the economy. And this is when there are ample experienced hands at the deck. So many captains and yet no glories to speak of. Leave aside glories, the ship looks as if it has hit its underside on the rocks and is rapidly filling water. How could we have come undone so fast? See no further for what went wrong. It was not any action that caused it, it was years of inaction. It is just plain complacency. The spectacular growth mostly export fueled during the UPA-I years gave them enough reason that all is a-ok and growth will continue like this with any impetus. You know what, any captain can sail on a favorable wind. Even if you don't do anything, the winds pushes the ship forward. This is what actually happened. As long as global economy was strong, we were going mighty fast.

Then 2008 came and the bubble burst and our ship hit rough waters. But the so called Jack Sparrows of our economy kept repeating that all is well and we will soon return to 8%+ growth rates. No course correction was ever done. I always believe the Government is not their to take decisions that please the people. Who does not want subsidized LPG? Who does not want freebies? But can a country with very limited resources work like that. Can Government take decisions based on populist pressures? Or do nothing and hope things mend themselves. And all this has led us to where we are. Inflation is not really under control, growth rates that is sputtering, currency in free fall, foreign capital fleeing the shores and no new investment being done.

The problem is not global economy now for US despite of such a massive base grows decently while we manage measly growth on such abysmal economic standards. The problem is not even falling currency for that is a symptom of the malaise not the actual disease. The fever tells you that probably you have a bigger problem somewhere. What we have here is a perfect case of a self-afflicted wound. Policy inaction, multiple power centers, fiscal profligacy and just plain over-confidence. I don't pity the captains of this ship. They probably don't need it anyways. They will still manage well in their Lutyen's bungalows. We would also manage well. Probably one or two less movies or eating out in a month. But it won't be a easy ride for the countless millions joining the workforce every year or those at the margins of society. Couple of percentage of less growth will ensure millions will be left jobless. This minuscule growth will be a jobless growth for the industry will not hire unless they see momentum picking up. The powers that be will still fiddle over the definition of poverty line and how they moved millions of unwashed masses to so called "middle class". And there will be no easy way out of this troubled waters. No warm winds to help us come unstuck. It is going to be many years of discontent.

Translation - Ye Na Thi Hamari Kismat (Ghalib)

ye na thee hamaaree qismat ke wisaal-e-yaar hota
agar aur jeete rehte yahee intezaar hota

tere waade par jiye ham to ye jaan jhoot jaanaa
ke khushee se mar na jaate agar 'eitabaar hota

teree naazukee se jaana ki bandha tha 'ehed_booda
kabhee too na tod sakta agar oostuwaar hota

koee mere dil se pooche tere teer-e-neemkash ko
ye khalish kahaan se hotee jo jigar ke paar hota

ye kahaan ki dostee hai ke bane hain dost naaseh
koee chaarasaaz  hota, koee ghamgusaar hota

rag-e-sang se tapakta wo lahoo ki fir na thamta
jise gham samajh rahe ho, ye agar sharaar hota

gham agarche jaan_gulis hai, pe kahaan bachain ke dil hai
gham-e-ishq gar na hota, gham-e-rozgaar  hota

kahoon kis se main ke kya hai, shab-e-gham buree bala hai
mujhe  kya  bura  tha  marna ? agar ek  baar hota

hue mar ke ham jo ruswa, hue kyon na gharq-e-dariya
na  kabhee janaaza  uthata, na  kaheen mazaar hota

usse kaun  dekh  sakta  ki yagaana  hai wo yaktaa
jo dooee ki boo bhee hotee to kaheen do chaar hota

ye masaail-e-tasawwuf, ye tera bayaan 'Ghalib' !
tujhe ham walee samajhate, jo na baada_khwaar hota

Meaning of difficult words -
wisaal-e-yaar = meeting with lover
'eitabaar = trust/confidence
'ehed = oath
boda = not strong
oostuwaar = firm/determined
teer-e-neemkash = half drawn arrow
khalish = pain
naaseh = counselor
chaarasaaz = healer
ghamgusaar = sympathizer
rag = nerve
sang = stone
sharaar = flash/gleam
jaan_gulis = life threatening
ruswa = disgraced
gharq = drown/sink
yagaana = unique
yaktaa = matchless/incomparable
dooee = duality
masaail = topics
tasawwuf = mysticism
walee = prince/friend
baada_khwaar = boozer

Line 1/2 - It was not my destiny that there would be a union with my beloved. If I had lived further on, there would have been this same waiting (waiting for his beloved). Ghalib in this seemingly simple lines says he was never destined for a meeting with his beloved. Had I lived on, this wait would have been the same. The poet says he is dead now, but had he lived, the situation would not have been different. This can be interpreted both as a defeatist as well as hopeful. My waiting would have been same even if I had lived on, for it was never destined (negative). The same reading can also mean that my wait would have been same had I not died (hopeful).

Line 3/4 - I lived by on your promise, be aware my love! that this statement is false. I would have died of happiness had I believed in it (on your promise). Ghalib here says to his beloved that don't fool yourself with the thoughts that I live by your promise. But then in a sharp u-turn he rescinds and explains that he would have died of happiness way earlier if he had believed in it. The tone here is not to affront her, but to show a light defiance to his beloved. Like take it easy dear!, I would have died the moment you would have promised had I believed in it. So don't kid your self with the thought that I live by your promise. A swaggering beauty by Ghalib!

Line 5/6 - I understood from your delicateness that your promise is loosely tied, for you could not have broken it had it been strong. The poet continuing with the haughty mood of the previous lines says your delicateness and fickleness which in the first place attracted me has made me realize your unreliable nature of those promises that you have made to me. Those promises would never have broken had they been strong. Compared to last couplet where he took a light dig at his beloved, this sher is a more caustic take on his beloved. He is literally accusing her of not being serious in the relationship and just making promises for the sake of it.

Line 7/8 - Someone should ask my heart about your half drawn arrow. Where would this pain have come from if it had gone through the liver? The half drawn arrow is an arrow that was shot with not full force. Here they are analogy for the slight and subtle glances of his beloved. Ghalib says ask my heart about her subtle glances that she fires at me. They are like sharp arrows going through my body and I am in pain now since it has not gone through the liver completely. Had it gone through the liver, I would have been long dead. Ask my heart about your arrow for it will be able to tell you about it since it is suffering for my liver can not produce enough blood (for the heart to pump) as it is injured.

Line 9/10 - What kind of friendship is this, where the friends have now become counselor. If only there were some healer, if only there was some sympathizer. The poet says what sort of friendships is this. I am looking for friends who sympathize with me, friends who provide a healing touch to my misery (caused by rigors of my feelings towards my beloved), Instead of being empathizing friends, they have all become counselors and advisers who are advising him to desist from pursuing his beloved (probably). Where are those healers and soothers for my friends now advocate me instead of providing a helping shoulder.

Line 11/12 - The blood that is dripping from the veins of the stone, it will not stop. That thing which you are thinking of as grief, if it was a spark. This is not very clear to come by. The scheme being used here is as on hitting the heart it sheds blood, in a same way hitting the stone will fire sparks. One plausible explanation could be, had all this pain that is in my heart been like a spark then it would have not stopped emitting from the stone every time you hit it. The spark emitted by stones striking is never ending and so is the grieving within my heart.

Line 13/14 - Although grief is life threatening, but there is no escape for it's the heart. If it would not have been the lament of the indifferent love, then there would have been the sorrow of daily bringing in enough to survive in this world. The poet says I know that this grief (due to the unappreciated love by his beloved) is deadly, but then i can't escape for I have a heart. Had I not been been bogged down by the grieving, It would have been stuck with the problems of day to day living and the misery it brings.

Line 15/16 - To whom should I say what it is, this night of grief is a distressing experience. Why would I complain of dying, if it had occurred to me only once. Ghalib laments about the nights of separation with his beloved and says to whom should he complain about these nights and what a terrible experience to undergo them alone and away from my lover. I have no qualms about dying if it was to happen only once. These nights of separation from you is like a dying experience from me that comes everyday unlike dying which only haven once. I am willing to die, if only it comes once.

Line 17/18 - I was disgraced after my death, why did not I drown in the sea/river. There would have been no funeral for me, nor there would have been a grave anywhere. The poet says on death I was discredited (the reason not obvious here), why did I not drown in a river instead? In that case, there would have been no funeral nor any grave built for me someplace. The point being that having no funeral would avoid all kind of indiscreet and unflattering talk that would happen in the ceremony and no grave means that there will no place which will remind people of his ignominy. His passing away would be blotted out from people's mind and that would save him uncomplimentary talk.

Line 19/20 - This is the most complex and most fascinating of all. It is like an onion, the more you peel the more there is underneath. The poet says Who can see him, for the Incomparable One is unique. If there was even a hint of duality, then there would have a meeting somewhere sometime (or then there would be many-more existing). The word "do-chaar" itself introduces a duality there. One meaning can be - Who can see him, for He the Matchless One is unique. The Maker is singular, which makes him so difficult to see for only one exists. (Can also be interpreted as a possible satire on invisibility of the God, providing God an excuse for his indifference to show Himself to his admirers). If the Creator would have been two then the poet might have come across Him somewhere. One more obtuse interpretation (I read somewhere) is if there was duality indeed, then the Almighty might have come face to face with himself somewhere and then he would have truly empathized with us and tasted his own medicine i.e. realized how people feel about his capricious and indifference that they are submitted to. Another interpretation is (I like this the most), that if there was trace of duality in His aspect, then there could well be more. The poet says that there is One God only, and if there was indeed a whiff of duality then there could well be more then two. Why only two, why not more. If we do not accept it being Singular, then why do we accept its duality. It can very well be many. The "do-char hota" in every day conversation manner can be meant both as to come across or many in number (not a definite count).

Line 21/22 - Oh! these topics of mysticism and those words that you say, Ghalib. We would have considered you as our chief had you not been a boozer. The poet in a classic tone of hauteur says all these complex matters/themes of reality and supernal truth and your spoken words Ghalib. We would have regarded you as a chief/lord had you not been a wine drinker that you are. Consider the poet closing his ghazal with such skilled and subtle disdain that Ghalib has all the answers for the ultimate reality of this mortal world, but lets not patronize him as a head for he is a drinker.