1. In this piece, I am using a whole lot of words and references wrongly. It's intentional.
2. This does not actually happen at Yale-NUS, thank God.
I might as well tell you how I went about doing this piece. I thought of a few pretentious words we've learnt in Literature and screwed with them, and I also basically very lightly skimmed through a couple of An Anthropology of Literary Culture readings. You'd be surprised by the number of five-syllable words on a single page.
Something is going on, and no one knows what it is - Write a conversation (in dialogue) in which three or more characters are discussing or arguing about what exactly is happening.
A pause as everyone stares at page three hundred and twenty-five – or rather, as page three hundred and twenty-five glares mockingly at them. A tense silence. They seem to be deep in thought, but their darting eyes give them away. The Anthropology of Indian Literary Culture professor isn’t in today, but façades don’t have off-days, and they know that a single moment could ruin all that they’ve spent years building up. Man, this is a difficult poem to decipher. But the aim of the game is to make the rest think they’ve got it wrong, while you struggle to understand the piece yourself.
Stephen clears his throat. “What an intriguing piece of work.” Gazes, like lazer beams, immediately turn to point at him. “In the second quatrain the poet’s parallactic arrangements juxtapose the flourishing cosmopolis of Persia and his own vernacular beliefs in such a poignant manner. One can sense the bathos that he evokes with these discordant themes.”
“I disagree with your inferences, Stefan,” Anastasia interjects. “You see in line forty-two, he mentions monsoon winds and creepers, and in the puram poetry this signifies the separation of love, you see, we cannot take the discourse at face value, we must do an ethnoexegesis to step into the world of that era, so that they can be mutually intelligible to us…”
A beat. Bill, who only answers to his middle name Preston, stands up: “Anastasia, I think you have made a hamartia here. You see, the problem is, you refer to this as puram, but I would consider this an ula instead, in which case your technical interpretations do not apply. I agree with Stephen: we see the impersonality of the city as opposed to the vulgar village, and he rebels by producing literature in his native Tamil, in a heteroglossic environment where one does not violate the determined functions of his non-chirographic mother tongue; we see his breaking of the social contract, his fight for cosmopolitan vernacularisation-“
“Actually, Preston, I believe that my puram references are highly relevant. Haven’t we read Ghandi and Rousseau, to understand something we must get to the very beginning of its history? The perusers of the ula were intimately familiar with these symbolisms; we must avoid driving ourselves into a cul-de-sac by incessantly avoiding these fundamental cultural implications.”
A beat as the rest of the class scrapes the bottom of their brain-cradles for any other five-syllable word that has yet to be used. “Perhaps we may be over-Orientalising the passage,” Gabriella suggests. “You see, the universality of the human condition transcends these geographical and temporal boundaries. Perhaps we can appreciate this poetic indeterminacy, and treat our own inferences as equally significant. I marvel even at the mere act of his poetic composition; even in a culture of orality, one participates in the psychological necessity of artistic reflexivity.”
“Um, ‘scuse me,” a small voice pipes up. The class freezes. It’s Molly, the stupid freshman. Shit. She’s going to blow it. She’s gonna blow it.
“So, I’m sorry to interrupt, but could someone please tell me what’s going on in the poem?”
Silence. Great. She blew it. Fidgety eyes across the rooms, coupled with silent lip-biting irritation: the cover has been blown. Every single soul in the room pleads with all their heart for someone else to bring up another topic, or for the bell to ring.
“Um,” – all eyes on Aleithia. – “one distinctly infers that the poet has journeyed from his Tamil hometown to Persia, and as you can see on line fifty-two, his cultural distresses are made evident when his thoughts wander to the inimitability of the Qu’ran…” A silent sigh of relief across the room: gazes begin to relax, panicked expressions are once again replaced with pensive ones.
At lunchtime, Molly’s best friend runs up to her. “Hey Mol,” she starts casually, “I heard a couple of mean things about you today.” “Oh, what did they say?” “I don’t know, something about being naïve or ruining the class atmosphere…”
“Well, I was just being honest, I really didn’t know what was going on,” Molly replies. “But I doubt anyone did anyway.”