what's god?

A poem, called The Blindmen and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe, so beautifully written that I was compelled to post it. Thanks to RSK for introducing this to me

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


kerala born confused polyglot

I think I am an Indian equivalent of an ABCD - to be born in one culture and been brought up in a place of another culture. I am, by birth, a Tamilian and belong to that clad who have come to be known as ‘Palakkad Iyers” whose ancestors migrated to Kerala and settled there many generations ago.

However, I consider myself to be a Keralite since I have always lived there. Moreover, though I speak Tamil at home, I am more comfortable and fluent in Malayalam than any other language. Inspite of some serious canvassing and cajoling from one of my dear friends to convince me that I am a Tamilian, I stand adamant on my mallu stand much to her annoyance. She had to settle with the truce that she would consider me to be a Tamil and doesn’t give a damn about what I consider myself to be (It’s a miracle I still get invited for dinner at her place!)

However the bigger issue was when it came to what is my mother tongue. Much before I had to confront this question of picking an identity, I have always been conflicted by the same issue whenever I had to specify my ‘mother tongue’ in application forms. I have used both Malayalam and Tamil for that particular column depending on how I felt about what my mother tongue is at that particular moment, though I never could convince myself which one was it for me. I don’t buy the explanation that mother tongue is the one your mother speaks (which is just the literal translation of the word and not I am certain that’s not what it was meant to be when the word was coined).

Sometime back a friend of mine wrote about the language one thinks in. I thought it was a good way to figure out the mother tongue for polyglots like me (I know 4 languages and working on the 5th one ;). A person’s mother tongue should be the language in which he/she thinks. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you speak. The language in which you have thoughts has to be considered your mother tongue since that is the one which comes involuntarily to you and by that theory; my mother tongue has to be Tamil. I have always had my silent thoughts in Tamil, the one which I have used and still use to communicate with my family even since I can think of. So, does that make me a Tamilian? Maybe it does, when I put it that way (my above mentioned friend would be delighted to read my confession :)

I know there would be people who refuse to accept this argument of mine. In fact, a very close friend of mine vouches that he thinks in English though he hails from Chennai and speaks Tamil at home (well, at least most of the times!). For him, English is the language in which his thoughts flow. In my defense, he doesn’t have confusion as to what his mother tongue is and is certain that its Tamil. This hypothesis stands true only for confused souls like me.

Spare a thought for a friend of mine from Mumbai; she has lived her whole life there and can just manage Marathi but converses in Malayalam Tamil at home since her parents are Tamil speaking Keralites like me!