Thursday, June 14, 2012

My dear Lewis, where are you?

The last time I saw her, she was sitting on a peepal tree talking to a book. Smarika Kumar studies law at NLIU, Bhopal, and loves reading, kites and colourful things. She occasionally writes poetry and stories, much of which is deemed insensible.

A guest post by Smarika Kumar.

Last weekend, I finished reading a book called Sylvie and Bruno. One of his not so well-known books for little people, this one was written by Lewis Carroll in 1889. Though like Alice books, it is a weird book, with much apparent nonsense. But as the Red Queen would have said, “You may call it 'nonsense' if you like, but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!"

Lewis Carroll remains one of the most liberating writers of children’s books. Liberating, because in his absurdity only the mind of a child, yet uninitiated into the phony ways of the world, can see sense.

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
‘There won’t be much for us!’

Carroll manages to weave out of this absurdity, a beautiful universe where anything is possible. Literally. A child turns into a fairy and a fairy turns into a child, a dodo creates a sea and runs a caucus race, crocodiles fly and porpoises tread on whitings’ tails. This boundless reach of the imagination offers to a child an escape from the usual 'No!' which she gets to hear from the adults all around her as she grows up, and which makes her limit her thoughts to the “practicable”. Today we are too busy training children to fight “the hard reality”, be the winner in a rat-race and to give up on “too crazy” dreams. We teach them to be careful, to be scared of unknown things, and to be planned and securitized citizens of an ordered world.

Like Carroll puts it,

Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle- will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”

and thus a world of sad, sad adults is born and thrives.

Carroll’s stories, on the other hand, almost seem to take the child by the shoulders, shake him hard and shout at him, “Helloooooooo! Not what they say! Whatever you want can happen! Whatever you dream is true! Nothing is too absurd! Not practical! Not an adult! Don’t be an adult, pleeease!” As if using all his strength to the last bit to save another child from being drained into the world of fife.

No other writer after Carroll has managed to do what he could, pull a person out of the humdrum of reality, throw him into a world of infinite possibilities and make him believe in the truth of it. Maybe Mother Goose before him, yeah, but certainly none after him.

Carroll reminds us that the world’s crooked wild. And that’s fun!

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