Game of Thrones

The small screen is definitely dominated by GOT currently. Whether the much-awaited HBO release, or the Indian elections.

GOT-HBO is a debate at some level on the divine right of kings and queens; defining bloodlines and who has the right to inherit; and on the need for popular support even if one thinks one has the ‘divine right’.

Not unlike the Indian elections!

But that is not the substance of my Election Day piece.

What’s in a Word?

It really started with a confusion about the word ‘suffrage’. We learnt it by rote in middle school Civics, as in ‘India has Universal Adult Suffrage.’ Such a strange word. Seems more related to suffering than anything else. But surely that couldn’t be!

The origin of the word is not clear. To quote Merriam Webster dictionary, ‘suffrage has been used since the 14th century to mean “prayer” (especially a prayer requesting divine help or intercession). So how did “suffrage” come to mean “a vote” or “the right to vote”? To answer that, we must look to the word’s Latin ancestor, suffragium, which can be translated as “vote,” “support,” or “prayer.” That term produced descendants in a number of languages, and English picked up its senses of “suffrage” from two different places. We took the “prayer” sense from a Middle French suffragium offspring that emphasized the word’s spiritual aspects, and we elected to adopt the “voting” senses directly from the original Latin.’

Another theory says that the voting meaning comes from the second element frangere, and the notion is “use a broken piece of tile as a ballot”, and seems to go back to the 1530s. The meaning as in “political right to vote” in English is first found in the U.S. Constitution, 1787. (https: //www. etymonline.com/word/suffrage)

Making It Universal

Well, as our Civics books told us, India has Universal Adult Franchise. At 12 years of age, I did not understand how profound that was. Each and every citizen of the country who has crossed a certain age, irrespective of gender, education, caste, creed, religion, properly ownership, can vote. And this has been in force from our very first elections in 1951-52. Many countries of older democratic tradition came to adult suffrage only by slow and painful steps. For instance, in most countries, originally only land owners could vote. Universal suffrage came to South Africa only in 1993. Between the 1890s and 1960s, many state governments in the US insisted that voters pass a literacy tests before they could be allowed to vote—a ruse to exclude African-Americans and other racial minorities from voting.

The most vigorous battles of course were for Women’s Suffrage—fought by women on the streets of many countries including the UK and the US. In most countries, there was a lag of a generation between adult men getting the franchise, and women getting it.

Women in India got this automatically from 1950. But while we had the vote from the very first elections, there were many women who did not exercise this the first time around. Here are some very interesting insights from a piece in the Economic Times: ‘During the creation of the electoral roll, a number of women, nearly all in North India, wanted to be registered not under their own names, but as “wife of..” or “daughter of…”. This was the practice in their communities and when this issue first came up in provincial elections in the 1930s, colonial bureaucrats allowed this.  But now the officials of independent India refused. “The introduction of adult franchise is intended to confer on every adult, male or female, the right to participate in the establishment of a fully democratic system of Government,” the government of the United Provinces (now UP) wrote, emphasising the need that “no adult, male or female, is as far as possible left unrecorded in the electoral rolls”.

Many women could not vote in the first election: The Chief Election Commissioner of that time, Sukumar Sen, estimated that ‘out of a total of nearly 80 million women voters in the country, nearly 2.8 million failed to disclose their name, and the entries relating to them had to be deleted from the rolls. Sen decided that registrations would happen by the next elections. Votes for women, in their own identities as citizens of India, was a principle that could not be compromised.’  (https:// economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/on-the-centenary-of-womens-suffrage-a-look-at-how-india-achieved-electoral-equality/articleshow/63150595.cms).

Something to be said for the strength of conviction of the Chief Election Commissioner!

Voting Age

While most countries—over 100–have 18 as the minimum age for voting, there are some countries who hold the age as 16, and a few at 17. There are a handful of countries who have set the age at above 18. For example, South Korea’s legal voting age is 19 years; Nauru, Taiwan, and Bahrain hold it at 20 years; Oman, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Singapore, Malaysia, Kuwait, Jersey, and Cameroon at 21. The United Arab Emirates has the oldest legal voting age in the world. Citizens can only vote when they attain the age of 25 or older.

Many may not remember, but in India, we started out with a voting age of 21. The Sixty-first Constitutional Amendment brought about in 1988, lowered the voting age from 21 years to 18 years.

Vote, vote thoughtfully, vote with the hope that exercising suffrage reduces suffering!

–Meena

Happy New Years!

April 6 was Ugadi—Kannada and Telugu New Year. Occasion for an amazing spread at a friend’s place. Puran poli, payasam, and countless dishes served on a banana leaf.

April 14 is Puthandu–Tamil New Year. Occasion for a spread at my place, with its share of special dishes. The most special being the ‘maanga pachadi.’ Made with mangoes, jaggery, neem flowers, salt, chilli and turmeric, it captures all the tastes: sour, sweet, bitter, salty, chilly. To remind us that the year to come will bring joy, sorrow, losses, gains—the gamut. And that we need to be prepared for all of these, and take them in our stride.

The New Year is fairly arbitrary. There is no particular reason it must fall on Jan 1 or April 14 or any other date, for that matter. Indian New Years are often based on regularly recurring celestial occurrences.

The Tamil New Year (as also several other new years not only in India but even in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand etc.) follows the Spring Equinox. Now that is a bit confusing, since the Spring Equinox falls on March 22nd! But we celebrate New Year on the Sidereal Equinox, April 14nd because we follow the sidereal year, with the Chitra star as the reference point. I am assured by sources that: ‘Sidereal is calculating the movement of the Sun vis-a-vis Earth by noting the position of certain stars. i.e. with respect to fixed positions on the sky and not just the position of the sun. From around April 14, Chitra star is visible. The Sun is in the Aries (Mesham) zodiac constellation. So currently, tropical Equinox is March 22 and sidereal equinox is April 14.’

I kind of get it (I think!), but not well enough to explain it in my words. Hence the quote. Go figure!

At any rate, how wonderful that we celebrate New Year so many times a year! Vishu, Bihu, Navroj, Gudi Padva, Vikram Samvat…call it what you will, it is an occasion to enjoy the company of family and friends, to do up the house, to make and eat goodies. And the more of such, the merrier. (Except maybe the Financial Year which is a scramble to finish activities and budgets and tally accounts and other unpleasant things!)

And of course, if you have ‘forgotten’ to make resolutions, or forgotten the resolutions you have made, there are so many New Years through the year to make/renew them. No excuses!

Wishing you all yet another Happy New Year!

–Meena

Wordsmithery

A crossword clue led me to this by chance. The clue was ‘word was first coined in the book If I Ran a Zoo by Dr Seuss’. The answer was Nerd! This immediately caught If-i-ran-the-zoo-cover (1).jpgmy attention because Dr Seuss is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. I adored his books when I was young and tried to pass on the love to my children by reading out his quirky verses night after night, twisting our tongues over his wonderful, wacky invented words.

But it is only now I discovered that the word Nerd is thought to have been coined by none other than Dr Seuss in his book If I Ran a Zoo published in 1950! The book is about a boy named Gerald McGrew who, when visiting a zoo, finds that the exotic animals are “not good enough”. He says that if he ran the zoo, he would let all of the current animals free and find new, more bizarre and exotic ones. Among these fantastical animals is a critter called a Nerd! To quote directly: “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo/And bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo/ A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!”

One year later, in 1951, Newsweek magazine included the word in an article using it to define someone who is a “drip” or a “square”. Today the word ‘nerdy’ is used to describe someone who is not attractive, and awkward or socially embarrassing; or someone who is extremely interested in one subject, especially computers, and knowing a lot of facts.

A ‘word-nerd’ would tell you that when we use Twitter, and Tweet away today, it would be worth remembering that the word was coined by Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the father of English poetry, who died 620 years ago, to describe the continuous chirping of a bird.

And that, well before a search engine was named Yahoo, the Yahoos appeared as legendary creatures in Gulliver’s Travels published in 1726.

Surprisingly a number of words that we tend to believe are so ‘trending’ and ‘21st century’ were coined well over a hundred years ago. These can be attributed to 19th century authors, many of whom were creative wordsmiths–inventing, importing, adapting, and generally messing about with language!

The revered Bard, Shakespeare was one of the first to print words like Obscene and Eventful, as well as much-used phrases such as Bated Breath and Love is Blind.

And for those of us who plodded through Charles Dickens it is he, himself who coined the word Boredom! Writing in the early 1800s Dickens also coined very not-boring words like Abuzz, Flummox, and Devil-May-Care!

And to think that bureaucratic red tape is an affliction of modern times, Wait! The word Red Tape comes from the English practice of using red or pink tape to tie official documents and,  as early as 1851 Dickens coined the apt term ‘red tape’ as slang for “the collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming.” Thus according to the OED, a Red Tape-worm’ is “a person who adheres excessively to official rules and formalities.” Sounds like a breed we all know too well!?

For those of us who describe our calling as ‘Freelance’ writers, we may be interested to learn that in 1820 author Sir Walter Scott used the term free-lance to describe a mercenary soldier, one whose lance (a long spear) was not exclusively in the service of a single master, but was hired out along with its owner to those to needed, and paid for, the service.

Today the lance has replaced by the pen (or its electronic version) but the nature of service remains the same!

–Mamata

 

Books…BFF!

It’s that time of year again…the start of the summer holidays and the flurry of planning how to spend the long lazy days ahead. I always recall this excIMG_20190404_102157.jpgitement of my student days. It was a time when vacations did not mean a hectic schedule of “constructive activity classes and camps” nor travels to exotic destinations. For most of us, the greatest joy was the anticipation of the uninterrupted and unmonitored hours of reading. The great fun was in planning how to get and read as many books as one could—buying (only a few as a summer treat), borrowing from family and friends, and going to libraries.

Books were the best gifts, the best companions and the best friends. Even today, for me books are just that!

Coincidentally, I just read a wonderful piece that beautifully articulates why books are BFF! A letter to children by Swiss-born British contemporary novelist, essayist, and philosopher Alain de Botton.

Dear Reader,

We wouldn’t need books quite so much if everyone around us understood us well. But they don’t. Even those who love us get us wrong. They tell us who we are but miss things out. They claim to know what we need, but forget to ask us properly first. They can’t understand what we feel — and sometimes, we’re unable to tell them, because we don’t really understand it ourselves. That’s where books come in. They explain us to ourselves and to others, and make us feel less strange, less isolated and less alone. We might have lots of good friends, but even with the best friends in the world, there are things that no one quite gets. That’s the moment to turn to books. They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly to us about what really matters. They are the perfect cure for loneliness. They can be our very closest friends.

Yours,  Alain

 The letter is one of 121 letters in a recent publication titled A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. Edited by Maria Popova, the book celebrates reading and books through letters by some of today’s most wonderful culture-makers—writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and philosophers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading. Each letter is accompanied by an illustration by a celebrated illustrator or graphic artist that presents that artist’s visual response to the text. All the pieces and artworks are donated, and the profits from sales are to go to New York Public Library. What a wonderful tribute by book lovers, for book lovers. I look forward to savouring the whole book.

–Mamata

 

 

 

BREXIT

Some want to hex it?

Others want to max it?

Who wants to jinx it?

You want to nix it?

Does someone want to tax it?

Are the protests somewhat sexist?

Is there no way to fix it?

 

I have it up to my eyes with it!

Nothing but to call a pox on it!

 

Do what you like..

Exit

Greexit

 

BREXIT.

Just leave me out of it!

–Meena

PS: Apologies for the terrible verse. But I am just so stressed with being assaulted with news of this!