Thursday, October 13, 2016

Desolation Row

In the long ago when I first listened to the songs on Highway 61 Revisited "Desolation Row" stunned me. I am glad it still does.

Desolation Row

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
A perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row”

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

                                     ENGLISH - WINDOW TO THE WORLD

 Language sets homo sapiens apart from all other animals. A language both reflects and affects a culture's way of thinking, and changes in a culture influence the development of its language. No other organism on this  planet has this ability . And in  the present  world the most used language is of course, English.   Today there are about 6,000 languages in the world, and half of the world's population speaks only 10 of them. English is the single most dominant of these 10. British colonialism initiated the spread of English across the globe; it has been spoken nearly everywhere and has become even more prevalent since World War II, with the global reach of American power."How many people in the world today speak English?

First-language speakers: 375 million

Second-language speakers: 375 million

Foreign-language speakers: 750 million

(David Graddol, The Future of English? British Council, 1997)

English  an Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch; the official language of Britain and the US and most of the Commonwealth countries .It was the West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca. it is spoken as a first language by the majority populations of several sovereign states, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations; and it is an official language of almost 60 sovereign states. It is the third-most-common native language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the European Union, many Commonwealth countries and the United Nations, as well as in many world organisations. "English has official or special status in at least 75 countries with a combined population of two billion people. It is estimated that one out of four people worldwide speak English with some degree of competence."(Tony Reilly, "English Changes Lives." The Sunday Times [UK], November 11, 2012)

Part of Beowulf, a poem written in Old English.

An example of Middle English by Chaucer.

Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" lines, written in Early Modern English by Shakespeare.


A brief chronology of English
55 BC
Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar.
Local inhabitants speak Celtish
AD 43
Roman invasion and occupation. Beginning of Roman rule of Britain.
Roman withdrawal from Britain complete.
Settlement of Britain by Germanic invaders begins
Earliest known Old English inscriptions.
Old English
William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invades and conquers England.
Earliest surviving manuscripts in Middle English.
Middle English
English replaces Latin as the language of instruction in most schools.
English replaces French as the language of law. English is used in Parliament for the first time.
Chaucer starts writing The Canterbury Tales.
The Great Vowel Shift begins.
William Caxton establishes the first English printing press.
Early Modern English
Shakespeare is born.
Table Alphabeticall, the first English dictionary, is published.
The first permanent English settlement in the New World (Jamestown) is established.
Shakespeare dies.
Shakespeare's First Folio is published
The first daily English-language newspaper, The Daily Courant, is published in London.
Samuel Johnson publishes his English dictionary.
Thomas Jefferson writes the American Declaration of Independence.
Britain abandons its colonies in what is later to become the USA.
Webster publishes his American English dictionary.
Late Modern English
The British Broadcasting Corporation is founded.
The Oxford English Dictionary is published.

The English language has borrowed words from all global languages to supplement its vast vocabulary. It has spread to  every nook and corner of the world making earth a ‘global village’. The vocabulary of English is undoubtedly very large. The current FAQ for the OED further  states: How many words are there in the English language? There is no single sensible answer to this question. It's impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (OED2) includes over 600,000 definitions, following a rather inclusive policy . However , The editors of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged include 475,000 main headwords, but in their preface they estimate the true number to be much higher .

Globalization  necessitates the learning of a language which is international. In the case of English in India, more than two centuries, India has been directly and indirectly had influence of the English language on all the fields. Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca, is the dominant language or in some instances even the required international language of communications, science, information technology, business, seafaring, aviation, entertainment, radio, and diplomacy. Moreover there is no single language to unite the whole country where there are many languages ,cultures and religions . One  linguistic community is reluctant to learn one common Indian language ,we have to borrow a new non-Indian language which is undoubtedly English. It is the  link language of communication between the states and the  centre, inter-state commerce and communication besides international trade and  commerce. India has reversed its former campaign against the language of its colonial rulers. The rush for admissions to English medium schools is a testimony to our recognition to English for upward mobility.  Since 2005, India has had the world’s largest English-speaking population, with far many more people using the language than before independence.  It has definitely played a part in the integration of various cultures and languages, people and art forms across the world.

 English means prosperity to the downtrodden and backward classes who see a ray of hope to raise themselves from the demeaning  poverty  , negligence and age old discrimination.  It helps them to communicate and  survive against the odds. English is the window which shows them  the world. We must make the best use of English to prosper   culturally and materially so that we can compete with the developed  world .

Poets and authors have contributed to this  language immensely .It is through this medium that Shakespeare ,Milton and Bernard Shaw   expressed their dreams and hopes, joys and sorrows,  rhymes and rhythms with greatest ease. Many Indians have become so skilled in English language and have won many international awards for creative and comparative literatures during the last few years.  Contemporary writers like Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdi, Kiran Desai,R. K Narayan  etc. have evolved themselves  in this linguistic milieu . To all of them, English is a window to the vast, wide world of fame and appreciation. Swami Vivekananda established the greatness of Indian view of religion at the world conference of religions in Chicago in 1893. He addressed the gathering in impressive English. We can make use of English to promote our worldview and spiritual heritage throughout the globe.

Now this language is the blue-eyed boy  of all nations and all people. The elites of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon have dumped French in favour of English. And China is about to launch a colossal programme to tackle one of the few remaining obstacles to its breakneck economic expansion: a paucity of English speakers.

Generally, standard English today does not depend on accent but rather on shared educational experience, mainly of the printed language. Considering the above facts, learning English, the universal language, as a Second Language, becomes inevitable in Indian education system. English is unavoidable to a student,  prerequisite for a  job seeker, inescapable to a middle aged man  while taming   the boredom  of recollecting his past .

.  He finds solace in keeping in touch with his dear and near ones through the most vibrant channel   of the present world - the internet of which  the most common  language  is English.