Updated: September 2, 2012 20:58 IST

I am the Other

Mridula Garg
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Manohar Shyam Joshi’s style of using many instead of a specific dialect has set his works apart from the rest in his time.

The moment one says dialect, one recalls the Bhakti Period; 14 to 17 century, of Hindi Poetry, when all major poets, many of them dalits, wrote in dialects rather than Sanskrit. The aim was to subvert religious ritual and prove that Sanskrit was not needed to expound new philosophies. Manohar Shyam Joshi was the true descendant of bhakti poets’ subversion through use of dialects.

Many writers use their native dialect to accentuate the exoticism or ethnicity of their work. What differentiates Joshi is not only the multiplicity of dialects used, but the role they play in revealing and accentuating the content, the main motif being, “I am the other.” The use of many instead of a located dialect helps construct a larger picture of the “Other” as an essential part of the “Self”.

Joshi’s vision in brief was: “The deconstructed image of every experience, emotion, and reflection I have, exists within me. Whatever I say or do in my text, I immediately deny, because there are a number of options, known or unknown, real, experienced or imaginary, which are as clear to me as those I have just written, spoken or experienced.”

In his first novel, Kuru kuru Swaha (1980), he used a number of languages/ dialects including the Hindi, spoken in Mumbai underbelly. Strictly speaking it is slang but its effectual and frequent use in films, followed by works of fiction, has given it the status of a dialect. He interspersed it with other languages: Bengali-Hindi mix, Sanskrit-laced Hindi and pure Sanskrit. He created a three-layered persona; variously called Joshiji, a high brow intellectual; Manohar Shyam Joshi, film script writer and the narrator of the novel and Manohar, sentimental adolescent, who has never grown emotionally. It did not denote a split personality but one, who questioned his own veracity at every step, equally conscious of his hypocritical intellectual snobbery, dormant infantilism and worldly-wise manipulative behaviour.

The response to a situation sometimes came from one; sometimes the other component of the narrator, the language used giving away his identity. While Joshiji used a chaste Sanskrit-laced Hindi viz: Imagine that abominable Khaleek and that aristocratic beauty together; Manohar Shyam used a Mumbia Hindi viz: If the angel covets that abomination, why should my old man be pissed?; the child-like Manohar used words stolen from B grade films viz there will be no night, no sleep, no torment of dreams.

Mixed dialect

Most other characters spoke Mumbia Hindi but the maestro film maker Rathijit Bhattacharya (Ritwik Ghatak) spoke a mix of Bengali-Hindi and English.

“Ae Manhar, why you make dinky like face? Angry? I had only this to say, keep ambition in your heart.”

“You said the theme is lousy.”

“Point is, lousy has many standards, many category. One Sharachandra’s lousy, Tagore’s lousy, even what you say your Shakespeare’s lousy. Ok tell me the theme you related to me, O…whose lousy?”


“Mine means? You have a name, no?”

“Manohar Shyam Joshi.”

“Then say so. Theme I related to you, O, Manhar Siyam Josi’s lousy.”

He used his native kumaoni with lyrical and absurd effect. The titles Kasap and Kyap are idiomatic kumaoni words, which describe a state of mind and are generally considered untranslatable. The Americans have given us an English equivalent of kyap in “whatever”. Both are best expressed by a shrug of the shoulders.

Kasap means “How to know”. The use of kumaoni denotes not only the location but “How to know what love is” also sums up the world view of the novel. The hero calls it “Ya ki” or “This or that”, while the more astute heroine says, “Isn’t my Being, being in love?” When the writer intervenes in the narrative, he uses Sanskritised khadi boli. “The heroine asks with wily recklessness, isn’t my Being, being in love? The recklessness would have been worth reflection, had it not been beyond cerebration.”

When the heroine’s father, a Sanskrit scholar feels sad and hapless, he speaks the dialect of Varanasi, where he had lived, loved and lost; a mix of bhojpuri and avadhi, rather than kumaoni. “Kartikeye ks mahtaaree,” he cries out to his wife, instead of “kartikeyek eja”. Harking back to another dialect thus becomes a paradigm for nostalgic despair.

The other title Kyap justifies itself, not by being located in Kumaon but by the meaning it gives to the content. The language used in this fasak (novel) is not kumaoni but khadi boli. It is a satirical but authentic record of the rise and fall of the half-baked Marxist ideology and movement of the middle class of Northern India and the language they spoke was khadi boli. The use of kumaoni word fasak for novel is both revealing and intriguing. Fasak on one hand means gup or a tall-tale and on the other, gulp, a synonym for short fiction. The tale ends as kyap and the author clarifies. “You’ll say, this tale is nothing but a kyap (or ends as whatever). Patience, blessed readers, that’s exactly my lament.”

In Hamzad, the other takes the form of a resident evil within us, which we battle throughout our lives. The novel deals with degeneration so intimately that it seems the author is advocating it. Actually, it comes out of a sense of disillusionment and despondency and sows seeds of rejection, hence regeneration, not love of decadence in the readers. The dialect, Persian-Urdu, accentuates the depiction of debauchery touched with refinement.

In Haria Hercules ki Hairani, the perplexity of the protagonist starts with wondering if there was another like him elsewhere (in goomaling)?

To quote: “…is goomaling, a meaningless word?” I asked.

“No, on the other hand, it is so meaningful that you can spend your whole life in trying to understand it. As far as I have understood, goomaling means, I myself am the other.”

The novel progresses from the gross to the sublime, yet never loses sight of the mundane option. Joshi does not preach. He offers you a panorama of conflicting reflections, affectations, behaviour patterns perceived as abnormal, which are present as undercurrents in those deemed normal. Then he lets you find your own resolution.

In Kapishji, the insignificant “Other” is a puerile lad from Indian backwaters, a cipher in everything, studies, sports, music and drama. What he has in ample measure are feminine wiles learnt from earthy women and feminine intuition. Through their market-oriented use, he manages to become a guru in the US. The class hierarchy is overturned; the peripheral is established at the Centre and the foremost reduces itself willingly to the “Other”. The qasbah, sardonically named Rangkangali (penurious in Art), could be any Indian small town with a dubious glorious past and a decrepit present, both signifying otherness. In keeping with Joshi’s acerbic but cerebral use of dialect, this novel, straddling two countries, from Indian hinterland to American mainland, is written in rustic Hindi, meandering between colloquial speech of the unlettered and the ornate expressions of the scholarly.

In conclusion

To substantiate my thesis about the other, I quote from the preface of his novel Kaun hoon Main. Question… “ke? (Who is it)?” Answer… “aami (I).”

“Readers who chant I, I, be warned. You are you, only as long as others recognise you as you. The moment they don’t, you become nobody.”

In sum, language, dialect, dialogue, even monologue is possible only as long as the other has a presence, outside or within us.

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