Books

George K Mathew’s book Nonsense Verse is filled with humour and reflects the eclectic life of a professor

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George K Mathew’s book Nonsense Verse is filled with humour, warmth and depth that are a reflection of the MCC professor’s eclectic life

The Cobra’s upset

That he can’t read in bed

As his spectacles are

At the back of his head.

Dr Seuss, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll were among the more famous of the community that trotted out nonsense verse to the larger world. Writing rhyme that echoes in a rat-a-tat fashion while being inventive has been the hallmark of nonsense verse and it is read and understood by very few and written to acclaim by fewer still.

Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, Seuss’ The Lorax, Carroll’s Jabberwocky and Vogon poetry in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are popular, but a few remain in the shadows. One such gem that was unearthed recently was George K Mathew’s Nonsense Verse (published by Speaking Tiger).

Chennai-based Mathew was Professor of English at Madras Christian College (MCC), where teaching Shakespeare, especially the sonnets, was his forte. He was editor of the MCC Magazine and director of many plays during his time there and authored a novel, The Wind and the Rain.

Mathew brought to his writing a vast experience that came from his eclectic life. Born in 1930 and raised in British Malaya on the eve of the Japanese invasion, he managed to learn a smattering of Nippon-go when his school administration changed hands. A few years after the end of the Second World War he came to Tambaram to study at MCC that drew a cosmopolitan gathering of students from many continents. A new-found love for theatre, in particular Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller and Vijay Tendulkar, led to him directing a parade of plays. Mathew passed away in 2011 but his writings live on. Published by his family, the book has a foreword by his grandson Varun who spells out why the limericks should be enjoyed.

George K Mathew’s book Nonsense Verse is filled with humour and reflects the eclectic life of a professor

Mathew’s son Sunil, who lives in Australia, answers a few questions about putting the book together.

What prompted the publishing of Nonsense Verse?

One of Prof Mathew’s abilities was his capacity for creating a story behind all things. Nonsense Verse is the culmination of him engaging these faculties almost every day of his post-college years. At the time of his passing, Nonsense Verse was an almost-finished work that needed only some collation before it was publishable — and its humour, warmth and depth is the reason it was always intended that it be published. There are more limericks that were not included so as to keep the collection concise and generally savoury.

As to why limericks, he felt that this form lent itself to demonstrating the semantic flexibility of the English language, allowing him to describe things in unique ways. This feature of the work promises much to those who seek to expand their grasp of the language by confronting its homophones, homonyms and other vagaries.

What is The Wind and the Rain about?

The Wind and the Rain is a love-story set in a fictional town in Kerala, based on Mathew’s home village. While in plot, the novel follows the enduring mutual affections of its main duo Roy and Maya, it becomes clear early on that the real love story is between the author and the other characters that made up his former setting. (The book is not in print now).

The verses mostly relate to animals. Is there a reason?

Spending many of his years living on the MCC campus meant daily encounters with the spectrum of wildlife that the college housed. Naturally, these provided a source of inspiration for him, as he was liable to more than a momentary marvel at the natural world — which he saw as intelligent and purposeful.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 2:54:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-man-who-wrote-nonsense-verse/article29942507.ece

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