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Reading the world and reading the word?

Simona's picture

I found myself really struck the other day about our conversation of Kanai and Piya reading the world versus reading the word, and their similarities and differences and interconnections. “Minutes later, she was back in position with her binoculars fixed to her eyes, watching the water with a closeness of attention that reminded Kanai of a textual scholar poring over a yet undeciphered manuscript: it was as though she were puzzling over a codex that had been authored by the earth itself” (222). Kanai as a reader of the word, Piya as a reader of the world: from Kanai’s perspective, Piya as “a language made flesh” (223). But I also want to push against my attachment to this binary of reading the world versus reading the word, as if there were no intersections. Piya doesn’t totally know how to read the tide country as a world yet, and neither does Kanai, as they both trip in the mud. And, as the book progresses and Kanai is faced with challenges and contradictions to his norms and paradigms, he looses his words. When faced with a tiger, words don’t exist anymore, he almost can’t function. Maybe this is sort of a disconnection, but maybe it is more closely tied to his ultra-connected experiences as a translator: “the act of interpretation had given him the momentary sensation of being transported out of his body and into another. In each instance it was as if the instrument of language has metamorphosed—instead of being a barrier, a curtain that divided, it had become a transparent film, a prism that allowed him to look through another set of eyes, to filter the world through a mind other than his own” (270). Did he become the tiger? (Side note: I haven’t read much past Kanai’s tiger encounter alone on the island, but will by tomorrow).


Additionally, I found myself wondering where Fokir fits into this not-binary but interconnected spectrum of reading the world and words. Does he read the world in the same way that Piya does? Is he the world, as a wordless (from our perspective) human representation of tide country? Is his essence, and the essence of tide country truly untranslatable, just as we recognize that language may be less of a clear translation and more of an interpretation? “Kanai turned away from her to say a few words to Fokir, and suddenly, to Piya’s surprise, Fokir began to sing, or rather to chant, in a quick rhythm. ‘What’s he saying?’ Piya said to Kanai. ‘Can you translate?’ ‘I’m sorry, Piya,’ Kanai said. ‘But this is beyond my power. He’s chanting a part of the Bon Bibi legend and the meter is too complicated. I can’t do it’” (255). Nirmal writes about interacting with Fokir as a child, discussing crabs, but more so discussing the ever-changing state of a seemingly frail environ like the tide country, “how long can this frail fence last against these monstrous appetites?” (172). I was really struck by this last bit, but am still working through in my mind how it connects to this all: “’Who indeed, Fokir? Neither angels nor men will hear us, and as for the animals, they won’t hear us either.’ ‘Why not, Saar?’ ‘Because of what the Poet says, Fokir. Because the animals

already know by instinct

we’re not comfortably at home

in our translated world’” (172).



jo's picture

"our translated world"

This idea that for us humans the 'natural world' is translated, or must be translated in order for us to inhabit it. We need to modify it, to build and develop and control other species in order for it to be inhabitable. And in places like the Sundarbans, human discomfort is particularly obvious. In fact, the tide country has a way of resisting translation, refusing to accomodate humanity. While reading I was constantly struck by the continuous stream of examples showcasing nature's strength over humanity (a contradictory statement, I'll admit) - "It is common knowledge that almost every island in the tide country has been inhabited at some time or another. But to look at them you would never know: the specialty of mangroves is that they do not merely recolonize land; they erase time." (from chapter S'Daniel) The Sundarbans, it seems, might be one of the few places where humans fail to leave lasting marks, or even scars.

Still, I was intrigued by how differently Jessica framed the intense conflict between humans and nature in her post (perhaps in a more desire-based way): "The value of death and life are constant with the value of nature. Without nature, without wildlife, without it's cycle, we wouldn't be able to survive, to exist...What keeps us alive, can also end us." This line in particular reminded me of a quote from Andy Goldsworthy that describes much of his eco-art: "the very thing that brings the work to life is the thing that causes its death." In the context of the tide country, it is a remarkable contradiction how humans create for themselves an existence that both relies heavily on and is extremely threatened by their environment. Perhaps this conflict accounts for Nirmal's designation of Kolkata and the tide country as prose vs. poetry. Does poetry inherently allow for or carry more contradiction than prose?