Day 5: Tempest and Tranquillity

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“Sometimes I feel like my life is someone else’s dream”~ ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, Kate Tempest.

Last time, I told you about Nabokov, the man who squeezed the bottom of my lungs and forced a gasp out of my throat. This time, let me tell you about hypnotism.

It’s not of the slow you are getting sleeeeepy pendulum kind. I wasn’t sleepy. I was awake, alive, and frozen.

When Kate Tempest said Imagine, I did; when she said Jemma and Ester and Pete and Zoe, I saw them come closer and closer and melt into my limbs. I’ve no doubt that if she’d said we stand here and grow roots, I’d have stood up, grown roots, and become an amaltash tree.

Kate, do you realise that you gave us no choice?

I sat there, breathing only when I heard her breathe into the mike. That was the only chance I had to catch my breath, as she piloted us, brakeless, weightless, into a journey from which we all came back more than a little ragged. A little broken in the best possible way.

I come away from this year’s Jaipur Lit Fest with books, few photos, and other things more important- Lila Zanganeh’s happiness, Kate Tempest’s chaotic brilliance, Sholeh Wolpé’s sweetness, Rosalyn D’Mello’s courage, among others. I leave with more goals, a desire to build and grow, to engage in passion more. I leave with the idea of working at writing, of getting better by working harder and every day. A lesson at once simple and confusing.

I leave with a knowledge of living with people I don’t know, in an unfamiliar family scene. I came expecting a hotel, and when I found a family home, I was shaken and a little afraid. But somewhere in between my first makki ki roti and preparing the child for an upcoming test, I found comfort, and a space that I could, for five wonderful days, call my own.

I leave hoping to come back some day. Hopefully, soon.

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People underestimate semicolons. No, really, they do. I can’t wait for the day when that poor, sidelined punctuation mark gets up, shakes itself and shows the world that it’s boss.

Not that the words ‘poor’ and ‘sidelined’ apply at all to the semicolon. Those sneaky little buggers have a way of worming themselves into your language and then staying there, whether you like it or not. You’ll be using semicolons in your speech without even knowing it; you’ll be giving those little breaks and pauses which sound absolutely ridiculous with a comma, into which the hitherto-scorned semicolon fits like a hand in a glove. In a week, you’ll be using more semicolons than full stops; before the end of the month, you’ll be wondering how you ever survived without them.

Friction proves the gold genuine, they say; and perhaps no punctuation mark has been taken apart, stitched back together, rubbed raw, kicked around and generally been ill-used by well-meaning grammarians the way the semicolon has. Yet it persists, nay, thrives, and its power only grows day by day. Surely this dogged perseverance, this never-say-die attitude, is a sign that it is worthy of being accepted into the legions of accepted punctuation marks of English grammar, for this persistence is the hallmark of winners.

To say that Bernard Shaw sprinkles his work with this most controversial punctuation mark would be an insult to the artistry of a maestro; but certainly, in his writing, we see a man who venerates them and accuses the famous T. E Lawrence of ‘mental defectiveness’ for employing practically none in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.He writes thus:

“You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life.”

On the other hand, Gertrude Stein has this to say:

“They [semicolons] are more powerful more imposing more pretentious than a comma but they are a comma all the same. They really have within them deeply within them fundamentally within them the comma nature.” 

Here are some other viewpoints:

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” ~Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country.

 

“With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it’s a useful little chap.” ~Abraham Lincoln.

 

“Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines further on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.” ~Lewis Thomas.

With all due respect, Vonnegut’s dismissal of the semicolon seems to me too peremptory. It doesn’t do the semicolon- either its virtues or its perceived ills- any justice. And god, it’s caustic; it’s like he has a personal grudge against the punctuation mark. I mean, ‘transvestite hermaphrodite’, really? I don’t even know if that’s possible. But that aside, the semicolon does not only ‘show that you’ve been to college’. Alright, it might indicate a well-educated young writer well acquainted with all the rules of grammar. But I believe it shows someone with a flexible mind. The writer who uses semicolons can follow the threads of an idea to the end, and can do so elegantly, combining both long sentences and short sentence fragments effortlessly. Semicolons are, I think, not like ‘a wooden bench… where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath’. I simply think of them in a manner more similar to Abraham Lincoln: ‘it’s a useful little chap’.

But really, who am I to tell you what punctuation marks to use, and the pros and cons and the nature of each? I use semicolons, but I can’t presume to advise you whether or not to use them. But I will say this:

“Use semicolons.”