Many many years ago, as part of a language class, we introduced gibberish and nonsense to shatter inhibitions in learning a new language. We used the navarasas (the nine emotions – laughter, compassion, anger, courage, surprise, love etc) and a line of gibberish to act out and play different ‘nonsense’ games. Students loved it and as we used different second languages they became more comfortable with the language.
Eight years later, I picked up ‘The Tenth Rasa – An anthology of Indian Nonsense”, edited by Michael Heyman. Since it was a selection of stories and poems, I first started reading poems which caught my attention and then read the rest. The tenth rasa (coined by Sukumar Ray) is whimsy.
So, what is ‘Nonsense’? According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, it is ‘words or language having no meaning or conveying no intelligible ideas’. Heyman, however, writes that nonsense usually emerges from an excess of sense, not lack of it. We have all read ‘The Mad Tea Party’ in Alice in Wonderland and the ‘Jabberwocky’ from the Looking Glass and Dr. Suess who uses ‘nonsensical’ words. One of the most famous is Edward Lear’s, ‘Owl and the Pussy Cat’ which we have read as kids is an example of literary nonsense.
In the book, there is a chapter, Nonsense in Hindi Films. One of it was the famous scene in Namak Halaal where Amitabh Bachan and his ‘I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English….’ Another interesting poem isUncle Tetra Hedran in a Pyramid, Egypt playing with the idea of a tetrahedron being a triangular pyramid.
The book has a section called Folk nonsense which includes nursery rhymes and children’s games. An interesting Tamil poem is Mister Rat (translated by V Geetha)
Mister Rat, Mister Rat
Where are you going?
I’m going off to London
To see Elizabeth Queen
You will get hungry on the way
Pray, what will you eat?
I’ll buy bajjis and vadas, hot
and give myself a treat.
Thought the poem seems similar to ‘Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where have you been?’ In the Tamil poem, the poet is making fun of the Indian expats, eating their bajjis and vadas even in London, holding on to their roots from across the ocean. Some poems are anti-colonial and some ridiculing the caste system. A lot of nonsense poems play with words which make them interesting.
When we were kids we played a lot of games. Avallaki pavalkki kanchina mina mina dam dum das bus qui qotar was one of them. The hide and seek song we played as kids was kanna muche kade goode, udinna moote…
Another one was
Alli Nodu (look there)
Illi Nodu (look here)
Sampangimaradalli gumpu nodu (see the group in the margosa tree)
yaava gumpu (which group)
kaage gumpu (a group of crows)
Yaava kaage (what crow)
Kappu kaage (black crow)
Yaava kappu (What black)
and it goes on..
The book has examples of many chain verses and game rhymes from many Indian languages. I enjoyed reading the book but it would have been nice if the original text in the given language was also there. I would have loved to read the Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam texts.