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The three-fold path

By V.S. Jayaschandran

(December 01, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Karunanidhi is most merciful. He has demanded Indian citizenship for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa says he is thereby “trivialising” the Tamil struggle in Lanka. But trivia is good for Alzheimer’s. It can irrigate brain cells.

Intellectuals feign contempt for trivia. Gossips love it. In modern politics, nothing can rival Churchill trivia. The prime minister walked about naked in his room and dictated letters in his bathtub. Franklin Roosevelt invited him to the White House in 1941. Churchill was dictating to his stenographer Patrick Kinna when the president knocked on the door. Churchill said, “Come in,” and Roosevelt entered and was dazzled by the pink pendant. “As you can see, Mr President,” Churchill said, “I have nothing to hide from you.”

In a cartoon, Abu Abraham lampooned President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signing away ordinances in his bathtub during the Emergency. If Churchill were alive, he might have sued the cartoonist for copyright. Kinna died this year at age 95.

Sri Lankans, too, treasure their political trivia. The playboy John Kotelawala was the prime minister when Queen Elizabeth II visited Colombo in 1954. At a reception, her skirt flew up and mushroomed in a sudden gust, and the prime minister shouted in Sinhala to the official photographer: “Ganing, yokko, ganing (Shoot, you beggar, shoot.)” The loyal photographer did not miss Her Thighness.

Trivia wasn’t always trivial. Trivia was a junction of three paths—tri is three and via means way. It became associated with titbits because people who met at crossroads exchanged gossip. Hecate Trivia, the Greek goddess of three paths, was the protector of newborns, women and households. Male chauvinists reduced her to the patron of witches. Panchsheel was based on the Buddhist eight-fold path. It became Hindi-Chini border trivia.

Scholars in the Middle Ages were called trivialists. They studied trivium, the lower division of a university course comprising grammar, rhetoric and logic. These were the basics of the seven liberal arts. The higher division, quadrivium, had mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy.

Kotelawala lost the election in 1956 to Solomon Bandaranaike thanks to Buddhist bhikkhus who supported the ‘Sinhala Only’ campaign. Bhikkhu is a Pali word derived from the Sanskrit bhikshu. A bhikshu begs food (bhiksha). The Russian word for food is pischa, which is related to bhiksha and possibly to the Tamil pichai and pichakaran (beggar).

The Russian word for brother (Sanskrit bhrata) is brat. That is apt. Bog, the Russian word for God, could be related to Bhagwan. God help Bengal’s Buddha. He might face another Mamata-Maoist kolahal if he acquires land for a Russian nuclear plant at Haripur. He should watch Kolokol Chernobylya, the first film on the nuclear accident. Kolokol means warning bell in Russian.

We are suckers for nuclear deals. Sugar in Moscow is sakhar. Sanskrit sharkara khanda and Persian shakar kand became French sucre candi and English sugar candy. Pia Glenn, jilted by sugar daddy Salman Rushdie, says she isn’t the kind of woman who would be his “arm candy”. She all but called him midnight baby, a euphemism for bastard. The title Midnight’s Children is subversive.

Karl Marx, the communist god, had a midnight baby. The boy’s mother, Helen Demuth, had joined Marx’s wife as a maidservant at age 8. Marx never paid the proletarian for a lifetime of slavery in his house. Helen became pregnant in 1850, two years after Marx and Engels gave the call, “Workers of the world, unite.” She gave the child—Henry Frederick Demuth—the first and middle names of Marx and Engels, and her surname. It was perhaps a three-way thing. Marx forced Engels to own up the parentage, but Engels in deathbed blew the lid. “Freddy is Marx’s son,” he told Eleanor, a daughter of Marx. Labour problems never go away.

(The writer can be reached at wickedword09@gmail.com)
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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