Category Archives: University Coursework

An Excuse.

Emails in the coming month,
May receive quite slow replies,
I write from within a pile of coursework,
For this sorry state, I apologise.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Uncategorized, University Coursework

Papa Don’t Preach

Still working on my radio script about kirtan this week. With each new draft I’m trying to distill what it actually is that I want people to feel and understand by listening to it.

It’s hard. Perhaps part of it comes from the difficult process of unpicking exactly why I think kirtan is so great? Do I really believe that it’s the greatest answer to the world’s problems, or do I just know that believing it gives me approval within my own society? If I’m not totally convinced myself, how do I communicate that doubt to an audience, without diminishing the message?

I understand more and more the gap between preaching and practise. I’ve grown up being able to explain some simple philosophy, as well as becoming a little familiar with more difficult concepts just by being exposed to them. This is one kind of spiritual knowledge. But I don’t think it’s really knowledge in a true sense unless it’s then internalised and practised with full faith. Is it?

Maybe the ability to preach or evangelise is no more than just being charismatic or  good with words. Without the truth of personal experience and conviction behind the exclamations,  I wonder if the message can ever have a very long lasting effect.

O, it is far easier to study and press a thousand truths upon others, than to feel the power of one truth upon our own hearts.

–  John Flavel, 1627-1691

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Filed under Creative Writing, Krishna Consciousness, Uncategorized, University Coursework

The Chicken Soup Trap

I’m in the process of creating a radio programme about kirtan at the moment, for a final year university project. It’s aimed at people who know little, or nothing about kirtan, and will include interviews with a wide range of people whose lives are affected by it. Yesterday I went for a tutorial with my project supervisor who picked my latest draft to pieces, exclaiming at the cliches and unnecessary sentimentality. It was liberating! It’s so wonderful to be edited by an unbiased ear. She advised me to be very aware of the fact that I’m a ‘believer’ and not to fall into the trap of telling the audience that they should be inspired, rather than simply showing them, and allowing them to decide. Another valuable point was that when writing about inspiring, transforming experiences, it’s easy to fall into the ‘Chicken Soup trap’. The Chicken Soup for the Soul books are a hugely successful American series of heart warming true stories and poetry that almost drip off the page with syrupy sentiment. Needless to say, that’s not the route I want to go down.

‘You’re not American, you’re English!’ she exclaimed. ‘You don’t need to write like this. If you put this kind of cliched writing on British radio, your audience will just laugh.’

So, it’s a work in progress. I’m just beginning to learn how to do the actual sound editing – another totally new venture. If all goes to plan, I’ll be able to broadcast it here once I’ve finished.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Inspiration!, Krishna Consciousness, University Coursework

All I Do Is Read and Write

I’ve been writing the most brain destroying essay for the last eight days.  Here’s a sample:

The necessity of the Co-operative principle, being central to Gricean theory, is often disputed by theorists. Relevance Theory, as proposed and outlined by Sperber and Wilson (1995) does not ascribe to this idea of co-operation in communication being the focal issue, but does concur with Grice’s opinion on the essentiality of expression and recognition of intentions in human conversation. (Sperber and Wilson, 2004: 1)
Sperber and Wilson build upon Grice’s foundational model of inferential communication but offer an alternative approach in many respects. Whilst they also agree with Grice’s intuition that utterances create expectations of relevance, (ibid.) they reason that ‘the expectations of relevance raised by an utterance are precise enough, and predictable enough, to guide the hearer towards the speaker’s meaning.’ (Sperber and Wilson, 2004: 2)

I am truly about to just hand it in, whatever state it’s in, though I know it’s not quite finished. Part of me finds it difficult to continue to do these assignments when the end is so near, and I know that this degree isn’t really going to mean much to me anyway. Certainly giving my opinion on whether Relevance Theory is an improvement on Gricean ideas won’t help me to pay whatever bills await. I suppose you never know. There is a higher plan, of that much I’m sure.

Aside from this essay, I’ve been writing for other projects, catching up on emails that I ignored while I was away, writing reports of the trip for Gauravani.com, and finding myself sitting here writing a blog when I should be finishing my abominable essay. And I don’t even want to start on the amount of books I’m in various stages of reading. My bedside table looks like a book sale. Currently I’ve got all the bookmarks I own on the go (plus paper scraps), with Vaisnava Compassion by Satsvarupa Maharaj; Krsna, Israel and the Druze by Dhira Govinda Dasa; A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth; The Art of Sadhana by B.P. Puri Maharaj; Songs of Three Great South Indian Saints by William Jackson; The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton; Jaiva Dharma by Bhaktivinode Thakur – I could go on but there’s no point. Perhaps I should just face up to the fact that this entire blog is blatant procrastination that I can’t afford to indulge in, and get back to the dry debate on conversational maxims.

But I shouldn’t complain. I chose this after all.

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Filed under Linguistics, University Coursework

Crisp Packet Kirtans, Exam Results and Indian Trains

I’m leaving on Thursday and I still haven’t received my results for the past academic year. Not that I’m stressed out about it. I don’t think I’ve failed. But it would be nice to know, instead of being kept in suspense.

Pretty much all of my coursework was speed-written after I came back from India and I really hope it didn’t show too much. Normally I can do things pretty well under last-minute pressure but they say pride comes before a fall right? This could be my moment!

Since I’ve been re-reading the work I did (trying to see if it was really as bad as I remembered), I thought I’d let whoever is interested have a look too. Here’s an excerpt from my final creative piece I wrote – a piece of travel writing inspired by my trip to Vrindavan:

‘Prabhupada is the greatest!’ my driver proclaims, as we take the Vrindavan turn-off, passing under a huge sandstone arch. The road is aptly named ‘Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg’. On the other side of the road, a snake of jazzily painted buses are parked, half leaning into the roadside ditch. People stream from them, following the gloved directions of guards, clad head to toe in pastel blue. They usher the crowds sternly into a nearby field, where a gigantic white canopy has been set up.
‘They are here to listen to a bhogi yogi,’ my driver shouts, as he brakes sharply.
‘He tells them that they don’t need to worship any God, as long as they worship him.’
‘And they believe him?’, I ask incredulously.
He grins, showing two even rows of red-stained teeth. ‘They’re all crazy. Prabhupada is the only one we need!’
My inner cynic tells me he’s hoping his comments will yield a healthy tip. I’m half right.

If you want to read on, here’s the full piece: In Search of Heaven N.B. If you know Vrindavan well, some things in this may be a little inaccurate. I took a teensy bit of artistic licence. At the suggestion of my tutor, who gave me some feedback that the piece was too religiously sympathetic in places, I also tried to write in a more balanced (skeptical?) voice than I would, if I was writing for devotees.

It’s an amalgam of two Vrindavan trips I’ve made in the past year, but the opening train ride comes from the most recent one. It was a fun one. Travelling with nine friends, we were almost doomed to the intense boredom that comes from booking seats on one of the slowest trains to Delhi there is. Luckily, we found ways to entertain ourselves, including: getting out all the instruments we had/could improvise – violin, flute, crisp packets, Tupperware containers, scrunchy pieces of paper and having a kirtan, much to the amusement of our fellow passengers.

One of the passengers opposite got talking to us and I ended up talking to him for over two hours about our philosophy. I’m not used to preaching to people, and it was quite an interesting experience for me, finding out that I know more than I think I do. He was a really thoughtful person, but a bit misguided, and I went to bed that night wishing I had a book to give him. In the morning I was going to give him the address of the Delhi temple, or get his address to give him a book. I didn’t realise he was getting out at the station before us, and I hopelessly watched as I came out of the bathroom and saw him and his bags disappear out  of the door. I came back to the cabin to find out that he’d given one of our group his number, but it turned out to be invalid. Oh well, I hope he felt inspired to find out more anyway.

Wow, this post is not turning out as coherent as I’d hoped. I blame it on my Ayurvedic medicine, which is driving me crazy. Stinky herbs six times a day, does not a happy girl make. Anyway, what I had planned to say at this point is that, if you would like, you can also read the critique of this piece I had to write (including  an annotated bibliography – which can be quite interesting, if I say so myself).

Here it is: Critique-Essay

Come to think of it, I think my results may be coming on Monday…fingers crossed.

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Three Themes

My tutor gave us three themes: Home, Time and Identity, and asked us to write a brief poem or piece of prose exploring them in any way.

Home

Home is round, home is complete. The ‘O’ tells me that I am in the right place. Standing in the centre of those four people, our palindromic unit. Two older, two younger, and me. Home is orange rectangles, sharply defined in the dark indigo night. Home is: places that occupy layers of memory. Here I see the same roof, the same lawn; here I stand, there I played. Home is here and home is there; as I get older I realise this. Home is not my town or my country. Home is water, hot or cold. Home is spices: cumin, mustard and turmeric. Home is in the songs I sing; in the notes I play; home lives within the tune of the morning and the evening. I dance the steps of home wherever I am, those invisible patterns etched on every floor. Home is there, in that place beyond to which I journey; one more firefly in the dusk.

Time

Tell me brother, who you are. You blue clothed boy; with your peach skin smooth face. Lying amongst frills, who are you? You, little seed, how tall is the tree that rests within you? Who are you, as those first teeth cut through swollen gums? What dreams skip beneath your eyelids as your summer freckles lie on the pillow? How many words rest inside your little mouth? Tell me brother, who you are. What secrets lie within those growing hands and feet? You of confident smile and budding sarcasm, who are you? You, proud owner of a digital watch and freshly bruised knees. Who are you brother, with your world, ten years from mine?

…………………………….

 

 

 

Identity

J is for Jahnavi, a sacred river.
A is for altar, my compass needle,
H is for the hands with which I write.
N, for never forgetting faces, must be thousands by now.
A is also for amateur, in every way.
V is for the instrument that shapes my hours,
I, for Indus – ancient valley of home.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Family, Inspiration!, Krishna Consciousness, University Coursework

I am liking very much!

On Monday I finished all of my coursework assignments and handed them in. One of them was a short essay on the dialect ‘Indian English’ and it’s context within Britain. My teacher reacted with interest when I told her I wanted to write on this topic, instead of a regular British regional dialect.

Devotees must seem so unusual to ‘regular people’. I remember in my first Linguistics class ever, the professor went around the room, asking people what language knowledge they had. French, Spanish, Polish, German – they all went up on the board; but only one person wrote up ‘some Sanskrit and other Indian languages’. And that person was probably the least expected person to write that – me, white with red hair, looking as Anglo-Celtic as you can get.

I think that growing up in ISKCON is what first sparked my interest in linguistics. Being part of a culture with, first of all, such an international membership (and therefore potential contact with many different languages) and secondly, central focus on written texts and culture in several Indian languages, creates such an interesting breeding ground for language creation and growth. What to speak of the fact that ISKCON, as a society, is still very new.

As part of my university course, I’d love to do further studies in this particular vein. It’s so interesting to observe how my generation are responding to the language they’ve been brought up with and changing things – making new meaning. In turn, the older generation respond to this, either adopting the changes, or resisting them. Maybe it could be a book – ‘How The Whompers Got Their Name: Linguistic Oddity in a New Vaishnava Society’. Haha.

Anyway, if you would like to read the essay, here it is:cml-essay.doc

I’m not pretending to be a great scholar – it’s a pretty standard essay (but interesting, I think).

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Filed under Krishna Consciousness, Linguistics, University Coursework