The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 20, 2003

Short takes
The memoirs of Hiouen-Thsang
Jaswant Singh

Hiouen-Thsang in India
by J. Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire. Translated from French by Laura Ensor. Rupa & Co.
Pages 124. Rs 150.

Hiouen-Thsang in IndiaTO Buddhism goes the credit of bringing ancient India and China close to each other. Asokaís emissaries took Buddhism to China and set the pace for a succession of pilgrims and scholars who travelled between the two countries using the overland as well as the sea route. Among the best-known Chinese scholars who visited India nearly 1,000 years after Asoka were Fa Hein, Hiouen-Thsang and Yi-Tsing. But the most famous of these Chinese travellers was Hiouen-Thsang who came in the seventh century. He travelled across the Himalayas and has recorded his adventures with accounts of Buddhist rulers and monasteries in Central Asia and people and places, making observations some of which are delightful, and others that are fantastic. He makes a record of Buddhism as it existed in India 1,200 years after Buddha and about 400 years before the advent of Islam.

If Buddhism travelled to China from India, the Chinese, over the next six centuries took the initiative to travel to India in search of a purer dogma. The author takes pains to point out how the Chinese appropriated Buddhism to themselves in this manner which he describes as proselytism in reverse. Instead of waiting for the faith to be brought to them, they set out to seek it in foreign lands.

The book recounts how this Chinese scholar was honoured and shown respect in India, and his stay in Nalanda University where he took the degree of Master of Laws and where he also taught for some years. There is also an account of his itinerary in Magadha, his general views about India, and Indian kings of his days.

On his return to his homeland, he was warmly welcomed by his emperor and his people and he got down to translating the many manuscripts he had carried with him from India. He also remained in touch with his friends in India, exchanging with them letters and manuscripts.

This book is a part of the authorís longer work, "Buddhism in India," and describes the state of Buddhism in this country in the mid-seventh century. Relations of Buddhism with Brahmanism in that period and the division of Buddhism into two sects, Hiouen-Thsangís intercourse with the learned men of this country and a summary of Indian Buddhism also form part of this small volume. People interested in the history of religions will find it considerably useful.

100 Pretentious Proverbs (192 pages) and 100 Pretentious Nursery Rhymes (191 Pages) both
by Michael Powell, Rupa and Co. Rs 70 each.

There are people who can quote a proverb, or a rhyme or a couplet to suit every occasion. Here in these two booklets is an exercise to turn simple proverbs and nursery rhymes into statements of such pompous to verbosity that can leave you gaping. When you read "If Jack is subjected to exclusively operose stimuli that precludes any recreational pursuits, he will exhibit oscitant behaviour," it surely will take you an effort to make out that all that it tries to convey is "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

Thus, in the scheme of Michael Powell, a bat is a "nocturnal flying mammal of the order of Chiroptera," a buckle becomes "a ductile, malleable metallic fastening," the moon is "the orb of night," a horse is a "solid-hoofed plant eating equine quadruped" and the heart is "the chambered muscular organ that maintains the flow of blood through a personís entire circulatory system."

If you can master some of these linguistic acrobatics, you can astonish a gathering of grown-ups with tongue-twisting versions of simple proverbs and children with verbose rendering of familiar nursery rhymes.

Creative Writing: The Process, Potential and Ability
by K. Prabhavathi. Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly.
Pages 182. Rs 150.

From the title of the book one expected to have a glimpse on some eminent creative writers such as poets, novelists and short story writers and an account of how they came to give their creations to the world. Instead, you find a somewhat clinical dissection of creativity, how it is defined and how a person can acquire this quality. So you come across statements such as "Creativity is luck or chance. Luck favours some people, so they come out with discoveries and some invent by chance."

"Mental abnormality is a prerequisite for a creative artist."

"... A sort of emotional purgative that helps a person to maintain his mental equilibrium"

"Manís urge to grow and develop himself fully is responsible for his creative activity."

These statements are attributed to different authorities, which the author quotes to shed light on the nature and source of creativity. But in the process of analysing the mental processes of a creative person, she gets entangled in web of statistical data, percentages, male-female comparisonsóa whole lot of uncreative scales to measure creativity.

Being a teacher herself, she proposes creativity to be taught as a subject at the higher level of education. She would like universities to devise courses in creative education to be made part their curricula. A lay reader may find the book somewhat confusing, but social researchers may find it of some utility.