A bookseller, Darwinism in nonsense literature and depictions of Dodos

Few links from Telegraph:

[1] Shyam G Menon on T N Shanbag of Strand Book Stall:

He was also sure that since Strand’s core strength was books, he would be happier with customers who came for books than for a cup of coffee. I doubt the longevity of this faith in a world ruled by business models, but I admire that man for having devoted his life to the printed word and making it accessible to more and more people. Visit the Strand website and you will know what I mean. After a mention of its founding in 1948, the highlights are on its discounts. Strand was the first in the world to offer 20 per cent discount; it now offers up to 50 per cent. The world’s biggest book chain in comparison was late to offer discounts and still does no better than 20 per cent. For me, such an approach, plenty of books and a store owner like Shanbhag, are all that matters. The cappuccino can wait.

Just this morning I was discussing with a colleague of mine about the service, sincerity and the discounts at Strand, Bangalore which made book buying such a pleasure (not to mention Kadambam next to it, as long as it lasted — which was not for too long).

[2] Somak Ghosal on Sukumar Ray and his depictions of Darwinism in his nonsense literature:

… the true force of Darwinism in nonsense literature comes through in the works of Sukumar Ray (1887-1923), the poet, printer, humorist and illustrator from Bengal. From his early poem, “Khichudi”, Ray disclosed a playfully witty, yet empathetic, understanding of the inner lives of animals. He not only created a menagerie of fantastic creatures here, but also endowed each of them with a fantasy life. In the poem, the duck (hans) fuses with a porcupine (sajaru) to become hansjaru, the caterpillar chooses to merge with the goat for mysterious reasons. Some of these strange meetings are self-conscious, as if out of some evolutionary design the best of two disparate worlds have conspired to become one: the lion with horns like the deer or the giraffe with the torso of a grasshopper. Such a mix-up, of herbivore and carnivore or winged and terrestrial beings, hints at — and parodies — an evolutionary process (like Darwin’s natural selection) that allows only the best features to endure by coming together.

The Darwinian urge in nature to favour the fittest is also explored in the figure of Kimbhut, another bizarre assembly of body parts giving rise to a hotchpotch animal. In the poem, “Kimbhut”, a sniffling, disgruntled creature longs for the voice of the cuckoo, the tail of an iguana, wings of a bird, the elephant’s snout, and the kangaroo’s legs. The end product is so fearfully ugly that it only inspires jeers. That Ray was deeply fascinated by Darwin is evident from the mini-biography he wrote for the young readers of the Sandesh magazine, which he edited. In that article, Ray explained the scientific premises of Darwin’s theories — why weaker species, unable to adapt themselves to changes in the environment, become extinct, how bodily features evolve through use and disuse.

The rationalism of this piece also pervades the origins of Ray’s nonsense animals, even though wish-fulfilment need not always bring a happy ending.

Reminds me that I should get that Rupa published translation of one of Sukumar Ray’s books (about some owl or something, if I remember correct).

[3] S G on the depictions of the Dodo:

Like the search for the most authentic portrait of Shakespeare, the debate over what the dodo looked like is yet to be over. A Dutch illustration going back to 1598 shows a gawky little creature with tiny wings like stumps, looking like a Walt Disney cartoon. In 1651, Jan Savery painted the dodo as an obese, smug bird with ugly, beady eyes. George Edwards painted it as a colourful, glamorous bird in 1759.

These striking disparities were not due to artistic errors alone. In its natural habitat, on the island of Mauritius, the dodo may have been a slim, even unremarkable, bird. When explorers started taking dodos to Europe, the birds lost touch with their natural diet. As their eating habit changed, so did their body structure. Still the bird proved inedible for humans because of its coarse, tasteless flesh. But dogs, cats, rats and pigs ate up its eggs, leading to its extinction in the 17th century.

Happy reading!

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