Dr Gopee

Casting pearls before swine…


Dr R Neerunjun Gopee


Sometimes one goes though phases in one’s life, for no particular identifiable reason that one can think of. In my case, some newly heard expressions in different contexts have been catching my attention, such as two of them that prompted me to write articles where they were used as titles, namely ‘Hardworking donkeys’ and ‘Ces hommes propres avec des regards sales.’ Similarly, some well-known sayings have been swimming into my ken, so to speak, and ‘casting pearls before swine’ is one such that came to mind when a friend dropped by recently.




Whenever we used to meet he would say ‘let’s speak in English.’ And of course I would gladly accept. Amongst his own immediate colleagues, he pointed out, he could never get the chance to do so. Although he did not occupy a very high position at his place of work, he did have to meet superiors fairly regularly in the course of dealing with his files. But both at his own and at the higher levels, he told me, mostly what people talked about was in street language and had to do with mundane issues which of late had focused rather too heavily on Loto and horse-racing, and other matters of a pedestrian nature which he lumped under the term chouchou-cambar-laliane. Seemingly ‘high’ people spent their time doing manigances and undercutting other colleagues, not to speak of trying to curry favour with so-called higher persons with dubious credentials as far as probity and honesty were concerned.

Like me, that friend is fond of reading literature and poetry, and once he spent some time giving me a mini-lecture about Guy de Maupassant’s contes. This brought me back to the times when my French teacher in Form II, Dr Karl Noel, used to make us read Maupassant. Of course memory is now playing tricks and I could not remember many of the things my friend was talking about, but he obviously had been finding time to read the contes again, and enjoying them. We all know, don’t we, that scant attention is paid to such subjects in schools these days, and it is therefore no surprise that conversations are so banal. Add to that the modern phenomenon of texting mobile-phone shorthand with its democratisation of gibberish…

My friend was interested in philosophy too, and he told me that once when he tried to evoke the subject with a supposedly highly qualified superior from a prestigious-sounding university, the latter asked him ki été ça? The issue was more than just of academic interest, it was also about identifying someone with a suitable profile to be nominated in a very important institutional set-up where a broad-based understanding of human life would be a great asset. That academic, so he prided himself to be, had absolutely no clue about that dimension of the role that forum was being called upon to play, lamented my friend. ‘All that glitters is not gold, you see,’ he added, and I could not but agree. I have myself come across several examples of the thin gloss under which lies much repulsive coarseness.

And so this friend had decided to take premature retirement. He was setting up on his own, to do something which he would enjoy at the same time as earning a living. He was aware that he would not make much money he said, but that was not as important as being able to create his own working environment, something he was looking forward to. He was confident that he would no longer be casting pearls before swine…


Where would we be without songs…

I heard this rhetorical question asked by a radio presenter a few days back as I was driving. That programme is more about modern songs, which appeal to the newer generation. I concede that some of them are very nice indeed, but they are not as memorable to senior citizens like me as those of the guzra hua zamana…

Of course each era, each generation has its own preferences in matters of style covering all aspects of life including singing, and it is well-nigh impossible to swim against the current. I respect that although, like many of my age, I cannot quite come to terms with the high-pitch and screaming that seems to have become in vogue for quite a good while now.

To be fair, some of that had its beginnings in the late fifties/early sixties of the last century, when the pop culture stared to make inroads with the Beatles bursting on the scene alongside Nat King Cole, Pat Boone, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf, Enrico Macias to name a few ‘classical’ icons dating from those days. With many of my friends, I enjoyed the newer style too, humming and drumming on a table at hand from time to time. I had a friend who used to drive me crazy with his 33-tours of opera-singer El Caruso. Not quite my patch, to this day… As was inevitable, too. That loudness has found its way into Bollywood, whose capacity for imitation is unlimited.

This said, though, whatever be the style and the substance – of which there is an infinity! – songs are no doubt what confers on us a good part of our humanity. In that sense we have, I would dare say, much in common with birds. Who hasn’t tarried and flown to those otherwise unreachable heights on listening to the evensong of birds as they settle down for the night? Who has never done so has missed one of the most sublime moments that one can experience.

Thanks to digital technology, it is possible to listen to songs sung by the maestros of old, and like many others every time I get a chance I too add to my collection. In the quiet of the night, there’s nothing like allowing oneself to be transported by, amongst others, Talat Mehmood’s soulful rendering of Ai dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal…

Far, far away from the madding crowd…


RN Gopee

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