Sense and nonsense


Sense and nonsense

Often enough, nonsense makes a great deal of sense. “What nonsense!” you might say. But let me explain, first with a couple of home-grown examples.

My husband, for some years, held the post of Purchase Manager. A person who believed that he could provide the right raw materials badgered him to give a trial order. An interview was arranged and the man was given a date and time. However, he failed to turn up. My husband rang him to find out what the matter was. Great was his amazement when he said: “Sir, I thought you wouldn’t be there.” So ludicrous was it that my husband’s annoyance gave way to amusement. The man later proved to be a reliable supplier.

Superstitious nonsense sometimes possesses the knack of turning self-fulfilling. My mother-in-law was careful while handling mustard seeds. According to her, spilling even a small quantity of it would lead to quarrels. This belief drove her to keep an eagle’s eye on this item when used. Every time a mishap occurred, she would fly into a rage and make sure a quarrel ensued.

Nonsense can ensure happy times as well. Our fondest memories of childhood and college life revolve around nonsensical exploits. My friend still recalls the fun-filled afternoons spent with cousins playing a game they called ‘Standing the world upside down’. They would draw bizarre pictures of everyday items — of trees growing feet, of monkeys playing the fiddle or vegetables cooking man. It was simply the opposite of the ordinary. Childish games? Not so when one recalls that in Russia’s Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk is a house that is built topsy-turvy and has a garage with a car parked upside down. It has been constructed as an attraction for local residents and tourists.

Standing things on their heads is not confined to items drawn. It can be done through words as well — “I went to the pictures yesterday and took a front seat at the back.”
Speaking of words, I remember what a teacher-colleague let slip while she was walking her students to a park near the school. In stentorian tones she told them, “Follow me, I am right behind you.”

College grounds and hostels are spawning grounds for the art of the absurd. In one college hostel, calls of nature are as a matter of tradition called ‘London’ and ‘Paris’. Why? One of the inmates was in the habit of walking to the toilet early in the morning so that he got enough time to finish his ablutions. One morning, a disturbed sleeper asked him, “Where the heck are you off to?” Came the cheeky answer, “To London.” Ever since, the bigger and the smaller chores came to be christened ‘London’ and ‘Paris’ respectively.
Like looks, which speak volumes, nonsensical terms can convey what chosen words may not. A recent email from my daughter began thus, “O, frabjous day! Calloo, callay!” I knew that the good news we had been waiting for had come through. The words come from one of the most famous nonsense poems titled Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.

It contains a medley of strange and unheard-of words. Yet they resonate with hidden meaning, coming to mind when we want to express what words cannot convey adequately.

Nonsense indeed has a sense all its own. Kings employed jesters to rein in authoritarian behaviour. In humbler surroundings, one may recall boring lectures in college when just a little nonsense enlivened the proceedings.

Teachers are often told that they must proceed from the simple to the complex, from the concrete to the abstract and so on. It would make sense to add yet another item to that long list — from nonsense to sense.

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