Monday, February 27, 2012


Have you ever noticed that children learn first to say "No" than to say "Yes"? Rebel is the first sign of intelligence, so they say. And intelligence begins with learning to say 'No', rather than 'Yes'.

Why is it that some people take more delight in denying than agreeing? Be it elder sibling vs younger, manager vs employee, mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law or wife vs husband - the emphatic "no" factor of the former seem to be the driving goal of their lives. May be we are all genetically wired to derive pleasure in negations and denials, than agreements and acceptances. May be its just easy to deny first than to accept. May be there is an inherent satisfaction in denying space to somebody else.

One of the early lessons you learn in the consulting industry (rather any) is, never propose your boss a single solution. Managers, who mostly have little to technically contribute towards a problem, needing to fill the gap, take delight in shooting down solutions. A majority of Dilbert strips play on this fundamental psychology of managers. So the right way to get your stuff done is offer multiple solutions, including a few lousy and impossible ones, and let the manager feel satisifed that they indeed contributed towards the solution by shooting some of them down. In the IT world, this is called "Ducking" - ie propose "sitting duck solutions" that would be shot down, so that your critical features remain intact. If they shoot the good ones down ... hey, you are going to blame them anyways, right?

"na". We learn history is created just by this word. We could cite several examples from recent history or contemporary classics, but let us peek into the itihasa-s and purana-s. The story of Mahabharata meanders, as-if, from one "no" to another "no". Dhritarashtra says "no" to his counsels who advice to kill the new born (Duryodhana) since the omens were really bad. Drupada says "no" to Drona to help him as promised, upon which the latter gets his revenge via Arjuna and humiliating Drupada. Arjuna refuses to accept Karna's bravery and mocks him that he is not a king, which aligns Karna with Duryodhana. Duryodhana said "na" to paandavas for even an inch of land, which led to the complete annhilation of his generation. All of these refusals are pivotal points in the story.

This Duryodhana's "na" is very poignantly expressed in the following sloka. When Duryodhana was in death bed and was asked "Why are you behaving like this?" he replies:

jaanaami dharmam na ca me pravRuttiH |
jaanaami adharmam na ca me nivRuttiH ||

जानामि धर्मम् न च मे प्रवृत्तिः ।
जानामि अधर्मम् न च मे निवृत्तिः ॥

"I know Dharma, but cannot practice it. I know adharma, I cannot stop practicing it."

In Ramayana too, Ravana says "na" to return Sita back to Rama, which was followed by his own destruction and most of his kins. King Harischandra tells "na" to Vishwamitra Rshi to tell a lie, and goes through innumerable hardships, including charging for the burial of his son from his own estranged wife, as a guardian of the cemetary.

Once Birbal's adversary Sultan Khan, who was waiting for an opportunity to put his son Rahim Khan as the treasurer, complains to Akbar "O Emperor, Birbal has been very late coming to the palace these days. You should punish him". Akbar asks him "What punishment do you think I should give him?". Sultan Khan says "Today, you should refuse whatever he asks for". Akbar agrees. So Birbal happens to be late again and enters the darbar. Akbar asks Birbal "Why are you late?" to which Birbal replies "My wife was not feeling well, so I had a doctor appointment". Akbar replies rather indignantly "I refuse to believe you". Birbal, a bit perplexed asks "Ok, shall we get on with the financial matters?". Akbar says loudly "No". Meanwhile, Sultan Khan gets up and approaches Akbar to ask for the post of treasurer for his son. Birbal quickly senses Sultan Khan has set him up this time and requests Akbar "O Emperor, can you make Sultan Khan's son Rahim Khan the treasurer". Akbar replies with a resounding "No". And Sultan Khan had been played at his own game by the quick-witted Birbal.

So remember - next time you want to create a powerful impression on the reader of your story - "No" should be an important element. "No" is the real-hero. "No" is the villain. "No" is the Force.

No. Na. Naa. Ne. Non. Nao. Nahi. Nyet. Nes si pas. Nicht.

Several cultures associate some form of "na" to be a denial. What else can you do with the letter "na"? From the Sanskritam alphabets point of view, by "na" we mean the 'ta' varga (ta, tha, da, dha, na) and na's variations (na, naa, ni, nii etc). Turns out there are entire slokas just using varga "na". Obviously it is great tongue-twister and aint gonna be intelligible at first read and needs commentaries to do a padacCheda correctly. As I was searching around, so there isn't one, but four slokas using only the akshara na. This type of slokas are called "ekAkShara pada sloka". In the same mould there are slokas with only two akShara-s, three akShara-s and so forth with different patterns. Sanskritam poets have indulged in complicated combinatorial akShara gymnastics to a remarkable extent and imagination. Word-play would be an understatement.

1. kiraataarjunIya - bhAravi

The first known instance is from bhAravi's kiraataarjunIya. The explanation of this can be found in wikipedia.

न नोननुन्नो नुन्नोनो नाना नानानना ननु ।
नुन्नोऽनुन्नो ननुन्नेनो नानेना नुन्ननुन्ननुत् ॥

na nonanunno nunnono nānā nānānanā nanu ।
nunno'nunno nanunneno nānenā nunnanunnanut ॥

2. sumadhva vijaya - naaraayaNa paNDitaacaarya

Next instance is from Sumadhva vijaya mahakAvya - a biography of  Sri Madhvacarya, written by Sri Narayana Panditacarya

नानेनानेनेनानेनो नूनेननननुन्नाः ।
नानाना नो नूनं नानेनानूननाऽनुन्नः ।


न अनेनेन अनेन अनेनो नूनेन नननुन्नाः ।
नानानाः नो नूनम् नाने नानूनना अनुन्नः ।

अनेनोनूनेन अनेनेन अनेन नानाना: ननुन्नाः नोननु । नानेनानूनना नूनम् अनुन्नः ।

naanenaanenenaaneno nUnenanananunnaaH |
naanaanaa no nUnaM naanenaanUnanaa&nunnaH || (10.6)

3. rukmiNIsha vijaya - shrI vaadiraja

The third is by Sri Vadiraja, one of the greatest Sanskrit poets, in my humble opinion, whom the world knows for his religious work, but not for his unparallelled versatility in Samskritam. The verse from rukmiNIsha vijaya:

नानाननाननुन्नूनं नैनोऽनन्नेऽन्निनां नु नौ: ।
नानान्ननुन्नेनानेन नोनो नेन न नो ननु ॥


नानाननाननुत् नूनम् न एन: अनन्ने अन्निनाम् नु नौ: ।
नानान्ननुन्नेन अनेन न ऊन: ना इन न न: ननु ॥

naanaananaananunnUnaM naino&nanne&nninaaM nu nau: |
naanaannanunnenaanena nono nena na no nanu || (8.3)

You can see the versatility in the verse. While narayana panditaacaarya's verse was  straight-forward, in Vadiraja's work there are several vowel sandhi-s (a+a, a+e, a+i, a+u, purva rupa sandhi and visarga sandhi).

4. rUpa gosvaami

The last is by Sri Rupa Gosvami, who lived around the same time as of Sri Vadiraja. In the work "stava mAla" (Garland of stotra-s), a section is devoted to citra-kAvya ("pattern based poems").

निनुन्नानेनोननं नूनं नानुनोन्नानननोऽनुनी: ।
नानेनानां निनुन्नेनं नानौन्नानाननो ननु ॥४॥

ninunnaanenonanaM nUnaM naanunonnaananano&nunI: |
naanenaanaaM ninunnenaM naanaunnaanaanano nanu ||4||

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