Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When I pay tribute to words

I knew about the word "amanuensis" - and like Shah Rukh Khan the race driver and Kajol, the spoilt brat in Baazigar - I fell in love with it. Instantanement. It just felt wonderful to say - that latin feel, just rolling off the tongue. I sensed the root "man-" which pertains to the hand, and guessed it involved some sort of manual work. Princeton Wordnet obliged me with this :

"stenographer: someone skilled in the transcription of speech (especially dictation)" -

Ok. I said to myself. I get that.

But like most love, there was a problem. I didn't really GET it. I would never for example have enough courage to use it in a sentence. It was there lurking, like a shy peacock. I knew it was male, colourful and potentially beautiful. But, only potentially.

But age and experience they say solves most of these tiny knots that dot the timeline of personal experiences. And today - I grasped what an amanuensis truly meant. Not meant - implied.

The point d'inflexion? The quite wonderful, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". Directed by Julian Schnabel and based on the best selling french book of the same name by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the movie is in three words, quite excellent indeed.

For those who came in late, it is the story of a man who has "locked-in syndrome", i.e he is paralysed completely except for his eyes - but that does not affect his mental capabilities of simple thought, and more importantly wild imagination. He decides to fulfill a past contract for a book with his publisher - only he has to write by blinking.

Enter the quite wonderful ladies. Marie-Josée Croze as the Speech Therapist (the french word orthophoniste is quite wonderful indeed) and Anne Consigny as the amanuensis are quite wonderful. What could've been a dull, dreary dark story is suddenly a vivid trip through a man's imagination which unfettered by his corporal shackles flies higher and farther than ever. Any review of the film would be incomplete without a mention for Janusz Kaminski's awesome cinematography. I would've loved to watch this one on the large screen - I felt awkward, inadequate and repulsed just on a 14incher. I wonder what the real experience would've been.

Anyway, definitely a movie worth watching, if not for anything else - but for a really different story in a long time - and some awesome cinematic treatment.

PS: I remember my second rencontre with the word amanuensis while "studying" for my GRE vocab. I found the entire process richly rewarding, even though the expansion in my vocabulary might not've been as large over time as I would've desired. Its an exercise I urge everyone to undergo - and I wonder if there is a way I could repeat such an exercise for Hindi or Marathi. If anyone knows of such "wordlists" in these languages, please do comment and tell. I end with reprimanding these two boys for making hard work of the entire process. Avnish for example dares to suggest that the word "lexeme" is pointless and wastage of dictionary page in general. I wonder what a few people from a certain profession feel about that.

UPDATE: PPS: In a somewhat unexpected move JR actually replies. Here.

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