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Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Dears, let’s recall innovative poet and engineer S.S. Prasad or “Mr. Chairssssssss…” or “Chairss” for short since, as he sagaciously notes, a millipede missing one leg is still a millipede (keep reading to understand!).  My first post about Chairss was quite popular, not to mention educational.  And now here’s his latest “Letter to Moi Us”:

Dear Eileen,

We stopped our conversation at gender in language in the last mail. I was thinking further about ‘cloud’ of meaning and ambiguity in words, and misnomers. The word ‘chair’ is called ‘nattrkali’ in Tamil: nal- four, kal- leg, the suffix ‘li’ rounding the reference to the object as the one with four legs. A noun that could have referred to anything with four legs, but precisely means a chair:  A word used for clarification is full of ambiguity.

Our chairs have grown in number, and we are having a conference at sit-with-moi.

I went upstairs to the canteen in my office, as I do every morning, and looked at the arrangement of chairs. They were as usual, inverted and placed upon tables for 4:  an arrangement of 4 chairs upside down on each table.  Workers were slowly getting them ready for business, taking them down and turning them up around the tables. You can imagine a flower with thousand petals blooming.

How do we deal with CHAIRS? They are too many, and ‘CHHHHHHHHHHHHH……..AIR’ becomes a cumbersome representation. We don’t want to count the number of legs of a millipede to declare it a millipede. A millipede with one leg minus is still called a millipede, isn’t it? Under no conditions will an octopus become a septapus.


[Do click on image to enlarge.]

I’m typing down two poems by Arun Kolatkar to understand chairs and chirality better.


A low temple keeps its gods in the dark.
You lend a matchbox to the priest.
One by one the gods come to light.
Amused bronze. Smiling stone. Unsurprised.
For a moment the length of a matchstick.
gesture after gesture revives and dies.
Stance after lost stance is found
and lost again.
Who was that, you ask.
The eight arm goddess, the priest replies.
A sceptic match coughs.
You can count.
But she has eighteen, you protest.
All the same she is still an eight arm goddess to the priest.
You come out in the sun and light a charminar.
Children play on the back of the twenty foot tortoise.


a checkerboard pattern
some old men must have drawn

with a piece of chalk
on the back of the twenty foot

smudges under the bare feet
and gets fainter all the time as
the children run

(Pages 17, 18 from ‘Jejuri’ by Arun Kolatkar, Pras Prakashan, Fifth edition, 2001)

Kolatkar intrigues me with his use of the plural form. He emphasizes that form by repetition of a grammatical rule: eight arm goddess, eighteen arm goddess, and twenty foot tortoise.
A key to the poem is the word, ‘charminar’.

charminar = char + minar ; ‘char’ meaning four in Hindi, and minar meaning minar in any language. The four minars don’t have anything to do with buildings but a brand of cigarette.

Notice how Kolatkar points to the transmission of language through generations (old men/ children).  The origin fades, and ambiguous marks of chalk remain on the floor to make meaning from.

So while Kolakar enjoys himself at Wayside Inn sitting on his chair, let me sit with vous.




Dear Chairss,

Thanks for writing, Senor Chairss.  I really like these poems you cite by Arun Kolatkar -- so thanks, too, for introducing (to Moi) this fine poet.  It's funny how, in the 11th line of the poem "A Low Temple," I first read "A sceptic match" as "Ascetic match"...

And your letter, too, reminds me how so many chairs exist that are not based on having a four-leg structure, even as I believe we conventionally think of chairs as having such four legs.  The great Finnish American designer Eero Saarinen of course railed against "the slum of legs," thus creating his famous "Pedestal Chair."

I'm also reminded of the Ryoan-ji zen garden in Kyoto to which I was introduced by another poet, Arthur Sze -- how, from all angles, one can never see all of its 15 stones (it is thought one must attain enlightenment to see the 15th stone).  One stone is always missing but its existence is never denied.

Well, of course your subject at hand is poetry -- "A word used for clarification is full of ambiguity."

Do keep writing us from India whenever you can.  It's lovely to pull up an e-chair with you and fortify the tea (hah).



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