On Adjectives

branding-iron.jpgSo, it has been more than two years that I wrote something on this blog. Long time indeed! Why didn’t I write in the last two years? Honestly, I don’t know. I can rationalize by saying I didn’t get enough time, I had other priorities, I got interested in other things, I didn’t feel ‘inspired’….Hang on! Yeah, it is that last one. At least it sounds fancy and writer-ish. ‘I was experiencing a writer’s block.’ Yeah, that’s it.

I have been thinking about adjectives. Why, I hear you ask. I will tell you in a moment. Well, as it happens, in school, one of the few subjects I was good at was English language. When I say ‘good’ here, I must concede that the word is being used in a relative context. I mean I didn’t score 100 out of 100 in any test or exam. I didn’t score the crazy marks that students get in ICSE exams these days – 97.5%, 98.7%, 99.1%, 99.6%, mind-boggling, isn’t it? However, compared to my performance in and enjoyment of other subjects at school, such as Mathematics and Chemistry, English language was sort of a refuge. An oasis in the desert; light at the end of the tunnel; the first drops of rain on thirsty, parched earth…well you get the idea. I know some of the more pedantic ones among you will point to four grammatical mistakes in this piece already, so I must make this point emphatically – when I say I was good in the English language, I mean it in relative, comparative, terms. English vs Physics. It is just that in my case the gulf was so huge that it was like comparing the taste of chocolate cake with ganache to that of gruel made with gelatinous grains and tree bark.

So, adjectives! As I was saying, I used to enjoy those Grammar lessons and I used to score well in the tests. Identify the adjectives in the sentences below, said the test paper, and I would chug along happily. As the Oxford Dictionary defines it, an adjective is “A word naming an attribute of a noun, such as sweet, red, or technical.” You are free to close this blog now and go and do whatever you were doing before you started reading this piece. Any blog post which has the sentence “As the Oxford dictionary defines it” should not be read. So go on.

You are still here? Ok, looks like you haven’t got anything better to do, so I’ll ramble on. Adjectives seemed pretty innocuous then. They were included in ‘parts of speech’, along with nouns, verbs, adverbs and so on. An adjective is a word that qualifies a noun.That’s what we learnt. Simple. However, in the world that we live in today, it seems like a weapon, meant to injure the self esteem of other people. A musket, a blunderbuss, a machine gun,  a missile, a weapon of mass destruction. I’ve taken it too far, haven’t I? Sorry, got a bit carried away.

However, on a serious note, adjectives to me seem like hot irons that people carry to brand other people with. The metaphorical rod is drawn no sooner than an opinion is expressed, and is pressed against the skin, searing the flesh. If you show concern at the activities of ISIS and how they are recruiting across the world, from among people like you and me, you get branded as ‘Islamophopic’. That’s an adjective right there. If you comment on the activities of groups decrying Valentines’ Day as alien to our ancient culture and using violence to intimidate young boys and girls , you get branded as ‘Westoxicated’. Sometimes, composite adjectives are used, such as left-liberal, pseudo-secular, and right-wing hardliner. Some people like to brand themselves as well. The other day I read something about neo-liberal centrists!

With the proliferation of 24 hour news channels in India, the adjective-branding phenomenon is on the rise. See what I did there? Smart, isn’t it? No? You are a soul-crushing, energy-sucking, writer-killer. You are the reason why I had writer’s block for two years. This is precisely what is happening in popular discourse today. People take positions, get hard-coded to a line of thought / argument, and then attack people holding a differing opinion with viciousness, blaming them for all that is wrong with the world. The bile and derision take the form of adjectives.

In the binary world that we live in today, it is very hard to explain to people that you can have a worldview that is composite, with different pieces based on your experiences, and the pieces may not always align. These apparent contradictions make us what we are. Human! Inconsistent, imperfect, fragile, with nothing but hope and effort. These contradictions lend color to our personalities. If we like that in ourselves, we also have to respect that in others. Let us not be in a hurry to brand others and put them on the assembly line in search for homogeneity.



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