17 January 2015

Fragments speak of a thousand stories

This is the sixteenth article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

There must have been many occasions when you’ve heard someone stop in mid sentence, distracted perhaps by something or maybe because for some reason the words got stuck somewhere between thought and mouth.  I am sure you’ve also walked into a room just as someone was finishing a sentence. 

On such occasions, it is natural to wonder what the person was about to say or, in the second case, what was said before you walked in.  Of course you can ask and find out.  People might oblige.  Then again, they may not and you are left wondering.

But there’s more to fragmented sentence than satisfying curiosity.  You can find sentence fragments all over the place.  You can pick a book and turn to a random page. There is a good chance that it will begin in mid-sentence and an equally good chance that it will end with an unfinished one.  If this is not the case, turn to another page.  Sooner or later you’ll come across broken sentences. 

Go to a crowded place.  Close your eyes.  There’ll be a lot of people talking about a lot of things.  You will catch bits and pieces of a conversation between two or more people.  These bits and pieces will come mixed with other bits and pieces of other conversations.  It might be something that you would get if you wrote down a dozen different words from a single complete and coherent sentence, tore the piece of paper so that each piece contained a single word, tossed it all up and randomly place them one after the other. 

But in the midst of all these, you might hear or see something remarkable.  Let’s do an exercise.  Let’s pick some words and phrases randomly from what’s been written above.  Here are some examples.

Dozen bits fragmented before you walked in.

Pick remarkable mid-sentence person. 

Yes, they are awkward ‘sentences’.  The grammar is a bit off.  That’s almost always the case in broken sentences.  And yes, they sound a bit nonsensical. 

But just imagine someone hearing either of these somewhere.   Assume it is a line that a teacher wrote on the chalkboard.  Read the lines several time.  Think about each line.  Imagine that 10 children (or even 10 adults) read these.  Each person could, if he/she wants, think about what made someone say it.   Each person could, if he/she wants, wonder what might follow.  They will all travel (in their minds) to fascinating places, meet amazing people and encounter wonderful situations.

Fragments are fascinating things.  Think, for example, of a photograph that has been torn in the middle, a letter of several pages with one of two missing.  There’s a story in what you have in hand and thousands of stories in what you don’t have.  Think also of a picture of a building where only the top part, say for example the kotha of a dagoba, is seen.  Perhaps there’s a wonderful arrangement of clouds as background.  You will admire the composition.  You could also wonder about the structure that support this edge, this building-piece or fragment. 

Think of a complete building or a splendidly landscaped water garden such as one finds at Sigiriya.  Have you thought about who designed it, the painters who crafted the frescoes, the gardeners, the engineers, those who brought flowers, those thousands of people who many centuries ago may have walked the pathways you walk now.  

There’s a lot in what’s not seen, what’s not written and what’s not said.  The world is made of fragments and if you really think about it, you might murmur, ‘thankfully!’

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