Oft do I miss my Literature days, the thrill of discovering yet another brilliant author, the awe that coursed through my veins discussing the genius behind the words, the complete satisfaction after having discussed, interpreted and analysed a particular work. The module on francophone literature that I had taken up during my stage at Montpellier not only gave me the opportunity to go back to those days, but also made me realise that without literature in my life, it is quite incomplete. While several incidences kept me away from literature after my return, and my failure to read as fast as I used to disappointed me greatly, the persistent prodding by someone whose opinions and advice mean much to me, made me turn once again to the world of literature, to read (steadily and constantly if not as voraciously as before) and to widen my horizons. The Literature Course recently started at AFP has given this attempt a further boost – we are working with Charles Perrault’s fairy tales from The Mother Goose Tales. I wasn’t very sure what I should expect from the course, and I almost backed off (but once again the said person prodded me on and I stuck around much to my contentment) but I am absolutely delighted with what we are doing and what I’ve been exposed to and what has been brought back into my life. Just being back in a class, with a teacher whose knowledge is worthy of much admiration, reading and discussing a literary work is joy enough for me – but when it is something in which I take keen interest, brings back my knowledge and allows me to put that as well as my own intelligence and literary instincts to work…it really couldn’t get better!
I already had some background in the origin of fairy tales having discussed the genre when we studied African, Australian and Canadian folk tales at the MA level, and knew that the fairy tales we know today (mainly those penned by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson) find their origins in the oral tradition of narrating stories (often very grisly and horrifying) around a fire to keep the guards awake and entertained through the night, as also in the famous Arabian Nights. It really is fascinating how these tales have evolved to a point that today we recognise them as children’s stories, despite their completely different origins. While I also knew that many versions of these fairy tales exist (no need to look far – we already know about two such versions, those of Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers) I was really amazed to find out just how shocking (and sometimes feminist) the earlier versions were – for instance, did you know that in the earliest version of the Sleeping Beauty, a married prince rapes her while she’s in her induced slumber and it’s one of the two progeny from this illegitimate relationship that finally wakes her, and not the prince? Or that the oral version of the Red Riding Hood has an ingenious and smart girl who saves herself (and her grandmother) from the wolf and has no need of the Grimm brothers’ woodcutter to do the needful?
Apart from this, the professor, who herself is keenly interested in the origin of languages and etymology, has reawakened my own slumbering interest in the subject and made me finally pick up and start reading The Story of French by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau, a book that I purchased over a year ago and has been gathering dust ever since. Needless to say, the book has completely grabbed my interest and I’m making my way through it steadily, absolutely delighted with what I’m reading, coupled with information I garner in class!
I’m simultaneously working my way through my fifth Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye as well as an anthology of Moroccan poetry. I must admit that the tone of some of the poems took me by surprise, especially those that dealt with the themes of God and carnal pleasures. I was struck by the frankness of Mohammed Achaari’s “Douceur Sauvage” a poem of complete raw sensuality, and the hard-hitting tone of Mohammed Aziz Lahbabi’s “Dieu, l’Absolument Grand” in which God has been stripped bare of his mercy and has instead been presented as someone who is not only indifferent to his believers suffering, but almost cruel and inconsiderate in his demands, and as someone who has imposed a burden of responsibilities on us without so much as asking us our opinion. Perhaps I’m indulging in prejudices, but I found it really remarkable to see such themes being tackled with such frankness and almost brutality by poets from a Muslim culture. Whether they are representative of a small minority of rebellious thinkers in their countries or whether they truly represent a changing trend of thoughts and attitudes in their country, I do not know. What I do know, is that their work is brilliant and worthy of recommendation.