Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I ALWAYS believe everyone has a sense of humour, coupled with wisdom filtered down from generations of forbears. So these four books are like four windows into other people's worlds. There's nothing like a good laugh any day, regardless of the situation.

THESE four books containing an assortment of comic tales, proverbs and
jokes from China, Japan, Korea and India seem to have lost their cutting
edge in the retelling.
Perhaps the essence of the original has been dissipated in the
translation to another language. For instance, this tale from the Land of
the Cherry Blossom:
A cowardly samurai wanted to go to the toilet outside his house one
evening but was too scared to do so, so he asked his wife to go with him
carrying a candle. While he was inside the toilet, he called to her and
asked, "Aren't you scared?"
"What should I be scared of?" she replied.
"You are indeed truly worthy to be a warrior's wife," he said with
Told in Japanese and in a befitting tone, its subtlety would undoubtedly
be better appreciated.
Most of the jokes and tales from the four titles are in fact unfunny.
The proverbs too seem less profound than expected. A few, however, like
this one from Japan, at least have some face value: Love sees pimples as
From India, this jewel is offered:
Anger abides for a moment in an honourable man; for two hours in a man
of the world; for one day in an ignoble man and forever in a wicked man.
This story from China merits recounting:
An old man staying with his son in an abandoned hilltop fort lost a
horse one day. When his neighbours came to offer their sympathy for his
ill luck, the old man said, "How would you know whether this is bad luck?"
Several days later, not only did the horse return but it also brought
along many wild horses. This time, the neighbours came over to
congratulate him on his good fortune, only to hear him retort, "How would
you know whether this is good luck?"
Soon his son started riding the horses and broke his leg one day. As
usual, the neighbours gathered to sympathise with him, only to hear him
say, "How would you know this is bad luck?" War broke out the following
year and since the old man's son had a crippled leg, he did not have to go
to the battlefront.
Adding colour to the contents of each book are black-and-white
illustrations which help break the monotony of grey and sometimes banal
words. However, although the books are designed and written for adults as
well as for children, the drawings are not as sophisticated as they should
have been.
On the whole, the effect of reading these books is like eating roti
canai without the dhall curry. Nevertheless, it bears remembering that
jokes can be lost on an audience that is not equipped with the requisite
cultural values. For example, a Korean joke may not be stimulating to an
Indian. Or a Japanese tale may fail to impress a Chinese.
Perhaps the final verdict should not depend so much on whether you have
laughed at the jokes or enjoyed the tales and proverbs but on whether you
understood the meaning. Even so, if you missed the message, that's all
right. Life's like that sometimes.

1 comment:

Andrea Peterson said...

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