All about Alice and the maths professor
Kauda bola mey Alice? is a Kaffreigna Baila hit tune in this island
washed by cross currents of culture. The later lines conjure a vision of
a bustling, buxom housemaid dusting, polishing, cooking and washing
while weaving a love net around the boys in the family and their
gyrating pals. By the way, Alice is an English personal name imported
here and added a suffix Nona plummeting her to household drudgery.
The name set me thinking about the British Alice who lived in the
glorious Victorian times when her ships cruised oceans. Then I forgot
all about her till a few weeks later I happened to be walking along
Colombo's streets when my attention was drawn to a glitzy board before a
cinema hall which read "Alice in Wonderland.."
Not sophisticated enough to walk into a cinema hall unchaperoned yet
I could not resist the temptation to see the show. I had read the book
many times fascinated with the surrealistic nature of its contents. So,
why miss the chance especially as it was 10 a.m. and the show was to
begin at 10.15 a.m.
But I was disappointed at the counter. A school had booked the whole
hall. Relenting, the officer told me sometimes there will be some seats
left. "Wait and you can see it free", he added.
So far, so good. Then the show began. I waited for little Alice to
meet the White Rabbit checking his wristwatch and then follow him to a
world where the most incredible happen but soon the screen was full of
flying machines, huge mortars, rockets, booming guns and what not. A
tall woman fully armoured and in brown uniform ran helter skelter
followed by vicious looking males ready to bludgeon her. Surely this
could not be Alice in Wonderland. Yet she was so, in a modern version of
it that the male students saw with glee.
Alice Liddell, on whom the character
of Alice was based photographed by Lewis
Carroll in the late 1850s.
Needless to say, I left early and for some time that was my last
contact with Alice. The poor girl had just been massacred by modern
cinematic techniques. Then on a rainy afternoon in an old magazine I
came upon the girl again and also on her creator. The creator was not
God but a man wielding a pen. The man who wrote all that stuff,
sometimes bordering on the ludicrous, I learnt was a professor of
Mathematics at Oxford University. Though his public name is Lewis Carrol
his real name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgeon. His first book on Alice had
been out as early as 1895 when queen Victoria reigned in England.
She had become a fan of his and had sent for his other books, if any.
When treatises on trigonometry and the binomial theory arrived by mail,
her Majesty was flabbergasted for she could not understand a word,
though she could understand all the gibberish exchanged at the Mad
Hatter's Tea Party held underground with the Dormouse sitting fast
asleep. She just loved all that mad stuff that made no sense at all
Lewis Carrol had however based the character of Lewis on an actual
girl named Alice Liddel. Alice, Lorina and Edith were the daughters of
Henry Liddel, dean of Christ Church, Oxford. In July 1862 the author,
who loved little girls and disliked them when they grew up (he never
married) had rowed the three girls up the Thames from Oxford for a
picnic. On this trip he had narrated Alice's adventures underground to
spend the time. Some 30 years later it had come out as a book.
Those who took the trouble to analyse the author's character say that
he wished to remain a child himself. He was very religious and wished to
be away from the real world. So, that led him to create out of the world
fancy characters that children and even adults including the Empress
loved. Perhaps England was undergoing a very prosperous period what with
all her colonial conquests leading to literary sophistication that
included a love of nonsense. (When one is down and out nonsense just has
no place) "This "nonsensical literature" later graduated to
"Surrealistic" literature and had infected France too.
The author himself is a double-character-a brilliant logician and
mathematician on the one hand and a writer of children's books on the
other. He also had been a fine photographer and artist. Via his two
books he has left to the world endearing characters such as the white
Rabbit, the Ugly Duchess the Queen of Hearts, the White knight and of
course Alice in Wonderland. The Alice I saw recently on the silver
screen is a gun-toting Alice nearly six feet in height and hefty built.
It nearly made me cry. But those reading between the lines could
subscribe to the view that the original Alice herself is extremely
bossy. When the queen in the pack of cards threatens to cut Alice's
head, Alice retorts, "Who cares for you. You are nothing but a pack of
cards". Carrol also has created characters that we are very familiar
with. Listen to Humpty Dumpty on the wall.
"Now take a good look at me. I am one that has spoken to a king.
Maybe you will never see such another. To show you that I am not proud
you may shake hands with me ... The king has promised with his very own
mouth to send all his horses and all his men."
And he leans forward to shake hands with Alice and falls off the high
wall as he brags. One is reminded of the Rajuta Atha Dun family in our
country (the kinsmen who shook hands with the king). They had not washed
their hands for some time and as to when they fell from grace is not
Books written by clever hands are for all seasons and times and
countries. And the authors never die.