Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

157. Footnote

What happens when you observe more space occupied by footnote than the main text?

And what when it happens page after page? When it looks like never ending? With lot of patience I counted footnotes on the first 100 pages of the book and I came across as many as 123 footnotes. Is it not an overwhelming number?
Footnote is not something new to me. I have come across it as a reader and have used it – but used sparingly – as is the norm.  I generally find them useful.
But during last few days, while reading The Life of Ramkrishna by Romain Rolland, I found too many footnotes.  A dramatist, novelist,  art historian who has prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in his name, cannot be doubted about his writing skills.  I was baffled with the amount of footnotes he has used.  That I found some of the footnotes highly interesting did not make things easier for me.
There is another interesting phenomenon I have observed simultaneously. I have this book in my collection since January 1991, for the last twenty years.  Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is one of my favorite teachers. My journey with him has been  interesting. I was attracted by his simplicity and clarity but at the same time he challenged my rational thinking - it was a difficult task for me to understand him. But he never demanded anything from me and thus won my head and heart both.  I keep on reading this book as and when I want.I read it partially or fully as per my desire. In my earlier readings, I never remember to have noted these many footnotes – maybe I just went ahead without paying attention to them. Why I stumbled across footnotes this time is another mystery – but I will save it for another time.
Footnote is supposed to provide additional information. Wikipedia says: Notes are most often used as an alternative to long explanatory notes that can be distracting to readers. Most literary style guidelines (including the Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association) recommend limited use of foot and endnotes. However, publishers often encourage note references in lieu of parenthetical references. Aside from use as a bibliographic element, notes are used for additional information or explanatory notes that might be too digressive for the main text.
What do these excessive footnotes indicate?
  • That the matter under discussions is complex?
  • That the subject has too many interlinks – all of which cannot be explained?
  • That the author has much more information on the topic and he is limited by the space?
  • That the matter of this book depends on many external resources?
  • The first edition of the book was published in January 1929. So, does this indicate that norms and practices change as per the time?
What does my observing those Footnotes and thinking about it indicates? That sometimes I observe obvious things very late? That I interpret the world around as per my wishes?
Maybe, there is one lesson for me.
I should be cautious about Footnotes taking precedence over the Main Text. 
Keeping those two at their respective places with the right perspective is the key towards making life more meaningful.

You might like to read Appeal of Despair


  1. informative post on footnote
    yes many times we have to read more in foot note but its good habit to read foot notes

  2. sm, Thanks. I have just provided Wikipedia reference .. that is all of the information that this post gives!

  3. I think that adding footnotes is a choice, to give additional information that may not be needed by majority of readers but a few might like it. But if there are too many footnotes, I think that it means laziness of the author or may be a desire to show off.

    BTW, I am very intrigued by some accounts of relationship between Ram Krishna Paramhans and his wife Sharada devi.

  4. I think Romain Rolland had no need to 'show off' - he was already famous when he wrote this book. But one never knows.

    Relationship of Ramkrishna and Sharadadevi is very unconventional.

    There is touching incident narrated by Swami Vivekananda. It seems that Ramkrishna said to her: "I see Mother in all beings and I see Her in you too. But if you want me to come down from that plane, I will follow your wish." (Not the exact words but meaning almost the same). He believed he had responsibility towards her and it was only with her consent that he continued to follow the path of spirituality.


Thanks for your Feedback.