Rooted In Words


When we went inside the bookshop, my father announced to the bill clerk, ” Whatever she buys, I am paying.” The bespectacled young man looked up for a moment and then went back to his job; apparently he was used to such specimens who wandered around , making irrelevant comments, squealing with delight at an unexpected find, shaking heads when not finding what they were after.

When we staggered back into the car, my father was almost regretting his impulsive promise. He had forgotten that I was starved for both my Mother’s fish and Malayalam literature; after a forced diet bereft of both, in distant  lands-away from sea smells.

To the tune of the monsoon incessantly pummelling my window panes, Priya A.S, Sithara S, Santhosh Echikanam, Vatsala, Sarah Joseph, Basheer,  M.T., Adoor, Benyamin, N.Mohanan, EV Sree Raman  et al walked past- a troop of brilliant writers, belonging to many genres, keeping me awake late into the night, revealing to me the sheer magic of my sweet mother tongue.

For a moment, I remembered listening with awe as Sastry Sir read out a travel memoir of KuttiKrishna Marar back in tenth standard ,”…so the writer’s train crossed over the Northern plains and he started thinking of Balram toiling in the fields with his great plough and drinking his evening delight, that reflected Revathy’s beautiful eyes..”

The boys had tittered at the reference to Balram’s weakness for his drink, and all the girls had sighed deeply at the beloved’s eyes reflected in his drink..what an imagery!

Later, when Sir taught us the description of Krishna as ParthaSarathy, we recited along with him, as Sanjaya described the ineffable Lord to the Blind King.

“Madumozhimaril valarnna ragavum, chapalanmarodu kalarnna hasavum…”

(He, full of growing passion for honey tongued lasses, full of mocking laughter at the petty men around..)

This time the boys sighed over the honeyed women, we tittered at the petty men.

Sastry Sir, had managed to turn many of us into life long devotees of our vernacular literature.

When I had the choice of turning to either Malayalam or Hindi for my second language for Pre-Degree, I embraced Malayalam with no inhibitions. The Professors at Maharajah’s College for Women lighted up many more lamps in that wonderful journey. College was worth attending for the Language classes alone!

” Ha Pushpame, adhika tunga padathillethra, sobhichirinnithoru rajni kanakkaye nee.. Sree bhuvilasthiram asamshayam innu ninte yabhuthyingu puniringu kidappithorthal”… (Ah, how you had shone like a queen atop that plant, hey fallen one! Prosperity in this world is so tenuous, if one sees  the depths to which your beauty has fallen  in time..) and then the learned Lady Professor would interpret an innocuous sounding word “Aye” for one hour!

”  Kumaran Asan, the poet with the magical touch, has captured the respect, reverence, pity, compassion, regret   for the fallen woman/ flower in just one is not just a word..look into the deeper connotation, the shadow within..,” she said, transforming a rather decrepit classroom, in a dark afternoon into a repository of light and sound.

For some time,I entertained the wistful thought of ditching Maths and Science for Malayalam Literature, like Prof Leelavathy and Co. But fate had other plans.

I probably read  N.S. Madhavan’s Higuita  to get over the bitterness of Engineering Mathematics. The former classic short story, I swear, has served my life better than all the Maths in the world. When I face  trouble, I think of the kick of Higuita and grin to myself.  And then I go for the goal!


I try to teach my little girl Malayalam.

A, for Amma.

Aa for Aana..

She looks at me with wise eyes.

” I know both- you and elephant. Besides, I know to write too-Ma, Haathy.”

I give up. May she learn to love and enjoy  Hindi literature , I pray.

I am sure that the sparkles of the stars fill all the human languages of the world with equal light.

May my kids learn tolerance,compassion and humility by reading the same great human story, in as many languages as possible.

As for me, it is time to re-read Mathilukal (The Walls), as Adoor Gopalakrishnan beautifully crafts his screenplay from Basheer’s great, lovely writing.

Narayani’s voice (From the other side of the Jail Wall): Will you remember me?

Basheer:Narayani, your mark is present all over this world!

Her voice: All over this world? Why do you tease so flippantly?

Basheer: Not at all. The absolute truth. Walls! Walls!Look, these walls travel all over the world!

Her voice: Shall I please cry out loud for some time?

Basheer: Not now. Maybe in the night, remembering…

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