Reading Between The Lines

My little girl read the Twits, without any expression on her face.

” So, did you like it?” I queried.

” Fantastic Mister Fox was better,” she opined.

I re-read the book from an adult perspective and found much to ruminate about.The Twits, I think should be a part of a research study of rotten marriages , manipulative/ control behavior, as well as bi polar disorders.

Just compare Roald Dahl’s  Mr. Twit and Mrs Twit with George and Martha in Edward Albee’s play “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Compare them with Mr.Pugh and Mrs Pugh of   the radio drama “Under  Milk Wood”  by Dylan Thomas.

Two human beings caught in a horrid, terrible marriage, barking and biting at each other’s shins, froth emanating, desperate to get away from each other!

I asked my daughter, ” What was the best thing about Fantastic Mr.Fox?”

” That they were all very happy together,” she smiled. ” And those bad men kept waiting and waiting to trap them outside! Meanwhile, they were having all that fun!”

Children!  They always end up seeing the truth!

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Flower and Bread

 ” Pluck this little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust.

It may not find a place in thy garland, but honour it with a touch of pain from thy hand. 

I fear lest the day end before I am aware,  and the time of offering go by.

Though its colour be not deep and its smell be faint, use this flower in thy service and pluck it while there is time.”

Tagore, Gitanjali

So many times, I have felt, that the Divine is honoring me with a touch of pain from His hand. It happens when one becomes a part of a chain of positive events, doing one’s bit, however tiny it might be. It could be reaching out to one trafficked girl, one helpless child bride, one suffering woman or man, and  after doing it, one feels blessed.

Khalil Gibran in his Prophet wrote,

“Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine…”

I wonder, how many of us  are aware of the power that we are blessed with- in whatever roles we might be doing- To do good.

In all the exceptional souls I have had the fortune of meeting, I have found a sense of purpose and a sense of self confidence. They loved doing whatever they were doing. They were doing it  like a tiny flower being used for His service.As if they were baking bread, with lots of love.

And then I usually remember Tagore and Gibran.

With awe.

The Twits- reflections

‘If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.’

(  Roald Dahl: chapter:  Mrs Twit)

Dedicated to many Ugly Ducklings, who learnt later in life , that the  so called ‘ugliness’ was the problem of those who degraded them in the first place.  That they would always have good thoughts, as beautiful as swans, and that they were/ are/ would be lovely in the eyes of those who are good.

The Roop-Rekha of Co-existence

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Award winning journalist and writer K.R.Meera has a Midas touch. Whatever she touches turns into scintillating golden thoughts for the reader. This remarkable young woman has won umpteen awards for her brilliant short stories, novels and journalistic endeavours. The latest in her kitty include the Vayalar Award and Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for her ‘Aarachar”, translated  into English by J.Devika as “Hangwoman”. It is a remarkable tale of 400 odd pages, of  a woman becoming a professional “Hangwoman,” and  the narrative is based in early Calcutta. By the way, Meera does not know to read or speak Bangla!

But I do not write to praise how much I enjoyed her ” Karineela,” a sensuous, slithering love story of a dark, blue, serpentine kind! Nor about the blinding colour of desire- yellow! “Mohamanja,” or “Yellow is the colour of longing,” as Devika translated it; which is yet another masterpiece. She explores topics that others leave untouched, and emerges with gems. Those that are sparkling with her own special variety of wit , wisdom and subtle ironical perspective.

The most appealing , to me as her reader, is the fact of her elegant , pithy writing. Sharp and to the point. Nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps I had found some violation of that rule of hers only  in her story ‘Aandhi’, a take on ‘Terigatha’, recollections and writings of  first ordained Buddhist women monks .( Murthy Classic Library Project  has published  a translation of Terigatha by the way. ) I found the story too elaborate , lacking the usual sleight of hand, lacking her gift of brevity.

But today, I write to congratulate Meera on her article about Dr.RoopRekha Varma, the brilliant, fiery intellectual, professor and women’s rights activist- former Vice Chancellor of the prestigious Lucknow University. In her article in Madhyamam weekly, Meera writes about “The RoopRekha of Co-existence ” ( Sahajeevithathinte RoopaRekha; Madhyamam Weekly, Feb 23,  2015 issue).Meera writes about Dr.RoopRekha Varma’s brilliant academic achievements, breaking all records in her graduation and postgraduation in Philosophy from Lucknow University. She did her Post Doctoral studies at Oxford. Meera’s friend, Dr.Piyush Antony, an accomplished woman in her own right and a Unicef Policy officer, had introduced Meera to Dr.RoopRekha Varma. It was in the context of Unicef’s project of reducing gender discrimination by changing curriculum.

Meera writes about the issue of building a gender sensitive, healthy world- how mutual respect has to be taught at child hood and during critical years of growth. She explores Dr.Roop Rekha Varma’s Sajhi Duniya’s efforts to rework on text books – words that  will teach young boys  and girls that it is okay to cry irrespective of your gender! And that their mothers too are valuable members of society, worthy of respect,  who contribute to household economics- whether they work within or outside the house. The new poems and chapters break down gender stereotypes, make children think aloud and teach new perspectives.

For example when Meena sings ‘Mothers cook roti’ , her uncle questions her. ” Why cannot your father cook roti too?’

Meena laughs, ‘Because father is a man!”

” Who cooked roti in the dhaba/eating joint that we went last night?”  asks her Uncle.

Meena admits it was the Dhaba wallah uncle!

“Was the uncle a man or woman?”

” A man.”

” So can roti making be done by men too?”

The little girl ponders on the point.

” Mothers and fathers can cook roti!”

I found it brilliant, especially the Uncle teaching the little niece to break the stereotype.

Dr.Roop Rekha Varma, recounts her struggles to make grown-ups rethink on such issues. When a young man started getting aggressive, asking her to remember the culture that produced great women philosophers like Gargi, Dr.RoopRekha Varma recounts that she narrated the story of how Yajnavalkya silenced Gargi! There was a need to rethink about women’s voices in the past and present!

Till the society and text books teach a child to respect women and men equally, to look at  a person as an authentic human being with potential and rights, a sensitive generation cannot grow. If the societal values and lessons degrade a woman’s body, the crimes against women will continue to rise. To reduce the gap between the strong and the weak, the woman and the man, the haves and have-nots, nature and human kind, new lessons of healthy Co-Existence will have to be taught early. That will reduce violence and crime against the “other”.

Meera concludes about how a smile of a woman, full of self esteem and dignity, can be the most powerful political tool, that will be an indicator of progress in the times to come.

As I put down the article, I felt very fortunate for knowing Dr.RoopRekha Varma. I met her during a seminar organised by the Women’s Studies Department in Bundelkhand University in 2005. When I had spoken about Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the rights of women’ as a leading light, Dr.RoopRekha had gently reminded me of other masterpieces of Indian origin . In 2013, she launched my book on mythological women from a feminist perspective: ” Eternal Women”, which saw light during the Lucknow Literature Festival of 2013.

It felt great to read about a greatly admired intellectual in my own mother tongue. Perhaps, as Gurudakshina, I shall present Dr.RoopRekha ji with a translation!

With gratitude to K.R. Meera and Dr.RoopRekha Varma.

****

Witches Ahoy!

So I was searching for a book to entertain myself with, and my elder daughter offered a dog eared copy called, ‘Which Witch”. It was by Eva Ibbotson. ” Try this ma. Bet you will be totally into it in five minutes time,” she grinned. ” I am too old for this,” I protested. ” A witch pageant ma, no less. Who would be the blackest witch of all? The end is deadly. You might find some early inspirations of Harry Potter magic in this one,” she tempted me. Suffice it to say that I indulged in it. And was absolutely fascinated by the irrepressible humour and plot of the book. The subtle wisdom, hit me in the heart. Quote: ” Happiness is almost as good as magic for altering a person’s looks.” How true! How absolutely, gorgeously, fantastically true! I hugged my girl, when I returned her book. ” Returned to safe custody. I loved it,” I said. ” Yup! Has been my favourite since  I was eleven,” she smiled. ” Would you consider giving me another book of hers?” I asked. This time , she returned the embrace. ” Ma, I told you!” she giggled. ” I want you to  read ‘ The Witches ‘with me,” said the younger one, peeved by all that attention going to her sibling. Oooh, Roald Dahl himself!

I am so into witches now. And loving it. ****