The Two Ravens

In Viking legends, Odin, the Shaman God of Wisdom, was accompanied by two ravens-Thought and Memory.

How appropriate, I think, as I close Aarachar, Meera’s brilliant book. ( HangWoman- K.R.Meera, available in English translation)

As Chetna  GriddhaMallick, the first official HangWoman ( yes, except a fiery lady anscestor) walks alongside with the reader,  through  552 pages of haunting story space,  her thoughts intersperse with her memories seamlessly.   Those symbolic Ravens had  narrated stories , one after another.There was love , lust, betrayal, horror, history, crime, fury, and others of that hue. Even at the last page, as she smilingly walked away to the ingeniously named workplace, which combined future and consequence together, she remained an enigma. The fact that she had left her love  behind, literally gasping for breath, added to the final effect.

When I had reached half way, I had found resonance of many of Chetna’s strengths in Dr.Estes’s Wild Woman explanations. I found more as I finished.

” The tale is probably a fragment of a much larger and ancient death and resurrection story centering around a female God head…it tells us something about the nature of secrets and even perhaps,what is killed off in the psyche when a woman’s life is not properly valued. She represents a Kore-the woman-who-will-not-marry aspect of the female psyche.The part of the woman that wants to keep to herself alone, is mystical and solitary in a good way, and is taken up with the sorting and weaving of ideas, thoughts, and endeavours…

Remember canto hondo, the deep song and hambre del alma, the starved soul? In time, these two forces, through dreams and the woman’s own wild life force, rise to the surface of the psyche and break out the necessary cry, the cry that frees. A woman finds her voice then. She sings out, cries out the secret, and is heard. Her psychic footing will be restored.” ( Chapter-Battle Scars: Membership in the Scar Clan, Women who run with the wolves)

Time for some student to dig into Mythical studies, and do a doctorate on this novel. It is such a satisfying read- intellectually, spiritually and from an arm chair traveller’s perspective. Through centuries past, histories past, women and men and religions past…to certain home truths that never change. Simply wonderful.

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I was gifted a Sriramcharit Manas , written by Sri Goswami Tulsidasji by a dear friend. Going through the introduction, I was struck by how certain stories of great men and the women who inspire them, resonate same across regions.

Tulsidasji had got married to a lovely woman and had been besotted with her. Once she went to her home and Tulsidasji followed her quietly. His wife laughed at him, ” The fascination that you have for my mortal body- if only you had but half of that concentration on the Lord, your boat of life would have crossed over safely by now!”

Tulsidasji was struck by her words, and leaving behind his Garhasthya forever, went to Prayag.

We grew up reading Aithihya Mala by Kottarathil Sankunny that narrated many legends and myths of Kerala. In a Folk Story collection from my land , ( Keraliya Nadody Kathakal, Alangode Lilakrishnan) comes a story on ” Taikkattu Yogiyar”  – a saint whose past had a similar background. The young man gets addicted to a lovely woman, and one day had to face a river before he could reach her. There was no boat around, and so using a bamboo stick, he crosses on what looks like a boat. It was a floating dead body in reality. By the time he reached the shore, he was drenched and shocked. But he still wanted to reach her side. He sees a rope hanging over the closed walls, within which her house was situated. He crossed over, only the rope was a dead snake entangled over the walls. The woman who heard his heroic tale of reaching her, laughed with slight contempt.

” Shame indeed! You have embraced two dead bodies to reach my living body. Has the Truth disappeared from your vision?”

He saw the truth then and left forever Garhastya , in search of the Ultimate.

So many myths, so many truth seekers, so many guides who show the way.

To spent some time daily, in the company of those  great minds, is so necessary in our own journeys.

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Moonnamidam- 3D vision and a film review

Munnamidam aka ‘ The Third Space’, is a short film produced by actor Jayasurya, starring Rachana Narayankutty and RJShaan. It deals with seventeen minutes of an intimate encounter of a married housewife with a 13 year old daughter and a recently divorced  Facebook friend- to put it succinctly. The film is drenched with rain, violin, sindhoor conspicuously spread all over the sensuous lady’s forehead, her desires and her decisions. The movie has been garnering many rare reviews and awards even as I type this note. And it has been uploaded in YouTube.

Few observations:

1. Why is there  a deep necessity even today, in  Indian film making, to justify seemingly ‘ unacceptable/ punishable/ wayward’ behaviour in women  with a root cause ?  Here, the woman’s spouse is openly exploring his third space. Consequently, she is  reaching out too.  See, it is all okay.

Sorry, I do not see. Why on earth give such an explanation, to explore third dimensions? Leave it to your viewer-please do not underestimate our sensitivities.

Ever seen Bridges of Madison County?  A married Meryl Streep romances a passing photographer, lyrical poetry of Yeats accompanying the affair, for less than a week. The need/ justification/ explanation for third space, is left to the viewer. The root, as I could understand, was that both understood Yeats in that desolation. Autumn leaves and Nat King Cole will bring that alive anytime to the viewer.

In  the Om Puri and  Rekha flick ‘Aastha’, the viewer is left with a choice to make his/her own conclusion. Did Rekha succumb to the call of money or was it an innate tendency to walk the fire?

Next time around, leave out the explanation. If  they explore any space, fourth or fifth space included, let your hero or heroine take the responsibility consciously. There is no strength in blaming another’s action for your own choices in life; as I view it.

2. I wonder on the film maker’s psychology of highlighting the’marital symbols’  – a purplish red sindhoor drenching her forehead, so conspicuously, as the lady gets cosy in her obviously  planned encounter with her friend! I saw the mangalsutra dangling too ,  even as she admits to love and desire.In Aastha too, Rekha had copious amounts of sindhoor over her hair parting, even as the haunting ‘ Panaah’ song was being rendered. Both heroines, Rekha in the 80s movie and Rachana in the present age movie, wear traditional sari, with matching jewellery. I do not remember if Rekha wore silver anklets that jingled as she walked.

Symbols have powerful messages within- subtle or obvious.

Somewhere, someone took a conscious decision of getting this heroine ( who uses Facebook, whatsapp and state of art mobiles) to be bedecked in sari, sindhoor and shimmering , jingling anklets. By the way, the sari was coloured red. Like her bindi and sindhoor.

Silvery, jingling anklets  around her ankles bring to mind Savitry – the eponymous heroine who walked behind Yama, seeking her spouse’s life back. At the sound of her delicate footstep, the Lord of Death had to stop.

Lakshman Rekhas were obviously spread  all over the place.

So was the film maker showcasing the story of an innocent, traditional housewife and mother getting seduced by new age calls to sin? Was it trying to show us the victory  of tradition in her sanctimonious refusal to indulge physically, though every other sanctity has been long shattered? That what matters is abstinence, the reining in of the sinning body, and the rest can be brushed under the beautiful carpets above which rocking chairs rock on?

So who was true at the end of it all?

The woman who was having a full fledged affair, who dressed up for her lover, who tries to attend phone calls like a devoted wife, who claims to love her spouse, and who discovers her ‘ strength’ at the last minute?  The one who goes behind her angrily retreating lover, tempting him saying that he should have endured in his persistence for  her love, just for another minute? Who to the tunes of romantic violin and flute, gives advice to her daughter telephonically,soon after,  on what is  her true strength?

( Was there not a movie called Meghamalhar that also expostulated  about sacrifice?)

The man who came  with the clear intention like a cat after midnight, only this was early afternoon,  who could frankly not understand why the lady was acting like the rain – playing both hot and cold. Who tells her while leaving, that in his belief, an indulged moment is better than a wasted one?

The unseen third presence, denounced viciously by both  protagonists in the movie, making his unwanted presence  very vocal, through regularly monitoring phone calls?

Or the next generation child, wondering on her mother’s strength?

I think of Zorba the Greek. Both the wonderful novel and the classic film. Zorba, as alive as the Blue green Aegean Sea!

The honest to earth living and sinning.

The simple truth of being true to one’s own self!

Of how he taught the scared hero to acknowledge his desire for the beautiful forbidden one.

In Madhavi Kutty’s story, an old woman cries aloud on her death bed for a silky green blouse and golden jewellery that she was never allowed to wear! It had been the freedom fighting days, espousing simplicity. The woman inside her, starved of sensual beauty, in the dying mad frenzy, forgets all earthly rebukes and cries out for her birthright! I need my beautiful silk and gold – before I die!!Probably I have never encountered a more brilliant depiction of a woman’s desires strangulated by society!

Among all the  depictions  of Madame Bovarys and Anna Kareninas, flirting tragically with death along with the forbidden third space,  the lessons were clear enough. Certain things will not change in society’s perspective-Russia or Italy or Timbucktoo.

But then, there was the tantalisingly beautiful Chinese film, ” In the mood for love.”  A third space of whispering yearnings , far away from the madding crowd.

Certain truths, like certain lies, are crystal clear to the human eyes of the viewer.

Either you love, or you do not.

Either you face the truth, or you do not.

Dumbing down truth, courage, desires is  definitely not  the manifestation of strength of character.

Something inside me tells, that if the film were to show one shot of  the next day, nothing would have changed.The woman would  continue to  live in  her pretty  Doll’s House, Ibsen would agree, loving another. The unseen master of the house would keep checking periodically, her presence, whenever he gets ‘time ‘ from close encounters of the third kind.  The freewheeling cat  shall roam free, with a probability to return home to roost. And  probably licks his whiskers , happily, after learning the art of persistence.The next generation grows up imbibing some weird moral philosophy of giving up what you truly want, and not having the courage to face your own self.

Apparently the film is based on a real life tale that the writer( also the hero) heard from a friend. Yes, truth can be stranger than fiction. Balachandran Chullikkad had written many such short memoirs in his Chidambaram Smarana compilation.

‘ Above all, to thine own self be true- thou cannot then be false to any one.’

Love is after all a four letter word.

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And I get my feedback.

” Her loyalty was towards her daughter. Not towards the two men.She wanted to be a good mother and role model for the child. That is the significance of the daughter’s call. The child is the centre of her life. Others are transient wishes which come and go as far as she is concerned. It is easy to be a lover. But rarely do we have true friendship. Blessed are those who can see the grandeur of the Universe in their beloved.”

I bow to that wisdom. With gratitude and love and humility.

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Refusing To Exclude

The learned author was cribbing about the immigration policy of a particular country. ” They are refusing to exclude students from the total immigration numbers,” he wrote.

I blinked.

‘ Refusing to exclude?’

What does that mean?

‘Insisting on including?’

The country insists on including students in the total immigration numbers..okay..now sense dawns..that means the other immigrants lose out, students are also restricted..okay. It took me a long time to analyse that one out.

Why on earth do we embrace the double negative?

(Never say never/hatred of the negative/negating the contradiction/paradox of the conundrum…ewwww!)

I refuse to exclude simplicity from thought, expression, and action.

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” Can an exclamation replace a question mark?” asks my little one, eyes furrowed.

I am flummoxed. I mutter that it might be a printing error.

” No, it is written by Enid Blyton,” comes the verdict. Mother might be wrong. Blyton cannot be.

For the past one hour, she had been asking about golden retrievers, scones and honey, and peat-moss for hens in that particular order.

I had managed most, except the peat-moss. I could not understand, what on earth, the hens would do with it.

I seek the help of Google Master.

An exclamation can be used to close questions depicting extreme emotions.

Example : ” What on earth are you doing! Stop!”

” You do not know everything, do you?” asks my daughter.

” No, I do not my dear,” I agree humbly.

I am game for using exclamation to express my extreme emotion!

I am refusing to exclude humility from daily life and learning.

Full Stop.

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Gratitude

A lot of people mistake spirituality for superstitions. Either they are scared of an angry father figure of a God or they are sure of doom awaiting , if they dared to do something rational.

In my perspective , an attitude of gratitude makes a person spiritual. A constant complaining culture has destroyed many budding spiritual flavours in many souls. They take delight in cribbing, bitching, hoarding, manipulating, destroying, and then calling out His or Her Name!

Ironically, the most blessed people are those who do not hesitate to whisper ‘ Thank You’, even when the tunnel is dark. The magic is that every Thank You , throws a glimmer of light, and a new pathway opens up suddenly. When they embrace joy and gratitude, they again whisper ‘ Thank You’, and the light increases in its warmth and engendering abilities. The best thing is, they do not even know that they are being spiritual.

Someone great said, that the greatest prayer ever uttered was ‘ Thank You.’

Thank You for the sufferings-those have taught me valuable lessons

Thank You for the lessons- those have taught me right and wrong

Thank you for the love-it makes everything simple by giving immense strength

Thank you for teaching me to draw boundaries-predators do not encroach anymore into my life energy

Thank you for insight-it makes me see good and evil so clearly and shows me the disguises both wear often.

Thank you for clarity-to call a spade a spade and a good soul a good soul and a depraved soul a depraved soul.

Thank you for children-their smiles are priceless

Thank you for the power of the pen- for the words are soldiers who fiercely guard my truth and my life

Thank you…endlessly

Words , Pictures, Word- Pictures

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Mitra Kamalam has sketched Frida Kahlo on the cover page of Malayalam Weekly’s special issue of 100 remarkable young women of Kerala.( March 13 issue) I did not see any acknowledgement about the same though. Interestingly, in another story called ‘ Play school’, she continued with the same sketching pattern- complete with down of moustache and joint eyebrows, clear marks of Frida, in another edition( May 8). I am all for developing a characteristic style, but giving credit where it is due, would be nice. No person who has read about Frida,  seen her self portraits, or seen Salma Hayek enact her, can fail to catch the resemblance. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes. But we live in a world where the readers should never be taken for granted , yes?

I do love Vijayalakshmy. Hers is a gifted pen. She made me read more about Oliver Sacks, the great Neurologist and writer, through her perfect ode to him. Often I think, hers is a talent that is incomparable. The sweetness of the words, the rhyme, the depth and insight- I fervently wish that the poetess start gifting us more prose along with her poetry. I also admire her for her erudition and deep humility. I feel as if I am in the presence of something ineffably pure. I get a glimpse of the omnipresent whenever I read Vijayalakshmy.

Amal writes a  serial novel called ‘ Vyasana Samuchayam’ in Malayalam Weekly.It was just by chance that I browsed through one issue- but suddenly it hit me. Wow!  Such humour laced with irony. Deep perception about the new generation issues and crimes, effortless handling of different dialects of Malayalam and somewhere the writer’s laughter- quiet and bubbling. I found myself hungrily searching for other issues and trying to catch up with his story. Now that is a talent to watch out for.Kudos to the magazine for noticing that  gifted writer.

The Good Samaritan anecdote from the Bible is known to everyone. In his poem’ Transcendalism’ , K.R.Tony revisits the story in present day Kerala. A poor man is harassed in all possible ways by  four passers by ( one takes off his shirt and beats him badly, the second removes his dhoti, the third his inner wear, the fourth murders him). Then the poet sharpens his razor of a pen.

In the last stanza (I am trying to translate)

‘That fool, who landed in the hands of the Hated

Among those , who was the Good Samaritan?

Thoreau said- the one who showed him compassion!

Jesus exhorted- Go and do what he did.’

( Malayalam April 24)

Benyamin’s Goat Days remains a personal favourite. I ended up reading his interview in one magazine, and his travelogue series in another. One thought which sprang to my mind after reading his interview about his writing destiny was this:

Why is it that writing engenders so much intolerance and hatred among the society? Why do the power of words scare some  people so much? Why do critics tear apart what they do not like?

I am glad that he is clear about his own strength in his  sojourn. To write a book, which makes a human being better in his  or her life’s journey, that is a rare privilege given to him by his writing destiny. May he continue to delight readers with his writing. For every critic, there would be a new reader who smiles after closing his book.

This is also what I wished to tell K.R.Meera , when I read a  nasty feedback about her novel in a magazine. The famous writer M.Mukundan had written positively about her novel ‘ Arachaar’ . A letter to the editor denounced both Mukundan and the novel saying that Google maps had done most of  the work! I laughed on reading that observation. Let the Amazons of the world flow into such brains- you have nothing to lose but your jealousy! Perhaps, even those waters of the ‘RiverSea’ might not be able to wash clean the pettiness of small minds. Well, to each, his own. But for each critic…

Beads Of The Same Colour, Birds Of The…

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In 2008, a 42 year old woman gave a commencement address at Harvard University. She spoke to the high fliers about the ‘ Fringe benefits of failure and the Importance of imagination.’ Her name was J.K.Rowling. That speech has now been published as a gem of a book entitled, ” Very Good Lives.”

Rowling spoke about how she saw herself as an utter failure, 7 years after graduation- with an imploded marriage, poverty, unemployment and the rest of what poverty brings. She also spoke about facing the reality,  focussing on writing, and building  up life from the very rock bottom of loss.

Quote: ” Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.”

Rowling spoke about the power of imagination- the gift of ‘ thinking oneself into other people’s places’ and how that gift leads to empathy. Her work at Amnesty International had exposed her to horror stories and tales of resilience- which she later captured in her work. She speaks about how we ” refuse to know about the sufferings which do not touch us personally.” The importance of becoming a voice for the voiceless, and being a part of change in the world were reiterated.

Quote: ” ..If you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better..”

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Almost serendipitously I ended up watching two movies on the same theme of  grateful, graceful living.

” The Bucket List” starred the formidable talents of Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson; as two patients facing  death and choosing to embracing life intensely, together. I was awed by Morgan Freeman- the sheer beauty of his acting , his dignity was a majestic sight in itself. Of course, no one can act better as  a headstrong rebel than Jack Nicholson and all the Cuckoos flew over his nest in this one!!

” Staying Alice”, was fragile as a gossamer web- with  the Oscar winning performance of Julianne Moore as the brilliant, radiant Columbia University Professor  and mother of three,  coming to terms with ”  The Art of Losing”, due to Alzheimer’s disease. As we watch the extraordinary woman who knows everything about words, struggling to recollect the connections, Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry acquires new meaning.

Both the movies reminded me of Rowling’s speech. There was an acceptance of  reality by the protagonists- with all the failure of body functions, pain and  imminent loss- death and disease are dark tunnels where you grope by yourself for light. There was also the power of imagining oneself into a better place- a dignity, a grace and a rare beauty of the resilience of leading ” Very Good Lives.”

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I am not a great fan of Dylan Thomas as a real man, but his lines are fascinating.

”  Do not go gently into the good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

Those lines resonate-with not only fighting against failure and death , but also in creating a fresh burst of energy in the reader.

And so, having gifted Rowling’s latest to my daughter, when she invited me to watch ‘ Vale Decem’ with her- I was not expecting any more coincidences.

She explained to me that the Latin meant ” Farewell Ten”- about the regeneration of the 10th Dr Who, to the tunes of gratitude sung by the world to him .

‘Amma it means, may the fates be with you till eternity because you have brought us peace. You see, David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor Who, he lived a Very Good Life!’

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I end with Joseph Campbell.

In his great work, ” The Power of Myth”, he elaborates on the basic theme.

” The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbours to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for..

The Dragon of our Western  tales, tries to collect and keep everything to himself. … he just guards and keeps. There are people like that, and we call them creeps. There is no life from them, no giving. They just glue themselves to  you and hang around and try to suck out of you their life.

My general formula for my students is ” Follow your bliss.”Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”

*****

Bird Songs from the Atlantic

In the Post Office, as my brother was busy with the counter clerk, I stared at Maya Angelou.

There she was, that resplendent phenomenal woman, smiling from a US postage stamp.

” A bird does not sing because it has a reply, it sings because it has a song.” Her words were quoted within that square sized space.

That made me think of caged birds everywhere. The ones that sing, because they can feel the songs trapped within, unable to stop those, from trilling through their parched throats.Only, some songs would come out sounding strangled, some a half groan, some sour and pained. Some birds,would barely manage to croak out a “Help”. Rarely, would the  real sweetness emerge – from a cuckoo released after long captivity, flying to the horizons, happy at last.

By the time I wondered about Maya’s own hard life struggle, never saying die before the greatest odds, and holding on to her dignity and talent, I was seeing the sea gulls of the Atlantic ocean. I remembered Bach’s Jonathan Livingston, champion flier and visionary sea gull! The one who decided that pecking fishes,dead and alive, was not his destiny. That he wanted to fly, up and above the ordinary, and test the limits of his own gifts of flight. So too, came the remembrance of the Ancient Mariner. The dead past of a seagull, hanging onto his neck.

The waves rushed in, the sea gulls did not take flight. They stayed, confident that the surf would leave them safe.

A chill wind wrapped its blankets around my shoulders. I stared at the phenomenal woman of an ocean. Silver specks all over her luscious blue green body. Ships trying to master her spirit, trying to discover her mystery. Was it in the diamonds buried under her court yard?

What was it that Marquez spoke about the music of the seas?

I remembered my best friend telling me, all the waters in this world were connected, that all of us all connected. That all of this is Vishnu’s dream. Transient and fleeting. To enjoy the silver blue waters of this moment , in the ‘Now.’ Eckhart Tolle would have been pleased as I whispered a ” Thank You” to the Universe. When YOU are there, taking care of me, no evil can besmirch me, no harm befall me. All these are transient, fleeting, a flicker of a dream, a dream of a shadow as the Greek genius wrote.

Blessed be.