Hounding The Fears Out, With A Twist!

The face of the woman had haunted me for years. She was staring , pale faced and deathly, at the man. He was down in a chamber and was pleading with her. Then the lid had fallen- either by her hands or by fate. I remember shivering after watching the Musgrave Ritual in the Sherlock Holmes  BBC series  starring Jeremey Brett. I was thirteen. Some memories die hard.

By some  ineffable quirk of my mind, I soon forgot the title but not the story. Later, even as I read and re-read my favourite Holmes stories, this story evaded my grasp. I kept searching for it for a long time, with frustrating failure. Until Google arrived.

The Butler and the tree and the mystery! The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual. I sat and watched as my thirteen year old self within me, recollected every emotion. Rachel Howells, Brunton…no fury like that  of a woman scorned indeed!

The slightly touched in the head- blonde Jane,  in her temptress role, I did not remember. Did the Indian censor board edit the series back then?The face of the housemaid as she coldly speaks to her ex lover, about his selfishness – that look I recollected, perfectly. But the face of the corpse floating was new to me! Does our memory blank out certain scenes and vividly preserve some others?

I went back to the original story and realised that the BBC version had been liberal in its interpretation. There was no dead body floating anywhere. Neither was Watson a part of the incident.

Intrigued, I ended up watching the 2013 brilliant Russian version of the Musgrave Ritual. Whoa! That one took me for a ride indeed! Absolutely unbelievable in its own take of the Ritual.Just like that oddly named Baskerville Hound!

I simply loved both. Especially the Hound.For turning a tale around its head, for mixing up stories, for a Holmes who plays his violin as it hangs on the wall, for his tortoise rimmed specs, for humour and sheer  surprise!Was Moriarty wearing  violet Ray-ban? And to think that I was waiting for phosphorous even as the Chancery papers and trains were all over the scene!!

That  Russian series discovery was the best antidote to any childhood nightmare!  Rachel Howells has lost her power over me. So has Brunton’s despair. I now remember Holmes in a kilt with Scottish pipers all around.

There is something to be said for that!

The Word, Across The World

image

If you have enjoyed that brilliant Maya Angelou poem ,” Still I Rise”, you might remember the lines..

‘ Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t take it awful hard….

You may shoot me with your words

You may cut me with your words

You may kill me with your hatefulness

But still, like air, I’ll rise…”

I got a pleasant surprise when I encountered that same spirit, in an old book of translated Urdu poetry.

Ahmad Faraz, as Faiz Ahmad Faiz writes in the foreword, employs a classical poetic idiom, laden with symbols, peculiar to eastern feudal tradition, with multi layered meanings of apparently simple words.

In his poem , ” Main Zinda Hu”/ I am alive, he writes..( as translated by M.H.K.Qureshi)

” I am still alive

You threw stones at me

Entombed me

Crucified me

Poisoned me

Burned me

Yet, like truth

I am alive, eternal…

I, the meteor of the night

Fell shattered and scattered..

Yet, I go on dancing, shining…

My power and strength was the Word.

From Word, the heavenly fountain

I drank the elixir of life.

Word- the beginning of truth,

The flame of intuition

The God of all…”

What a joy, I muse, to discover the same  blazing human spirit, unconquerable, across the globe. All other differences in nationality, colour of skin, gender obliterated in that single  moment. The Power of the Word!

****************

My eyes fall on another classic Faraz poem..it is called Vapasy/ Return.

Usne kaha

Sun

Ahad nibhane ki khatir mat aana

ahad nibhane wale aksar

Majboory ya mahajury ki dhakkan se lauta karte hain

…..

I sit stunned at that percipience. Now, translated, it reads..

‘Listen

she said,

Do not come back merely to keep your Word.

Such people oft return

As they are tired of

Helplessness and Loneliness

In separation…’

Frankly, if I had not read it in this book of Faraz’s poetry, I would have sworn that it was written by a woman!

The Power of the Word, indeed.

One day, I tell myself, I will read Urdu in the original.

The script looks like a painter’s dream. I take out a crayon…

***********

The Mathematics of Blue Moon

“Once in a blue moon,”she asks, “Amma, what does it mean?”

I cast a bemused glance at the curious cat. She has a grin on her face, a la Alice’s Cheshire Cat itself.

“A very rare event,” I explain.

Little girl starts grinning wider and wider. The grin almost eclipses her face.

“What is up?” I ask.

This one smiling over an explanation,  with such a sunshine glimmer,  happens once in a blue moon. Usually she ponders deep, over explanations. Presumably filtering it through her own special eight year old truth filter.

“I wrote in my note book that I was a very good girl.”

I cough politely. I have certain other  distinct view points about the interpretation of Good. Especially when good girls seem to be fascinated by the looking glass, to uneven time proportions. Ignoring homework.

“Chechy wrote next to it- once in a blue moon!”

This time, I grin. Ah, there  are other eyes too that see the truth, eh?

“Do you agree with what your sister wrote?” I ask, mildly.

My little one laughs. Shaking all over in her mirth. Happens once in a….

*******

“Ma,  never let this brat study Law! She will switch sides to suit her interest easily! The client would be in a very bad position!” warns the elder one.

We were discussing possible career options for the little girl. Considering her outstanding ability to cry at a moment’s notice, for example. And to stop crying instantaneously, as soon as she concluded, that no one was interested in the whole scene. A more remarkable ability.

My little Turncoat, sniffs with elegance.

“What is Law?” She ventures, after some time.

Before any one could explain, she speaks. ” I want to study fashion!”

“You have to do addition and subtraction  for that” , advises her sister. ” Pass class four Mathematics, next! And then continue to do Math  for years,” she grins with sheer vindictive joy.

A shudder of horror passes over the young one. Maths and she are not friends.

“Why?”

A very poignant question over the injustice of it all. A sentiment I could very well relate to, since I have a love- hate relationship with Maths too.

“You have to measure clothes, right?” Laughs her sister, getting into her groove.

A look of concentration comes into the small face.

“I will do addition and subtraction then,” she says, to no one in particular.

For the first time in her summer vacation, she reaches out to her Math text book.

“The crow will fly upside down today,” chortles my elder daughter.

“May be it is you , who should take up Law,” I mutter, ” because you have accomplished something next to impossible.”

The scene ends with the elder one patiently explaining   Class Four mathematics problems in terms of a pretty actress’s choice of lipsticks and blushes.Her sibling has an awed look at her face, as light dawns on the application of Maths in life and death issues.

I praise the Heavens, wholeheartedly.  The peace in the house is as rare as a blue moon.

************

Never Be Pricey

I am a fan of Anuja Chauhan.

This young lady, who looks like she is fifteen in her book snap shots, mother of three teenagers,previous Senior VP of a top Ad agency, writer of columns and brilliant books, is down to earth and very witty.(Btw, the frothy, tempting, Yeh Dil Maange More was her own line!)

But her latest book, ‘The house that BJ built, ‘ disappointed me.

When I  read her debut novel,  Zoya Factor, I was surprised at  her  bubbly writing , her deep knowledge of the field (cricket and advertising) and the Hindi-English mad cap jokes, perfect understanding of the typical Indian society (low/middle/high/whatever), deeper understanding of dresses, man woman crushes, little children, assorted aunts (even Wodehouse might not have captured aunts so brilliantly!), fathers, sisters, etc etc.. It was sheer brilliance.

By the time she ventured into Battle for Bittora (Based on Indian elections, a melange of all things goofy and great. She is also the D-I-L of veteran politician Margaret Alvaji), I found myself laughing aloud at her perspicacity. Then came “Those Pricey Thakur Girls”, a description of growing up in a family of pretty sisters and Doordarshan Chitrahaar era.

All the novels were peppered by light humour, salted by divine wisdom of the local swear words (sprinkled very subtly), and lots of passionate love. I recommended all of her books to my teenager, who became an ardent fan too, like her mom.

We both eagerly awaited the sequel of Thakur  Girls. But something happened, which gave a bitter taste to that reading experience.Too many swear words of the worst kind!  A tendency to go overboard with the descriptions of female anatomy! Too much slickness a la Uriah Heep. (Unctuousness, I think , is the word Dickens used ). Also, I remembered the Harry Potter series,  each growing bigger and bigger, with lesser and lesser substance. Brevity, apparently was an art, that  was first chewed up and later spat out  by the monsters of marketing and seekers of  popularity, worldwide.

For the first time, I hesitated while offering Anuja’s book to my daughter. We did laugh at the occasional flashes of brilliant word play; but she agreed too- the writer was trying too desperately to impress. Why would there be tonnes of swear words in every page? Hindi, English, mixed? Too much of anything, soon bores and numbs . Even the infallible Amrit,  if  consumed in overwhelming proportions,  would turn poisonous. At least that’s how the vernacular proverb goes. “The House That BJ Built” unfortunately, suffers from that failing.

Anuja knows the world of clothes, films, family property disputes and romance perfectly well. But her innocent writing charm, sweet romantic descriptions, the elegance and laugh aloud humour of her earlier books were starkly missing  from this one.As an advertising professional, she should know it all too well: Customers are the Kings. Or Queens.

My dear Anuja(ji), not all the marketing figures can make up for the devotion of your readers. Always keep your basic customer base as your priority. If you scandalize them with over eagerness to shock and impress, they will get disappointed.We are your simple fans, you see. We are the ones who will spent hard earned money for enjoying your wonderful tales.  (Because, we  can exactly recollect the pangs and jubilations.) The moment we feel, as if you are too uppity and too worldly wise, we will stop being impressed.

Give us today, our daily dal, my dear. We will manage without lead infested instant noodles.

Just keep being you. Chuck out the marketing master plan. And yes, the next book you write, keep it simple and sweet. May that one be as entrancing as that street urchin grin of Anuja Chauhan , caught in camera by her own daughter.

*********

The Serpent’s Breath

image

” Urag shwaas tribidhi sameera,” is how Tulsidasji describes Ramji’s plight when bereft of Sita in Sriramcharit Manas.

The breeze with three qualities, namely coolness, fragrance and gentleness felt like a  terrible serpent’s breath to Ram.

In Malayalam,  Ezhuthachan’s Harinamakeertana( Prayers of Hari)  gives a description:

” Gharmatapam kulirnilavennu tambiyodu, chemme paranju nija patnim pirinjalavu..”

It means: “When you were in the avatar of Ram, you found the cool moonlight excruciatingly hot  and complained to your brother about it-because you were separated from your beloved…”

****

Well, comparisons of poetry apart, it is the exiled King’s plight that I wanted to follow today.

In front of me lies Salman Khurshid’s ‘ Sons of Babur’- a play in search of India. It is a well written script with an intrepid student trying to understand the history of his country’s syncretic culture, by interacting with the Emperors who ruled India. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, who suffered intensely and died at Rangoon, far away from India, is a character in the play. He was a gifted poet and his poetry in Urdu, is dotted throughout the play, very beautifully.

Quote:

Sarah: An emperor’s unfinished quest..what were those lines by Bahadur Shah about two days of desire and two days of existence!

Prabhat Sharma:

‘ Umre daraz maang ke laye the chaar din,

Do aarzoo mein guzar gaye , do intezaar mein!’

( I wished for a long life, was granted four days in all-

Two  were spent in tears, another two in waiting.)

It is an erudite book, and has been enacted on stage, with Tom Alter playing the key role.

The need today, is to weave threads of human emotions together, to discover how very similar we are, when faced with life’s challenges. Language, time, space, genre regardless.

The intense pain of being away from his beloved land, is like a serpent’s breath in Zafar’s poems.

‘ Na kisi aankh ka noor hun,na kisi dil ka karar hun

Jo kisi ke kaam na aasake mein  vo ek muste ghubar hu.’

(I am not the delight of any eyes nor a heart’s yearning

Not of use to anyone, just a fistful of dust)

******

Four texts,  different genres, four languages, same emotion.

Beloved is an imagery:  loved one or mother land. Bereft of the beloved,  life itself reminds of a serpent’s breath.

History, poetry,  mythology will resonate to that concept; along with humanity.

****

Shadow and Light

In Kerala folk versions of Mahabharata, there is one which has the story of ” shadow kill” or Nizhalkutthu. Duryodhan hires a hunter who  dabbles with black magic  and asks him to kill off the Pandavas by performing Nizhalkutthu. Literally, it means, stabbing the shadows dead- leading to the death of the living bodies. Something like a shadowy voodoo ritual. The hunter returns home victorious, with many gifts from the King,  telling his wife that he killed off five fledglings of a bird using black magic. She  understands that the Pandavas are dead; and is outraged by his evil. Then, to show him what it really means to lose an off spring,  she kills their son in front of him.

The famed film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan made a movie by the same name, Nizhalkutthu, based on the story of the last hangman of Travancore. The symbolic meaning of the original story, was carried on in the film, about meaningless killings- whether done as part of duty or to teach a lesson.

In the original Nizhalkutthu Attakatha, based on which Kathakali is performed, Lord Krishna gives life to the dead Pandavas and also to the dead son of the hunter. All is well, and of course, innocents do not die in a meaningless manner. The viewer is happy and hopefully has reflected on the way,  human talents are wasted in unethical ways for the sake of earning the King’s favours. Perhaps, he or she also reflected on the impulsiveness of human nature and how ‘an eye for an eye ‘ philosophy of the huntress, left everyone blind.

In Sundarakanda of  Sri Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidasji,  is the description of the Shadow-Catcher! She is a demon, who lives in the oceans and catches the shadows of everything that flies in the sky. She pulls the shadows that are reflected on the water .  All which  once flew in the sky, fall down into her clutches. She proceeds to eat them. Well, she meets her match in Hanumanji, whose shadow she catches.He sees through her evil, kills her and proceeds to Lanka.

” Nisichary ek sindhu mahu rahai/ Kari maya nabhu ke kha gahaye

Jeevi janthu je  gaganchar udahy/ Jal biloki tinh hai parichahy

Gahai chah sak soh na udai/Ehi bidhi Saha gaganchar khayi

Soyi chal Hanuman kah kinha/ Tasu kapadu kapi turanthuhu chinha”

I am intrigued by the  similiar tale from  Mahabharatha of  the South and  Ramayana of  the North. Shadow Catchers and Shadow Stabbers are so common in society. They specialise in destroying high spirited beings through manipulation and games behind their backs. Gossip, petty talk, conspiracy, plain evil lead to many deaths- symbolic and real.

Did the great writers, want us to ruminate on Soul Catchers and Soul Stabbers of the mortal kind? After all, to destroy one’s spirit is an equal form of murder.

Like Lord Krishna who gave life back to the innocent victims, it is time perhaps to wonder on whether we contribute to killing off spirits of people who are near us or whether we give life and energy to others through our words and efforts. And whether we have the spirit to call a shadow catcher in the sea/ rye/ nearby -by the name and stop his or her nefarious functioning like Hanumanji himself.

*******

Knotting and Noting About It

The story:

So the Tathagata, had a piece of cloth is his hand. As others watched in awe, he made six knots, one after the other.

” Is the cloth the same or different?” he asked.

Many learned explanations emerged.

“Of course, the cloth is the same, even with knots.”

” Now let me get it undone,” he said, and pulled strongly in both directions.

The disciples tittered.

” No, that way, you deepen the knots and make them more complex. The only way out is to understand , how you knotted each originally,  and undo each knot in that manner,” they explained.

” So it is with life’s problems,” smiled the Buddha. ” Understand the root cause of each knot that you are facing, owe up to your role in creating it, and try to undo each in that manner.”

******

I reflect on that one.

How very true! I am responsible for each knot of difficulty in my life and I very actively played a role in creating it.

Need for external validation, for example, makes you vulnerable to hurt and distress. That is a knot which attracts all sorts of complications! If you seek it from unworthy people, those who simply do not have the inner grace to see the light within you, you are left to pull it frantically in all directions and suffocate in the process.

Following the Wise One, all I need to do, is to simply stop wanting that validation from outside. Easier said, than done! But definitely, the healing begins. And the happiness too.

********

Speaking of knots, I remember Susan Glaspell’s terrific short story, ” A jury of her peers,” later made into a classic play called ‘Trifles.’

Knots, played an important part in that murder mystery.”To quilt it or knot it?” is the lynch pin of the drama.

You can read at:

(http://www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/trifles.html)

Yes,I conclude, you can unknot a problem, only if you observe closely, how it came to be knotted in the first place!

*************