Because he loved a flower without any reason… (Prabha Verma, Translation From Malayalam)

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The poem in my mother tongue had an acknowledgement:

“This poem has been inspired by  the feelings evoked on seeing the painting by Henry Siemiradzki ; in which he depicts an incident from the life of  Emperor Alexander.”

What a joy! The poem and the search for the origin of the gorgeous painting! From various sources available freely online, I ended up discovering that Alexander the Great had caught a severe fever during an expedition in Cilicia, in 333 B.C.,by bathing in the river Cydnus. Philip of Acarnania was his royal physician, who prepared a medicinal draught for him. Alexander’s  Macedonian General, Parmenion sent a missive that Darius III had bribed Philip and that the medicine might be deadly poison!

Alexander the Great trusted his physician and drank the medicine. Philip had not betrayed his emperor and Alexander recovered.

The scene by the great Polish artist, shows Alexander drinking the medicine, while fixing his gaze on the face of the physician to whom he handed over the note.

The poet Prabha Verma,  took some liberty with the story -he imagines Alexander handing over the empty cup to Parmenion and the note to Philip. Also, he tries to surmise Alexander’s thoughts on why he would trust his physician and risk his life in spite of his faithful  General’s warning!

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Interestingly in the historical interpretations that I ended up reading,  Alexander did not go by emotion but by hard steel logic: if he did not take the medicine, he would die anyway! If he did die, the physician would follow suit- no betrayer would survive after the emperor’s death. In fact  a decade later, another physician Glaucias  would be killed in 324 B.C., when Alexander was unhappy- Hephaestion had died in spite of the physician’s efforts.

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Translation : Because he loved a flower without any reason (Onninumallathoru poovine snehichavan…)

Prabha Verma , Malayala Manorama Annual Issue, Onam Special 2015.pg 181-182

The medicine of life in his right hand

The missive that it is poison , in his left hand

Both reach him at the same instant

The great emperor: what will he choose?

The life draught is sure to be sour, in its vessel

Forbidding it, the letter from the General himself

Which to accept, which to reject,

The world conqueror drinks the medicine!

Death’s poisonous mixture, and life saving nectar

Are both these the same in this emperor’s eyes?

He extends the empty cup to his General and the note

Burning in intensity, to his physician!

The royal doctor stands terrified, sure of death

To his truth, to his own self.

The General’s body shivers, he is sure

He has failed to save the King.

If only he had pushed off the cup

Instead of passing on the message!

His sword has not warned, and failed

No answers to anything at all !

His chest burns with the smouldering

Doubt; the emperor does not trust me

He has not accepted the truth as seen

By the eyes of spies.

And then he concludes for a moment

Perhaps the way to cut this Gordian knot

And let go off, as a light breeze

This path of poison, the King has chosen!

Like a still flame, stands the royal physician

His eyes at a distance

Caressing his beard slowly,

Sure of his death, his destiny.

How many more moments for the King?

Those many for the doctor too

The General felt his silver touched sword head

Glittering as if in deadly thirst!

He stands staring at his King

The expressions, are they changing?

The heart beats- are they slowing, ceasing?

Are those eye lids falling, down and down?

The change is visible-

Like sun light the eyes glitter!

The face radiant with life,the emperor rises

Holding on to his physician’s finger tip!

Deadly poison, just a bit and death would come

The spy groups had said!

They are trust worthy, then how is it

The truth is different?

The doctor has been a child hood friend

Yet recently he has been seen

With the enemy,

Or so said the message.

Never has the spy words been wrong

Now life itself has proved it so

The King walks with renewed strength

In the path shown by his physician friend.

The General feels that the sword

Is looking at him,he feels a quiver within

Could it be that I invited death trying to stop

The medicine of life?

A hand on his shoulder;

The King leaves a petal touch of understanding

The General forgets himself, asks

“Why did you drink it knowing it is poison?

Because you know him from childhood?

Because you had reached detachment?

Because he had healed your pain many times?

Because the pain and agony were too much?”

“None of these,” said the King.

“Even those from childhood can betray!

Even while healing your pain,

Can kill silently indeed.

I saw him different because of

Some truths that will never change across ages!

The truth that the Universe has taught,

The eternal truth of Nature herself!

He smiles on seeing a flower,

Cries while staring at a heavy cloud’s pain

Patiently listens in the night to the wind’s music

That comes through the leaves and trees!

He loves the moonlight, flowers,the butterflies

Right from our childhood, with a compassionate heart

He stands here as my physician

All the documents I need to trust him are these:

Because he loved a flower without any reason

He will never kill a human being for any reward!

Because he has hummed a tune in his heart, without any reason

He will never destroy anyone’s life breath, ever!”

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I finish translating.

A voice in me quotes,

“Antonius!

Let me have men about me that are fat,

Sleek headed men and such as sleep o’ nights

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look

He thinks too much, such men are dangerous…

He reads much;

He is a great observer and sees quite through the deeds of men

He loves no plays, Antony like thou dost

He hears no music

Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort

As if he mocked himself and scorned his spirit

That could be moved to smile at anything…”

Ahhhh! Another great emperor! Julius Ceasar reading men and their motives !

Cassius does not smile from his heart, he does not watch plays, he hears no music…he cannot be trusted!!!

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I acknowledge all the mistakes of my translation as totally my own! But perhaps this Malayalam poem, inspired by a great Polish artist’s depiction of a Macedonian Emperor- making a case for loving nature, tolerance, and insight- this is the sort of conversation people should be having world over….We will smile over the irony that the Great Emperor’s sword itself had not been that merciful!

Netronmeelanam by K .R. Meera : A Note

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“Netronmeelanam,” is a tough title for even those who understand Malayalam well. Poetic, having imageries of both eyes and a sort of merging,  the word with probable Sanskritic etymology, means the art of drawing eyes, in an environment of soulfulness, onto  murals, paintings or sculptures. Every artist worth her pencil would know that it is  a sacred act – the eyes will be the one to be drawn at  the very last. If they see well, you have caught the spirit truly.

Verily it is said in the Holy Bible: ” The eye is the lamp of the body. So then, if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If the light that is in you is darkness, how great the darkness..”

K.R. Meera’s novel, ” Netronmeelanam”, is like a black and white movie. It plays with blindness and sight, perspective and lack of it, losing eye sight literally, metaphorically, regaining an outlook, changing a way of looking. The novel , if you draw an analogy to a human being, looks deep inside, outside, sideways, closes its eyes and opens them wide.

The writer plays with light in almost all sentences, including the names of her characters:Deepti, Jyoti, Rajani, Prakashan, Shyaman, Abha, Suraj,  Suprabha, Chandramohan, Shivsubramaniya Rao ( I imagined the third eye  of Shiva and the birth of Kartikeya)- there is a smattering of light and dark every where.

The love story is  as complex as an Orhan Pamuk story of obsession; for what is lost forever. This museum of innocence is filled with images of a pregnant Deepti who vanishes inexplicably one night. Everywhere you turn, you encounter her light; ironically not unlike  that of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca- that sinister presence all across Manderlay. Rejany, dark with long plait that resembles a snake, is the living , breathing, passionate woman who falls in love with the blind hero. Unfortunately, he does not have the inner eye to see her light. Some people, Prakashan epitomising that characteristic, are always doomed to thirst for what is lost and will not value those who are present in flesh and blood. The father’s story, the brilliant wordplay notwithstanding, seemed slightly contrived to me. Still, Meera’s love affair with Bengal shows the spark from within this work too.

There were too many jumps onto poetic imagination. Shyaman finding love serendipitously, the story of Jyoti’s Netronmeelanam, the mad woman in the redemption saga, hmmm, I was left a little dissatisfied. Two stories flashed in my mind, in between: somewhere in the past I had read Mukundan’s tale about a corporate top shot,abnegating it all, and choosing to toil as a farmer in some hinterlands. Jyoti’s life and its exaggerated loving simplicity, reminded me of that one. And disturbingly came the memory of that classic  vernacular short story, ( I forget the title )of a father and son returning to the paternal home after the mother committed suicide. What was the name? It tantalises me with its unreachability. Maybe it was Chandramohan’s story that triggered that particular brooding.

Meera’s incomparable  gift  for wordplay and imageries shocks and delights equally:

” The woman tasted of rust.”pg.20

” Beyond the skyscrapers, an ugly cloud afraid of the night, got ready to commit suicide on the branch of the sunset.” Pg 28

“Along the pathway by the side of the canal, to deceive the sightless, the jasmine flower clad night, lay down, her hair loose.” Pg 34

” They found each other like bats, using sound..” Pg 41

” He could see the image of the tree, covered in a black gown, hanging on the sky..”pg 65

I admire the deeply intelligent writing as much as her scintillating prose.

Yes, more of her works are coming my way this week, hopefully.

Let me sketch a face now. I have  to try that sacred ritual- Netronmeelanam…

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Mritiye Kannal Kanden / Having Seen Death With My Eyes (Sugata Kumary)

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Serendipity and I, are old partners. She is as fickle as a tempestuous lover at times. She might condescend to grace one’s day or not. There is no in-between grey paths of flirtation for her sort of love. Strangely, her love is considered spiritual by some. Apparently your life path is coinciding with the original Grace’s path if the lady comes dancing across your days.

In the past few days, she has come in the form of death’s story, and the story of blindness and healing.

I had just finished Tarashanker Bandopadhyay’s ‘ ArogyaNiketan’ and had reached out to Sugata Kumary’s poetry collection, still thinking of death.

The book opened at her 1968 poem called, ” Mritiye Kanden.” As I read about the young woman in red, with yellowish hair, face downcast, and raising her sightless eyes, I froze. I could not believe it- Pingala Kesini, blind and deaf ! Pingalavarna, Pingalanetra..she of yellow hair, yellow skin, yellow eyes… When did she escape Jeevan Masai’s story and jump into Sugata teacher’s poem?And then I saw the acknowledgment below the third page- ”  Story about death from Tarashanker Bandopadhyay’s Arogya Niketan.”

I bowed before lady Serendipity.

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Excerpts..( translated  from Malayalam)

I saw death yesterday

with my own eyes

a young woman

sitting face downcast.

Clad carelessly in red

yellow hair all wild

face down, perhaps

due to grief?

“Who are you?”

my dry lips

nay, my terror struck soul

might have questioned thus!

Did she not hear?

or she cannot, perhaps?

though I stopped her with my hand

she did not see- may be, she could not?

Then like a thick black

curtain , as darkness

started dropping all around, crying-

That face lifted and I saw

sightless white spaces!

I recognise her

stunned, she is the favourite

daughter of the Creator!

The one in whose lap

the world sleeps like a child

forgetting all sorrows,

whose compassionate cool touch

removes the agony of disease, pain

humiliation, love’s epidemic

the hundreds of unappeased dissatisfactions

of the human soul…

She went crying to her father

on a bright day of creation

it seems..

” I cannot do the task allotted”

she cried in distress, folding hands:

“removing a child from a father’s lap

a beloved from her sweetheart’s arms

a son from his mother’s breast

from a woman’s devout grasp her husband..

I cannot see the gasping, broken wings

of grief; as I pull them away..”

“Go,  do your divine assignment

I grant you the boon of sightlessness-

do not see anymore

the tears of the loved ones.

May you turn blind!”

Thus it was that death

returned to the harvest fields

of life on earth, blinded.

She returned another day

stumbling before her father

tears running..

” I cannot hear the cries of horror

as I enter, the heart rending calls

of names of those who leave..”

Compassionate creator, he said

” May you turn deaf from now on!”

Thus it was death turned blind and deaf.

She walks, this young woman,

yellow hair wild, face downcast

not seeing tears, not hearing cries

will come and take you far, far away…

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Few Chemical Reactions

” MOM,” says my daughter with a devilish grin.

” Methoxy methyl ether aka MOM, is a non toxic, protective group, known to be highly inflammable,” the elder one reads out.

” Haha, MOM,” echoes the younger one, with undisguised glee.

Both clutch their tummies and roll about in great joy.I raise a quizzical eyebrow, used to these sisterly chemical combinations of  rare compatibility.

” How can the properties be so perfect  to the name?”  The future scientist wonders aloud. The little one giggles on cue, like a perfect sycophant.

” Very similar to your zodiac sign mom,” drawls my kid.

” The only predator which does not attack unless severely harassed. Keeps to itself, but if the chances of survival are at stake, will throw a deadly sting,” my girl turns into Linda Goodman.

Then the focus gets diverted to zodiac signs. The ethereal stuff about MOM, is  soon forgotten.

” Let us check on Virgo children, nah, Virgo women,” says my elder one.

Their MOM lets out a groan.

” What is there to know? I have a mother, a brother, and two daughters belonging to that star sign. I am the expert on the topic. Ask me!”

” Extremely clever, will power of iron, talented and focused, typically clean and neat,” I offer the sugar gently.

As the two little Virgoes bask in the glory, the Scorpio stings.

” There are strong eccentricities in their nature . They leave behind messy rooms, can drive their dear ones mad with stubbornness, can howl about the correctness of their ways till the end of eternity  and then without blinking , change their opinion and make it another’s fault…more?”

” Who said Non Toxic?” mutters the elder one, “lemme check again..”

The little girl sniffs like a queen, and then starts exploring different ways of tying one’s hair like the ‘Frozen’ heroine.

” Let it goooooo,” she hums out of sync, “let it goooo..”

I let it go. I am a MOM after all.

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Thirichariyal aka Recognition, Sugata Kumary Translation

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From Sugata Teacher’s Krishna Collection.

With love, on a Janmashtamy, also Teachers Day.

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Thirichariyal(1988)\ Recognition

Who am I? Where am I rushing to, through

An unknown land,

Over such a vast road?

Strange, these unfamiliar green fields-

Barley? Maize?

The orchards, what are these full of?

Blue fruits, unknown to me.

Over there, I see sheep,

Near that field,

An old farmer atop his horse.

The bus stops by the wayside

Many get down to quench the thirst.

Underneath that nameless tree, small seating places

The sunlight intensifies, thirst harrows me

I get down , and stand all alone near the tree.

A young village girl offers red liquid

She is dressed in strange grabs, I do not know

If she is serving wine or grape juice

As I request for water, she shrugs , not understanding.

A blue eyed poet sits and sings, with a full tumbler

What is he singing about?

Love? Death?

The language,I do not know.

I do not recognise the bird chirping

On this sunlit tree branch either!

Machines rumbling across far off fields

Who am I ? What am I doing here?

A sudden depressing loneliness engulfs me

I do not recognise the language, not the bird chatter

Nor the tree murmurs, strangers all around,

An intense , vast, unknown landscape-

Surrounds me, starts to pull me down

With terror, scary darkness that grows within

As it turns into pain, tiredness

Strangulating me-

As I sink to the ground, letting go…

Suddenly I hear

A sweet flute music!

As I open my eyes in wonder

My eyes fall on a young lad

Clambering down the hill!

Dark skinned,dusty long hair

Touching his shoulders:

A bird feather tucked into it,

He is joyously , playfully bounding down!

Around his neck, an amulet shaped like a bell,

A stick to drive the sheep in hand

Curly hair springing all around his forehead!

Through his open shirt, I see

A sun, tattooed on his chest!

He stands so nonchalantly near me,

Drinks from his leather pouch

Strapped across his shoulders.

Turns to look at me

Stranger in a different garb

In that clime

Throws an open, sweet smile my way.

My body cools with exhilaration,

My child,

Your smile showers flowers across my forehead!

I return his smile, my heart blossoms-

You came all this way, only for my sake!

Though your eyes shimmer green,

Though the feather is of a white dove

Though your chest is tattooed

Though you are with sheep,

I recognise you!!

Because of your flute tucked by your waist,

The way in which you sipped your drink, wiped your lips

And turned to cast a glance at me

In the way you then ran off, whistling loudly

Scampering merrily away!

Gently, someone touches my shoulder

As I turn, the young girl stands behind me

Offering water.

As I drink it with gratitude,

The sorrow in the poet’s tune

Becomes two hands folded up high

In faith and devotion!

I recognise that I am never  really alone

Anywhere in the world !

This strange land, suddenly

Becomes mine.

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