The Way You See It…

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” You must have read about Kalnemy,” he said, smiling.

I recollected the name vaguely.

” He disguised himself as a well wisher and tried to delay Hanuman’s return to the battlefield with the elixir needed for Lakshman’s life.”

I remembered the Asura in a sage’s guise.

” Oh, and he asked Hanuman to take a bath in a crocodile infested lake and …”

” So many apparent well wishers are Kalnemys in nicely smiling disguises. The life lesson is clear. Beware of too much sweetness,” said he.

I remembered the Kalnemys I had met in my own  life journey. Some had thrown me to the crocodiles too, and had been sweetness personified- until I recognised the true personality within. All that glitters is often mere imitation jewellery. Gold, I have learned, does not need to shine much to advertise itself. It does not trick, beguile, manipulate, or cause severe allergic reactions.

Unlike Kalnemy, true character, stands the test of acid. Like Cleopatra, age does not wither that gold, nor custom stale its infinite variety.

Now a days, I have started doing the Kalnemy test. I simply ask myself, ”  Now, what  motivates this person to behave  so sweetly to me ?” And then the truth is revealed.

The way I see it, this intuitive question, has saved my life, literally and metaphorically- many times.

******

” So how come you lost marks in General Knowledge?” I ask my little girl.

” Bill Gates has said that one examination does not decide your future,” she says, not lifting her head from AmarChitraKatha.

I am speechless for a moment.

” Where did you read that?”

I am certain Kapala Kundala did not have that comment, last time I read it, some thirty odd years before.

” In the computer lab, amma.  Have you not heard of it? Were you really scared of this story, when you were small?”

Yes, I had been petrified by the image of the Kapalik, when I had read Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s tale, when I was her age. And no,  I had never heard of that particular Gate  episode till now.

” If you justify every exam like this, how will you achieve anything?”

” Amma,” calls out my elder daughter, ” she is training hard to be a lawyer. She  can twist any question to her advantage! To tell the truth, our computer lab has that quote!”

The way I see it, I am learning humility on a daily scale.

********

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The Path Of Light: Two Authors

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I have had opportunities of listening to authors talking about their writing skills. About the books they have read, and the company they keep and the ways of writing into greatness, fame and riches. Indeed, you need strong networking skills, and recommendations and knowing the right people and master the latest marketing platforms etc ,etc.What most forgot, I thought, were two words: The Reader.

Strange are the ways of this writing world. It survives on one pivotal point called the reader. And readers, in my view, should never be under estimated. True, you can beguile us with flashy covers and screaming advertisements and lots of awards. We will spent our money to buy your books. But in that sacred moment when the reader is alone with the book, it is like a lovers’ union. Either you fall in love, or you mock, or you are indifferent, or worst, you hate what you hold in your ahem, arms. No editor, no publisher has entry permit into that holy ground.

The reader decides, what to read till the last page and what to shut down, after a few cursory look around, and what to forget, forever. There, something of the author becomes part of the reader: a process of assimilation and agreement or disagreement in quietude, the most human phenomenon of all- where race, religion, gender, country, nothing matters. Hence, the word sacred- sorry, we do not let dictators of any  ideology to decide what to love and hate in our reading. Of course, that is why they burn books and ban schools in the first place. Who knows, if a philosopher from the frozen part of the world rouses a soul in a part of the world, where the sun burns harshly, to question the way of life in her society? The good thing is, that secret ritual, shared by readers of all human languages, will prevail forever. We are just too big in number for any eradication.

The notes on their writing journeys from two writers of Malayalam, delighted me. Priya A.S., who turned her childhood fights with illness, a la Stevenson, into a fiery writing gift, is one. I wish that she would give us more of  her wisdom in words. Considering her potential, this young lady is not writing enough nowadays. In her speech, receiving the Lalitambika Antarjanam Award, she says ..( translated from vernacular) ..”  T.A.Razakh in his screenplay comments that Artists were the blessed ones on whose heads the droplets of water fell; when the Divine shook his wet hands! I sometimes dread to think, what my condition would have been, but for those few drops that blessed me. My writing opens for me many windows, which otherwise would have remained close forever. When those windows opened, maximum sunshine fell on my own self. In that light, my eyes and mind opened….When I do not write, I am a mere leaf- floating  helplessly..But when I write, I am the flow of water, even as I remain a leaf…Writing is also a balancing act for me. I shake my mind all over in that space. An anchor like one’s mother- to lay down the burden of what the world does to you…”

Benyamin, who enchanted us with ” Aadujeevitam”/ translated into English as Goat Days (and was long listed for Man Asian Literary Prize, 2012), has something to say about his writing destiny too.

“Circumstances and incidents pushed me to the writing path. Walk if you want to, this way, they said and left me there. I decided to walk the path of my destiny. That is all…My most favourite prayer is that of Nikos Kazantzakis: ‘Lord, please make me that person,  whom you want me to be.’..In the middle of a big cashewnut orchard, within a small house, I have the memory of a mother, reading late into the night, by the light of the kerosene lamp. Perhaps, my  intense desire for reading, came that way..Behind all the lines of all the writers,you will find the writer’s soul, life, dreams, beliefs,fears all in shadowy hues. Even the writer himself might not be able to discern that truth- unknown to him,unrecognised by him,unreachable even to him…I am still standing agape at my path. If there are stories destined for me to write, I shall definitely meet them along this path.”

*****

Benyamin’s character  in Aadujeevtam, Najib, is so inspiring that whenever I feel the world is too much for me, I dip into his story. Najib and his utter humility, his trust in the Divine and his redeeming gratitude, never fails to cheer me up.

Oh, there are so many worthy writers in this world, who shine a light for others to walk by. Often, they do it without much hue and cry. Without big lights and shouts of boastful glory. They converse with the reader in an intimate space. The prayer of Kazantzakis, is handed over, from the story being told, to the reader’s own life story.

Early Winter Thoughts

Dozing off in the early winter sunshine, is a hobby for cats and humans alike. In my daughters’ opinion, those  like their mother, enjoy this ritual with a book half opened in their hands. When I opened my eyes, I found them looking at me with amusement.

” Enjoyed the nap, ma? You are like Bilbo Baggins.”

I rather like Bilbo Baggins. I like his spic and span home with books and parchments. I like the way he fries his fish. His collection of antiques, his cosy chairs, his well designed  Hobbit home. The best is the bench in front of the house. From the vantage point, you watch life flow, seamlessly, in green, red,white as the seasons change in the Shire. I like his reluctant but heartfelt participation in life’s adventures. Yes, I like that he got the Arkenstone and refused to give it to the gold lust dazed Thorin. I like that he is not afraid to ask  hard questions and hear the  hurting truthful answers. I love the fact that he hates war. I admire his love for Frodo and his giving away of his treasures. I like his  honest vulnerability before the ring of power,  and the sense in him to distrust its corrupting nature.I like the way the Hobbit epitomises certain truths.

What happens to Thorin , when the gold lust ( ” ..never under estimate the power of gold over which a serpent has long brooded..”) crazes him over, happens to many in daily life. They just cannot see the reality any more. Like the ring of power corrupts Smeagol into a pathetic Gollum, corrupts Saruman the wise into a Orc creating crony of the very evil he resisted, the tale plays out in real world every day in different forms. I see so many of Tolkein’s characters, albeit in human form, playing out their roles to devastating effect on a daily scale.

I think of the refugees flowing across the devastated parts of the world. Losing their beloved Shires, their dances and songs. Orc marches of war and human evil have destroyed their homesteads. The lands where they reach, with babies and young, are wary and afraid. Trouble brews in different parts of the world. The scenarios of pacts and promises and alliances seem to be from tales of Tolkein’s own. What was the lesson? If Gondor is over run by the forces of hatred, then soon, it will reach the Shire too. For if the body of life is infested, the rot crawls to every healthy part. Today, it is them who suffer. Tomorrow, it could be us. Day after…

I look up and smile .” Thank you for the compliment”, I say.

******

The Radiance of Grace

When my mother emphasizes her point, she does it very firmly.

She sent me three different interpretations of Melpattur Narayana Bhattatiry’s  1036 shloka summary of the great Sreemad Bhagavatham: Narayaneeyam.

Published in different decades, translated from Sanskrit by various scholars, in different stages of  use ( one had her green inked notes to the sides, another had pictures of my nephew and Sree Krishna  within its pages, the third was dedicated to my daughters, her writing in blue black ink..) the three books grace my home today.

In the seventh century, Mayur Bhatta/Mayura MahaKavi, afflicted with leprosy, had written 100 shlokas praising the Sun God, namely the ‘Surya Sataka’. In a similiar manner, Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathiry, being afflicted by acute rheumatism, stayed in the divine precincts of Lord Guruvayoorappan temple, and wrote the 1036 shlokas in 100 days, in a format called dasakam (10 each).

Lot of us grew up hearing the poignant anecdote of an ailing Melpattur sending a messenger to Ezhuthachan,  asking for guidance and the tongue-in-cheek reply from the latter: ” Meen tottu kootikollu” ( Wordplay being translated as :  Taste the fish/Start with the fish ). Brahmins of Kerala, being strict vegetarians, Ezhuthachan was showing the way out  of the ailment: by describing Lord Vishnu’s various avatars , starting withe the Avatar of the Fish. The young scholar, hardly 27 at that time, completes the feat in 100 days, and is cured of his disease.

In addition to this anecdote , comes the second one- the humble vernacular poet and extremely devoted Krishna Bhakt, Poonthanam Namboodiry, having completed his ‘Jnanapana ‘, ventured to show his manuscript to the erudite Melpathur, whose fame had already spread due to “Narayaneeyam.” The story goes that Melpattoor did not have time for the “vernacular” version .(  Indicating that the work was too low for his scholarship level ; he had mastered Sanskrit in all its glory and vernacular was a poor cousin indeed).

Poonthanam was very disappointed and hurt. The cured rheumatism  returned that night, and Melpathur had a dream. Little Krishna came to him and said, ” I like Poonthanam’s Bhakti than Melpathur’s Vibhakti (Vibhakti Pratyayam is a part of Sanskrit Grammar) Melpathur went seeking Poonthanam and corrected his manuscript with due humility. Both the works praising the Lord, remain masterpieces of spiritual literature, cherished by the recipients of these gifts.It is a joy to find many translations available online of Narayaneeyam and Jnanapana.

The depth of scholarship is mind boggling. Many scholars of that era(adept in Sanskrit, astrology and Mathematics equally) left clear clues of the time and month of their work, within their shlokas. Melpattur left a clue, ‘Ayurarogyasaughyam'( with life and health at its serene balance), which as per Astrological calculations left a clue that it was 763 Years, Kolla Varsham, Vrischikam, day 28th when he finished his endeavour.

The very erudite foreword explained about his life, other works with extracts, and that of his contemporaries; and how we can calculate the exact date of his demise, using the same strategy of numbers hidden in words. For example, Melpattur also wrote ‘Sree Pada Sapthathy,’ 70 shlokas praising the gorgeous feet of the Goddess Mukollakal Devi. One interpretation is that he was also 70 years old at that time. I was struck by the astounding shloka where the Devi, wife of Shiva, is angry at her husband and her  mesmerisingly beautiful feet  actively reject his bowed head! Beautiful online versions are available for Sreepada Sapthathy too.

Well, if you are interested in poetry of exquisite proportions, do dip into these scholarly classics. The mind and the spirit will emerge blossoming, much from the beauty of words as from the stories and enchanting lore.

And I finally get my mother’s point. Emphasized thrice.

Riches, scholarship and youth will make a person forget oneself; learn to step beyond and hold onto His lotus feet for a grace filled life.

*****

Hidden Pathways of Knowledge

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It was in “Breaking Out,” the memoir by the brilliant Economist Padma Desai, that I discovered that she enjoyed learning Sanskrit Grammar, due to its wonderful structures and rules. She also learned Russian and Sanskrit from scratch, because she wanted to read classics in the original! Now that is one remarkable lady whom I deeply admire.

Recently, when a book full of verses, both Sanskrit and Malayalam reached me, I recollected the joys of deciphering the Vrittam -as clarified in A.R. Rajarajavarma’s Vrittamanjary; taught by no one less than dear Sister Vimala in High School.

“The genius of the author was such, that the lakshanam/ definition can be used as lakshyam/ example,” she said. “So for those of you, who cannot be bothered to study the poetic examples, please remember this point. If in the exam, they ask you for the lakshanam and lakshyam of  say, Indravajra, use the definition as the example to illustrate the Vrittam.”

Lakshanam also can be interpreted as signs or cues, and Lakshyam also means destination. That is just an aside about wordplay, by the way.

I remember taking out my notebook and assiduously noting down

” Kelindravajrakku tatamjagamgam.”

Then the wonderful dissection:

Using the lakshanam as lakshyam:

Kelindra/ vajrakku/ tatamja/gamgam

– -^/- -^/^_^/guru guru

perfecto!!!

ta, ta, ja, guru, guru…yippee!!!

“Sister, how do we remember the stuff?”

I remember which of my intrepid classmates asked that question.

Sister dear snorted not very elegantly. After making clear her distinct views on his intellectual powers, ( Neeyonnum padichu nannavunna lakshanamonnum kanumnnilla/ there are no signs of you bettering your life by studies..she could not help repeating the word lakshanam , in the contextual manner!) she wrote on the board:

Ya Ra Ta

Bha Ja Sa

Ma Na

^- – Ya

-^- Ra

– – ^Ta

-^^ bha

^-^ ja

^^- sa

– – – ma

^^^ na

” Got it?”

We got it alright.

” Can you remember that?”

We could.

*********

28 years to that day, I take up my daughter’s pencil, and starts deciphering  Vrittam,  in the book, to her great amusement.

“What are you doing amma? What are these moon marks?”

The laghu is marked by a crescent like “u” actually and the guru by a”-“.

” Mandakranta mabhanatatagam nalumarezhumaygam,” I grin.

Ahhh..look at that beauty! Four, six, seven she lies before me.

Mandakra/nthamabha/nathatha/gamnalu/marezhu/maygam

–  – – /-^^/^^^/- – ^/ – – ^/guru, guru

Aha! The eagle has landed!!

ma, bha, na, tha, tha, guru, guru!!! Whoopee!!

” Amma, are you alright?” Asks my daughter.

I am more than alright, kiddo;I wish to tell her. In fact, I am ecstatic. At the discovery that certain secret pathways of knowledge are still open to me. And all it took was a pencil and the memory of a teacher who told us that the path itself could be the destination.

********

The vagaries of autocorrection and verisimilitudes of vision, I apologise for:) And yes, I remember that Cavafy’s Ithaca  is not very different from Sister’s sage advice.

Meera Sadhu, Medea and Assia Weevil : K.R.Meera’s novel and an analysis

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“Meera Sadhu”, is a very powerful novella by K.R.Meera. It has the tidings of Euripides’  Greek tragedy Medea, set to modern times. It was a chance article in Arts and Letters Daily, about the tragedy of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath that rekindled Meera Sadhu in my mind- as a tale which will always ring true.

Medea was about the barbarian woman, who had once saved Jason’s life, being ditched (yes, call a spade a spade, Greek or not) for a royal princess Glauce, of Corinth. Medea, devoted wife, mother of his two sons, turns destructive and vengeful. She murders her two sons as well as Jason’s bride to be.

Cut to Meera Sadhu. The brilliant IIT topper, daughter to a doting father,  chooses to marry the charmer with 27 love affairs before her- hoping to be his last love. (Very significant to remember Oscar Wilde’s prescient quotation: “Every man wants to be a woman’s first love and every woman, his last..”) But Tulasi underestimates Madhav’s charisma and attraction to women. They surround him like ants enveloping sugar.

Now, Meera has a gift for using a repeated metaphor throughout her stories. In “Hangwoman”, she used it with the noose, in “Netronmeelanam”, it was with sight. In “Aa Maravum Marannu Marunnu Jnan” (Forgetting that tree) she plays around with the smell of wood, in “Meera Sadhu”, she  haunts the reader with the imagery of ants.

Well, Madhav cannot help making love to various women who fall for him. There is the writer, the channel interviewer, the dancer..countless women. Tulasi forgets her life’s goals, her once famed abilities, and becomes a hapless wife and mother of two sons, witnessing a philanderer ruling her life. She knows about his true nature; and has been told by many of his victims (one who throws him away and another who is forced to abort his child) about what he is.Yet, one day when he tells her that he wishes to marry Bhama (Yes, the Krishna lore and the legendary women are all distributed with a fine hand), “an extraordinary genius in dance”, she explodes:’What about me? Was I not considered extraordinary once too?’

Medea, by the way, had slain a dragon to save Jason in the old tale. And like Medea , Tulasi plots her horrible revenge.

Tulasi is now a decrepit Meera-Sadhu, in Vrindavan, complete with shaven head and calloused feet- where all of Krishna’s helpless women flock around. The decay of that existence is brought forth by skillful words which shock the reader. Her undying passion for Madhav, is drawn out very well by the author. So too, her never forgiving anger. Tulasi, the reader remembers, is the mythological basil plant, whose one leaf is supposed to be Madhav’s favourite fare.

Now , read this article on Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2015/10/ted-hughes-and-sylvia-plath-partners-martyrdom

Hughes could not help his philandering nature-“His problem was that he could never hurt anyone, so he ended up hurting everybody.”

Plath committed suicide, but spared her children. Six years later,the woman for whom Hughes had left her- Assia Weevil, did not spare her young daughter she had with Hughes.

For Hughes , to quote the article, “..all art is an attempt by somebody unusually badly hit ,who is also unusually ill-equipped to defend themselves internally against the wound, to improvise some sort of modus vivendi with their internal haemophilia, etc. In other words, all art is trying to become an anesthetic and at the same time a healing session drawing up the magical electrics.”

I like the psychological analysis of Meera’s stories, which leaves much room for the reader to explore, and to find parallels. For example, “Ottapalam kadakkuvolam ” and “Ave Maria,” both run on the same theme of what sacrifices for the nation and horrendous personal loss mean to a callous, self centered political milieu in today’s world.So too, with a woman’s sacrifices for a man’s love. Whether Sylvia Plath or Assia Weevil, Tulasi or Medea. Certain age old truths are often coloured red. Surrounded by hungry ants. What was it she wrote about a woman’s love in “Pranayandhy?” That it is akin to a dust storm that envelops everything and suffocates and blinds?

Meera Sadhu, with Bhakt Meera’s own lines suffusing the story of an unrequited love (Quote: “You are in love with love, Madhav. That is why you cannot be held back by one woman, ever..”) treads a clear path of analysis and drama, emotion and art: an age old tale,  told in an inimitable way.

*****

Homely Dramas

Drama runs in the family.

My mother, for example, is prone to dramatic expressions and much poignant acting stints: especially when logic does not get her what she wants. My father, driven to extremes, sometimes does a dramatic disappearing act. He vanishes into his room and takes shelter with his books.

I have caught half of both the acting genes. I can throw a tantrum if I so desire, but often I prefer the exit route, rather quietly. Books are any day far better company than thundering human emotional upheavals. (Books also have a standing inclination to not bite from behind one’s back, not to interfere in one’s private business, never to indulge in malicious gossip, compare or contrast one with another human being…you get the flow. And unlike human relationships, you can change your book companion , as many as three every single hour, with no one running to the courts suing you for damages! Ha, now come and beat that!)

Well, we were into dramatics. So, the kids have got it too, true to the blood lines of yore.

The elder one, started out brilliantly, by persuading  many school audiences that Brutus was an honorable man, as Mark Antony,  in Julius Caesar. She then moved on to  old Grand Father in “Dear Departed”, and married a merry widow, pipping  many scandalized daughters, every other season.  By the way, she wore her Taekwondo dress as Mark Antony’s Roman robe , complete with my old brown shawl as sash.(It is another matter that she reported excitedly that when Ceasar’s blood strewn shroud was removed and the wailing citizens gathered around, they noticed that Julius had never really changed his school uniform, complete with tie and badge, beneath his royal robes!)

On her Grandfather days, she would wear a flowery Bermuda to match the old geezer’s mood! By the time she did Jean Val Jean’s role in the Bishop’s Candle Sticks, I put my foot down. She was of the opinion that normal makeup would not capture the moodiness of the penitent convict and that something stronger, on the likes of coal powder, would be better for the true life enactment! Suffice it to say that no coal powder graced her white shirt on drama day! By the time she turned into the sly Gaston in “A Villa For Sale,” the little one got the drama bug too.

Acting meant lots of adulation, make up and dresses!( She forgot that it also meant learning dialogues by heart !)

In her very first play, she spent two hours agonizing over two roles she liked: one with exactly two sentences as dialogue and another with three. Her perceptive teacher thought different!

The last two days, my house has been resounding to a rather short tempered Jal/aka Water, practising her long, long, speeches as she conducts her dialogue with the Sun, the Mountain, the Air, the River and the Fish. This is apart from a very dramatic monologue to the end!

” I am boooooooredddd!” she drawls, very sincerely.

“You will get to put blue lipstick, blue eye shadow and in the last scene you can change them all to brown!” tempts her sister, as sly as Gaston himself.

” But Jal is a boy!”

” So what? You will be the centre of attention!”

” Air was sooooo nice. Blue flowing dress..!”

” And  actually spoke just two sentences?”

” I am boooorrreddd, fed up, I want a change!”

” Now that is called- putting passion in what you say..”As the expert actress guides the younger one, the scene fades slowly.

Exeunt

*****