Cobwebs in the Mind

My daughter had tears in her eyes when she read aloud to me the  article by Joan Feynman’s son-Charles Hirshberg. The son narrated in his inimitable way, the humiliations and prejudices that his brilliant mother faced -in her struggle to be a world renowned and path breaking Scientist.

http://www.aas.org/cswa/status/2003/JANUARY2003/MyMotherTheScientist.html

Not much has changed in people’s attitudes even today. We try to force our prejudices down the throats of others: we look at a human being as a man/ woman, country, region, religion, caste, vital statistics, college, education, subject of expertise…our tendency to box her in, is as baffling as the number of boxes strewn around in our minds.

One of the most analysed short story in Literature, focusing on what stereotypes do to brilliant women has been ‘The yellow wall paper,’by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. When Joan Feynman tells her son, that ‘she could be a part time mother or a full time mad woman,’ she was not very much off the truth. When minds with exceptional potential are forced to suffocate under society’s prejudices- cobwebs are sure to form within.

I feel fury when I read about Joan’s humiliations and I see the choked look on my daughter’s face.

“Excellence is the only answer.Your success will disprove the prejudiced theories of mediocre minds. That will inspire many more hapless souls to hope and strive..,” I tell her.
***

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Flowers of Various Hues

Physics

My first book in Malayalam is going to the printers. It is a collection of  spiritual essays-a translation work from Hindi, which is again a translated work from the original Tamil! I am indebted to DC Publishers for their trust in my work.

Gratitude is very much due to the brilliantly incisive writer K.R.Meera, who after going through it, did not mince words when she asked me to “rework and edit ” – a task I try to shirk often.She also wrote a beautiful sentence which I shall remember forever: “Consider writing  as an act of prayer, not  just a diversion.”

In my mind, it echoed the lovely title of Perumbadavam Sreedharan’s entrancing book on Dostoevsky, “Oru Sangeerthanam Pole.”(Like a hymn).

***

The kid is into writing too: albeit of a different kind. She is writing a Physics Quiz book, on demand from a publisher.

Q.Teleportation is a hypothetical concept that has a huge fan following since Star Trek’s “Beam me up, Scotty!” Turns out, physicists seriously believe in its possibility, albeit in an unconventional sense- the complete information of the object or being is instantaneously transferred to the receiver, where the partner particles rearrange themselves to form an identical copy. The original is destroyed. Name the quantum property which enables this to happen. (Hint: deals with non-locality)

ANS. Quantum entanglement
Q. Veneziano was trying to make a scattering theory for particles on Regge trajectories. He stumbled across a well-known mathematical concept, and went on to extend his ideas to open strings. Inadvertently, he founded string theory. Name the mathematical concept.

ANS.Euler Beta function

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( I will  most certainly flunk her quiz. But, Lord, am I proud of that particular failure!!!)

Truly, every act of creativity is akin to a prayer. The source of it all is the All Knowing Divine. I do not think to HIM/HER/INEFFABLE, it matters whether one offers a small white flower or a bouquet of abundant lushness.

***

Notes To Myself

Perhaps tragedies have a way of throwing us into ice cold water and shocking the hell out of us- albeit temporarily.

But as Eliot wrote presciently, ‘..humankind cannot bear too much reality.’

However, in Indian mythology, in different versions of almost the same story, whether it is Nahusha cursed as a serpent asking Yudhistir about the greatest farce on earth or the Crane asking him on the greatest wonder there is, ( YakshaPrashna-or Baka Prashna), answer is the same:

‘Even when countless people die daily, those who live on, refuse to accept their mortality.’

Of course, the under current philosophy was to live with awareness and make the best of life; discovering what one wanted truly-instead of getting side tracked  into collecting the glittering baubles that the crowd seems to seek avariciously.

***

If I could write notes to myself today, I would add this amazing poem by the great Gopal Das Neeraj, called, ” Jeevan Nahin Mara Karta Hai.”

http://poems2remember.blogspot.in/2007/01/jeevan-nahi-mara-karta-hai-life-it.html

The last paragraph is especially relevant.

Nafrat gale laganewalon

Sab par dhool udanewalon

Kuch mukhadon Ki naraazy se

Darpan Nahin Mara Karta hai…

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Beneath the Veil

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The  wise and wonderful typically grace my life through words and images. It has been  both a fortuitous  and propitious fairy god mother till date.

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, had come to me in three forms: because Lizzie Bennet sang it in Pride and Prejudice, and because it was the song played by Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, and of course,  from the movie Amadeus. ( My daughters remind me that there is a Tom and Jerry special on Figaro too! Oh, yesss!)

There is something intriguingly interconnected herein- music and words and images.

Octavo Paz in his essay on Baudelaire as art critic, speaks on Analogy as the highest form of imagination, since it fuses analysis and synthesis, translation and creation..’It transforms communication into creation: what painting says without telling, turns into what music paints without painting, and what- without ever expressly mentioning it- the poetic word enunciates..’

He goes to explain what Baudelaire felt on listening to Wagner, specifically to the overture to Lohengrin. “.. Released from the fetters of gravity…in a solitude with an  immense horizon and a diffuse light; immensity with no integrity other than itself….then I conceived clearly the idea of a soul moving in a luminous atmosphere, an ecstasy composed of voluptuousness and knowledge.”

***

I get to explore two classic screenplays: Chinatown by Robert Towne and Kurt Luedtke’s Out of Africa. The latter  also gives me Mozart back.

‘ A woman can veil her face with a smile,’ is a quote attributed to Khalil Gibran.I imagine  the beautiful and tragic Evelyn  Cross in Chinatown and the luminous  and indomitable Baroness Blixen in Out of Africa . How very true in both the women.

What is it that Paz wrote? “The painter translates the word into visual images; the critic is a poet who translates lines and colours into words. The artist is the universal translator. True, that translation is transmutation…”

The dots get interconnected. I am awed by the Grace.

***

Genius Extraordinaire- Reading VKN

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My brother had praised VKN. For me, that was recommendation good enough. I got a 1400 paged treasure trove of his selected stories in Malayalam.

How do you define this particular writing? Satire mixed with erudition , scoop in lust and learning and wickedness, add liberal doses of human relations, bureaucracy, politics, wordplay, languages , world travel, quaint Kerala humour, food , and I am still fumbling for words. Ok, Start again:  Men, women,  alcohol, courts, religion,  journalism, youth, old age, all sorts of pranks..

This is brilliance of a spectacular order, an art of writing that deserves to be preserved…I must have captured less than one percent by now. Who do you compare him with? Incomparable. Maverick.

VadakkeKootale Narayanan Kutty Nair, aka VKN was born in 1932. He worked as a journalist in Delhi for around ten years. In the introduction to his works, DC Books quotes Paul Zacharia:

( Translating) “He rebuilt the language in the workshop of humorous modernism, having a universal appeal. The ingredients he used were unique: a sense of history which was razor sharp and deep, a very modern world view with an intelligence rather ineffable; the intellectual brilliance of an enfant terrible to overturn  and expose the hypocrisies of traditional literature styles, a skill to meld in spoken language into the modern architecture of language as precisely as a  time bomb ticking away , the pleasant ingenuousness of a good journalist- that is how VKN created this wondrous home for Malayalam. Like a master of warfare, who realises that the body itself becomes the watchful eye, with the efficacy of a historian knowing the nerve centres, VKN showed how to turn upside down, a  conforming traditional language like Malayalam, by toppling the very culture itself…Travelling through VKN-territory,is like stepping across a veritable minefield: one does not know where the hidden explosives are spread out- to devastate the reader…

( Malayala Manorama Annual Issue, 2000)

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Excerpts from the interview with VKN by Paul Zacharia: (Which brings to mind that great minds are truly global in perspective… And are true raconteurs!)

* Our conversation turned from Richard Armour to James Thurber. VKN told us that when Thurber was writing the column, “Talk of the Town” in the NewYorker , the famous Indian dancer Balasaraswati visited NewYork.She stayed in Waldorf Astoria. Thurber went to interview her and she ex posited in great length on Mudras. Thurber wrote in his column, “Finally the Mudras were too much for us.So we exchanged polite Mudras and left.”

VKN narrated a famous sentence from Malcolm Muggeridge, who also worked in Calcutta as the Assistant Editor of Statesman. On daily news papers, he said, “Edited, processed, printed, folded, rushed to the readers- only to die on the breakfast table.”

Apparently Muggeridge had worked with Kingsley Martin in the ‘ Manchester Guardian.’ Martin asked Muggeridge, “What’s our line on capital?” Muggeridge, who was once a part of M.15, said, “The same as on capital punishment.”

On his writing: “My turning  point was when I went to the Moor market of Madras and bought ten kilos of old issues of Punch magazine. Then I understood that all that I had read till then was not English.E.V.Knox was writing for Punch then…”

On  writers: “Hemingway said  that  he went through Time and Newsweek to better his English. And the Bible. He got the rhythm of language from these apparently…Hemingway refused to visit Stockholm for his Nobel prize. He was fishing in Havana on that day. When Kennedy invited him for dinner at the White House, he apparently retorted,’Washington is one hell of a long way to go to eat.’

VKN quoted a sentence from John Gunther’s book Inside South America:’In Chile, you have to walk carefully, because you are likely to fall into the sea.’ The average width of Chile was apparently 35 km!

On Keynes: Once Bertrand Russell and Keynes were playing cards when Keynes was summoned to the PM residence. Keynes cycled his way there. Reaching there he said, “The only solution is to print paper  money and give jobs to the labour.”  Then someone asked, “But what will happen in the long run?” That provoked Keynes’s famous retort: ” In the long run we are all dead.” Keynes knew philosophy very well.

****

I muse on the intellect extraordinaire, who speaks of topics from Lord Lytton’s Famine Code to Kalidasa’s Meghasandesha, from Pali language to intricacies of Chola empire, skips from Walter Scott to Karl Marx, Bertrand Russel and Keynes with ease. The skills of language, humour , erudition and an ability to appreciate life!

In a world where we are increasingly limiting ourselves to narrow perspectives ruled by not-so-admirable human traits showcased by the visible and the celebrated, perhaps it is time to dip occasionally into the  rich vintage of brilliant minds that lived in every country of this beautiful world of ours.

Their minds were truly world class and humane-every other difference that the eyes might perceive: of colour, creed, religion, nationality, language, gender, political affinity et al, merely superficial. They were inspirational.

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Some Poetic Memories

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There was an emergency at home- Interhouse Malayalam recitation competition! My brother, known for his melodious recital, needed a new poem  and a new tune.

My aunts,  one a medical student and another studying Commerce, took over the arduous task of putting music to Asan’s Karuna-  specifically to the haunting grave yard scene, which he intended to recite.

The Vrittam was Nathonnatha- sung typically as a boat song- joyous and undulating. Absolutely a no, no, when you describe the Yamuna flowing, the mood foreboding, a sense of doom to the reader; even as Vasavadatta lies mutilated, and Upagupta is yet to arrive.

Azhakodanagarathil, thekkukizhakathu vazhy, ozhukum yamuna thante, pulinam kanmoo…

Ilammanja veyil tatty, niram marum neelavinnil, tilangunna venmukilin nira kanakke…

By seven in the evening, the tune was ready-it gave me the shivers, when my  brother sang out the lyrics mournfully.I remember the poem till date, and yes, he went on to win the prize.

The judges were all praise for the haunting music. Totally homemade.

***

My little girl is preparing for Hindi recitation. She is preparing Jayashanker Prasadji’s spirited poetry, ‘ Himadri Tung Shring Se’.

Himadri Tung Shring Se, Prabuddh shudh Bharathy,

Swayam Prabha, Samujjwala, Swantantrata  Pukarthy..

She recites it deadpan and her sister protests in outrage.

“Emotion, passion, modulation…” The seasoned speaker advises  her sibling, and gets a sniff in response. She has to be convinced in another way. The importance of both music and lyrics.

I remember the Karuna saga; and intervene to tell the tale.They both listen with keen interest.

Little girl starts rehearsing-with more feeling. She admires her uncle- she thinks he has great fashion sense.

Poetry springs anew in my homestead.

Amartya Vir Putra Ho, Drid Pratigya Soch Lo

Prashasta punya Panth hai, bade chalo, bade chalo!

***

 

 

Twin Poems ( On Football) Translation

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My father adores football. I grew up seeing him scream , “Goaaallll….” with an uncommon passion, as he watched all the great football matches around the globe in his home television. The other family members merely rolled their eyes while this recurrent phenomenon usually rang out  around midnight and continued late into the early hours.

I am a mere curious onlooker- whose attention is caught more by facts than anything else.

So, when I read the twin poems on football in my Mother tongue- the Kerala proclivity for football is as legendary as that of West Bengal- I could not help delving deeper, and translating them. It gets curious and curiouser, as  Lewis Carroll would have put it, when names and countries take on a whole new manoeuvre in the feet, cough, hands of an adept word-player. It is a beautiful game, after all.

Irratta Kavithakal ( P.N.Gopikrishnan)/ Twin Poems

( Mathrubhumi Weekly, Nov 22-28, 2015)

Translated from Malayalam

1.

2010 July 11

It was the final of 2010, between Spain and Holland

The last football game

Which took possession of us.

It was

Not a ball.

A nightmare coloured in

Eighteen shades.

A human head-

A woman,

From the Dutch half,

A man,

From  the Spanish half.

From the referee side,

The head changed betwixt

Those of children

And transgenders.

The black wizard of that night

Was Arjen Robben.

He was -speed.

He was- bullet.

He was also- the gun.

Our issue was not his form.

His name- (pronounced) Aryan.

If Hitler were a player,

He would have played like that.

Proclaiming

That brute force would lead

Thought.

Getting up  bristling, from pain, wounds,

Even as in a cartoon-

But never turning

Into one.

We called out

To the forgotten Gods.

To the sculptors of our

Century.

They were helpless.

That gave us no option

But to turn poets.

We started writing

In Capdevilla, In David Villa

In Ramos

Finally in Iniesta

The  tiki- taka of poetry,

We kept on writing.

In that moment-

When poetry overtook brute force –

Arjen made a mistake.

The mistake of a century.

( Poet’s Note * The  Jo’bulani ball used for the World Cup had eleven colours)

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2.

28, September 2015

In India , Hitler will not

Play football.

Because, it is merely a game

Of ninety minutes.

It is just an affair of five days.

So, in India, where the game

Has to be played for epochs,

Hitler does not appear

As a bearded Arjen Robben,

But as a mob.

The mob is not just a mob.

Crores of heads,

Twice that many hands,

Twenty times more claws,

Thirty two times fangs-

A murderous creature.

It moves stealthily,

But acts very quickly.

When a country splits into two

To play a final,

When the players change sides often

When the referee changes sides too,

We

Will be forced to turn poets

Yet again.

Not the goal seeking

Striker poets

Who try to score

With four lines at a time.

But  those who slip backwards,

Guarding the net of the future-

The Goal keeper poets.

****