Journeys of Life

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( Jonathan Livingston Seagull quotes)

The red rose that my mother pinned next to my two and half year old daughter’s curly hair, as she stepped out to her  neighbourhood nursery school, remains fresh in my memory. Her bag was a teddy bear with a pouch. Her frock had been a pink  one with frills all round. It was a contingency of sorts- sending off a toddler to the school.I was preparing for the civil services examination and she had too much energy which made her run around my books. The first letters she learned were in her mother tongue.

I watch her as she packs her bags for her freshman year at the University. She is an aspiring astrophysicist, who can trounce anyone with her debating skills and her knowledge about Feynman’s hobbies  and Roger Penrose’s  CCC( She tells me it is conformal cyclic cosmology!) She keeps her hair short and will snort like Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice, if I mention the episode of the red rose. She is a great fan of Ramin Karimloo. (I have to ask her about how his name is spelt.) And she thinks that my music sense is hopelessly retrograde. Apparently scientists use the word retrograde a lot, vis a vis  stars, implying some sort of deterioration.

What do I tell my child, as she checks her strong young wings, confident of the wind and the sun ahead in her flight?

What do I caution her on, as I look beyond her and see a world which is a mix of all colours of human emotions?

What armour, what sword, what food, what drink?

What about….everything?

Instead I pack her favourite tee shirt and the Bhagvad Gita that my mother has kept for  her grand daughter. It  is quite a few decades old-a gift from her office, when I had entered University.

“Can I have Chechy’s room?” Little girl chirps by my side.

“There you are Amma! One practical little brat  is there to console you,” my daughter laughs.

“You better Skype with me every day. Maybe google hangouts? I will be like that Manju in Khoobsoorat.” I threaten her. It is totally useless.

“Amma, Chechy is planning to sit  in the campus whenever she chats with you- so that you do not see her messy room,” Little girl whispers conspiratorially.

Masterminds at work indeed.

“Why don’t you just relax, Ma? Watch something with us…”

To relax, I call up my mother and seek advice. She has already  planned  a temple recital of  the Srimad Bhagvadam on the day my daughter starts her classes.

“You simply do your best and leave the rest to Krishna.”

Right. That was sage advice indeed.

And so it rests.

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This Intriguing Circle

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“We dance round in a ring and suppose

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

Robert Frost

Dave Eggers’ best seller ‘The Circle’, reached my home because of a Fall assignment. Having finished reading the 491 paged tome, my daughter casually mentioned that I might find it interesting too.

The cover page with its grid like structure, showing an interlocking of  what seemed like fingers, reminiscent of many symbols of power and totalitarianism, with its distinctive C, and the silver circle in the red background, seemed tempting enough.However, it took  a month before I actually ended up reading it. And once I started, I did not put it down.

“Amma, are you going to do a book review ?” She asked, laughing, when I mentioned that I was going to blog about it.

No, I told her. I am going to do something else- think about the idea of individuality in the context of the book.

The Circle is about a futuristic technology company that considers that every human thought ought to be shared with every one else in the world. That they mint money out of it, is a collateral advantage. When they create an atmosphere where individuality and privacy are actively discouraged, a slow monstrous basilisk is unleashed, which can kill with its unblinking stare of technological intrusion into every human moment. And the terror of that future, where  government, democracy and human aspirations are subsumed by a capitalistic, hungry, monolith that takes over the humanity with an evangelism that brainwashes the best of the world into believing in its propaganda- that makes you stand and pause, and may be even look under your bed.

I felt the same keenness  to find out  the ending that I had felt to discover the murderer in Agatha Christie’s thriller- And then there were none.

When a human being cannot exist without being validated constantly, when every thought has to be shared, when every action has to be publicly displayed, when a single vision crushes every thing else around, it is indeed like a Justice gone raving mad. It will end up murdering all who runs off- quoting faults and failings from its scriptures.

Whether it was  George Orwell’s Animal  Farm or 1984, whether it was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi, Eduardo Galeano’s Mirrors- you may add on humanity’s treasures of thoughts, individuality, rebellion, alternate narratives, mocking of the system/ the one story/ the only truth/ the grand truth…in different tongues, in different media, in different guises- our  common story has become beautiful-because every strand is differently coloured and not uniform.Any regime based on a single vision, single way, single thought, single religion, single technology…unfurls horror subtly into this divergent world.

Calling a resemblance to the cow following the herd faithfully, raconteurs of yore, including the witty Kunjan Nambiar, had laughed at the unthinking mimicry of the majority and cautioned about the dangers of blind obedience to the Powers That Be.

Here, it happens to be  24*7 technologically exposed life. For every Kardashian who mints millions by satisfying humanity’s voyeuristic urges, there is a horror stricken Mercer of Dave Eggers’ Circle, who makes the reader question, pause and ponder.Ironically, the heroine in The Circle wants something of her life to be left behind, to be remembered, and she finds that craving being satisfied in her way of life and living; under the constant watch of  multiple million pair of eyes.

“All we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”

In the Circle, Trolls have been driven back into darkness, because anonymity is not technically allowed. With the trolls, madness and hatred apparently have been driven off the cliffs too- to be replaced by another singeing darkness- the obliteration of the human individuality.

The Rule of the Behemoth. The Name Changes. Nothing else actually does.

***

 

 

Translations : Veeran Kutty Poems

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More translations from Malayali writer Veerankutty. From his book, Veerankuttiyude Kavithakal.

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Note: As a translator, I was struck by the spirituality and simplicity of the poems.

Having recently translated spiritual poetry  from saints across east and west, including the Sufis, I recollected the moments of admiring similar threads of gold from God’s tapestry of Love Poems.

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1. Until existence ceases  ( Illathakum Vare)

You

Should

Look at me,

Amid the trees.

I  would be

Looking at you too,

Likewise.

It is just to see,

Who would be the first

Among us

To dry up;

When summer

Arrives.

2.  Request ( Apeksha)

Dear God,

In case you are planning

To  banish me

From

Love-

Do give a hint,

Early on.

I have to make

Certain arrangements

Before death.

3. Precision ( Sookshmata)

Our love

Might escape

Deterioration

For quite a while-

Since you are

Already

Laminating it

With your tears.

4. In the same rain ( Ore Mazhayil)

Two separate births,

Ours-

In two different places.

Yet,

We can get drenched

In the same rain.

We can touch each other

With the same breeze.

Did we not become blind

In the same lightning?

Even so,

How can a small death

Ever

Obliterate us?

5. In Love( Pranayathal)

How long did this house,

Made of

Darkness

Survive?

Until

They arrived-

Blinded with love.

Now,

It has become

A house of light.

Little suns

Are at play,

In the front yard.

6. This lightning( Minnale)

Love,

Will make us sit on

Rods without insulation.

The vibrations,

Shall make our beaks

Touch each other.

Then,

Something like lightning

Shall pass through us both.

How can electricity elaborate

On what it feels like

When travelling through lovers?

Say, will it cease violence then?

Shall it cause the lighthouse- trees

On the sea shores,

To bloom out with flowers?

 

This Rakshabandan Prayer…

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The Psalm 23:4 says, “Even if I walk through the valley of shadow and death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Today is Rakshabandan- the power of the brother’s protection as a safety charm even as the sister ties a Rakhi around his wrist.

Times of India Sacred Space quotes Sree Ravishanker:”The purpose of Rakshabandan is to remove fear from our lives. It is fear that distorts our goodness and our creativity. It shrinks our personality and badly affects our behaviour with other people.”

***

For me the Bible, the Rakhi and the meaning of the quote all merge into one prayer of gratitude- my brother.

All my life, he has protected me from harm, banished my fears, encouraged my dreams, and has been proud of me.Every step I take, even through the valley of shadow and death, his love continues to be my  constant support. No sister would have been blessed with a better brother than mine.

For you Anna, on this Rakshabandan :

Every birth, be my brother. I owe my life to you. May my life itself be the amulet around your wrist. Stay blessed always.

The Gift of Fear

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Have you been in an abusive relationship? I hope and pray that you never get into one.

I was reading  about Gavin de Becker’s ‘The Gift of Fear:survival signals that protect us from violence.’ It is about trusting the intuition, rather than any technology, to protect you from violence.

Violence can be of several types- physical, mental, psychological, emotional….the victim is abused because the perpetrator believes very strongly that ‘ you have been asking for it due to your behaviour/ choices/ resistance etc..’

All blame is shifted onto the victim. The perpetrator believes that , after all, he or she is the master of your life , is it not?

Abusers adduce to themselves the power of God-

-they will decide how you think,

-what you think about,

-what you dress in,

-what job you do,

-to whom you speak,

-in which manner you speak,

-whether you have the choice of saying NO,

-whether your life belongs to them (due to what they consider as their ownership papers- marriage or engagement  or commitment)

-whether you have any right to have sanity and breathe fresh air…

Actually, to that man or woman- you have nothing of the above choices. They will control. End of discussion. Why? Because…well because you are the cause of all their suffering. Oh yeah! Had you been an ideal man/ woman/ lover/ wife/ fiancée/ mother/ Godzilla… It would not happened, you see? So you deserve to be punished by all means available- legally, financially, psychologically, physically, emotionally…

Do children matter in this rampage? Not at all. They are collateral damage- they deserve it too because they are siding with the victim, aren’t they? What is the use of  by products,  that are of no use to the  original argument, eh?

Have they not heard of the words ‘moving on?’ When both human beings detest each other, what is the point of hanging on together?

No.

And that is why you have  dead beat dads, abusers, psychopaths, sociopaths, criminals, honour killers ,  and their ilk. The degree of crime is different but the underlying philosophy is the same. “You deserve to be punished for daring to do something that is not accepted in their code of living.”

I will not deign it to call as a code of honour- that will be belittling the word itself.

Quote from the book: ‘ For men like this, rejection is a threat to the identity, the persona, to the entire self, and in this sense their crimes could be called murder in defence of the self.’

De Becker forewarns- ‘ Like every creature, you can know when you are in the presence of danger. You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.’

***

Women across ages, have felt the trap closing around them so often, and still chosen to ignore it . They have for ages, suffered  terribly due to that stupidity. Suffocated and degraded into apologising for what they were.Told continuously that they were not good enough/ woman enough/ this enough/ that enough/  and drained of everything beautiful and dignified in this world. See, it was all the victim’s fault.

Later, victims have fled when intuition asked them to. The safety cannot be expressed in words.Even from within the safe arms of all those who loved them, within their strong forts, armed by their own true strength, they have been battling evil.

An evil which believes that no one has a right to run away, to escape to hope for a new life. ‘Ha! You thought you can get away easily , did you? Without all those humiliations that I was storing up for you day by day? I shall drag you through years of degradation, and subject you to the totality of all that was rotting within me. I will make you wish that you had remained under my control- because the act of escaping has made you deserve a punishment more harsh than  your rebellious subservience.’ See, it is all  the victim’s fault.

****

I am working on the translation( from Malayalam to English) of a taut psychological Novella that will  go to print in a matter of months.

The protagonist is a victim who turns herself into a perpetrator. It is a deeply disturbing transformation- wherein I have found my fingers trembling as I translated her thoughts, her vengeance, her fury. Try as I might to distance myself from the emotions every time I edit it, I find myself staring at that disturbing chasm of churning human emotions.

Suddenly, I do not know whom to pity- the heroine or the others. In one way, she has turned the tables by destroying everything. Medea she is, and justifiably so, in her perspective.

“Violence is a process, a chain in which the violent outcome is only one link,” explains de Becker. There are four sub components-

1. Justification- the person makes a judgement that they have been intentionally wronged

2. Alternatives- violence seems the only way forward to seek redress or justice

3. Consequences- they decide they can live with the outcome

4. Ability- they have confidence in their ability to use their brains or body or cunning or money to achieve their aims.

****

I think of William Faulkner’s disturbing classic short story,  ‘That evening sun go down.’ If ever there was a story to highlight  the theory of Gavin de Becker, it had been that. The doomed Nancy, I shall never forget. Ironically, the victim who had ignored her intuition  to her peril, in another great classic, Oliver Twist, had been named Nancy too.

All of which gives me a sense of destiny. At this point of my life, I was supposed to do this translation, read this book, and even type this note. To literally speak out against abuse of every kind.

For freedom, for independence, for dignity.

 

 

 

 

Stepping Stones

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One: Love

When someone mocks at you,

Grip on that stone firmly

With your toes-

Stepping stone it is,

To raise you to the next level

Of amused detachment.

Where, when he mocks again,

Nefariously,

Slyly,

Evilly,

Spittle dripping down fangs of hatred,

Instead of thinking,

Why or what or which or when,

You take hold of the  reins of the fifth

Horse:

‘How’

And wonder aloud,

“How on earth,

(On heaven, On God himself,)

How on earth did I ever fall into that bloody pit?”

 

Two: Beauty

Beauty was  the stone which

Twisted my ankle.

I was hardly five years old,

And I was put down firmly

In my place by that stone side.

“You are not pretty.”

My stepping stone first tripped me down

I cried in hurt, touching nose, cheeks,

And glared at beauty-

That invisible foe.

Later,

Others took advantage of that

Weak ankle,

Achilles’ heel, ( haha!)

And seeing that I still bled

From that angle,

Thrust rapiers of destruction

Into it.

It took a while before beauty

Stood up and stretched herself-

Saying, this stone is mighty handy

For the self to spring anew

Into bluer skies!

Aeans later, I sometimes revisit that

Stepping Tombstone.

On it is thrice engraved:

‘One day she woke, and opened her eyes.’

 

Three: Words

Words can  destroy, emasculate

Can degrade, frighten, terrify,

Can  also

Free, and  let you fly

Can fight for you, can defend you

Can empower, can show truth

Can prove , can laugh,

Can make love, can kill

Can create barriers to protect

And electrify the walls.

Better befriend them,

They  can be stepping stones-

To everything wonderful

In this life.

****

Who is Laughing Out There?

jane eyre

When my little daughter groaned about the sadness of Jane Eyre, not finding it enjoyable as Pride and Prejudice, I asked her to watch a movie version with me. She started with much huffing and puffing, protests and sniffs.
By the time I stopped the episode at a critical spot, especially when Jane starts suspecting Grace Poole, little girl was most annoyed.
“Who was laughing?If not Grace Poole, then who?”
“Read the book,” I said, heartlessly.
She scowled at me. Much later,closing the last page of the abridged version, she declared: “I want to see Bertha.”

I remembered a summer vacation when Jeremey Brett started haunting us all in TV- during Sundays, as Sherlock Holmes. My most intense prayer every day would be that the electricity stayed put for the precious one hour or less next Sunday, as the episode played out,part by part. I was hooked from the very first episode: “The speckled band”.
There was no Sherlock Holmes collection at home. My mother gave in finally, on the promise of doing all summer homework on the first week itself, and daily ‘deposited’ me enroute work- in the “Reference Section” of the Trivandrum Public Library. The original works were compiled there- with the beautiful illustrations from Strand magazine- golden edged, red-velvet bound -one  helluva joy of a book! Soon, I became the expert on Holmes in my family. The best part of that summer holidays was the discovery of enjoying both the book and the visual depictions: the permutations and combinations offered to the intellect were amazing!

“Sure,” I  replied,  “let us watch the mad woman in the attic.”

***
Post script: Little girl decided that Joan Fontaine was the most beautiful Jane among all versions. I told her that most probably, the casting director had not read the novel- Ms. Fontaine is neither small nor obscure or plain! (By the way,Elizabeth Taylor starred as Helen Burns in the same 1943 version! )

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