Translated from the original Malayalam by Yours Truly.
Release date: April 16 th 2018
Penguin Random House
Translated from the original Malayalam by Yours Truly.
Release date: April 16 th 2018
Penguin Random House
Here is ‘ The Moles of the Angel’, by K.R.Meera. This novella was called ‘ Malakhayude Marukukal’, in the original Malayalam. I was fortunate to translate it into English.
This incident happened nine years before, during a Holi.
I had recently taken charge as the District Magistrate/Collector in a remote district . Villagers stood in long queues to meet the DM and get their grievances redressed. The powers granted to the post being very significant, the poor and the needy travelled many miles -from far flung villages- to meet the officer holding the position.
There was a small ruckus outside, and I heard someone scolding a woman. ‘ Why do you come every single day? Your letter has already been forwarded,’ the chaprasi/ peon said; trying to stop a woman from moving ahead in the queue. When I enquired about the matter, a woman in advanced state of pregnancy was ushered into the room. She was dressed differently, with the dress and jewellery associated with nomadic tribes. The first thing she did, was to try to touch my feet.
A pregnant woman, bending down to touch my feet? I sat dumbstruck, scalded by that sight. I managed to get her seated by my side with some effort. She burst into tears as I asked her about her problem in my limited Hindi. In her peculiar dialect, she made me understand one thing: ‘ I do not want to give birth to another child, when my first one has been denied to me!’
She told me that every single day for the last few months, she had been travelling from her distant village to meet the officers with her plea. Her little son had been kidnapped.
I felt as if struck by lightning: who had kidnapped her first born? And how come no one understood the burning pain which made this woman- in the last stages of her pregnancy- travel thirty odd kilometres in rickety vehicles to meet the Powers-that-be? How come no one had bothered to listen to her till now?
The office clerk , in charge of grievances, referred his register and updated me on her case. Her application had been marked on such and such a date to the Circle officer in charge. More than thirty copies of the application, to be precise.
When I called up the police officer, he said that the woman belonged to a tribe which was notorious for indulging in bootlegging and thefts. Her husband was in jail in some theft case. The woman’s elder child, hardly three years old, had gone missing a few months before from her house. They were ‘ investigating’ the matter. No case had been filed as yet. And yes, all the marked applications were there in his office; as duly forwarded by the Collectorate staff.
‘ I know the man behind this. He is in jail with my husband. He had a tiff with him, and he got my son kidnapped. I know my child is in his village in Bihar.’ The woman sobbed out her story.
I asked the officer over phone whether he had ever bothered to talk to the mother. He had not.
‘ Madam, these are criminal tribes!’ He said, as if that should let the matters stay.
I lost my cool.
‘The mother who lost her child is a criminal in your eyes? How dare you say that? What relevance does her husband’s deeds have over her agony as a mother? You never even bothered to speak to her after thirty applications?’
I do not know to this day, what came over me- but with all the language skills I could manage, I told him that he should take this case as a personal priority and report the progress directly to me. His success and failure would have significant impact on his career. Well, at least that was what I tried to convey – in my grammatically wrong Hindi, empowered by outrage rather than diction.
I told the woman that she should not harm the unborn baby with her constant travels and that we should give some time for the officer to work out the case.
On the day of Holi, early morning, hardly three weeks later, I woke up to the Police Officer’s phone call from the landline.
‘ Madam, I have retrieved the child! He was in the village in Bihar. The woman was right. I went personally to trace him. Please talk to the mother. She is holding her son.’
I heard what sounded like laughter mixed with a heart rending cry, through the phone. A giggle of a child could also be heard.
‘ Thank you,’ she said, ‘ My blessings with you.’
I hugged my little girl, who was sleeping next to me, speechlessly.
I wrote a personal letter of appreciation for the good officer’s efforts.
When great danger has tried to trip me up, whenever harm has bared its nefarious teeth, from somewhere, would arrive protection. Always, always.
I was only doing my duty as an officer, but I know for sure that the mother had given me a shield/ kavach of her blessings. It has singlehandedly held back many poisoned arrows that came my way often, in my life journey.
If there is a lesson, it is this: never under estimate your power to do good. It will return thousand times, in a circle of blessing, to keep watch by your side. I can vouch for it from my life experiences.
This Holi, as I remember the past, amongst the colours, I can imagine an unseen child- of my young daughter’s age – enjoying Holi with a sister or brother. Anklets jingle nearby, colourful skirts twirl, as a laughing mother sprinkles colours over her children.
It is an honour to listen. It is an honour to serve. It is the greatest honour, to be blessed by grieving hearts.
In case the article comes out as a pride filled boasting of a braggadocio, I beg for forgiveness. It is actually a prayer of gratitude. That He chose me as his instrument at that point of time.
The news of a poor, mentally distraught, famished young man- belonging to the tribal community- being beaten mercilessly to death by a mob who alleged that he had stolen some rice; who took delight in posting selfies, made many of the listeners reel under the shock and horror of human deeds. Finding it difficult to forget the picture of those wide eyes and face which was innocently staring at evil, I ended up calling someone dear to re kindle the fastly dimishing hope within.
Sister had a different take on the issue. ‘What enters our minds and hearts: those thoughts decide whether we become devils or angels,’ she said quietly. ‘So it is important to introduce only the highest, kindest, most beautiful thoughts into our minds.’
I recently read an article by the great SreeNarayana Guru: Spiritual leader, poet par excellence, scholar in multiple languages, humanitarian, radiant soul lamp for want of better words; in which he had elaborated on the same topic. It was an article called , ‘ Daiva Chintanam’. He warned about the omnipresent evil which easily takes over our minds and hearts if our inner selves remain susceptible and vulnerable. He also wrote about choosing intentionally to welcome the beautiful and lovely energy vibrations around to enter our souls. From the pen of a master who wrote such exquisite poetry of deep philosophical meaning in Sanskrit, Malayalam, Tamil; who had translated Upanishads and Tamil spiritual literature alike for the common man, this article on what we jokingly refer as the super natural world, took me by surprise. He clearly mentioned the ‘unseen worlds’which we have to be aware of.
Leaving aside psychological studies of mob, dissipation of responsibility etc, I allowed myself to reflect more on these thoughts.When the mind is full of anger, vengeance, pettiness, hatred, it is truly dark. Who resides within us then? How did that enter? How does one welcome the good? By cultivating kindness, affection, generosity, wisdom, love, service, selflessness…
In a world so very ready to troll and abuse the voice of the outsider, it is almost an act of subversion to bring up children who can think differently: those who can naturally see the ‘oneness’. Children who can think for themselves, and look at the world around with compassion.
Perhaps, each of us can take up the responsibility: to nurture the young souls in our family to grow up that way. But it is a lot of hard work.
Perhaps that starts by giving them good books to read. By introducing them to great, fine, high energy thoughts of those good spirits who lived/live in different parts of this mortal world. Those who had different names, different genders, different skin colours, spoke different languages but spoke the same beautiful truth.
Perhaps it starts by weening them away from the seductive world of objects, never ending greed, relentless marketing and self promotion into a serene, luminous world of thoughts.
Maybe we can do our humble bit to turn them into “human beings” : who , on meeting a hungry, mentally disturbed living being will offer food and clothes with no second thoughts.
A generation which will never seek out an iron rod and a flashy mobile phone to torture an innocent to showcase their ‘coolness’.
(Photos of excerpts from Sree Narayana Guru’s translation of Isavasyopanishad and his immortal Anukampa Dasakam- Ten Shlokas praising compassion)
When I was growing up, one of the writers I had read with trepidation was Mohanachandran- the one who wrote the terrifying Kalika and Kakkakulade Rathri. These, if I remember right, were serialised in Kumkumam magazine. That magazine arrived erratically, whenever Amma brought it home from her office library. With the uncontrollable temptation that urges a child to stare into a deep, deadly well, I would guiltily read Mohanachandran’s words. A cold hand would catch hold of my throat and I would sit quietly and shiver. Yet, I would read.
Much later, when I read the books, I still ensured that they was bright sunlight outside. Such is the power of the writing: these can easily compete with the Cambridge don M.R.James’ best horror stories. Tantra, Devi Pooja, ancient death and life rites, brilliant characters, their mutual attractions, innocent children and great danger…It was an incredible cocktail which could throw the most sober among us into a tizzy.
Why did I remember Mohanachandran suddenly? A seemingly simple story with underlying threads of deep insight. ‘ Chitrasutram’ by V.J.James.
Beautifully, it links learning, painting, a mysterious death and a talented child. The pictures the boy draws point to unassailable truths. The description of those pictures, brought the creeping dread of Mohanachandran’s books to my memory again.
Wrought with deep compassion, the story seemed serendipitous because it had a discussion on why a picture comes to life when the eyes are drawn last of all! Maybe because the translation project , which I am currently engaged in, is based on the same theme; and also has a precocious child who can ‘see’ deeply inspite of handicaps, I felt very awed. Perhaps, I was meant to pick up this book and read this story. Another quiet miracle.
What do the books say? When you are blessed, speak about it.
I read Deepa Nishant’s second book first! ‘ Nanannju teertha mazhakal’. ( ‘The rains that were relished’)It made me laugh and wonder at the same time. Memories which one could immediately relate to, language replete with a self deprecating sense of humour, and a graceful simplicity. Beautiful!
I immediately ensured that the great readers among the Missionary Sisters- who lovingly provide me with lovely tapioca and fish whenever I feel homesick -got the copy. It was still circulating from hand to hand, amidst much laughter, when I heard the last time.
So this time, I got her first collection. ‘ Kunnolamundallo Bhootakalakulir’ ( ‘The moist yesteryear memories- a veritable mountain’). I finished it at one sitting, enjoying my mother’s murukku and banana chips. Little girl raised a quizzical eyebrow; and mentioned a very pertinent argument that her ammomma meant the goodies for her and not anyone else. I ignored her royally and went on chomping.
That is an age old habit- snacking on goodies with magazines-which started with Poompatta and Balarama. What does she know of Malayalam: this young brat who corrects my Hindi grammar fifteen times a day? (‘Amma, I met someone who speaks your style of Hindi. New classmate from Bengal. She watched Padmaavat and told me-Shahid Kapoor mar gayi.’)
I believe that this book – now into its 21st edition- is a compilation of her 25 Facebook notes. These were loved by many and became a best seller when published. It continues to be one. Well deserved too!
‘Jalam Kondulla Chila Murivukal’was very thought provoking. ( Wounds created by water). My personal favourite.
It narrates an episode from the young professor’s teaching life – when she realised that what is ‘seen’ and ‘what is happening’ are two different things. A young student teaches the teacher a valuable lesson in life.
Her inherent kindness touches him too; and we read a note that he left for her.
“To my teacher who cracked open my solidified sorrow -wrought by endless excavation of tears-with her hearty laughter.”
She quotes a snippet from a poem (which roughly translated) reads:
In a human life-
the most relevant
needn’t be the most prominent.
just a few moments…
Reading Deepa Nishant’s lovely articles would most definitely define a few of those precious moments in my own life journey. And yes, the Reverend Sisters have already demanded the copy!
My article published in a ten part series : Translating India
“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”
― Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems