That Ghost In The Cupboard

 

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Yet another suicide by a brilliant young man studying at a premier institute. I will no longer ask, why. Life has taught me enough to write the answer to that one. Because we are human. No animal would commit suicide.

At so many stages in life, at so many points of decision making, the dream of escaping it all easily appears: like a tantalizing mirage. If only, if only…It is that precise moment which one has to survive. Perhaps the faces of your loved ones will appear to caution against the decision. Or it could be a determined voice from within which stubbornly says: “I will not give up.” The survival instinct will definitely kick in, and one reaches for a way out. The instinct to destroy is unfortunately strong too; and it will resist that friend or help that is a call away.

One of the most ignored areas, at least in our country, is mental health. Depression, nervous disorders, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies- all are whitewashed into one heading: Needs Rest.

Some deny it actively, some mock at it aggressively, some escape into parties and alcohol, some become detached and cocooned, some pretend it is a ghost in the cupboard and occasionally face it in their privacy, and some kill themselves.

**

If there is anything which has helped me face different apparitions of intolerable pain (which sits within me and mocks that  I am better off dead at times), it has been a fierce determination to crawl out of darkness every time. I reach out for my quotes of Vivekananda and try to fill my mind with thoughts of power and service. Typically I visit Missionary sisters and try to talk to the poor and disabled that they serve so selflessly. When I see a five year old orphan child suffering from HIV, and who cheers up on getting a chocolate, I feel that my troubles are so pitiful and meaningless. Truly has Vivekananda said that the way out of your own troubles is to serve someone who suffers more than you. When “I ” become too much for me, I visit a hospital. By the time I return, the ” I ” is usually replaced by a sense of immense gratitude for the good health that I take for granted.

My mother often tells me that tears are a way to getting closer to Him. It shakes you out of whatever ennui and makes you go down on your knees, seeking help. And help has always, always, always come.

If I could tell something to the bright student sitting in some top institute, depressed and angry at himself and the world, it is this:

Stop thinking of yourself for the next half an hour. Get out as fast as you can from your room.  Go to the nearest hospital, or any place of pain and tears and helplessness. Please help by volunteering there: buy someone medicine, help a mother carry her sick child, read a prescription to an old man.  Visit an orphanage. By the time you return, my dear friend, you would have so much power within you that you will live for another day. Whether you choose to live that day well, will be a blessed option left to you.

The way out of your own apparently interminable darkness is the light you will be kindling in another unfortunate’s life. I do not know why it works every time, but it always works for me. Maybe by giving another a bit of your life energy, you have shooed off the ghost in the cupboard for yet another day. For the time being, it is a battle worth having won.

***

This Lovely Herbarium

‘Herbarium’ by Sonia Rafeeq, is a debut novel which has won the DC Literature Award in 2016. It depicts the relation between life and nature- like the amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb- through the story of a little boy who suddenly loses his mother. The child has grown up in Dubai and his mother, who loved the earth and mud, trees and insects, has always struggled to create an island of green on her Dubai flat’s balcony. Tipu’s Ummadu, is an earth woman: the one who breathes in and out the simplicity and depths of Mother Earth herself. But she is lost one day.

The child comes to his maternal home and discovers what is nature. From a life of playing with tablets and video games, he gets into  a world where a ‘chicken’ in KFC is actually a haughty rooster who pecks around worms in the sand. There is a grand Peepul tree- splendid in its canopy and width- reigning gracefully within a snake grove. And the child sees through wonder struck eyes a wriggling white worm which emerges from within a mango seed, as the ripe flesh is cut into pieces. Apparently, it has eaten up all the food meant for a baby mango sapling, in its greedy feasting adventures!

I am at page 63 of a 231 page novel. And it has been simply delicious till now! I could not resist writing a paen!

Extraordinary observations connecting human emotions with nature!

We have a phrase in Malayalam: Tottavady pole- like a Touch-Me- Not plant! It is used to describe very sensitive nature in human beings. Men and Women and Children, who cannot withstand any unexpected disturbances in life. It is a phrase which cautions – not to be like the touch me not plant which folds and shrinks up in terror when touched at random!

Tipu happens to glimpse a school senior- a teenager- jump to his death  from the flat because he has lost top marks in two subjects at school. He sees his mother- enraged and upset- to see that wasted life.

She mutters: ‘Why do children turn into Touch Me Not plants ?’

***

Trying to translate a stunning paragraph.

The notes left behind by Fatima, turned her into a stranger to Asif. He could not fathom her: he had not known her. Inside her had been an island which he could never reach. It was inaccessible by ships or aeroplanes. He was in a sojourn to reach that island by deciphering her notes….

One of Fatima’s Notes:

This cot too had been part of a tree at some point of time. A tree that was green and vital: its roots sunk deep into earth. Ah… trees, such enchanting symbols! They lay dead- in multiple formations- in our bed rooms and sitting rooms, carrying their own biers. If  one casts a glance at the kitchen, one can notice a bigger cemetery. If you open the refrigerator, you can see solid evidences of ruthless killing obscenely gloating at you: in the form of fish and goat and rooster. Then the dead seeds stocked in the bottles of the kitchen racks might shock- beans, mustard, pulses. There are more dead bodies in crushed forms too. A real graveyard. And I am the keeper of the graves.

****

Strong recommendation to pick up this green book. The author is a postgraduate in plant pathology and worked as an Agricultural Officer before shifting to Dubai.

Her dedication reads ( In translation)

To the earth that no longer emits fragrance,

To the dead trees,

To the rivers which have sunk deep,

And to children:

Who carry the gift of God’s imagination

To rebuild, re-create everything.

***

 

ChumaduTangi: Burden Bearer ( Poem Translation from Malayalam)

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Chumadutangi by Lakshmi Devi

( Translation from Malayalam)

The Burden Bearer:

Here, in front of the inn

Meant for wayfarers-

On this  Burden Bearer Stone,

Let me heave the bundle carried

By my weakening body till

Now.

The shoulder bone has

The greatest capacity to bear

Burden, it seems;

And Destiny again shoves

Unbearable weight onto

That today.

For a moment, I ponder

What it is that I carry, stumbling

Struggling onward,

Wrapped within the bundle.

Old sins, virtues

Or both equally divided?

Unknown it remains,

The Fate has filled up my bundle

For me to bear unquestiongly.

There is a bright lamp within,

The fragrance of camphor

As my dreams get enflamed,

The pains unabated, stirred deep

Leaving an oily drop beneath

The forbidden is inside, and the

Whiplashes for those mistakes

Committed unwittingly

The drops of tears which flowed

The red of a fresh wound

A Sun of a baby smile

The chirp of a bird, the breeze

In a shade so green…

I can no longer keep

My load on the stone

It is getting late.

Closing the inn’s door

The watchman too has

Hastened away.

The lonely road that stretches

Long, calls me quietly-

Walk on, until

You fall, losing

Your footing.

Darkness all around me-

Yet  I can listen  to those

Who are ahead of me:

‘ Move without fear!

Beyond the sooty darkness

Of this tunnel,

There might yet be light.’

***

In the olden days, Kings used to construct inns for wayfarers and also stones for bearing burdens. Without anyone’s help, the  heavy load on the villager’s shoulder could be heaved onto the heft of these stones.

Today, I watched again a classic  Malayalam movie called, Amritangamaya.

It is a line from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad…From death to eternal life ( Mrityoma Amritamgamaya).

In the movie,  one character was reiterating that the human shoulder bone is the strongest- designed to carry the Holy Cross of one’s life burden.

Flipping casually through an old vernacular magazine, I ended up opening the poem page where the sentence was repeated for me.

And then, I picked up a crayon, and a pen. These help in shouldering responsibilities with grace. Truly Burden bearers.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poems of Compassion : Shri. Veeran Kutty (Translation From Malayalam)

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1. The Heaviness of the Rain

If someone were to dislodge

A pot full of water over your

Head

All at once,

Your scalp will sting

Your breath will struggle

The song in your throat-

Will break, slide

And slip inexorably down.

Someone is emptying

The pot of the sky.

Splayed into multiples

Trickling  into  cloth-wicks

It gently

Touches us.

The moist threads

Absorb

All the heat

Burdening  us.

Someone

Picks up  our shocking failures,

Split them into  thin

Hair-like strands,

Places those

Feather-like

On our heads.

Someone

Who has rain

Within Him.

**

2.  The House of The Dead

No house in this world

Can equal the Taj Mahal.

Yet

There comes a time

Glorious:

When every house

Turns into a Taj.

When someone

Lost in an inexplicable

Helplessness,

Or otherwise,

Mutters to himself

That his home

Is like a tomb.

**

3. House

I know now

That there is no room for me

In this house.

What is a room?

Just a  stifling thought,

Of those within.

Something which suffocates

As you contemplate.

It is a mere possibility-

Which occurs when there is a wall.

How can you conclude

That the walls belong to the

House?

They belong to the great

Outdoors.

If the walls are not of the house,

There is no room.

Hence, no house either.

Look at the outdoors-

That is my room, house.

I am going home,

Do not call me back.

**

Standing And Wondering

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None of us are perfect. In fact, we are so full of faults that earthquakes can map their fault-lines through our avaricious hearts and minds. The hollowness in our lives, at times, are attractive for vagrant thoughts and desires. It is there that a book makes its mark- by filling the void with its beauty.

I loved reading Subhash Chandran’s book, ” Manushyanu Oru Amukham.” I wished that he had not ended it at all. I wanted to read more about all the great souls who had walked on my mother land: with their ideals, humane vision, lofty thoughts, unselfish hearts, loving selves , with light shining brightly within them. The character I liked most was Govindan, the quiet and erudite son of the obnoxious Narapillai. In every sentence that describes him, the author has used his most lovely colours : pleasing, charming, enchanting. Brush strokes of simplicity, wisdom, selflessness, love of learning, kindness, and vision.

When Govindan Master gently rebukes his nephew Jiten on his monkey like mimicry of other human beings- by pointing out that certain past times weaken the human soul, I stopped breathing. Like Jiten, I too wondered on what the purpose of human life was : if a human being just lived to be born, eat, excrete, mate, procreate and die-like the lice in one’s hair, or the dog on the street or a leech on the cow. Of course, doing it all with more pettiness, more arrogance, more show, more evil, more vanity! Do we have the dream in us to leave a light for the world somewhere in our limited journeys?

Like Jiten, I too stared aghast at the shocking sentence written on the blackboard :  (my translation) “Man is the only living creature that dies before reaching his full growth.”

I wish more people would read this gorgeous book. This quintessential bildungsroman is available in both Malayalam and English.( A preface to man, published by Harper Collins, India). It will jolt you awake of your stupor. It will charm you with its raw energy. It will humble you with its beauty.

The author, in his post script, writes about the incident which led him to rewrite the scene of Narapillai’s drowned body being recovered. He had never witnessed the dredging of a corpse from beneath a deep lake ever. In a rural setting, he had no idea of what tools would be used for such a horrendous task. Even as the publication date approached for that chapter, he found himself on a serendipitous journey near a river to meet old pals. The bespectacled young man who pointed out his gang waiting for him by the side of the river, seemed unassuming. In a matter of minutes, the author and his friends found themselves being approached by a panicked friend of the path-shower. The young man had  gone in for a swim and had not emerged. He had drowned. They jumped into the water and searched relentlessly for his body. They were unsuccessful. And then they witnessed how a dead body caught in the clayey soil of the unforgiving river gets retrieved. A veteran diver and corpse retriever arrived- and using a pole used for rowing, he brought up the dead body. The toes were frozen-bleached white. Subhash Chandran writes that he was dazed in pain: to have met the young man just to get the  answer from the river- how do you describe the dredging of a corpse?

None of us are strangers to serendipity. Except those of us who are blind from within. If you refuse to acknowledge what you see, the scene passes on with a vacant smile. If you stand and stare, like Keats’ naughty boy, you have lots to wonder at. For a very long time. Whether you stand in your shoes or barefoot.

Inspite of all the petty Narapillais of the world who hold on to their prejudices and evils, who will mock you for being true to your own inner light, the need is to persist on your own path. Who knows, someone might feel their darkness removed by a small flicker from the lamp of your existence.

***

A Preface To Man: Manushyanu Oru Amukham, Subhash Chandran

I am at Page 155 of a 407 page best seller in Malayalam called ‘ Manushyanu Oru Amukham’ . This book has won the Kendra Sahitya Academy award along with scores of other awards. It has been translated into English by Dr E V Fatima and published by Harper Collins, India as ‘ A Preface To Man’.

The story of a few generations of a family, along with those of related social and cultural milieu, and sharp political observations: this narrative structure has been used by many brilliant writers across the world. Marquez and his One hundred years of solitude is often a favourite reference point in such a case.  How the Kerala cultural ethos changed- influenced by stalwarts in  political, intellectual and spiritual arenas-along with the clear repercussions in the lives of the many members of the Ayyattimbilly household, of the Thachannakara village, forms the binding thread of this grand novel.

The thoughts that had powered the best men and women to become  great human beings and responsible citizens, are revealed in different pages. We meet Kuttipuzha KrishnaPillai, the communist leader and poet, as a warm and unassuming guest in a chapter, who with piercing wit handles the venomous prejudice of a petty mind. The reader is forced to reflect on how various forms of prejudice continue as eternal monsters in society. They might change shapes and hues, but the underlying devils are the same. Intolerance and ignorance. Closed eyes and closed mind. Arrogance and Self centerdness. Lack of compassion and greed for power. And a way of encouraging life styles which give birth to many living dead.

In the first few chapters, we find that the protagonist Jitendran is dead. It is through snippets of his letters ( when he was a young man who thought for himself) to his loved woman, that the chapters unveil themselves. One striking paragraph which I liked earlier on went like this ( my translation:)

‘The first half of his life was one in which he ardently believed in something within: that would impart light to those coexisting with him in the world. That belief had been nurtured by certain assumptions built in his childhood about human greatness. However, unable to find a  conducive medium for that light to express itself, his inner self had been set aflame in that period.

The second half was rather simpler in nature. The job he had habitually done-in  utter disregard for misspending one’s human life- with the facade of an inappropriate severity, a marriage and marital relationship which started with debts and continued in debts, the shifting of a few houses with household materials stuffed into a mini lorry, the partitions of  anscestral property which caused much  mutual hatred between brethren and made God laugh, a few extramarital affairs  he indulged in -which had nothing to do with physical pleasure- for the exclusive and ineffable thrill of  committing a secret sin, a few bursts of hearty laughter hither and tither, a few pains extended in the form of gifts by friends and relatives, a few accusations and wrong doings-neither of  which had  any circumstantial excuses, the tonnes of medicines he swallowed for curing those diseases which would have healed by themselves, the boring scenes which occurred twice or thrice in a life time when it became imperative to  pretend that one was acting responsibly…’

**

I am at the chapter which says – ( in translation) ‘A petty man never lets go of an opportunity to showcase his inherent pettiness.’

‘Chetta’ in Malayalam has many connotations: a small hut,  a person of obnoxious meanness, a man or woman possessing aggravating pettiness….

I laughed out loud on realising the absolute truth of that statement. Oh Lord, how many times, how many times….one has witnessed that!!!

However, the author suddenly pulls the mat from under your feet. He makes you reflect on the etymology of the word and whom you are  actually rendering unworthy in the process of thoughtlessly using such words.

Beautiful book. I am so happy to have another 250 odd pages to relish!

**

Walking By The Village On A Rainy Day…P.V.Shaji Kumar’s Memoirs

This book- Itha Innu Muthal, Itha Innale Vare- was thrust into my hand by the manager of the bookstall. ‘You will enjoy it Madam. It is written very well,’ He said.  My reading habits are erratic like the monsoons of my birth land. Sometimes, it is furious in its intensity. Sometimes, it is serene as a twilight rain which will smile at one and disappear. Most times, it is just there. I encountered this book in the furious reading phase.

If the hall mark of a good writer is that he or she forces a reader to sit and read, this book is a winner. The writer P.V. Shaji Kumar is a software engineer by training and a lover of literature and movies by passion; and he  writes extremely well. In fact, I felt no wonder that he has already won a series of the most coveted awards in  Malayalam literature at this young age.

Many memories are related to  the writer’s childhood in Kasargode. The language has the vibrancy and authenticity of a true native. There are palpable memories about being a  rather ignored goalie  in his childhood  and from a light mood, a sudden turn into sobriety with an analysis of the Nazi atrocities on footballers in their concentration camps. There are reflections on phantasmagoric imageries of his childhood where he saw a dead girl enjoying a savoury dish of jackfruit curry in a dream sequence, on trains and the melancholy of journeys in those, on his story teller grand aunt who  spun the most magnificent horror stories and ended up killing herself in depression, on reading the Russian children’s classic in  Malayalam translation : When Daddy Was   A Little Boy by Alexander Raskin and on getting to know of Mayakovsky, Gulliver and Robinson Crusoe from that little gem,  and love notes on his own  land Kalichampothy…

I related best to the frustration of doing computers when the heart was elsewhere. The writer narrates a suicidal point when the worthlessness he felt on facing an examination for which he had no natural aptitude drove him to the brink of ending it all. It was a sudden rain which danced around him that inspired him to live another day.I was left wondering on the young man who came back from death multiple times. Once, after losing his friend, he  had tried to jump down from a  moving train . As if his deceased best friend stopped his death,  he found himself narrowly escaping  the train wheels.

The language, the ethos, the words,  and the memories are so original and refreshing. In my next round of greedy reading, which is  usually abetted by a visit to my own state, I will surely be picking up more of his works.

****

‘ He chatted with me until the darkness around  felt sleepy. There was a pathway into him, which was accessible to any human. This man will exist forever because of his love and care, I found myself thinking…’ ( Who will complete the story of a Man who failed in his life?)

‘The wind was everywhere- in the classrooms, in the canteen, on the rocks, on the paths…it never abated. Like a frustrated lover, it could not sit still and wandered around. When I reached the campus, I was like a leaf in the wind. ‘( The Wind Blows Still)

A bald head rose up from the shrubs, taking the photograph of the sun… He touched my arm. It made a bracelet of water on mine.

( The Frog)

Kalichampothy refers to the land of Kalichan trees. The leaves are huge, and it shivers around like an intoxicated person, this lonesome tree. ( Kalichampothy)

In her eyes sad clouds started camping. Her memories  pierced into a silent darkness….It was known to the villagers that when you have nothing to do, memories start hunting you like a fox  emerging out of his den.( Enaru)

**

The small public libraries ( called vayanasalas- literally reading rooms) that were found in every nook and corner of Kerala villages  had world classics in innumerable languages translated into Malayalam. That luscious reading culture in India’s most literate state  has created many writers and readers.  There isn’t a  vernacular writer who has not enjoyed Marquez’s Macondo and its rain in  his or her mother tongue.The return of the native- in all writing glory- is a tale worth Thomas Hardy himself.

**

The title is replete with puns which only a true born Malayali gets to enjoy! Now the translator stands stunned as to resolve the conundrum. Perhaps a footnote cannot do justice! It puns on a cult movie title, with wordplay on the present and past. (Perhaps it  also hints at a funny scene in yet another movie my brain snarkily comments.)

‘Here, From Today; Here, Till Yesterday’ seems too weak a translation. Yet here it is😁