Mastering the Fates

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How about a film marathon? Watching movies based on the flaming human spirit that pursues excellence against all odds? In a coincidence that bordered on the mystical, I was recently afforded an opportunity to watch a few of such soulful ones: On Pele, on Jesse Owens, on Mandela, on Alan Turing.

‘The Imitation Game’ makes you weep- with overwhelming empathy for a tortured genius. Alan Turing the brilliant mathematician who was driven to suicide at 41, has been beautifully portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The enigmatic Turing pieces together the world’s first thinking machine amidst mind numbing pressures, battles deep human prejudices and yearns for life assuring friendships.  All the while, he is quietly saving millions of lives.The film makes us aware of how deeply flawed we are, as a human race. We are the most cruel of all living beings. I felt touched by an Angel after watching this beauty of a movie.

‘Invictus’, is named after William Ernest Henley’s poem that was Nelson Mandela’s favourite. It depicts the elegant Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, emerging from prison in 1994 after 27 years. He is faced with a divisive nation where mutual hatred and suspicions reign. The Rugby World Cup of 1995  is used as an opportunity by the great leader to  inspire a unifying sense of nationhood in the South Africans. One sees leadership in action, greatness in front of the eyes, making us dazzled with the purity of the undying human spirit and the enthralling power of sports.( I loved the Maori war dance, the Haka, before the finals.)

‘ Out of the darkness that covers me/Black as the pit from pole to pole/ I thank whatever Gods may be/ For my unconquerable soul…’

‘Race’- the movie on Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics under Hitler’s very eye, is  both informative and inspiring.We see that the White House  did not acknowledge Owens’ victory and that he was forced to enter his own victory party  at the Waldorf Astoria through the entrance meant for servants. Jesse Owens the quietly confident star, his encounter with German competitor Luz  Long that carries a beautiful story in its  own strength, the manipulations of power- all make for  a mesmerising watching. I  was stunned by the actor who enacted Joseph Goebbels with finesse- Barnaby Metschurat- for the sensitively portrayed body language, the look in his eyes, the palpable touch of evil power. The nexus between politics, business and sports was again high lighted through the story of Avery Brundage. Someone should study that character further for a management course in Power and Politics.

Pele-the birth of a legend, the biographical film, with music by A.R.Rehman, should not be missed by football fans. I wished that my father was watching it with me- when  I watched Pele’s father teaching him the Ginga style (inspired by the Capoeira martial arts )of playing football , using a mango fruit. The mind numbing poverty and the amazingly talented  Brazilian children playing football with cloth balls were eye openers in a literal sense too. Here too, was the human spirit at work, aiming for excellence amidst all odds. The beautiful game is showcased in a wonderful way.

‘ It matters not how strait the gate

How charged with punishment the scroll

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.’

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The Night of the Grand Mothers…. and Other Ramblings

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M.T. Vasudevan Nair or M.T. as we know him, call him, love him is a great figure of Malayalam Literature. His memoirs in the series of Kashu, Kanji, Kuppayam, Kallu, Kamam ( Money, Rice gruel, Shirt, Drink, Lust ) is being serially published- with one chapter coming out every  year in August-September during Thiru Onam in Kerala!

Being a Non-Resident Keralite, I have been depending upon the assiduousness of my father’s book packing and the punctuality of the Trans India Kerala Express, to deliver me my annual nirvana aka his memoir, for the last three years. The fourth year has not disappointed me either.

In this chapter on Drinks, M.T dwells with childish glee upon the strong, self dependent Nair  women and its matriarchal culture – a group of old grannies who relish Chicken curry and local Arrack/toddy/drink during the Puja rites to appease the Family Goddess!

In deft lines, he portrays the women- the hassled mother who has to coordinate the whole goddess business, the cantankerous old women who arrive in threes and fours with their pet peeves and desires; the all-efficient aunts who manage puking children, deceptive local men, catch and cook aggressive roosters, narrate stories of haughty Goddesses who pick fight with one another…the home becomes a hub of activity, the narrator falls ill, grannies share stories, and enjoy a good meat and toddy break, the goddess is hopefully appeased.

Incidentally, all happened because ill timed things started happening in the family- basically the cow being discovered upside down in a small pond and it obviously being the “push” of someone thirsty for appeasement!

Magical Realism might have been introduced to the Kerala reader via translations of Marquez! Remedios the Beautiful ascending to the heavens with white sheets ( For those who want to know how Marquez struck inspiration after suffering from writers’ block on that one, please read the book :  The Fragrance of Guava- Conversations with Marquez in the Faber Caribbean series) but a series of incidents like the above, aided by a rooster killing, the dance of the grand mothers in the dark night into which three other mysterious dark figures join in from the night..M.T. took me right back to a rainy night in Macondo!

Artist Namboodiri has delighted Malayalis with his blessed sketches for years now. His sketches (of which I have tried to copy one!) of the women especially- flawless, fluid, spirited, beautiful, adds a special beauty to M.T’s charming reminiscences.

I have to wait another year for the last episode, (and I do get vexed with the publisher who decided to pen a five year agreement with the genius!) but hopefully the Kerala Express will chug its way to my heart again, next August.

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After a long time, I had cried on seeing a movie. I was late to see it, and a flight saw me fiddle around with the choices. Between a re watch of  Casablanca and a first look at Celluloid I meandered; and then my mother tongue won out.

I was treated to an excellent movie by Kamal. It was based on the making of the first silent movie in Malayalam “Vigatha Kumaran” by a great soul called J.C. Daniel – and the travails and agonies an insensitive world subjected him to! The passionate young man sells his acres of ancestral land, his beloved wife’s jewellery to make the first movie. He tries to get a female actress from Bombay but it ends in wastage of money. Finally, a woman from a lower caste (the movie is a pointer on the atrocities of the caste system too) enacts the role of the heroine. The film triggers disastrous responses from a prejudiced, narrow minded society which chases the woman away and destroys the visionary’s dreams.

The fall of J.C.Daniel, and the insensitivity he faces from bureaucracy, the film world, his own close circle, the struggle with penury and later…the much wonted recognition which arrives after his death is the theme of this beautiful movie.

I ended up reading a series of criticisms and letters to the editor on the whats and whys and why nots and who’s and whose and blame games which were enacted out after the movie was appreciated by ordinary viewers.

The movie made me think of pioneers in every front of this world- who battled deep seated prejudices and oppression- from Galileo to Alan Turing to Caroline Herschel, because  the society in general just cannot tolerate dreamers! We are after their fault-lines, their perceived defects, their imperfections and ignore their great capacity to advance the cause of human excellence.

As Brutus ranted, ” As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his ambition.” (Julius Caesar, Shakespeare)

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Or maybe the answer to the conundrum is in Jospeh Campbell’s conversations with Bill Moyers

( Jospeh Campbell, The Power of Myth, 1988; Chapter: “The Hero’s Adventure, pg187)

” That each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s.”

That summarises what I felt after meandering through M.T, smiling about Marquez, brooding over J.C.Daniel and wondering on the golden thread of it all…

More power to creativity!

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