‘The Joy of Books’ Aka ‘The Cruel Deed of Abdullah’  By P.V. Shaji Kumar (Translation from Malayalam)

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https://www.mathrubhumi.com/books/columns/p-v-shajikumar/p-v-shajikumar-shares-his-life-experience-1.3885497

(Translation of  ‘Bookkukal Bhayankara Majaya adhava Anthuchayante Kroora Krityam )

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‘The Joy of Books’ Aka ‘The Cruel Deed of Abdullah’

By P.V. Shaji Kumar

After securing my bachelor’s degree, I was caught in a phase of purposelessness for a while. It was during such a juncture that I received a call from Mani (whom I called Maniyettan with due affection), who was the President of the District Students Union.

‘Eda, you need to take bail very quickly!’

The background can be succinctly stated thus: In front of the Nalanda Resort, there was a skirmish between the Kanjagadu Sub Inspector of Police and the students marching in a procession. I was in my final year of college studies then. I had not participated in the said hullabaloo, but my name was duly added in the list of the accused. The irony was that, the names of those who were involved in the scrimmage, were missing from the list. The police case was registered against eleven ‘known’ people. Since I was the University Union Councilor from the Kanjagadu Nehru College, my name was listed as the seventh accused.

With the exceptions of my friends and co-accused Sunil Kumar Kaiyoor and Mahesh Maniyara, the rest of them had secured their preemptive bails well in time. For some inexplicable reason, we had not been present in the Court and had failed to obtain the bail. The truth which Maniyettan was hinting at was : ‘ You idiot, if you wait any longer, there will be a warrant of arrest and you will have to eat the infamous wheat-ball served as jail meal.’

Accompanied by two well-wishers -duly clutching their income-tax receipts to give guarantees for our personal bonds- we went to the Court. ‘No need to worry… You guys are sure to get bail!’ Maniyettan was very optimistic about the outcome. Inside the trial-box which was dangerously loose and coming off the railings, we stood with our hands tied obsequiously behind our backs. ‘We’ implies yours truly: the seventh accused,  Mahesh: the ninth accused, and Suni: the eleventh accused respectively. Browsing through the case file, the Honorable Judge donning thick soda-glass spectacles, cast his anger at us through a glance.

‘No bail!’

Although I cannot comprehend much English, I could make out the meaning of the word ‘bail.’ I lost heart. ‘God! I am going to jail!’ Mahesh, who has absolutely no clue of English, murmured gratefully, ‘Thank you sir!’ I muttered into his ears, ‘You fool! It means we are going to jail.’ A shudder passed through him too. Suni was shattered. He was a rather sentimental creature. He hurled himself into a whirlpool of misery and terror; and soon started sinking.

When we were climbing the police jeep to proceed to the Kasargode Jail, Maniyettan observed reassuringly, ‘Nothing to worry guys! You will get bail in two days’ time!’  When the first gear was pulled, Maniyettan consoled me. ‘ Shaji, you are a writer, aren’t you? You will get valuable experiences. Besides, you can always take pride that after Basheer, you are the second Malayali writer to have a stint in jail.’ Suffice it to say that  it was Maniyettan’s good fortune that the jeep gathered speed before I could give him a befitting reply.

It was the fifth of December. One day before the bleak day when the Babri Masjid was destroyed. All the known criminals and goondas were jailed in preventive detention that day. We were sent to the same barracks where they were locked.

Mahesh was a veteran of sorts when it came to prisons. Due to his frequent activities like stone- pelting at the cops, burning effigies of ministers, forcefully stopping the public transport et al, he had been in and out of jails in the past. He was familiar with the ordeal. Before we entered the cell, he cautioned us,‘ Keep a grave face. If they perceive that you are a weakling, you are done for!’ On listening to those wise words, we were petrified.

We were cooped up with ten or twelve odd inmates. As soon as dusk arrived, Mahesh relieved himself at the exposed corner of the cell- which doubled as a urinal- and soon curled up to sleep. Suni unburdened his heart of his desolate script of woe: He started narrating it with great agony. After few bouts of crying and jabbering, jabbering and crying, he dozed off. I was however bereft of sleep.

I sat staring out of the bars, holding the three books that I had brought with me. (I tend to carry books wherever I go. Whether I read them or not, I find that they bolster me with some ineffable strength.) My mind was insisting that I break free from the wretched jail. I remembered our pet dog Appu, back home. I could hear his outraged howl of pain when I locked him up after his day long wanderings.

‘I shall never cage you again!’ I promised Appu in the insufferable suffocation induced by my incarceration.

When boredom crept in, I lazily flipped through my books. I had Vaikom Mohammad Basheer’s ‘Mathilukal’ (‘Walls’) with me. It is perfect for the jail, of course. It states that the whole world is surrounded by walls. I had Uroob’s  ‘Shaniyazhchakal’ (‘Saturdays’), and also an anthology of Hunger-Stories. As I was browsing through them, I was hailed from somewhere.

‘Da!’

It had come from the right corner of the cell.  The person resembled the  formidable ‘Ravuthar’ in the movie Vietnam Colony. He must have been nearly forty years old.

‘Yes, please!’ I retrieved my responding capacity with alacrity and great politeness.

‘Give me a book! Can’t even manage a blink since I haven’t had my daily booze!’

Even before he completed his explanation, I managed to stumble across and hand over one book. It was ‘Mathilukal’.  Basheer’s iconic photograph was on the cover: where he sat looking at the world with an air of melancholy; his chin cupped in his hand. The man muttered, ‘Not that I am going to read it of course…Just look at it…’

Since it was an observation to himself, I did not dare to answer in the fear of  an unexpected physical retaliation.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Shaji…’

‘Where are you from?’

‘Kanjangadu…’

‘Where in Kanjangadu?’

‘Kalichampothy…’

‘Near Arayi, right?’

‘Yes…’

‘I had been to that place last year..’

‘For what?’

‘Had to hack off someone’s legs and hands. I took his legs. When I thought of his wife doomed to clean him after he answers nature’s call…well, I spared his hands.’

I shivered.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Abdullah…I have 31 cases in my name.’

I could not even manage a croak. Abdullah opened ‘Mathilukal.’ I sat down in my old place. Staring alternately between my books and Abdullah, I slipped off to sleep.

In a dreadful night mare, Abdullah came to me and tore off my shirt and lungi before having his way with me. I could not even scream ‘Amma…Help!’ When I felt that I would die due to lack of air, I opened my eyes and struggled free from that horrible dream. Abdullah was not asleep. He was immersed in  ‘Mathilukal.’ Seeing my pathetic state, he gazed at me solemnly.

‘What happened?’ He asked.

I shook my head to hint nothing was amiss. With a final look at Abdullah, I covered myself head to toe with my lungi, and curled up: all the while trying to strangle the remnants of that terrible nightmare.

The next day, when we were seated to be fed the wheat balls, Abdullah was my neighbor. On seeing the  gross wheat ball -larger than a cricket ball- I started wondering how to eat it.  Meanwhile, Abdullah, having finished eating his own share, asked me, ‘You don’t want it now, do you?’ Even before I answered, he started munching mine. While chewing it, he muttered in English, ‘Who wants freedom?’

In the next two days, he finished reading Mathilukal, Uroob’s Shaniyazhchakal and the anthology of Hunger-stories! It was an astounding sight! While the rest of us whiled away time by cracking lame jokes, he went on reading. On the third day, after obtaining bail, as I got ready to depart, Abdullah took away ‘Mathilukal’ from me. ‘I want this book!’

‘Oye! This is a book borrowed from the Keezhkangode village library! I cannot give you that!’  That was what I desired to say. Due to fear perhaps, I desisted. I did not say ‘ we shall meet again’ or ‘we will meet again.’ The thirst to see the outside world after three days of captivity, put a naught to all conversation.

Years passed in the way  that only years pass. Every month we had to visit the Kasargode Court for the case. The date of hearing extended endlessly.  I enrolled for a Master’s degree in Computer Applications in Kasargode LBS Engineering College. Suni went on to pursue Journalism course in the Kozhikode Press Club. Mahesh started his Coaching Centre and prospered well. It took four long years before the case could be finalized.

While doing my Masters degree, I used to occasionally visit my sister’s rented house at Kumbala. On one evening, as I was travelling to Kumbala from Kasargode in a bus, I slept very soundly and missed the destination.( If ever someone makes an association of those who sleep immediately as soon as they board a bus, I shall become  a core committee member.) On waking up, I alighted at the next bus stop.

It was raining very heavily. I ran to the foyer of a nearby store. It turned out to be a book shop. Someone was reading, his head buried deep inside a book, at the far end. I watched as the rain painted the entire surroundings black. In his trance-like state, the man seemed to be unaware even of the pouring rain. I felt a stirring of envy at that deeply engrossed reading. Though I knew that there would be a bus to Kumbala, I asked him about the next bus.

He did not deign to raise his head. I repeated my question firmly.

‘Lots of buses.’ He raised his head and looked at me.

God! It was Abdullah!

My face must have displayed my wonder.

‘You are Shaji, aren’t you?’ He came out and caught my hands warmly.

I laughed happily. I could see the luster of erudition in his eyes.

‘I stopped all of it from that day…wielding the machete and chopping off limbs! Put a full stop on those chapters deluged with blood. I started reading…and now here I am, with my book shop!’ Abdullah smiled affectionately at me.

I stood there wordlessly while the rain made its presence known acutely.

‘Books are full of joy!’ Abdullah said.

I could see the bus to Kumbala approaching us, wheezing and panting from afar, in the rain.

What was I supposed to say to that man? Nothing at all.

‘I am leaving…the bus has come.’

Abdullah nodded. The smile remained on his face. ‘Just a second!’ He went inside and then soon returned with a book. It was ‘Mathilukal’ by Vaikom Mohammad Basheer. The same book which I had borrowed from the Keezhkangode village library, all those years ago.

‘The book I took forcefully from you that day…Do you want it?’ Even before I could answer him, Abdullah added, ‘Even if you say yes, I am not  going to give it back.’

I smiled.

Abdullah smiled.

The rain smiled.

Vaikom Mohammad Basheer continued to sit with his chin cupped in his hand; looking at the world with melancholy.

***

Note:

  1. Mathilukal aka The Walls is a very famous  Malayalam novel by Vaikom Mohammad Basheer based on his jail experiences during the Independence Struggle. It has been made into a movie which won many national/international awards. The deep undertone of the book is love.
  2. Maja:  a typical dialect of saying mazā  : pleasure or joy or something yummy or delectable…For the sake of the English readers, I have taken the liberty of using the simple but profound ‘joy’ to elucidate the original  ‘Books Are Full of Maja’ as Books Are Full of Joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nos Duo Turba Sumus (We two are a multitude…)

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‘The Hammer of God’ has been an all time favorite. Chesterton’s Father Brown has been my soul delight since teenage. Recently, mesmerized by the BBC’s ineffable command of their background music-which can haunt you for years endlessly- I watched their new, delightful series based on the beloved, titular character.

The hammer was definitely not Thor’s (Forgive me Father, I could not help that pun); the story-line was totally different, and the depth of psychological analysis in the original was perhaps missing too. Except that they retained a single line about ‘the heights making men believe they were Gods perhaps!’

But my daughter and I agreed that Father Brown was adorable. His open mind, his love for scones, his ability to laugh easily ( In the ‘Bride of Christ’ he laughs out -and won my heart- when he reads the quote pasted to castigate: ‘When lust conceives, it shall bring forth sin!’) and his sweet simplicity, were hmm…plain delectable! I can  bring myself to forgive that they  mercilessly hijacked the classic story ‘Eye of Apollo’  only because of Father’s great charisma.Kudos, Mark Williams!

**

The Essays of  Elia (1823) by Charles Lamb is another classic.

I  got an opportunity to thoroughly relish his eponymous essay ‘A dissertation upon roast pig’  and  ‘A bachelor’s complaint of the behaviour of married people’ by chance accident…( Your hand reaches out to pick a book which just had these delights tucked away in them) only to watch the movie ‘Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society’ that blew in the essay on the pig-with its whiffs of simple joys- right back into my life a few days later. Serendipity? Oh, yes! May she continue to grace my life always.

In Joseph Addison’s essay on ‘Friendship’  (1888) he quotes from the Holy Bible presciently, ‘Some friend is a companion at the table, and will not continue in the day of thy affliction : but in thy prosperity he will be as thyself and will be bold over your servants. If thou be brought low, he will be against thee, and hide himself from thy face.’

Wow! How many of those ‘friends’ I have had! Exactly the above observed behavior!

Ironically, in Goswami Tulsidasji’s ‘Sree Ram charit manas’- the Hindi Ramayan- in the Fourth Canto ‘Kishkindha Kanda’,  Lord Ram explains to Sugreeva about toxic friends!

” Aagem kah mridu bachan banayi/ Pachem anahit mann kutilayi//

Jaakar chitt ahi gati sam bhai/ Us kumitra pariharehim bhalayi//’

‘The friend who speaks sweet/sugary words on your face but bitterly gossips about you behind your back, that one is wicked! His mind is crooked like a serpent’s path. It is better to forgo such a bad friend from your life.’

Gotcha!

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Note: While browsing through a magazine in a shop, I encountered the confession of a royal who had it all: including depression.

He said something deep. ‘ Depression is the inability to have feelings. It is not about bad feelings.’

**

For sunshine, Father Brown, chewing on the delights of roast pig and ruminations on the vagaries of  friendships… a toast for the joyous feelings that they provoke! Perhaps we underestimate the value of life’s most precious gifts- disguised as the simplest and easiest to find- on our life paths.

***

Title: Shamelessly copied from the starting of Addison’s essay.

Ovid, Met.i. 355

 

ചില പരകായ പ്രവേശങ്ങൾ

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ഞാൻ പരിഭാഷപ്പെടുത്തിക്കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്ന നോവലിന്റെ ആത്മാവ് ‘സ്വാഭിമാനമാണ്’. സമൂഹത്തിന്റെ ചോദ്യങ്ങളിലും, നിബദ്ധനകളിലും പരിമിതപ്പെട്ടു പോയ ഒരു സ്ത്രീ തന്റെ സ്വത്വം തിരിച്ചറിയുന്നതാണ് കാതൽ. പലപ്പോഴും ഒരു അതീന്ദ്രിയഃ അനുഭവം എഴുത്തിൽ വരാറുണ്ട്; പരിഭാഷയിലും.

ഏതോ ഒരു ലോകത്തിൽ നടക്കുന്ന കഥയെ വിവരിക്കുമ്പോൾ , അതിന്റെ ഭൂതം ചിലപ്പോൾ , ചില്ലറ കൈവേലകളുമായി ചുറ്റി കൂടാറുണ്ട്.
‘Serendipity’ എന്ന് വിളിക്കാം. അനീതിക്കെതിരായി ശബ്ദം ഉയർത്തിയാൽ ആക്ഷേപിക്കപ്പെടും എന്നത് കഥയിൽ നിന്നും ജീവിതത്തിൽ കടന്നു കൂടാൻ വളരെ നേരം എടുത്തില്ല.

‘ദുഷ്ടത ചെയ്യുന്നവർ അത് ചെയ്യട്ടെ…നീ മിണ്ടാതെ സഹിച്ചു കൊള്ളുക…’ എന്ന് പറയുന്ന അന്തരീക്ഷം ! അതിപ്പോൾ ജീവിതം പഠിപ്പിച്ച പാഠം -നിന്റെ നട്ടെല്ല് പണയം വയ്ക്കരുത് എന്നാണ്. വയ്ക്കാൻ ഉദ്ദേശവുമില്ല.
അപ്പോൾ പിന്നെ ആക്ഷേപമായി, പരിഹാസമായി, നിസ്സംഗതയായി, ഒഴിവാക്കലായി , പിന്നെ രക്ഷയില്ലാഞ്ഞു ബഹുമാനമായി …’യ്യോ ! അവരോടു അടിപിടി കൂടാൻ പോകല്ലേ! കഴുത്തിൽ തല കാണില്ല.’

അപ്പോൾ നോവൽ എന്നോട് മന്ത്രിച്ചു: ‘ഇതും ഒരു തരം മാസ്മരികമായ മന്ത്രജാലമാണ്‌ …നീ തന്നെ ചെയേണ്ട കർമം എന്നതിന് ഒരു spiritual whisper !’
**

ജെയിൻ ഓസ്റ്റിൻ എന്റെ പ്രിയപ്പെട്ട എഴുത്തുകാരിയാണ് . രണ്ടു പെൺപിള്ളേർക്കും ആരാധ്യനാണ് അവരുടെ ഫേമസ് കഥാപാത്രം; ഫിറ്റ്സ് വില്യം ഡാർസി !
മൂത്തവൾ ഒരു meme അയച്ചു തന്നു ..കഥാപാത്രങ്ങൾ …(പ്രൈഡ് ആൻഡ് പ്രെജുഡീസ് ) കോഫി കുടിക്കാൻ ഇഷ്ടപ്പെടുന്നത് എങ്ങനെ ?
എലിസബത്ത് : complex ആൻഡ് slightly nutty
ഡാർസി : ഐ പ്രെഫെർ ടീ
വികാം : hot ആൻഡ് rich
ജെയ്ൻ : Tall, blonde ആൻഡ് sweet

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ഇളയവൾ സ്കൂൾ പുസ്തകാലയത്തിൽ നിന്നും കൊണ്ട് വന്ന പുസ്‌തകം.
‘മൈ കസിൻ റേച്ചൽ.’ Daphne Du Maurier എഴുതിയ ത്രില്ലർ . അത് അഭ്രപാളികളിൽ റേച്ചൽ വെയ്‌സ്‌സിന്റെ അഭിനയ തികവുമായി എത്തിയിരുന്നു .
പുസ്‌തകത്തിന്റെ മുൻകുറിപ്പു എന്നെ രസിപ്പിച്ചു.
സ്ത്രീയുടെ സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യ സങ്കൽപ്പങ്ങളെ വിഷം കൊടുക്കുന്ന സമൂഹ ശാസ്ത്രം എന്ന പഠനം, റേച്ചൽ കൊലപാതകിയോ നിഷ്കളങ്കയോ എന്ന ചോദ്യം അവശേഷിപ്പിച്ചു.

**
നോവലിൽ തുടങ്ങി, നോവലിൽ അവസാനിച്ചു , നോവലിൽ സ്ഥിതി ചെയുന്ന നിമിഷങ്ങൾ അമൂല്യം.., ഒരു കപ്പ് കാപ്പിയും കുടിച്ചു കൊണ്ട് നമുക്ക് പറന്നിറങ്ങാൻ ഇനിയുമെത്ര ദേശങ്ങൾ, കഥാ പാത്രങ്ങൾ !

**

Those Lotus Feet…

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One year later, they were kind enough to tweet it once more. Thank you again Gaon Connection!

My little girl is appalled at her mom’s atrocious (spoken) Hindi but grumpily agrees that one still managed to bring out a decent transliteration.

(She snorts: Amma, did you actually say, ‘Padi?’ Gawwwd! That word does not exist in Hindi language…Puhleese!)

(Amma sighs poignantly and desperately.)

My elder daughter, for whom I started it, is appreciative of the Book. She has a copy with her. And she loves Hanumanji like I do!

And as for me, this is like a gentle reminder from the Lord to work harder, to attempt more translations and keep holding onto his lotus feet for dear life!

Oh, yes! Considering the challenges one has to face day to day, dearest Hanumanji, never let go of this dust clinging at your feet.

Bhoot Pisach Nikat Nahi Aave

Mahaveer Jab Naam Sunave!

“Neither vampire nor ghoul shall dare to come near

When you chant the name of the greatest warrior!”

(I feel protected by Him every second of my life….)

Jai Hanumanji:)

**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

നമ്മുടേതായ ഒരു ലോകം

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‘എനിക്ക് ബോറടിക്കുന്നു’ എന്ന് പരിതാപപ്പെട്ട ന്യൂ ജെൻ പുത്രിക്ക് ഞാൻ ഒരു ഏബ്രിഡ്ജ്ഡ് വേർഷൻ പുസ്‌തകം നീട്ടി. ‘പഴയ പുസ്‌തകമാണല്ലോ…’ എന്ന് ഒരു കമന്റ്. മറ്റൊരു പുസ്‌തകത്തിൽ മുഖമാഴ്‌ത്തി, മറുപടി പറയാൻ കൂട്ടാക്കാതെ ഞാനിരുന്നു. പത്തു മിനിട്ടു കഴിഞ്ഞു കാണും…ശ്രദ്ധിക്കാത്ത മട്ടിൽ നോക്കിയപ്പോൾ, ശ്വാസം അടക്കി വായനയിലാണ് കക്ഷി !

ഹി,ഹി ! റെബേക്കയോടാണോ മോളേ നിന്റെ വിളച്ചിൽ ? ലോകം മൊത്തം കൊണ്ടാടുന്ന നോവലിന്റെ നോൺ ഡീറ്റൈൽഡ് വേർഷനിൽ അവൾ വീണു!

രണ്ടു ദിവസം കഴിഞ്ഞു. അതാ ഇരിക്കുന്നു സ്കൂൾ ലൈബ്രറിയിൽ നിന്നും ഒറിജിനൽ നോവൽ! ഞാൻ ഓൾഡ് ജനറേഷൻ ‘വെട്ടൊന്ന്, തുണ്ടം രണ്ട് ‘ അമ്മയായി; ചോദ്യം ചോദിച്ചു: ‘എന്താ, പഴയ നോവൽ ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ടോ?’ അവൾ മറുപടി തന്നില്ല. ഒരു ചെറിയ ചിരി ചിരിച്ചു; പുസ്‌തകം കൈയ്യില്ലെടുത്തു, അവളുടെ ലോകത്തിലോട്ടു പോയി.MANDERLAYയുടെ ലോകം !
ഇനിയിപ്പോൾ, പതുക്കെ, യൂട്യൂബിൽ നിന്നും റെബേക്കായുടെ മനോഹരമായ ബ്ലാക്ക് ആൻഡ് വൈറ്റ് സിനിമ തന്നെ തപ്പി എടുക്കും…ബോറടി എന്ന പദം മറക്കും.

**
ഫിസിക്സ് എന്ന് മന്ത്രം ജപിച്ചു നടക്കുന്ന മൂത്ത മകളോട് ഞാൻ പറഞ്ഞു: ‘ലോകത്തിലെ ഏറ്റവും നല്ല ചെറു കഥകളിൽ ഒന്ന്, ‘ ദി ഹാമർ ഓഫ് ഗോഡ് ‘, വായിച്ചു നോക്ക്. ഫാദർ ബ്രൗൺ എങ്ങനെയാണ് മനുഷ്യ മനസ്സിനെയും, ഭൗതിക ശാസ്ത്രത്തെയും ഒരുമിച്ചു അളന്നു കുറ്റം തെളിയിക്കുന്നത് എന്ന് കാണാം !

സ്ട്രിംഗ് തിയറി കുട്ടി, ചെസ്റ്റർട്ടൻ വായിച്ചു, പിന്നെ ഫോൺ വിളിച്ചു: ‘അമ്മേ, ബ്യൂട്ടിഫുൾ സ്റ്റോറി! ഞാൻ അതിന്റെ പോക്ക് guess ചെയ്തായിരുന്നു, കുറച്ചൊക്കെ!’

**
എന്തായാലും, എം ർ ജെയിംസും , ചെസ്റ്റർട്ടനും, ദഫ്ന ടു മൗറീറും ഒക്കെ നമുക്ക് തൊട്ടടുത്ത് തന്നെയുണ്ട്. കൈയെത്തി എടുക്കേണ്ട താമസം മാത്രം: അറിവിന്റെ മറ്റൊരു ലോകം തുറക്കപ്പെടുന്നു. ലോകത്തിന്റെ പല ഭാഗങ്ങളിൽ ഇരുന്ന് പല വായനക്കാരും, നമ്മോടൊപ്പം, ഇതേ പുസ്‌തകങ്ങൾ വായിക്കുന്നുണ്ടല്ലോ എന്ന ഒരു ചെറിയ പുഞ്ചിരി നമുക്കു സ്വന്തം.

**

Chasing Christie

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My little girl asks me whether I can guess who the murderer happens to be.   I am yet to finish the book. The novel is ‘Sleeping Murder’ by Agatha Christie. I have experienced enough of this world and read enough of Dame Christie to venture a serious guess even at the middle of the book. I suggest a name and she sniffs: ‘ So you did read the ending!’ I laugh.

I tell her that Winston Churchill had guessed the murderer by the middle of  the play ‘Mousetrap’. His wife Clementine apparently sniffed:’Of course not!’ Guess who turned out right at the end. Yes, your hunch is as good as mine.

The fan club of Miss Marple is steadily increasing in my home. From Bertram’s Hotel to A pocket full of rye, Miss Marple’s sharp brain has my child fascinated. And I am glad.

Miss Marple  subtly teaches the importance of  classical literature to young readers. From the Duchess of Malfi to The Lady of Shallot, there is a  literary clue in each of her books for the prescient reader. And a practical approach to life and love and all that is good and bad. I find Miss Marple formidably intelligent when it comes to second guessing human nature with all its foibles.

I tell my kid that her granddad introduced me to Agatha Christie. I was thirteen. She laughs that Amma was too old when she started Miss Marple. I agree humbly.

She knows all about the episode of Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance and come back. She had watched it in a Doctor Who episode. I let her interpretation stay magical.

‘Which is your favourite Miss Marple novel?’ She is quizzical now.

Without a moment’s hesitance I answer: ‘ The mirror crack’d from side to side.’ I have loved the book and all the various visual depictions of that true classic.

‘ I liked it too.’ She nods her head.

Great.

‘ May the old dames win’, I grin.

**

Wisdom Is An Elephant

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So the Science Fiction aficionado goes ahead and wins a  student writing contest. She is also invited to attend the conference of all similarly inclined souls and read out her winning entry.

When I gape at the wonder of it all, my daughter laughs. Her heroine is called Sofia and she has a cat called Davetta. Sofia reads Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy in the dead of night. And she hates authoritarian figures. By the way, her cat is bionic.

*

Her sister gifts her a  cute pink baby elephant- yeah, a stuffed toy. The elder one  takes it by the tail and twirls it around with amusement.

‘Why is it pink, eh? It creeps me out,’ she opines.

‘It is adorable and small and pink. You better treat it respectfully,’the little girl is firm.

‘It looks rather ominous,’ laughs the elder one.

‘What is ominous?’

‘This elephant.’

‘Meaning of ominous?’

‘Er, not very auspicious, let us say.’

The younger one casts a baleful glance at me. I am all for getting the elephant back from such an  irreverent  new owner.

But finally, the sisters strike a compromise. They christen the elephant Sofia.

As I wonder on its fate, the elder one says consolingly, ‘Amma, it means wisdom. I will make it befriend Electra, the startled cat toy. Besides, we will make them  unofficial mascots of our Physics lounge.’

*

With all the wise ones around, I ask one question. What are interstitial spaces?

Sofia’s leap of victory had been in the  sci-fiction writing contest with that  peculiar theme. Her  story title was ‘Knowledge beyond Logic’. Heisenberg was an adored Ancient in its weave.

Does a pink elephant befriend a cat?  Would such friendship occur in interstitial spaces? As my mind puzzles over the uncertainty of it all, I remember Heisenberg in a most  happy, weird way.

‘Revere those things beyond science which really matter and about which it is so difficult to speak.’

Sofia or Electra, pink or black, young or old, elephant or cat, Physics or Spirituality, we are bound by infinite reams of love and laughter. And my story, if I ever were to write on interstitial spaces would be on that. And two laughing sisters.

The Gods at the bottom of my glass always have their faces.

*

 

 

Pick Up A Book

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Why do we read? So many brilliant scholars have debated on that topic; from the time that humans started reading. In a couple of interesting articles in Arts and Letters Daily, the topic has been visited yet again.

To recognise oneself ( self understanding), pleasure, to be enchanted ( lost in an imaginary world) were a few reasons. There were articles on how the souls were no longer part of the reading experience since the minds were benumbed by cynical, reductionist critical reading !

(Wow! Now I understand why I had always hated those erudite essays that tore to bits a nice novel by linking it up with Derrida and Defoe and Confucius and Faust- all in four consecutive sentences.)

There were such interesting comments in the readers’ section of an article by Julian Barnes on how he has started liking E M Forster in his er, evening years! The article was witty, the readers were more so!

All of which led me to ponder on why I read…whatever it is that I manage to read…when I can do it.

1. It gives me immense joy

2. I forget my breathing problems in winter, when I have a book to bury that red nose into. Even the wheezing stops until I return to earth. Then it hits back with full vengeance, making me burrow back again!

3. It increases my self esteem that I know meanings of Bildungsroman ( he he!), exiguous, plangent and camply. (Yeah, it is not comply and Julian Barnes himself used it, so there! )

4. It is the best baby sitter around. If you want to watch an old sixty flick with hardly a groan emanating  from near vicinity, try giving a dog eared copy of ‘Upper Fourth At Malory Towers’ to a  little busybody!

I really do not care of what they say Blyton does to little children’s cerebrum and cerebellum along with their multi cultural sensitivities; I think she is great fun! Besides kids get to read words like pensive and candid, melancholy and malicious!

5. I remind myself of the vast universe of books unread in multiple languages;the thoughts, wisdom and laughter hidden from me . It is like getting a momentary glimpse of one’s utter ‘smallness’- so to say- of where one stands,in the vastness of the scheme of things.

Ozymandias comes to mind! That leads me to..

6. I feel great when I can relate or recollect a poem or a novel or a story and interconnect it with a picture or film or music or another book. Yay! Serious pleasure, totally self centred, by the way.

7. It improves my endurance capacity in the routine of daily living. To know that even when one is in a boring meeting or a crowded place, one can, forgive the analogy, like Hannibal Lecter, escape into the archives of memory and entertain oneself with some thing read in the past! Serious!

8. Knowing that in the most totalitarian of regimes, what they silenced first were reading and writing among women, I enjoy and toast the sheer power and freedom to enjoy the most fundamental of my human rights!

9. It teaches me, that there is a world beyond myself, my face, my body, my aspirations,  my wants, my dresses, my likes, my selfies. A lesson which helps me, whenever ‘I’ become too much for me.

10. The giddy  promise  I have made to myself that in case God asks me for an option for my after death assignment, I might get to work in his divine library. Even dusting around the Books would be so worth it! I might end up seeing Dahl!

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( The Twits: Roald Dahl)

Warmth In Winter

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I find her entranced in a thick book- she is awed! I snooze near her, enjoying the warmth of the heater in the unhappy cold of a dire winter. An hour later, I open my eyes and she is still in the same position, the book on her lap.

“Interesting , eh?”

No response.

I take a peek.

‘Adventure of the devil’s foot’

“Are you understanding it?”

She looks at me with that ‘I do not expect that from you’ sort of a look.

I grin. And snooze again.

This time, it is late and the book and the child are still in their places.

“Time to sleep,” I say.

“Five more minutes”, she says. It is neither a request nor a plea. It is a statement-typical of her.

Five minutes later, I cough meaningfully.

She closes the book.

“What was the adventure?”

“The empty house,” she says with a prim expression.

As I tuck her into her winter blankets, and turn the heater around, I realise that certain classics will always get the chill away from our souls.

On the bed, was Penguin’s ‘Classic Sherlock Holmes’. And already smiling in her sleep, was the youngest fan  in the family- enchanted by the inimitable detective of 221B Baker Street.

The suffocating winter cold fails to depress my spirits.

When a child reads happily, that joy is warm enough to  withstand the severest of  life’s winter winds.

Tail piece:

I  search for and finally find  an old copy of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories.  Dusting it, I slyly put it next to Holmes.

Certain manoeuvres have to be silently executed for success. Especially with little girls full of ‘ I do stuff my way’ attitude.

Let us see now, if that old lady captivates her too!

*

 

Life is a River

 

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And today, I found my little girl, engrossed in Darcy and Lizzie too- deep into the abridged version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Life has come full circle- or perhaps,it is flowing like a river. Gadgets have changed, years have moved on, but certain classics will enchant generations with their pristine beauty. I just could not help picking up a pen…:)