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!

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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 writes 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.’

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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.

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

Ovid, Met.i. 355

 

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.

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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!’

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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.

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The Axe Of The WordSmith

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“A book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us”..that was Kafka, surprisingly passionate, overwhelmingly intense, none of the analytical detachment and clinical apathy of interpretation usually seen in his words.

What would such an ice axe do, I imagined. I saw an axe raised, coming down heavily on steelish blue ice bergs and cracking the surface open – and water, angry and freed, ebullient, rising up in ecstasy.

Such a rise I saw in Alice Walker’s Colour Purple and Toni Morrison’s Beloved; two iconic classics that crack open the ice in the hearts of a benumbed humanity, by pointing out the horrendous pathos of what one part of humanity suffered during the days of slavery and soon after.

Sethe, Paul D,  Celie, Shug Avery and the other unnamed men and creatures…ah, these characters are caught in lyrical poetry (in Beloved) and in an uneducated woman’s words (in Colour Purple) easily moving a reader to tears and a rough shakeup of the complacence that crowds her in. There is only one human story, the world wide, I realised- and I know it in my blood, like any other human being.

In an interview with the brilliant author Khaled Hosseini , when asked about the popularity of his novels, he said that he was surprised and baffled- for he wrote stories straight from the heart and did not bother about the tag of “sentimentalism”, oft attached to such writing. He also reflected poignantly that  perhaps readers across the globe could relate to these human stories, because they were about emotions.

That brought me back to the ice-axe. A brother losing a sister, a friend losing a boyhood pal, a man discovering a woman’s love, the agony over a lost country…were these not themes (often seen in Hosseini’s works) that I had grown up with, in vernacular masterpieces? Did not the readers respond passionately to these simple themes and love them with abandon?

Book lovers, like Tolstoy’s opening sentence in Anna Karenina about happy families, are alike..and  book lovers, like Tolstoy’s quote about unhappy families, are different too in their own ways.

Closing the Colour Purple, and opening it again to catch a whiff of the book’s smell- as if trying to inhale Celie and Shug back into my own psyche with their tears and laughter, I thought of how I was alike and different, from other clan members.

Too much cleverness leaves me cold- I hated Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam. Death, death, death..please, I know I will die too, someday.I like my cleverness short and precise: as in a bumbling Father Brown discovering the psychology of the Hammer of God, or the imagination of Conan Doyle that made a woman scream “the speckled band, the band..” in throes of her death. Thank you.

Well at great risk of being labelled a show-off( huh, so you think you are the only one who reads? nahhhhh) , and with heart felt humility (apparently the word means walking the sacred earth), I like my reading simple, down to earth and touching my heart. The rule follows for movies, screen plays, plays, art work and life in general.

When Lalitambika Antarjanam writes about the beauty of the bride’s feet in AgniSakshi, “akin to lotus buds”, and the young protagonist becomes a life long fan of Devaki, one can actualy visualise the loveliness of the woman. When M.T.Vasudevan Nair writes about  Draupadi’s special fragrance- the enchantment of blue lotus,leaving  Bhima intoxicated beyond his own understanding and makes him her most ardent lover,  the reader sighs deeply. When Changampuzha writes a poem wondering on who would buy the queen of the garden today, he is also pointing at the prostitution forced on a young flower seller..and his words acquire an intensity and heavy sweetness that makes one mesmerised for a moment. (Nidrayennodu yatrayum cholli nirdayam vittu pokayal..since the sleep left me merciless to my own bereft self..)

The axe, the axe…sometimes it comes from the vernacular,  sometimes from a simple translated Chinese poetry, a sliver of an article from a travelogue across the Patagonia, yet a line from an ordinary novel, making one sit on  desert sand, parched for a glass of water..as another master story teller weaves his magic…

What a gift it is, this gift of story telling. Whether it comes in any guise- angel, devil, banshee or villainess..blue or aquamarine, cobalt tinted or a sultry peacock shade…I am game for cracking the ice open and rediscovering the great, one, human story within me- reflecting all what is outside.

In their own way, every story teller, shows us the way to ourselves.

In gratitude.