Melodies from the Flutes


In Italo Calvino’s essay ‘Why read the classics?’ he quotes Cioran.

While the hemlock was being prepared, Socrates was learning a melody on the flute.’What use will that be to you?,’ he was asked. ‘At least I will learn this melody before I die.’

Following such melodies, I ended up watching Kurosawa’s Ikiru, loosely inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s  novella, ‘The death of Ivan Ilyich.’  The purpose in Watanabe’s life- to build a children’s park over an erstwhile cesspool- gave him joy in the end. I remembered Socrate’s flute lesson then.

Post script: The passing reference to Mephistopheles and the quip about not asking for Watanabe’s soul, brought Kurosawa’s brilliance home…Take a salute Goethe and Marlowe!

How many nations connected via classics, I ruminated…


I have found selfless people the most happy in my life.

Like my favourite Sister who is filled with such enthusiasm ( The etymology reveals the meaning: The God within) when she gets to serve the needy and poor. She is an active social worker and is always full of plans for the day: a self help group of poor women, coaching classes for the government school children to supplement their learning, providing creative projects to disabled children, arranging for toilets to cerebral palsy affected families…Her to-do list is endless and so is her positive energy!

I find that joy in those who take pride in their life goals: sincere teachers, sincere doctors, sincere mothers… And I find that spark missing from those who aim at pleasure as the goal of life. Perhaps it is my skewed perspective; but I guess a lot of Harvard Business Review articles tend to substantiate my observation.

Why do we read classics? Why do we work? Why do we learn music? Why, why…happiness and meaning are surely  side effects of a deeper pursuit.

May we have the courage to find worthy goals in our lives.

Yes, I have to read ‘The Odysseys Within’ now…:)

Meanwhile listen to this:




Hidden Pathways of Knowledge


It was in “Breaking Out,” the memoir by the brilliant Economist Padma Desai, that I discovered that she enjoyed learning Sanskrit Grammar, due to its wonderful structures and rules. She also learned Russian and Sanskrit from scratch, because she wanted to read classics in the original! Now that is one remarkable lady whom I deeply admire.

Recently, when a book full of verses, both Sanskrit and Malayalam reached me, I recollected the joys of deciphering the Vrittam -as clarified in A.R. Rajarajavarma’s Vrittamanjary; taught by no one less than dear Sister Vimala in High School.

“The genius of the author was such, that the lakshanam/ definition can be used as lakshyam/ example,” she said. “So for those of you, who cannot be bothered to study the poetic examples, please remember this point. If in the exam, they ask you for the lakshanam and lakshyam of  say, Indravajra, use the definition as the example to illustrate the Vrittam.”

Lakshanam also can be interpreted as signs or cues, and Lakshyam also means destination. That is just an aside about wordplay, by the way.

I remember taking out my notebook and assiduously noting down

” Kelindravajrakku tatamjagamgam.”

Then the wonderful dissection:

Using the lakshanam as lakshyam:

Kelindra/ vajrakku/ tatamja/gamgam

– -^/- -^/^_^/guru guru


ta, ta, ja, guru, guru…yippee!!!

“Sister, how do we remember the stuff?”

I remember which of my intrepid classmates asked that question.

Sister dear snorted not very elegantly. After making clear her distinct views on his intellectual powers, ( Neeyonnum padichu nannavunna lakshanamonnum kanumnnilla/ there are no signs of you bettering your life by studies..she could not help repeating the word lakshanam , in the contextual manner!) she wrote on the board:

Ya Ra Ta

Bha Ja Sa

Ma Na

^- – Ya

-^- Ra

– – ^Ta

-^^ bha

^-^ ja

^^- sa

– – – ma

^^^ na

” Got it?”

We got it alright.

” Can you remember that?”

We could.


28 years to that day, I take up my daughter’s pencil, and starts deciphering  Vrittam,  in the book, to her great amusement.

“What are you doing amma? What are these moon marks?”

The laghu is marked by a crescent like “u” actually and the guru by a”-“.

” Mandakranta mabhanatatagam nalumarezhumaygam,” I grin.

Ahhh..look at that beauty! Four, six, seven she lies before me.


–  – – /-^^/^^^/- – ^/ – – ^/guru, guru

Aha! The eagle has landed!!

ma, bha, na, tha, tha, guru, guru!!! Whoopee!!

” Amma, are you alright?” Asks my daughter.

I am more than alright, kiddo;I wish to tell her. In fact, I am ecstatic. At the discovery that certain secret pathways of knowledge are still open to me. And all it took was a pencil and the memory of a teacher who told us that the path itself could be the destination.


The vagaries of autocorrection and verisimilitudes of vision, I apologise for:) And yes, I remember that Cavafy’s Ithaca  is not very different from Sister’s sage advice.