‘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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rooted In Words

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When we went inside the bookshop, my father announced to the bill clerk, ” Whatever she buys, I am paying.” The bespectacled young man looked up for a moment and then went back to his job; apparently he was used to such specimens who wandered around , making irrelevant comments, squealing with delight at an unexpected find, shaking heads when not finding what they were after.

When we staggered back into the car, my father was almost regretting his impulsive promise. He had forgotten that I was starved for both my Mother’s fish and Malayalam literature; after a forced diet bereft of both, in distant  lands-away from sea smells.

To the tune of the monsoon incessantly pummelling my window panes, Priya A.S, Sithara S, Santhosh Echikanam, Vatsala, Sarah Joseph, Basheer,  M.T., Adoor, Benyamin, N.Mohanan, EV Sree Raman  et al walked past- a troop of brilliant writers, belonging to many genres, keeping me awake late into the night, revealing to me the sheer magic of my sweet mother tongue.

For a moment, I remembered listening with awe as Sastry Sir read out a travel memoir of KuttiKrishna Marar back in tenth standard ,”…so the writer’s train crossed over the Northern plains and he started thinking of Balram toiling in the fields with his great plough and drinking his evening delight, that reflected Revathy’s beautiful eyes..”

The boys had tittered at the reference to Balram’s weakness for his drink, and all the girls had sighed deeply at the beloved’s eyes reflected in his drink..what an imagery!

Later, when Sir taught us the description of Krishna as ParthaSarathy, we recited along with him, as Sanjaya described the ineffable Lord to the Blind King.

“Madumozhimaril valarnna ragavum, chapalanmarodu kalarnna hasavum…”

(He, full of growing passion for honey tongued lasses, full of mocking laughter at the petty men around..)

This time the boys sighed over the honeyed women, we tittered at the petty men.

Sastry Sir, had managed to turn many of us into life long devotees of our vernacular literature.

When I had the choice of turning to either Malayalam or Hindi for my second language for Pre-Degree, I embraced Malayalam with no inhibitions. The Professors at Maharajah’s College for Women lighted up many more lamps in that wonderful journey. College was worth attending for the Language classes alone!

” Ha Pushpame, adhika tunga padathillethra, sobhichirinnithoru rajni kanakkaye nee.. Sree bhuvilasthiram asamshayam innu ninte yabhuthyingu puniringu kidappithorthal”… (Ah, how you had shone like a queen atop that plant, hey fallen one! Prosperity in this world is so tenuous, if one sees  the depths to which your beauty has fallen  in time..) and then the learned Lady Professor would interpret an innocuous sounding word “Aye” for one hour!

”  Kumaran Asan, the poet with the magical touch, has captured the respect, reverence, pity, compassion, regret   for the fallen woman/ flower in just one word..Aye..it is not just a word..look into the deeper connotation, the shadow within..,” she said, transforming a rather decrepit classroom, in a dark afternoon into a repository of light and sound.

For some time,I entertained the wistful thought of ditching Maths and Science for Malayalam Literature, like Prof Leelavathy and Co. But fate had other plans.

I probably read  N.S. Madhavan’s Higuita  to get over the bitterness of Engineering Mathematics. The former classic short story, I swear, has served my life better than all the Maths in the world. When I face  trouble, I think of the kick of Higuita and grin to myself.  And then I go for the goal!

***

I try to teach my little girl Malayalam.

A, for Amma.

Aa for Aana..

She looks at me with wise eyes.

” I know both- you and elephant. Besides, I know to write too-Ma, Haathy.”

I give up. May she learn to love and enjoy  Hindi literature , I pray.

I am sure that the sparkles of the stars fill all the human languages of the world with equal light.

May my kids learn tolerance,compassion and humility by reading the same great human story, in as many languages as possible.

As for me, it is time to re-read Mathilukal (The Walls), as Adoor Gopalakrishnan beautifully crafts his screenplay from Basheer’s great, lovely writing.

Narayani’s voice (From the other side of the Jail Wall): Will you remember me?

Basheer:Narayani, your mark is present all over this world!

Her voice: All over this world? Why do you tease so flippantly?

Basheer: Not at all. The absolute truth. Walls! Walls!Look, these walls travel all over the world!

Her voice: Shall I please cry out loud for some time?

Basheer: Not now. Maybe in the night, remembering…