The Master Wit

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The DSC awards for South Asian Literature has announced its long list. My friend K.R.Meera’s book- The Poison of Love- is in the long list of 13 books selected by an eminent jury. I am thrilled that her  amazing talent as a writer has yet again been recognised.( I have lost count of the number of awards she has already won:) I am also happy that my role as a translator has been recognised.

My job takes me to very traumatising places at times. Like a place of suicide. A severed head  and torso- lifeless-of what once was a very brilliant young man. When you stand looking at the gory remains of a human body, you realise yet again the futility of ego. The way death beckons with a loving smile. Love can be poisonous. It can tempt people into twisted ways of paying back. I have experienced it in my own life. Is it love at all?  Isn’t that sort of love rather evil?

Perhaps as Gibran’s Prophet explained: ‘.. For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst.Verily when good  is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves and when it thirsts, it drinks even of dead waters…’

I see the ripples of love turned poisonous in both the lifeless body now firmly etched in my memory and in Meera’s iconic novella. Tulsi epitomises the peculiar way women can sometimes love. Men too, for that matter. The theme is universal and yet so enlivened by traditional montages and nuances. The human mind is the greatest mystery ever created by The Lord.

I think the Lord has a taste for black humour at times.He has taught me once again that He is the master wit of them all.

**

 

 

 

Standing And Wondering

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None of us are perfect. In fact, we are so full of faults that earthquakes can map their fault-lines through our avaricious hearts and minds. The hollowness in our lives, at times, are attractive for vagrant thoughts and desires. It is there that a book makes its mark- by filling the void with its beauty.

I loved reading Subhash Chandran’s book, ” Manushyanu Oru Amukham.” I wished that he had not ended it at all. I wanted to read more about all the great souls who had walked on my mother land: with their ideals, humane vision, lofty thoughts, unselfish hearts, loving selves , with light shining brightly within them. The character I liked most was Govindan, the quiet and erudite son of the obnoxious Narapillai. In every sentence that describes him, the author has used his most lovely colours : pleasing, charming, enchanting. Brush strokes of simplicity, wisdom, selflessness, love of learning, kindness, and vision.

When Govindan Master gently rebukes his nephew Jiten on his monkey like mimicry of other human beings- by pointing out that certain past times weaken the human soul, I stopped breathing. Like Jiten, I too wondered on what the purpose of human life was : if a human being just lived to be born, eat, excrete, mate, procreate and die-like the lice in one’s hair, or the dog on the street or a leech on the cow. Of course, doing it all with more pettiness, more arrogance, more show, more evil, more vanity! Do we have the dream in us to leave a light for the world somewhere in our limited journeys?

Like Jiten, I too stared aghast at the shocking sentence written on the blackboard :  (my translation) “Man is the only living creature that dies before reaching his full growth.”

I wish more people would read this gorgeous book. This quintessential bildungsroman is available in both Malayalam and English.( A preface to man, published by Harper Collins, India). It will jolt you awake of your stupor. It will charm you with its raw energy. It will humble you with its beauty.

The author, in his post script, writes about the incident which led him to rewrite the scene of Narapillai’s drowned body being recovered. He had never witnessed the dredging of a corpse from beneath a deep lake ever. In a rural setting, he had no idea of what tools would be used for such a horrendous task. Even as the publication date approached for that chapter, he found himself on a serendipitous journey near a river to meet old pals. The bespectacled young man who pointed out his gang waiting for him by the side of the river, seemed unassuming. In a matter of minutes, the author and his friends found themselves being approached by a panicked friend of the path-shower. The young man had  gone in for a swim and had not emerged. He had drowned. They jumped into the water and searched relentlessly for his body. They were unsuccessful. And then they witnessed how a dead body caught in the clayey soil of the unforgiving river gets retrieved. A veteran diver and corpse retriever arrived- and using a pole used for rowing, he brought up the dead body. The toes were frozen-bleached white. Subhash Chandran writes that he was dazed in pain: to have met the young man just to get the  answer from the river- how do you describe the dredging of a corpse?

None of us are strangers to serendipity. Except those of us who are blind from within. If you refuse to acknowledge what you see, the scene passes on with a vacant smile. If you stand and stare, like Keats’ naughty boy, you have lots to wonder at. For a very long time. Whether you stand in your shoes or barefoot.

Inspite of all the petty Narapillais of the world who hold on to their prejudices and evils, who will mock you for being true to your own inner light, the need is to persist on your own path. Who knows, someone might feel their darkness removed by a small flicker from the lamp of your existence.

***

Oliver Twist, Fagin, And Others

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I was fortunate to attend a seminar on child friendly policing initiatives, with other stakeholders working on the issue.

The seminar started with a theatrical performance.The group of young boys who performed  a powerful play about caring for every child, were erstwhile juvenile delinquents who had been successfully rehabilitated.

They were orphans who had been forced into  petty crime for survival- lucky enough to have met good police officers, good NGOs, good human beings…The results were before us. One was the school topper, another the swimming champion, the next was going to give a TeD Talk! The play itself, all song and emotion- was a cry to help others like them out there; without prejudice.

I thought then of pampered children, over cosseted and over adored, brought up to believe that they were so entitled in life that the world existed to serve them. We read of them often enough in newspapers- for the wrong reasons.

Both are children- the first  lot  who are denied chances totally- pushed into labour and crime for survival,  and lucky if there is an escape route like the young performers; the second lot that I see daily, overwhelmed with life’s best opportunities yet brought up to seek only self centred pleasures.

Of course, the system perpetuates itself -invariably leading to the creation of more children of the first lot. The cycle continues, smirking malignantly.

**

I heard about a young child, porn addict at the age of twelve, his parents terrified of him. He has four servants at his service and his poor mother is terrorised by him .Whatever they are trying to do to help him, is only serving to keep his devilish side happy. He throws tantrums if anyone touches his iPad.He hits people.He gets away with it all.

So early in life, he has decided that he is  very much entitled to be bad. Bad means, all perversions and pleasures are obtained! Not bad, eh?

Furious, I asked the acquaintance, of why the parents had not sought professional help and got rid of the instruments of addiction. Apparently, they were scared .

Scared of being found out? Scared that in the eyes of society, they have a child who requires to be corrected with discipline? Scared of their own child? So scared that they were buying silence by overindulging a budding criminal?

**

“Certain situations are like facing snakes unexpectedly,” said the speaker, “snakes are scary because humankind has not mastered the art of taming them.” As we gazed with wonderment, he continued, “A dog, even if potentially more dangerous, we are not afraid of, because we have a history of taming their kind.”

“If the situation triggers an inherent repulsion-unless we learn to think beyond the obvious reactions, we will not be able to adopt new approaches. Fear will paralyse us- prevent us from taking any step for bettering the existing circumstances.”

It made sense, of course. I thought of the kind police officer, sensitive enough to trust, and see a potential school topper in the shivering child who stood in front of him.  He sees the innocent Oliver Twist, used by a ruthless Fagin.

The first words of kindness are uttered , paving way for  a change. The counsellor who guides, the NGO who helps, the school which enrolls him…the network of good acts to empower and help the child trust his own potential.

I wonder then on the cure for over indulgence. The loving nurture of budding criminals in many homes- over cosseted, over loved, over protected, allowed freely to be self indulgent, to be self centred, to seek riches and pleasures  and to broadcast it all- with exclusive focus!

We reap what we sow. The season for planting and pruning and watering and adding fertiliser is so short and precious. Done the right way, even the most dried up and deprived plants thrive to be fruitful. And if overdone, the most promising young plant will degrade, decay and stink fast. ‘Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.’

Charity, indeed, begins at home.

*

 

 

 

 

This Intriguing Circle

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“We dance round in a ring and suppose

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

Robert Frost

Dave Eggers’ best seller ‘The Circle’, reached my home because of a Fall assignment. Having finished reading the 491 paged tome, my daughter casually mentioned that I might find it interesting too.

The cover page with its grid like structure, showing an interlocking of  what seemed like fingers, reminiscent of many symbols of power and totalitarianism, with its distinctive C, and the silver circle in the red background, seemed tempting enough.However, it took  a month before I actually ended up reading it. And once I started, I did not put it down.

“Amma, are you going to do a book review ?” She asked, laughing, when I mentioned that I was going to blog about it.

No, I told her. I am going to do something else- think about the idea of individuality in the context of the book.

The Circle is about a futuristic technology company that considers that every human thought ought to be shared with every one else in the world. That they mint money out of it, is a collateral advantage. When they create an atmosphere where individuality and privacy are actively discouraged, a slow monstrous basilisk is unleashed, which can kill with its unblinking stare of technological intrusion into every human moment. And the terror of that future, where  government, democracy and human aspirations are subsumed by a capitalistic, hungry, monolith that takes over the humanity with an evangelism that brainwashes the best of the world into believing in its propaganda- that makes you stand and pause, and may be even look under your bed.

I felt the same keenness  to find out  the ending that I had felt to discover the murderer in Agatha Christie’s thriller- And then there were none.

When a human being cannot exist without being validated constantly, when every thought has to be shared, when every action has to be publicly displayed, when a single vision crushes every thing else around, it is indeed like a Justice gone raving mad. It will end up murdering all who runs off- quoting faults and failings from its scriptures.

Whether it was  George Orwell’s Animal  Farm or 1984, whether it was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi, Eduardo Galeano’s Mirrors- you may add on humanity’s treasures of thoughts, individuality, rebellion, alternate narratives, mocking of the system/ the one story/ the only truth/ the grand truth…in different tongues, in different media, in different guises- our  common story has become beautiful-because every strand is differently coloured and not uniform.Any regime based on a single vision, single way, single thought, single religion, single technology…unfurls horror subtly into this divergent world.

Calling a resemblance to the cow following the herd faithfully, raconteurs of yore, including the witty Kunjan Nambiar, had laughed at the unthinking mimicry of the majority and cautioned about the dangers of blind obedience to the Powers That Be.

Here, it happens to be  24*7 technologically exposed life. For every Kardashian who mints millions by satisfying humanity’s voyeuristic urges, there is a horror stricken Mercer of Dave Eggers’ Circle, who makes the reader question, pause and ponder.Ironically, the heroine in The Circle wants something of her life to be left behind, to be remembered, and she finds that craving being satisfied in her way of life and living; under the constant watch of  multiple million pair of eyes.

“All we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”

In the Circle, Trolls have been driven back into darkness, because anonymity is not technically allowed. With the trolls, madness and hatred apparently have been driven off the cliffs too- to be replaced by another singeing darkness- the obliteration of the human individuality.

The Rule of the Behemoth. The Name Changes. Nothing else actually does.

***

 

 

Amma Amplified…

We understand it together, my daughter and I, of how  analog and digital modulation techniques work out. My old brain creaks as rusted rails of memory get oiled after twenty three odd years.  It is an emergency venture. She wanted someone to run her through the chapter. Amplitude modulation  for example, is explained over several odd pages in an intimidatingly erudite manner in the text book.

After  two hours, my teenager looks at me with a newly found respect. (Aha! Could ‘Newfoundland’ be thus named coz some old mother dusted out her engineering lessons for the sake of family peace and good will?)

“You have a terrific memory,” she says, grudgingly.

Speak of underhanded compliments.

“You remind me of my seminar presentation day,” I grin wryly, “When the teacher asked me to join  the marketing wing of an optical device company”.

“Huh?”

“Apparently my speaking skills were better than my conceptual understanding of optical fibre devices and the technology behind those.”

“Huh?”

“You are telling me the same- my memory fares me well than my scientific understanding, eh?”

“You will pass,” says she, “can we revise diodes and gates after some time?”

I am a fighter by disposition but I also know that discretion is the better part of valour at times.

“Ehh…maybe you should let me take a break…,” I suggest casually,”Why don’t you read your English text now?”

****

In circumstances where one’s natural gifts are not in tandem with one’s immediate environment, the onslaught on the self esteem can be immense. Especially if you prefer brooding over Byron, when there is a Solid state devices test, the next day.

Blessed are those who get to study what they wish to study. I used to wonder on my degree in the past. Of how I should have done Law or Literature instead. But then on days like today, when two sharp eyes look up to you with slight awe, cough, cough, I feel that the four year struggle was worth it.

What the heck! She said, I get to pass.

Cheers!

****

 

 

 

Unconditional

Today is Rakshabandan. I message my brother. I get a smiley in return.

” What is unconditional amma?” asks my little girl.

I had adopted the technique Roald Dahl suggested, in his poem about television. That had made her addicted to books, to my great delight. I thank Dahl and stop myself from asking, if she was reading about love.

There is no other explanation. Only love is unconditional. Hatred, comes with twists and turns of malice. Indifference,  is a cool blue steel. Mockery is all yellow laughter. Envy, I think is not green. It is one flash of shark teeth-all red and bloody.

” Unconditional love, ma. What does it mean?”

I have on my lap, ArogyaNiketanam-Tara Shankar Bandopadhyay’s  Bengali Classic. A very dear lady has gifted it to me, and it is a translation in my mother tongue.

For a moment, I ruminate on what Jeevan Mashai, aka Mahashay, great soul and healer would have explained:

“Death is unconditional.”

It is too deep for an answer.

” Like my love for you both,” I say, ” like the love of most mothers and fathers for their children.”

” Huh?”

” Hmm… Like your love for Chechy,” I grin.

“Huh?”

” Regardless of anything, you love her, right?”

” Mommmmmm, ” I hear a groan from the other room, ” do not give her ideas!”

” Huh?”

” Ok, it is like this- if this person needs , hmmm an eye- you offer both of yours. There is no separation. You are, because he is.Or she is.”

” Huh?”

” You know your uncle? ”

” Yeah”

” Let us say that amma has unconditional love for him. What do you understand?”

” If he needs an eye, you will offer both. But you will turn blind.”

” Exactly-it is not important whether one turns blind or not”

“Mommmmm…that is soooooo melodramatic… She cannot get metaphors…hmmm,” says the voice from the room.

” Unconditional means…ok, but then how will you give him an eye?”

” I am sending him a Rakshabandan message instead,” I smile, ” it means the same”.

” Weird,” comments the voice.

” Ok- so Harry Potter’s mother would give her two eyes for Harry. She had unconditional love for her child,” concludes the little one.

” Now you got it right. ”

********

I mail my brother, a picture of his nieces.

May they learn to be there for each other, as you have been there for me- through life’s most treacherous paths, offering a steady hand. Unconditionally.

With love, this Rakshabandan.

I am the blessed one.

*****

Simple Joys..with Gratitude

” So read up about Hryvnia and Berkut, Ma, by the time I am back,” she calls, on her way out. She waves Irodov at me. The fat text book, I mean.

It must have been almost twelve years since I browsed seriously through international issues. As an aware reader, I knew generally about the world and its happenings. But the new challenge was serious. The kiddo had an assignment and she wanted  to discuss about Ukraine- the crisis, the currency depreciation, the riot police.

In two hours time, I found myself staring at  the deep socio-political-economic polarization challenges that the nation was facing. The similarities and differences with Greek economic crisis loomed large.  The Crimean annexation, the role of NATO, the international debt obligation, terms like economic hair cut/write off, sanctions, creditor associations, Tatar minorities, Black sea fleet, cease fire agreement et al started making sense. The deep links  that every economic issue has with military alliances and political realities of power balance came into forefront.

I also felt a sense of Deja Vu. This story has happened before. The story is happening now and will continue in future- across the world.I could have changed the name of the nation and the places and the allies and the saga would remain the same. A child in Africa, needing help for doing an assignment on the crisis of Afghanistan, would have a mother staring aghast at the same history of military alliances, socio political milieus, minorities and trust issues, strategic liabilities, economic policies and a country struggling for stability.World over, the human story remains the same. The players, the interests, the struggles, the fights, the bloodshed..it is like  script being rehashed again and again by new directors and new actors. The victims being always the simple citizens who only want peace and a safe future for their children.

My daughter returns, and switches on Dr.Who. The “Master” is hell bound to be in power. The most powerful drug in the world. And he marches to a tune of drum beats in his head. Actually , he is a very scared little boy within.

” The joy of travelling the universe, the privilege of seeing it- is that not ownership enough?” asks David Tennant.

The Master blinks for a second. Then the power crazy nature reasserts itself.

As the Time Lords start their plans, the episode closes.

I sigh deeply. There is a strange serendipity in all these events.

” Do you want to discuss the topic now?” I ask.

” No. I have homework. Maybe tomorrow?” she says.

I think of a country, far away. For a mother living there, and a child, it is not an issue to be discussed tomorrow. Will the child be at peace to do her homework and watch Dr.Who? Extending the metaphor- in how many countries, were children, especially daughters, free to study to their heart’s content?

I pray in gratitude. The simple joy of a normal day. It is a gift denied to many , many souls across our earth.

*******