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.

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A Preface To Man: Manushyanu Oru Amukham, Subhash Chandran

I am at Page 155 of a 407 page best seller in Malayalam called ‘ Manushyanu Oru Amukham’ . This book has won the Kendra Sahitya Academy award along with scores of other awards. It has been translated into English by Dr E V Fatima and published by Harper Collins, India as ‘ A Preface To Man’.

The story of a few generations of a family, along with those of related social and cultural milieu, and sharp political observations: this narrative structure has been used by many brilliant writers across the world. Marquez and his One hundred years of solitude is often a favourite reference point in such a case.  How the Kerala cultural ethos changed- influenced by stalwarts in  political, intellectual and spiritual arenas-along with the clear repercussions in the lives of the many members of the Ayyattimbilly household, of the Thachannakara village, forms the binding thread of this grand novel.

The thoughts that had powered the best men and women to become  great human beings and responsible citizens, are revealed in different pages. We meet Kuttipuzha KrishnaPillai, the communist leader and poet, as a warm and unassuming guest in a chapter, who with piercing wit handles the venomous prejudice of a petty mind. The reader is forced to reflect on how various forms of prejudice continue as eternal monsters in society. They might change shapes and hues, but the underlying devils are the same. Intolerance and ignorance. Closed eyes and closed mind. Arrogance and Self centerdness. Lack of compassion and greed for power. And a way of encouraging life styles which give birth to many living dead.

In the first few chapters, we find that the protagonist Jitendran is dead. It is through snippets of his letters ( when he was a young man who thought for himself) to his loved woman, that the chapters unveil themselves. One striking paragraph which I liked earlier on went like this ( my translation:)

‘The first half of his life was one in which he ardently believed in something within: that would impart light to those coexisting with him in the world. That belief had been nurtured by certain assumptions built in his childhood about human greatness. However, unable to find a  conducive medium for that light to express itself, his inner self had been set aflame in that period.

The second half was rather simpler in nature. The job he had habitually done-in  utter disregard for misspending one’s human life- with the facade of an inappropriate severity, a marriage and marital relationship which started with debts and continued in debts, the shifting of a few houses with household materials stuffed into a mini lorry, the partitions of  anscestral property which caused much  mutual hatred between brethren and made God laugh, a few extramarital affairs  he indulged in -which had nothing to do with physical pleasure- for the exclusive and ineffable thrill of  committing a secret sin, a few bursts of hearty laughter hither and tither, a few pains extended in the form of gifts by friends and relatives, a few accusations and wrong doings-neither of  which had  any circumstantial excuses, the tonnes of medicines he swallowed for curing those diseases which would have healed by themselves, the boring scenes which occurred twice or thrice in a life time when it became imperative to  pretend that one was acting responsibly…’

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I am at the chapter which says – ( in translation) ‘A petty man never lets go of an opportunity to showcase his inherent pettiness.’

‘Chetta’ in Malayalam has many connotations: a small hut,  a person of obnoxious meanness, a man or woman possessing aggravating pettiness….

I laughed out loud on realising the absolute truth of that statement. Oh Lord, how many times, how many times….one has witnessed that!!!

However, the author suddenly pulls the mat from under your feet. He makes you reflect on the etymology of the word and whom you are  actually rendering unworthy in the process of thoughtlessly using such words.

Beautiful book. I am so happy to have another 250 odd pages to relish!

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Writing Boards Sweet As Honey

Great writing fills me with awe, and a sense of reverence. It can be in any language, any length, any genre- the only litmus test is that something deep within changes colours, to shine a bit more brightly.

As usual, the train chugged its way to the Northern plains, near the bounteous Ganges, from a land surrounded by ocean and sea waters. The language with which I was brought up, Malayalam- as sweet as sugar cane and honey to my starving senses, came to redeem me again; through a fabulous collection of  vernacular writers speaking on their writing destinies.

M.T.Vasudevan Nair speaks about a forgotten poem – “Toys”, which was about a father detecting a child’s toys, after he goes to bed sobbing due to a scolding.

A piece of horseshoe, a broken bangle piece, a segment of a chain,one nail..The father realises, that to the young child, all these held value, which he himself could not see. Similarly,  as an adult , whatever he considered right and wrong, the young child child could not see.

In the same way, we gather much in the life’s journey. We keep it aside. Later, when we retrieve it, it has a curiosity value. There is the smell of life in it, there is a hidden question. It is when one feels like that, that one creates a story, poem or words out of it.”

Sara Joseph speaks about her radiant mother, who was her first story teller..

I was watching how her  movement’s boundaries were getting limited with age. First, she would wait for me by the road side, then, behind the gate, then it became the verandah, then behind the front door, then within the small square of her room, then on a cot, so small in width…

Subhash Chandran draws a parallel  between mothers and writing boards.

Every writer is following his mother. The relationship need not always be cordial.There are those raging within. Yet their language and the structure of their words, follow a pattern- of their own mothers.What about a writer born to a dumb mother? He will start writing about the unheard conversations he had with his mother…

Little children cannot understand the complications of our rented lives in this earth.In many houses, in many times, using writing boards as varied as a grinding stone to one’s own mother, we try to capture those onto paper sheets, in vain. I remember the unknown writer who said that man is the only animal who dies before he reaches his full growth…”

As I stop translating, my eyes fall on two lines from another article.

The great blue sky, the only house in this world

Universal love, the eternal light within.”

In that world, language is not relevant. The language of human imagination and heart- only these matter.

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