‘The Joy of Books’ Aka ‘The Cruel Deed of Abdullah’  By P.V. Shaji Kumar (Translation from Malayalam)

philip-roth-42481

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 )

***

‘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.

***

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thenmavu: Basheer’s classic short story (Translation from Malayalam)

IMG_2039

Thenmavu : The Honey Mango Tree

‘ What you have heard is all nonsense. I adore no tree; neither do I worship nature. But I have a special affinity for this mango tree. My wife Asma has it too. This tree is a token of an exceptionally great endeavour. I shall elaborate..’

We were seated beneath that mango tree. It was resplendent with mangoes. There was white sand spread out in a big circle all around it. Roses of various hues were planted on the outlying fringes, protected by stone and cement sentinels.

His name was Rashid. He lived with his wife and son in the house nearby. The couple were teachers in the neighbourhood school. His wife sent over mango pieces- peeled and cut exquisitely- on a plate carried by their teenage son. We relished the fare : it was sweet as honey.

‘How does the mango taste?’

‘ The tree is undoubtedly Thenmavu!’

‘ That we are able to savour this mango fruit… I am awed when I reflect on it!’

‘Who planted this mango tree?’

‘ Asma and I,  we planted it at this place. I shall narrate the story of this tree. I have told it to many. But they forgot the incident, and propagated it as tree worship! There is no worship involved, just the memory of a great deed.

My younger brother is a Police Inspector. He was working in a town almost seventy five miles away from this place. I had gone to visit him. I was out strolling one day. It was the peak of summer. Even the wind that blew was hot.There was a scarcity of water at that time. It was then that I saw an old man, lying exhausted, underneath a tree, on a by-road.

He had overgrown hair and beard, and seemed around eighty years of age. He was extremely fatigued and was on the verge of death.

As soon as he saw me, he said, ‘ Alhamdulillah! Son, please give me some water.’

(*Alhamdulillah: Praise be to Allah!)

I immediately stepped into a near by house and seeing a woman reading a newspaper, requested her for some water. The beautiful woman got some water in a brass tumbler. Seeing me walk away with it, she enquired about my destination. I told her that someone had fallen by the way side, and I was taking the water for quenching his thirst. She accompanied me. I gave the water to the old man.

The old man got up slowly. Then he did something astounding!  He staggered to a dry mango sapling- drooping in the heat-on the  road side, and reciting Bismi, poured half of the water from the vessel over it.

( *Bismi: Bismillah or Basmala means ‘ In the name of God’. Usually invoked before any action soliciting the Lord’s grace)

Someone had eaten a mango and thrown away the seed carelessly on that roadside. The sapling had emerged. Most of the root was visible above the ground. The old man dragged himself back to the tree shade. He recited Bismi and drank the rest of the water. He praised the  Lord again : ‘Alhamdulillah.’

Then he said: ‘ My name is Yusuf Siddique. I am more than eighty years old. I have no relative. I was wandering the world as a fakir. I am going to die. What are your names?’

I replied, ‘My name is Rashid. I am a school teacher.’  The woman said,’ I am Asma. I am a school teacher.’

‘May Allah bless us all,’ said the old man and he lay down on the ground. Yusuf Siddique died in front of our eyes. Asma stood guard while I fetched my brother. We hired a van to carry the dead body to the mosque. After bathing the corpse, we enshrouded it with a new cloth and conducted the burial as per norm.

There was six  rupees in the old man’s bag. Asma and I pitched in with another five each. Asma was entrusted with the task of purchasing sweets for all that money and distributing those among  the school children.

In the course of time, I married Asma. She kept watering the plant. Before we shifted our residence to this house, we uprooted the mango plant carefully and shifted it into a mud filled sack. For two or three days it stayed like that- leaning against the wall- in Asma’s bed room. Then we brought it here and transplanted it; adding dry cow dung and ashes. On regular watering, it sprouted new leaves ; then we added bone meal and green compost. Thus the mango sapling turned into this tree.’

‘Absolutely marvellous! The old man,  before dying , gave water to a mango sapling  which could not voice its thirst! I shall remember that.’

I had just said good bye and started walking, when I was hailed from behind. I turned to look.

Rashid’s son was approaching me. He wrapped four ripe mangoes on a paper and offered it to me.

‘For your wife and children.’

‘ Are you a student?’

‘ Yes, in a college.’

‘ What is your name?’

‘ Yusuf Siddique.’

‘ Yusuf Siddique?’

‘Yes, Yusuf Siddique.’

***

 

 

 

The Blue Light: Basheer’s Neela Velicham ( Translation from Malayalam) Part 4

 

IMG_2001

 

One night- it must have been around ten. I had been writing for the past one hour or so. The content had intense passion in it and I was quite engrossed in my task. It was then that I felt the light dimming.

Lifting the  hurricane lamp, I shook it a bit. The kerosene was almost over. Yet I persevered- I wanted to write one more page.  I was deeply involved in my story. Then again the light flickered.I checked the oil again, and extended the wick a bit more before continuing to write.After a while the wick became  very short and flamed red: it was on its dying throes. I lighted up my torch and snuffed out the hurricane lamp.

‘What should I do for a light now?’ I wondered aloud. I needed kerosene. I decided to visit the lodgings situated in the bank building and get some kerosene from my friends. Holding the torch and the kerosene bottle, I locked the front door. I shut the gate and walked out onto the desolate street lighted by a faint moonlight. The rain clouds were heavy in the sky. I walked briskly.

When I reached the bank, I called out from the street, and one of my friends responded. We went to the lodgings in the bank building through the staircase in the back. The three had been enjoying an uproarious game of cards.

When I requested for some kerosene, one laughingly responded: ‘ Why don’t ask your sweet heart  Bhargavi, to get you some kerosene? Have you finished writing her story?’

I did not reply. I was yet to write Bhargavi’s story. While I got my bottle filled, the rain fell heavily with a lurch.

‘Give me an umbrella too!’ I requested.

‘We do not have one. Join us for a card game. When the rain abates, you can return.’

So we ended up playing a  card game. My team mate and I lost thrice . It was my fault. My mind was still on the half complete story. By one in the night, the rain stopped. I quit the game and picked up the torch and kerosene bottle. By the time I reached the street, my friends had gone to sleep. The lights were shut down.

There was utter silence on the street. There was darkness all around. I walked towards my dwelling place. In that mild moonlight, the whole world lay embraced by some misty wonder. I was unaware of the thoughts buzzing in my mind. Or perhaps I was not thinking anything at all. I walked- my torch lighting up that lonely, empty path. I met not a single creature in that journey.

I opened the front door of the house and got inside. Then I bolted it from within. I had no reason to suspect anything extraordinary happening at that juncture. Suddenly, without any reason, my mind became  overwhelmed by an ineffable sadness. I felt like crying. Usually I laugh easily; but it is very hard for me to shed tears. An ethereal feeling takes over my heart at such times.  That feeling came over me: compassion welled up in my heart. I climbed the stairs in that state of mind.

Then I saw something strange. It was like this:

When I had locked my room, the lamp had been snuffed out and the room was in utter darkness. Afterwards, a rain had fallen. Two or three hours had gone by. But now, the room was  wonderfully lighted up from within! I could see the light through the gap in the door frame.

It was this light that my eyes saw and my sub conscious mind acknowledged. But that mystery was yet to penetrate my consciousness. So, I took out my key as usual. Then I turned my torch  light on the padlock.  The lock glittered like silver…it flashed a smile at me!

I opened the door and stepped inside the room. Then  as  uneasiness crept in, I became aware of everything  around me. Each and every atom of my body knew it- yet,   I did not feel fear. My mind was flooded with a deluge of emotions: compassion, love or rather a mix of both. I stood there dumbstruck,  drenched in sweat.

Blue Light! The white walls, the room- were luminous with blue light! The light was emitted by the hurricane lamp. There was a blue flame rising from the two inch wick!

The hurricane lamp which was snuffed out due to lack of kerosene: who had lighted it up? From where had that blue light appeared in Bhargavi Nilayam?

****

( The End)

Note: If you have read Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’s Guest’, you would appreciate the mastery needed to create dread in a reader. To create dread and a sense of calm equitably, is a skill the great Basheer had mastered!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Light…Basheer’s Neela Velicham, StoryTranslation Part -3

IMG_1996

I told myself that it was my imagination. I could not swear  that I had actually seen that glimmer. Yet, how could it be possible that without seeing anything, I sensed a light? Was it a lightning bug?

I walked for a long time. I gazed from the windows for a long time. It was futile. I tried to read something. I could not concentrate.The chair was  still empty.

Deciding to sleep early, I made up my bed and snuffed down the light. Then I felt like listening to a gramophone record!

I  got up and lighted the lamp again.I fitted a new needle into the sound-box. Then I keyed up the gramophone.

Whose song shall I play? The world was eerily silent. Still, there was a rumble. The sound was emerging from my own ears. Was it terror? The hairs on my back stood on end. I wanted to shatter the horrible silence into a million bits. Whose song shall I play for that?  I searched and found a record by Paul Robson. The gramophone started singing: a sweet and magnificent baritone!

‘ Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.’

It got over. then it was Pankaj Mallick’s turn.

‘Tu darr na zara bhi…’

You please do not be scared even a bit!

Then came the enchanting, soft, dulcet female voice:

‘ Kattinile varum geetam…’

M.S.Subbalakshmy too finished singing.

Somehow, I felt at peace after these three songs. I sat like that for a while. Then I invited the revered Saigal himself. He sang in that sweet, melancholy, gentle voice:

‘ So ja  Rajkumary…’

Princess, you please sleep now; sleep dreaming beautiful dreams…!

That too soon ended.

‘Enough  for today. The rest tomorrow!’ Muttering that, I shut the light, and lighting up a beedi, lay down on my cot.

Near me was my torch, my watch and a knife. Then that empty chair.

I had shut the door which opened to the portico. The time must have been Ten at night. I was alert and listening.

Except the mild tic, tic of my watch nothing could be heard. Minutes moved, and then hours. There was no fear in my mind. Just a cold, creepy wariness. It was not a new experience to me. Across many a country, many a place, during a long time period….during a twenty year stint of loneliness…I have had many experiences whose meaning had been indecipherable to me. Hence my attention spanned across the past and the present. In between, came the doubts…will someone knock at the door? Open the pipes? Try to suffocate me? I kept on like that till three in the morning.

Nothing happened.

‘ Good Morning, Bhargavi Kutty! Thanks a lot! One thing has become clear to me! People are just spreading rumours about you! Let them! What do you say?’

Days and nights passed.I would think about Bhargavi Kutty. Her father, mother, brothers and sisters…there would be so many stories that were unknown to me…Almost every night, after I grew tired of writing, I would play the gramophone. Before every song, I would announce the singer, the meaning of the song etc..

I would say,’ Listen…the next song is by the great Bengali singer Pankaj Mallick. It evokes sadness and memories. The times past…listen carefully!’

‘Guzar Gaya woh zamana kaisa…kaisa…’

Or I would say:

‘ This is by Bing Crosby! ‘In the moonlight…’which means in the light of the…Oh I forgot! You are a B.A degree holder! Sorry!’

I would say all these…to myself. Two months passed by in this manner. I made a garden. When the flowers blossomed, I told Bhargavi Kutty that it was all meant for her. I finished a novella too in that time period. A lot of my friends came and spent the night there. Before they slept, unknown to them, I would slip downstairs and speak to the darkness.

‘ Listen, Bhargavi Kutty!  Some of my male pals have arrived  and plan to sleep here tonight. You please don’t throttle any of them. If something like that occurs, the police will catch me! Please be careful! Good Night!’

Befor leaving the house, I would say: ‘ Bhargavi Kutty! Look after the house. If some thief creeps in, feel free to throttle him. But do not leave his corpse hereabout. Drag it at least three miles from here. Else we will  both get into trouble!’

When I returned after a  film’s second- show at night, I would submit: ‘ It is me, okay?’

It all began like that. With the passage of time, I forgot Bhargavi Kutty. No intense conversations. Just an occasional remembrance, that was all.

A remembrance which I shall describe. A lot of poeple have died on this earth. Since the origin of human life, how many had passed away! They are all a part of this world-as dust, as water, as smoke. That we know. Bhargavi remained a memory like that.

It was then that the following incident occurred. That is what I shall describe now.

**

( Will Continue)

 

 

 

 

 

Basheer’s Neela Velicham: The Blue Light…Translation of Story Continued…Part 2

IMG_1997

I was aghast. ‘ Aw. And I had paid two months rent in advance too,’ I thought. Then I said,’That is irrelevant. It will just need a spell or two. You please arrange that my letters reach that address.’

I spoke bravely. I am neither a hero nor a coward. What scares others usually scares me. You might surmise that I am a coward. What would you have done in my place?

I walked very slowly. I do not chase experiences for the sake of it. But what if an experience comes running towards me? I did not even know what was going to happen!

I went to a hotel and had some tea. My hunger had died. My stomach was on fire…the turmoil of fear. I told the hotel manager about my address- where he was supposed to send my lunch. When he heard about the house he responded.

‘ I do not mind sending food during the day time. But none will go there during the night. A woman killed herself in that well. She might be hanging around there. Aren’t you afraid of ghosts, sir?’

I felt half of my trepidation vanishing. Ah, it was a woman!

I said,’ I don’t care. Besides, I know a few spells and charms.’

I had no clue about spells. But as I had said, I was relieved that it was a woman’s ghost. I guessed that she might be slightly amiable. I went to a nearby bank. A few of my pals were working as clerks there. On hearing about my new home, they became furious with me.

‘Utter foolishness! That place is haunted. The men are particularly vulnerable to attacks!’

Oh, so she hated men, was it so?

‘ Why did you not cross check with us before renting out Bhargavi Nilayam?’

‘I had no clue about such a story. By the way, why did the woman kill herself?’

‘ Love!’ One f them replied.’Her name was Bhargavi. She was twenty one years old, and had passed her B.A. Degree. She was in love with someone. Big time love. But he ditched her and married another woman. Bhargavi committed suicide by jumping inside that well.’

My fear reduced by leaps and bounds. Ah, that was the secret behind her hatred of men.

I said,’ Bhargavi will not hurt me.’

‘ Why not?’

‘ Spells! Spells!’

‘ Let us wait and see! You will end up screaming the house down at night time.’

I did not deign to reply.

I returned to my residence. After opening all the doors and windows, I went towards the well.

‘ Bhargavi Kutty!’ I called out softly.’ We are not acquainted with each other. I am a new resident. In my opinion, I am a very good human being. Eternal celibate too!  I have already heard scandalous stories about you. You do not let poeple reside here. You open the pipes at night time. You bang the doors shut. You throttle people…I heard all that about you. What am I supposed to do? I have already paid two months of rent in advance. I do not have much money with me. Besides, I like your house so much. This house is in your name, is it not? Bhargavi Nilayam.’

‘ I need to work in this place. That means I have to write stories. Let me ask, do you like stories  Bhargavi Kutty? I will read aloud all my stories to you. I have no fight to pick up with you, Bhargavi Kutty. There is no reason why we should bicker. I did drop a stone earlier inside the well. I did it absent mindedly. I shall not repeat such actions in the future. Listen, Bhargavi Kutty! I have an excellent gramophone with me. I have a collection of almost a hundred songs too! Do you like songs?’

I sat quietly after speaking all that. Who was I speaking to? To that yawning well, which seemed ready to swallow anything at all? Was I addressing the trees, the house, the atmosphere, the earth, the sky or the universe? Was I speaking to the agitation within my own mind?  I was speaking to an idea, I decided.

Bhargavi. I had never seen her. She was twenty one years old. A young woman  who was deeply in love with a man. She dreamt of being his wife, his companion for life.But that dream…yes, stayed a dream. Depression overcame her. Humiliation too…

‘ Bhargavi Kutty!’ I spoke,’ You should not have done that. Do not think that I am blaming you. The man whom you loved, did not love you enough. He loved another woman more than you. Life became bitter for you, true. But then, life is not all that bitter. Forget it. As far as you are concerned, history will not repeat itself.’

‘ Bhargavi Kutty, please do not think that I am pointing out your fault. Tell me, did you actually die for love? Love is the  golden dawn of an eternal life…You were a naive donkey who did not know about anything! That is what your hatred for men proves! You had known only one man. For argument’s sake let us suppose that he hurt you really bad. But then, is it proper to look at all the men through that lens? If you had not committed suicide and had lived your life a bit longer, you would have realised how wrong your assumption was. There would have been a man who would have loved you and adored you . He would have addressed you as ‘My goddess!’

‘ But then…as I said, for you, history cannot be repeated. What is the way to know about your history, Bhargavi Kutty? But you please do not attack me. I am not throwing down a gauntlet. It is an earnest submission. If you throttle me to death tonight, no one will wreak vengeance on my behalf. Because, I have no one at all.’

‘ Bhargavi Kutty, you must have understood my situation. We are going to live here. That means I intend to stay here. Legally speaking , the house and the well now  belong to me. Let that be! You use the well and the four rooms on the ground floor. We will share the kitchen and the bathroom. Are you agreeable to that ?’

Night fell. Having had my dinner, I came in with a thermos flask full of tea. Lighting up my electric torch, I kept it to a side. Then I lit the hurricane lamp. The room was replete with yellow light.

I went down with my torch. I stood still in the darkness. I intended to lock the pipes. I opened the windows wide. Then I went to the well and then proceeded to the kitchen. Then I felt that I should not lock the pipes.

Having locked the doors, I climbed up the staircase and had some tea. Lighting up a beedi, I started to write. Suddenly I felt that Bhargavi was standing behind my chair.

‘ I do not like anyone looking when I write!’ I objected.

I turned to look. There was no one.

Somehow, I did not feel like writing again. I pulled a chair near me.

‘ Bhargavi Kutty, you may please take your seat.’

Empty chair! I started strolling through two rooms. There was no wind. Not even a leaf stirred  on the trees outside. As I stared through the window, I noticed a light!

Was it blue, red or yellow? I had no clue. I had glimpsed it only for a moment.

****

(Will Continue)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neela Velicham : Vaikom Muhammad Basheer ( Story: The Blue Light) Translation From Malayalam Part1

IMG_1995

This story,’ The Blue Light’, is one among the inexplicable experiences of my life. Perhaps ‘experience ‘ is not the apt word; a ‘soap bubble of  phantasmagoria’  might better describe it.  I have oft tried to poke it  with the needle of Scientific approach. However, I could never succeed in that endeavour. You might be able to do that-analyse it, and interpret it too. I have no other recourse than to depict it as an inexplicable experience… indeed I have none.

The experience ran like this:

There is no need to tell the year, the month or the day. I was searching for a house. That was nothing new- I had always been in that  singular quest. I was never satisfied with a house or room; and would end up finding endless faults  with my place of residence. But to whom could I gripe about it? ‘Let go if you did not like it!’ But then where was I supposed to go?

I would typically stay in  a rented house, and then complain about the place. There were so many rooms and houses that thus fell victim to my grievances. It was of course, no one’s fault. I would  then leave the house due to my dislike and some one else who liked it would  soon replace me. ‘The saga of the rented house’ went on in that manner.

It was a time when houses were scarce to find. It was quite expensive to get a decent accommodation. As I searched high and low, I found it-a house!

It was a small bungalow. Bhargavi Nilayam. Far from the madding crowd of the town . Almost on the border of the municipality. There was an old board hanging on th gate: ‘To Let’.

I took a fancy to that house. It was rather ancient. At a first glance, it was intriguing. That was alright with me. I decided that I could stay in that place. There was a portico and two rooms on the first floor. There were four rooms on the ground floor. There was also a kitchen and a bathroom. There was a pipe connection too. However, there was no electricity.

There was a well near the kitchen. It was made of stone and was very old. The compound was full of trees. At a corner stood a toilet. There was a wall enclosing all the four sides of the house; which was near the public road.

I was delightfully surprised! How come no one had rented that place till then; I wondered. On looking at that old mansion, I felt that it was akin to a gorgeous woman who should be hidden from prying eyes! I should cover her with a purdah!

I ran about frantically arranging funds. After offering two months’ rent in advance, I took over the key of the house. I shifted my residence to the top floor immediately. I purchased a hurricane lamp and kerosene that day. The labourers who came to shift my luggage seemed frightened of the place- they refused to step inside; and left my household goods outside the gate.

I swept and mopped all the rooms; cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. There was lot of dust and rubbish everywhere. As I cleaned every room rigorously, I found a locked one. I left it intact. I took a bath. Feeling greatly relieved, I sat on the raised stone barricade around the old well. I was ecstatic. I could dream endlessly. I could run around that verdant compound. I planned to create a lovely garden for myself. It should be full of roses, I decided. There should be jasmines too!

I wondered whether I should hire a cook and then decided against it. When I go out for my breakfast, I would get some tea in a flask. I would arrange for lunch at a hotel. Perhaps they might send my dinner over. I had to speak to the postman about my new address. I should warn him against revealing my hideaway from others. Such lovely nights and days of blissful solitude were awaiting me! I could write lots and lots! Thinking a thousand thoughts like the above, I stared into the well. I could not make out whether it had water inside or not. Too many shrubs had grown within it. I dropped a stone inside.

Blluuumm….A huge echo! There was water inside!

It was eleven in the morning then.

I had hardly slept the night before. I had settled my hotel bills and had met the house owner. I had  meticulously packed the canvas cot, my gramophone, the various records, my documents, my arm-chair, shelf: all my possessions! I had started off to my new home before dawn arose.

I locked up all the doors of my new abode and padlocked the front door. Putting the key in my pocket, I strolled onto the road, albeit preening  a bit.

I wondered with whose song I should inaugurate the new home that night. I had more than a hundred gramophone records. English, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali. I had no Malayalam records with me. There were lots of talented singers and their records out there; however, I was disappointed with the music direction. Now good directors and singers have started appearing. I decided to purchase some records in Malayalam too.

Whose song should I play first? Pankaj Mallick? Dilip Kumar Roy? Saigal? Bing Crosby? Paul Robson? Abdul Kareem Khan? Kanan Devi? Kumary  Mamju Dasgupta? Khurshid? Jyoti Khare? M.S.Subbalakshmy? I started pondering over a few names. There was a song..’Door des ka rahne wallah…’ Was it a female tenor? I could not recollect…Well, will see to it when I return, I shrugged.

I met the postman. When I told him about my new residence, he started in fright.

‘ Oh Lord! Sir…there was an unnatural death in that house. No one stays there…That was the  reason no one occupied the bungalow till now.’

‘ Unnatural death?’ I was baffled for a moment. Then I enquired about the incident.

‘ There is a well in the courtyard….Someone jumped inside it and committed suicide. There has been no peace in that house after that. So many people tried to rent it. In the nights, the doors shut with a bang by themselves…the water pipes are opened…’

The doors bang shut! The water pipes open by themselves! I had noticed the lock on the water pipes. The owner had mentioned that it was to prevent outsiders from using those. But I had not pondered on the need to lock up bathroom pipes!

The postman was running on full steam,’ Someone tries to suffocate you at night…Didn’t anyone tell you about it?’

****

( Will Continue)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Unassailable Law

giving

I have been rather an untutored pupil in the practice of the spiritual law- “In giving do we receive”.  But on reading books by many mentors on the subject, it became clear to me, that every one of us are either following it or not, every moment of our lives.

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, one of the greatest vernacular writers, also known as a Sufi among writers for his humanistic approach to life, once commented that prayer can also be synonymous with giving water to a thirsty creature. Today, in the newspapers I read that a young man was beaten for hours together in a running train, by three passengers because he dared to drink water from one of their bottles, without asking. Evil then can be interpreted as denying a living creature a sip of water and assaulting him for daring to quench his thirst.

Life has taught me that many people find it very hard to give- freely of their love, time, intimacy, affection, kindness, laughter, even money. They are miserly by nature. Stingy with sharing anything significant for their own umpteen reasons. Fear- of loss of control, of intimacy, of being seen for their true selves, whatever it may be…fear prevents them from understanding that great spiritual law. And the harder they hold on to whatever they have in inscrutable negativity, like Ebenezer Scrooge or Marley, the more the chain links are getting forged- preventing them from being free to enjoy a  meaningful and full life.

On days that I have bitterly despised those who have wronged me (my version of course!), complained about lack of whatever I really deserved, looked at my resources with fear of them dwindling away leaving me struggling, my energy level had proportionately tumbled down to the depths. Life did not seem worth living on those days. What difference would that make anyway, the cynical voice would argue from within.

And then, like a ray from heaven, one call would come from somewhere, pushing me out of my own little self,  to do some work which involved another’s welfare. Whether it was attending to someone in distress or arranging help for a child in need, or a matter of creating a policy or action agenda for bettering lives of others… it focused my energy onto something positive, outside my own narrow self. And then, miraculously my energy level would soar sky high, as if an ineffable divine energy  source was buoying me upwards,  and then connections would form, the correct people, the correct information, the perfect help coming in…not just pouring in but cascading in harmony. I would be used as an instrument, to do my little bit in a chain of fortuitous events.

It was then that I learnt the way. On severe painful occasions, all one has to do to start a blessing of happiness would be to willingly and sincerely do an act of service. Giving away from your money, clothes, books, time, even your blood- anything for another less fortunate, would miraculously turn the focus of that divinity towards your own bereft self- replenishing you laughingly, as if whispering, ah, now smartie pie, you have caught on…Vivekananda, I remember,  had spoken about this unassailable law too.

Life  might have placed us all in different battle fields- metaphorical or real. But surely, to know that to drink  a joyful sip of water, one has to be part of giving a joyful sip of life too- is a battle secret worth knowing and practicing.

Happy Giving!

Rooted In Words

devi

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…