This Lovely Herbarium

‘Herbarium’ by Sonia Rafeeq, is a debut novel which has won the DC Literature Award in 2016. It depicts the relation between life and nature- like the amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb- through the story of a little boy who suddenly loses his mother. The child has grown up in Dubai and his mother, who loved the earth and mud, trees and insects, has always struggled to create an island of green on her Dubai flat’s balcony. Tipu’s Ummadu, is an earth woman: the one who breathes in and out the simplicity and depths of Mother Earth herself. But she is lost one day.

The child comes to his maternal home and discovers what is nature. From a life of playing with tablets and video games, he gets into  a world where a ‘chicken’ in KFC is actually a haughty rooster who pecks around worms in the sand. There is a grand Peepul tree- splendid in its canopy and width- reigning gracefully within a snake grove. And the child sees through wonder struck eyes a wriggling white worm which emerges from within a mango seed, as the ripe flesh is cut into pieces. Apparently, it has eaten up all the food meant for a baby mango sapling, in its greedy feasting adventures!

I am at page 63 of a 231 page novel. And it has been simply delicious till now! I could not resist writing a paen!

Extraordinary observations connecting human emotions with nature!

We have a phrase in Malayalam: Tottavady pole- like a Touch-Me- Not plant! It is used to describe very sensitive nature in human beings. Men and Women and Children, who cannot withstand any unexpected disturbances in life. It is a phrase which cautions – not to be like the touch me not plant which folds and shrinks up in terror when touched at random!

Tipu happens to glimpse a school senior- a teenager- jump to his death  from the flat because he has lost top marks in two subjects at school. He sees his mother- enraged and upset- to see that wasted life.

She mutters: ‘Why do children turn into Touch Me Not plants ?’

***

Trying to translate a stunning paragraph.

The notes left behind by Fatima, turned her into a stranger to Asif. He could not fathom her: he had not known her. Inside her had been an island which he could never reach. It was inaccessible by ships or aeroplanes. He was in a sojourn to reach that island by deciphering her notes….

One of Fatima’s Notes:

This cot too had been part of a tree at some point of time. A tree that was green and vital: its roots sunk deep into earth. Ah… trees, such enchanting symbols! They lay dead- in multiple formations- in our bed rooms and sitting rooms, carrying their own biers. If  one casts a glance at the kitchen, one can notice a bigger cemetery. If you open the refrigerator, you can see solid evidences of ruthless killing obscenely gloating at you: in the form of fish and goat and rooster. Then the dead seeds stocked in the bottles of the kitchen racks might shock- beans, mustard, pulses. There are more dead bodies in crushed forms too. A real graveyard. And I am the keeper of the graves.

****

Strong recommendation to pick up this green book. The author is a postgraduate in plant pathology and worked as an Agricultural Officer before shifting to Dubai.

Her dedication reads ( In translation)

To the earth that no longer emits fragrance,

To the dead trees,

To the rivers which have sunk deep,

And to children:

Who carry the gift of God’s imagination

To rebuild, re-create everything.

***

 

Poems of Compassion : Shri. Veeran Kutty (Translation From Malayalam)

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1. The Heaviness of the Rain

If someone were to dislodge

A pot full of water over your

Head

All at once,

Your scalp will sting

Your breath will struggle

The song in your throat-

Will break, slide

And slip inexorably down.

Someone is emptying

The pot of the sky.

Splayed into multiples

Trickling  into  cloth-wicks

It gently

Touches us.

The moist threads

Absorb

All the heat

Burdening  us.

Someone

Picks up  our shocking failures,

Split them into  thin

Hair-like strands,

Places those

Feather-like

On our heads.

Someone

Who has rain

Within Him.

**

2.  The House of The Dead

No house in this world

Can equal the Taj Mahal.

Yet

There comes a time

Glorious:

When every house

Turns into a Taj.

When someone

Lost in an inexplicable

Helplessness,

Or otherwise,

Mutters to himself

That his home

Is like a tomb.

**

3. House

I know now

That there is no room for me

In this house.

What is a room?

Just a  stifling thought,

Of those within.

Something which suffocates

As you contemplate.

It is a mere possibility-

Which occurs when there is a wall.

How can you conclude

That the walls belong to the

House?

They belong to the great

Outdoors.

If the walls are not of the house,

There is no room.

Hence, no house either.

Look at the outdoors-

That is my room, house.

I am going home,

Do not call me back.

**

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…’

**

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!

**

Trin Saman Trailokahi Ganahim(46): They Consider The Three Worlds As Insignificant

 

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The Spy’s Story (Sundar Kanda Continued)

*

Doha:

Ki bhayi bhent ki phiri gaye shravan sujasu suni mor/

Kahasi na ripu dal tej bal bahut chakit chit chor//

Did you meet them(the mendicants)? Or did they return after hearing about my great fame?

Why don’t you tell me about the strength and prowess of the enemy’s army?Your mind seems to be intimidated!

*

Nadh kripa kari poochehu jaisem/manahu kaha krodh taji taisem//

Mila jaayi jab anuj tumhara/jatahim Ram tilak tehi sara//

(The messenger said-) Lord, with the same kindness with which you asked me questions, please give up your anger and bestowing patience, listen to me ( trust my words)

When your younger brother went to meet SreeRamji,  He anointed him as the King

*

Ravan doot hamahi suni kaana/kapinh baandhi deenhe dukh naana//

Shravan nasika kataim laage/Ram sapadh deenhem hum tyaage//

Hearing that I was Ravan’s messenger, the monkeys tied me up and tortured me a lot

But when I took the Name of SreeRamji, they let me go!

*

Poochihu Nadh Ram katkaayi /badan koti sat barni na jaayi//

Nana baran bhalu Kapi dhari/bikatanan bisaal bhaykari//

Lord, you asked me about SreeRamji’s army, it cannot be described even with one crore faces(tongues)

It is an army of innumerable bears and monkeys of different colours, their faces intimidating, with monstrous bodies and totally fearsome

*

Jehim pur dahevu hatevu sut tora/sakal kapeenh mah tehi balu dhora//

Amit naam bhat kadin karaala/Amit naag bal bipun bisaala//

The One who burnt the city and killed your son, his strength is so little compared to others!

They are of so many names, such mighty and terrible warriors!They have the strength of multiple elephants and are gigantic in size!

*

Doha:

Dwibidh Mayand Neel Nal Angad Gad Bikataasy/

Dadhimukhi,Kehari,Nisad,Sad,Jamavanth balraasy//

Dwividhi, Mayand, Neel, Nal, Angad, Gad, Vikatasya,

Dadhimukhi,Kesari, Nishad, Shad and Jambavan- they are all epitomes of might!

*

Ye kapi sab Sugreev samaana/inh sam kotinh ganai ko naana//

Ram kripa atulit bal tinhahim/trin samaan trailokahi ganahim//

These monkeys are equivalent to Sugreev in strength, and there are crores like these, who can count them all?

Due to SreeRamji’s blessings, they are unmatched in strength, and they consider the three worlds as mere speck of dust( they consider them insignificant)

*

As mai suna shravan Daskandhar/padum adarah juudhap bandar//

Nadh katak mah so kapi nahim/jo na tumhi jeetai rann mahim//

Hey Dasagreev! I have heard that eighteen ranks comprise  just of Generals of the monkey warriors!

Hey Lord! There is not a single monkey in there who cannot defeat your army in battle!( They will defeat yours in battle)

*

Param krodh meejahim sab hhad had/aayasu pai na dehim Raghunadha//

Soshahim sindhu sahit cchash byaala/poorahim na ta bhari kudhar bisaala//

The warriors are all flexing their muscles and hands, but SreeRamji has not given them the go ahead as yet

‘We will dry the ocean up along with its fishes and snakes, else we will part it  by filling it with huge mountains-

*

Mardi gardi milavahim Dasseesa/aiseyi bachan kahahim sab keesa//

Garjahim tarjahim sahaj asanka/manahu grasan chahat hahim Lanka//

And we will crush Ravan and mix him with the dust’, that is what all the monkeys are speaking,

They are fearless by nature, they are roaring and stamping their feet, as if they want to  crush Lanka

*

Doha:

Sahaj soor kapi bhalu sab puni sir par Prabhu Ram/

Ravan kal koti kahu jeeti sakahim sangraam//

All the monkey warriors are  naturally valorous , besides at their head ( as their leader) they have SreeRamji

Hey Ravan! In a war, they can defeat a crore of DeathGods( Kal)!

*

 

Ravan Kar Deejahu Yeh Paathy(45): Give This Missive To Ravan

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The spy’s story (Sundar Kanda Continued)

*

Suni Lacchiman sab nikat bolaye/daya lagy hasi turat chodaye//

Ravan kar deejahu yeh pathy/Lacchiman bachan bacchu kulkhaty//

Hearing the spy’s words, Laxman called them all near himself, he felt great pity on the spy and immediately got him freed

(Then Laxman told him-) Give this letter to Ravan himself,( to his own hand and tell him-)Hey Clan-Destroyer! Be forewarned by Laxman’s message!

*

Doha:

Kahehu mukhagar mood san mam sandesu udaar/

Sita deyi milhu na ta aava Kalu tumhaar//

Then  you should convey to that fool my  generous message verbally-

You better hand over Sitaji to SreeRamji and meet the Lord, else know that Your Kal( Death God) has arrived!

*

Turat nayi Lacchiman pad madha/ chale doot barnat gun gadha//

Kahat Ram jasu Lanka aye/Ravan charan sees tinh naye//

After bowing at Laxman’s feet and singing glorious tales of SreeRamji’s qualities, the spy left immediately

Praising SreeRamji he arrived at Lanka, and went to Ravan and paid obeisance

*

Bihasi Dasanan poochi baata/kahasi na suk aapani kuslaata//

Puni kahu khabari Bibheeshan keri/jaahi mrityu aayi ati neri//

Ravan laughed and queried-Hey Shuk! why are you not speaking of your well being?

Tell us about that Vibheeshan, whose death has come so close to him

*

Karat raj Lanka sad tyagy/hoyihi jav kar keet abhagy//

Puni kahu bhalu kees katkayi/kadin kal prerit chali ayi//

That fool abdicated Lanka even when he was a part of the rulers, the unfortunate one will get crushed like a  seed of the barley plant (in the ensuing war)

Tell me about the army of bears and monkeys, brought herewith due to the push of impending death_

*

Jinh ke jeevan kar rakhwara/bhayavu mridul chitt sindhu bichara//

Kahu tapasinh kai baat bahori/jinh ke hridayam traas ati mori//

*

And whose protector is the gentle, and simple ocean itself ( Had the ocean not been there as a barrier, the Rakshasas would have eaten them up a long time ago)

And do tell me about those mendicants,  whose hearts are terror struck because of me!

*

Jaan Busundi Sambu Girijavu (41): As Known by Kaka Bhusundi, Lord Shiva and Ma Girija

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Sree Ramji and Vibheeshan conversation ( Sundar Kand  Continued)

*

Ab mai kusal mitte bhay bhare/dekhi Ram pad kamal tumhare//

Tumh kripal jaa par anukoola/taahi na byap tribidhi bhav soola//

Hey Lord! After seeing your lotus feet, I am feeling wonderful, all my great fears have been removed

Hey Compassionate One! On whom you bestow your kindness, he escapes the three piercings  from the trident of worldly woes- spiritual, mental and physical

*

Mai nisichar ati adham subhavu/subh acharanu keenh nahim kavu//

Jaasu roop muni dhyan na aava/tehim Prabhu harashy hridayam mohi laava//

I am a very wicked Rakshasa, I have never conducted myself in the proper way

The One whose form is unattainable even in the meditations of sages, that great Lord himself , happily embraced me to his heart!

*

Doha:

Ahobhagya mam amit ati Ram kripa sukh punj/

Dekhevu nayan biranchi siv sebya jugal pad kanj//

Hey incarnation of kindness and giver of utmost happiness! It is my supreme fortune( beyond any boundary) that-

I could see with my own eyes the beautiful twin lotus feet that is worshipped by both Lord Brahma and Lord Shiv

*

Sunahu sakha nij kahavu subhavu/jaan  Busundi, Sambhu Girijavu//

Jaum nar hoyi charachar drohi/aavai sabhay saran taki mohi//

( SreeRamji said-) Hey Friend! Listen, I will tell you about my nature, which is known to Kaka Bhushundi, Shivji and Ma Girija

Even if a person is an evil doer to the whole world, suppose he comes to me stricken with fear and seeking refuge-

(Note: Kaka Bhushundi is the crow who remembered who Sree Ram was in reality. He is supposed to have been the disciple of Ssage Lomash, cursed for being indolent and disrespectful. But he was given a boon that in all his births, he would remember the name of Ram )

*

Taji madd moh kapad cchal naana/karavu sangh tehi sadhu samaana//

Janani janak bandhu sut daara/tanu dhanu bhawan suhrid parivaara//

And if he gives up ego, desire and other forms of duplicity, then I shall  very soon make him equivalent to a sage

Mother, father, brother,son,woman, body, house, friend, and family-

*

Sab kai mamta taag batory/mam pad manahi baandh bari dory//

Samadarsy iccha kacchu nahim/harash sok bhay nahim mann mahim//

Whoever, gathers  all those affectionate attachments and the labels of love and puts them in a light raft and ties it to my feet(the one who makes Me the centre of all his worldly existence)

The one who possesses equanimity, who is free from extreme joy, sorrow or fear in his mind

*

As sajjan mam ur bas kaisem/lobhi hridayam basayi dhanu jaisem//

Tumh sarikhe sant priy modem/dharavu deh nahim aan nihorem//

That pure soul  dwells constantly in my heart, like money dwells within the heart of the avaricious

Saints like you are dear to me, I  do not assume the human form to oblige anyone else ( I assume the human form to protect  pure souls like you)

*

Dusht Sangh Jani Deyi Bidhaata(40): May The Divine Never Let You Be In The Company Of The Wicked

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Vibheeshan talks to SreeRamji ( SundaraKanda continued)

*

Anuj sahit mili digg baidary/bole bachan bhagat bhayhary//

Kahu Lankes sahit parivara/kusal kudahar baas tumhara//

Lakshman too hugged Vibheeshan warmly, then making him sit closely by his side, SreeRamji spoke words which removed fear from the devotee’s heart

Hey Lankes!( Royal Lord of Lanka), tell me news about your family and others-however your dwelling place is not good

*

Khal mandali basahu din raati/sakha dharam nibahayi kehi bhaanti//

Mai janavu tumhari sab reethi/athi nay nipun na bhav aneethi//

You live amidst the wicked, day and night, ( considering that) how do you carry out your Dharmic duties, My Friend?

I know all about your behaviour and lifestyle, you are an expert in law and justice, you cannot tolerate injustice

*

Baru bhal baas narak kar tata/dusht sangh jani deyi bidhata//

Ab pad dekhi kusal Rahuraaya/jaum tumh keenhi jaani jan jaaya//

Hey Brother! Even the boon of staying in hell( narak) is fine, but let the Divine never give you the destiny of being in the company of the wicked

(Vibheeshanji said-) Hey Raghunathji! You have been compassionate to me, knowing that I am your servant, and I have been fortunate to see your divine feet( and consequently I am happy)

*

Doha:

Tab lagy kusal na jeev kahu sapnehu mann bishraam/

Jab lagy bhajat na Ram kahu sok dham taji kaam//

A person will not be happy or attain peace even in his dreams, until

He lets go of every attachment to the tasks ( desire for material things) and meditates on SreeRamji ( while doing his task)

*

Tab lagy hridayam basat khal naana/lobh moh macchar madd maana//

Jab lagy ur na basat Raguhunatha/dharem chaap saayak kati bhatha//

Greed, Desire, Competition,Pride, Ego and rest of the evil attributes, will continue to reside within the heart until-

SreeRaghunathji wearing his quiver of arrows on his back, and holding his majestic bow deigns to reside in your heart

*

Mamta tarun sami andhiyaari/raag dwesh ulook sukhkaari//

Tab lagy basati jeev mann mahim/jab lagy Prabhu pratap rabi nahim//

It is a very loving, dark night that gives immense pleasure to the owls of desires and ego attachments( rag-dwesh roopi ulloo)

The dark night of attachments  continue to reside in the person’s heart until Your ( My Lord!) Sun of glory rises from within

*