Vatsala’s Brilliant Preface:Her Favourite Stories…continued




‘The stitching machine’ is  a story about my own stitching machine. It is not just a source: the whole narrative is about the different experiences that it has gifted me. I still use one. The predecessor was taken away by a trader last year. He forced the new one onto me. No woman can let go easily of an appliance that she has been using for a while. The fate of both a spoon with its  edge broken off or a dilapidated stitching machine is the same. The grief of the woman is very genuine in both the cases. It can be seen as the holy remnant of an old culture. It is not applicable to today’s throw away culture- because, nothing is allowed to reach the satiation point at all. Hence there will not be a story related to a modern day consumer good- of having touched a human heart.

There is a special episode behind the writing of ‘ Vidyadharan.’ Once DC Kizhekkemury had told me that the dirtiest place in the world was Kashi. The stain stayed in my mind till I reached there. Once I saw Kashi, my whole life perspective changed. On one evening, having seen enough of other sights, we rented a boat and went along with MahaGanga’s flow. Gangaji was resplendent : a sea which removed all the dirt of the world.The flow swallowed all the agonies and kept the river eternally pure. A school of fish played alongside the boat merrily; like toddlers in a playpen. They raced back and forth touching our boat. Then, as if that was not enough, came the floating corpse. It would have terrified me had I seen it so in my home state.

Here, it was different. First I thought that a trunk of aloewood -chopped down by someone- with four branches on its sides, was floating on the waters. Soon it came near and travelled along the boat, occasionally caressing it. The fishes played hide and seek through the ruptures on the face. They emerged as a procession at times. ‘Who was this faceless one in his just concluded birth?’From this thought came the story,  Vidyadharan.’

From that day, I  have been able to look at death with equanimity. It is a miracle. My first encounter with death had been at twenty six, when my grand mother passed away. That was a serene experience: granny’s ending was like the  natural snuffing out of a lighted lamp. Probably this incident was a part of the treasury of experiences that I relied upon while writing this story.

What we see by the light of the sun need not be the real sight. The insight gleaned by the experience of the inner eye- that would be the truth. I recognised that. That is all. Here, I am stopping.

Vatsala, 2007


Step Parenting…And a Book

When I started the  English translation of this wonderful novel  written in my mother tongue, by some one I personally consider as one of the finest writers I have ever read,  the  total of the page numbers looked  rather formidable.The language- so poetic, the metaphors- deep and dark and resonating at regular intervals, the craft- exquisite, the characters- haunting. The theme – enchanting. The novel, well, as a reader let me say that I had finished it at one huge gulp, skipping breakfast and lunch.

“Wonderful,”  writes the author  and sends me her love and affection. To her, I say, “Thank  you dear…for the privilege. I learned much about myself in the journey, and hope to learn more in the years that we’ll work together. Your wise perspectives have certainly broadened my outlook in life.”

The  main character sat next to me and told me to use, “impassive” instead of “indifferent” since he said, he was really bleeding inside all the while , did I not see, as he put forth that ice cold face for the world. Somehow, he felt “impassive” caught that idea better. Well, I shrugged, you were a damn fool were you not, by the way ? You did act indifferent when so many were struggling for your compassion, so why try to take refuge under “nonchalant”  and all those synonyms  now, when  no one cares a damn any more and the truth is staring at you on the face? The fact is, I coughed, you are blind -factually and metaphorically. And unless you dare to open your own inner eyes, you will never see the truth. He looked indifferent.

When  she came in, her long hair swaying, and looked at me with her half lidded eyes, she murmured that I should try to paint her in darker tones of pain.  I am a good artist, I retort, and I know exactly how many tints of grey to colour you with. You went all out to claim what you thought was yours, did you not? And there you are – the ash coloured sari, the haunted eyes, the large heart, and that serpentine envy within you. But then, you played a brilliant last move, my dear. I wish I could have shaken you hard. From the depths of the well, she croaks out to me: I was the main heroine, did you not see? I did, I did, I say- without any words. You loved too much, you poor woman.

When she traipses in, radiant and dimpled, I take a deep look. Amazing creation! You light up lamps wherever you go, do you not-literally and metaphorically- you beautiful woman, you have that gift within, do you not ? What is that strange fascination that you hold over the male imagination? Eternal, cliched, and rather ridiculous at first impressions, if I may say so. The author, she obviously had a great time, creating you. But I, I saw the real you  only towards the end. What resilience, what strength…I am amazed by your radiance. All cliches flew out of the window as you emerged from within the dewy drops of imagination and sat down in sunshine, near me. I started liking you.

As for you, dear friend, whose palm smells like an ink plant, you epitomise what happens when friends get intimidated by those they care for. You also showcased the turmoils when a friend becomes an alter ego. Then you emerged from your friend’s shadows and you grew up fast. It took someone special, but one could see the change. Even the smell of your palm changed, did it not?

I loved the journey with all of you. A translator is like a stepparent. Though one does not give life, the responsibility of making the child thrive in a new environment, is all yours. Let us see when the child takes the stage-the world will verify if both  sets of parents had played their roles well.

Stay radiant!







Rereading Invictus

When the marks had come of the vernacular language, in the critical Boards examination, shock awaited me. I had scored much less than what my teacher had expected. I remember standing crying, swearing never to study the (erstwhile) beloved subject again.

” How could this happen, sir?  I really performed well. Never will I touch Malayalam again.”

Pavlov would have found a nice explanation about my reaction.

My learned teacher, an old man , believed in telling the truth- not sugar coating it with consolation.

” Do the opposite,” he smiled.

” What? ” I sobbed, all rebellion.

” Definitely study the subject further. Score the highest in your future course, and take sweet revenge.”

That was a great “aha” moment for me. I was being asked to take defeat on the chin and move on. And dare to dream again.

” More. Do more. Write a book someday in your mother tongue,” he laughed.

” In Malayalam?” I asked, wonder struck. ” There are too many stars here..where do I find my space, sir?’

” One day, you will find your space. Might be totally yours too. Find your own strong points- something totally your own”, he said firmly.

” Now, recite a favourite poem for me. In whatever language you like.”

I rubbed my eyes and recited  Henley’s Invictus.

.. In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.”


My beloved teacher is no more.

At the beginning of this new year, after 25 years of that conversation, I have cheerful news.

The leading publisher in my mother tongue has informed me that they are planning to publish two of my books.

One is a poetry translation from English. Another is a Philosophy translation from Hindi.

I have found my space, sir. And I touch your feet in my memories, with reverence.For that timely encouragement , when the head was bloodied with defeat and I  had thought to call it quits.

May there be teachers like you, world over. May  more dreams be kindled by words like yours. May each of us find our little space to shine in this beautiful world, using whatever gifts we are blessed with.

To remain, unique. To serve, in whatsoever way.However late it may be, in the order of time.