Beauty and Serenity

anticlock

V.J.James’ Anticlock (DC Books, Third edition 2019) is a masterpiece of literature. A novel of compassion, beauty, and wisdom. Through the story of Henry the coffin maker, we travel through the vistas of crushing pain, and evolve during the journey.

It is a powerful testimony of vernacular writing…we need to get such books across the boundaries of language and reach an international audience.

At 336 pages, the author weaves a tale which can soothe, delight and hurt in equal measures. Beauty and serenity in your grasp. Do not miss it.

***

At an exorbitant price,Satan Loppo purchased the front row of the cemetery for his family’s stone graves. He bargained for prominence both in the cemetery and the church. After accumulating the coffers of sins, he and his heirs shall sleep there.

I often wonder about whom the Lord shall prefer on his right side on Judgment Day: the souls of the wealthy who slept in stone graves or those of the meek and poor who were received by the earth?

Dear Lord, who bestowed Hell fire for the Rich man and Redemption for the beggar Lazarus: whatever be the laws of your divine justice, please let my poor Appan and Beatrice be on your right! Let my innocent children stand next to them.

My fate is something I am not sure of.

If I go to the Lord’s presence with the stain of having violated the Fifth Commandment, the Lord will have no other option but to condemn me to stand on his left. He shall sentence this sinner to Hell fire. Even then His eyes would be overflowing with tears and His body would be sweating blood.

“I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.”

Lord, I am waiting still, not having opened my body. Appan will surely arrive one day to unlock the inner secret of the alluring box. On that day, dear Lord, bless me with the vision of your dwelling place.

Glory to my father, the maker of coffins.

**

Seeing me stand there brooding, Pundit asked me to take a seat.

Then I noticed that Pundit was closely examining the internal organs of a clock on his worktable. It looked as if the heart had been removed from a body! Some clock wheels, tiny springs, metal pieces and their attachments were scattered on the table.

Seeing my doubting look, Pundit quipped, ‘The heart and liver of an old clock…! I am trying to see if the heart might beat again. Just for curiosity’s sake!’

His voice had no ailments attributable to a hundred and two-year-old man. I sat quietly without replying.

‘These are the internal organs of a grand father clock!’ Pundit continued.

‘As ancient as that?’

Pundit laughed on hearing my silly question.

‘Anything above six feet, such a clock is called a grand father clock. Anything between four feet and six would be referred as a grand mother clock. There is also a grand daughter clock. Its height will be less than four feet. I am trying to give life to this grandfather. I am not sure if it will work. The brains are a total mess. Clocks are like humans. Once the brain is affected, it loses the sense of time. Still I feel a stubbornness…’

Seeing me look intently at the clock, Pundit resumed his speech.
‘It is as intricate and complicated as the interior of a human body. One cannot help admiring the white men, the Sayyips of yore! I am trying to do some transplants with whatever I have!’

I grinned. The interactions of laconic people are bound to be short. Else, I should attempt to prolong the conversation.

I liked the simile which Pundit used: every human being was like a clock!  Each clock was a dead body hanging on a nail.  It had slipped away from the noose of time when the heart stopped beating. The way they ticked together was a cadence which resonated at intervals: Body, be not proud! Life be not proud!

I tried to read the labels.

SETH THOMAS, USA.

I managed to unravel the yellowing English letters on the clock nearby.

‘That one is older than me,’ Pundit said, ‘the other one was purchased by my  grandfather from Madras. He bought it from Khalid Yusuf Brothers. It has a history attached to it! It made me the Keeper of Time! It has a mechanical arrangement which indicates 31 days. Every night sharp at twelve, it will change. It is not as easy as the digital clock. My uncle inherited the clock purchased by my grandfather. His sons discarded it as scrap when it became faulty. Since it was associated with my grandfather’s precious memory, I assumed ownership. The small needle was stuck between 9 and 10, while the big one was at 7 when it came to me. A moment in time- which could never be recovered- frozen in memory. I wished to retrieve my grandfather’s memories from it, since I loved him very much. I became a Time Doctor by rectifying that clock! Did you see its numbers? I, II, III, IV: in that Roman letter pattern, instead of IV, it is inscribed IIII. There are more oldies here: Japanese Seikosha, American Ansonia and such…’

(Translated from Malayalam)

****

 

 

Seek and You will Find

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Kishkinda Kanda publication underway…

The artist has done a fantastic job yet again! The work for Sundar Kanda had been delightful. I thank him from my heart for illustrating the new book too.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

In praise of my Hanumanji and the dear Lord who is the Ocean of Compassion.

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Going Home…

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What ‘lights’ you up? The answer can be different for every human being. Maybe there is more than one answer. Usually, that is the truth. Meaningful work, loving family, hobbies…writing, singing, sports, or just sitting in solitude and watching the sunlight. Each of us has to find his/her own answer to that question.

Recently I was watching Elizabeth Gilbert- author of Eat, Pray, Love – speak about her journey home. Home was the term she used to describe something which she loved more than anything. ‘Writing’ was home for her.

After the stupendous success of Eat, Pray, Love, she faced a great fear. She was scared of writing again and failing to meet the standards of the first.She shared that she was happy when the next book flopped, because she could finally get back home without any more fears…She could get back and simply write for the sheer joy of writing. She went on to write many more beautiful books.

The challenge, in her perspective, was that we tend to give up our right to reach our own ‘ homes’.  There are many pressures preventing us from doing so. We have to find what gives us joy ( lights us up) and stick with it, without allowing anyone/ anything to dislodge us from that sacred space with their judgement of us.

In one way, this is what the great Jospeh Campbell spoke of in his iconic writings. ‘ Follow your bliss…’ The Hero’s journey belongs to each of us. Every adventure need not be heroic. It could be just the insistence that one has to have an hour every day, to be alone: to just be.

Even that could be a small heroic victory. Because, it could be your idea of bliss. That could be your ‘sacred space’ to rejuvenate yourself.

One of the things which lights me up is enjoying words in any form.

Is there some written rule anywhere that only successful people can write? Only those who are published should dream? Only those who are famous should indulge in imagination?  Or that only when you are supremely talented, you should dare to put a pen on paper- that too in only ‘specific’ human languages?

Who made all these rules? If I get joy in writing / translating from vernacular languages, who defines the ranking or stature of my happiness? Why would I justify my ‘home’ to anybody else?

*

Even today, when I hear some people discuss with great authority on the how/ why/ what of another human being’s choices, I cannot help a smile. What do they know- these so called experts- on what makes another person’s heart beat rise? Perhaps it is work. Perhaps it is love, perhaps it is a pet. Perhaps…million choices…Instead of wasting precious time trying to find fault with another, they would benefit, if they were to discover a ‘home’ for themselves.

**

Inside my book shelf, I encountered a few books created during my journey home. With every passing day, I am getting there. Unapologetically.

**

Rites of Growth

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I have heard different people speaking about ‘why they write.’

Some of them write to make the world a more equitable place, some because they see stories all the time and cannot help telling them, some to get  their agonies assuaged, some due to a sense of dutifulness….the reasons are as varied as the types of human beings around us. And that is  quite a lot.

I have been  harshly told not to write ( Only ‘bad’ women write- do you know how men look at them? Do you? Do you?),asked mockingly why I bothered to write ‘if you were going to be published by such low key publishers’ (What is the use of writing something if nobody reads it, eh?), asked if I had the talent enough to write something at all ( She thinks she is a great writer, I do not think so. ), whether I should not be spending that time doing something more worthwhile ( Women have a lot of stuff to do, right?),laughed at for not attempting a novel ( You are not capable of that, are you really?), etc etc…

At my age, I don’t give a damn anymore.

So let me tell you a story. Of how I ended up meeting one of the most brilliant women that I have ever seen. We had dinner together in a nice restaurant  and both  she and my younger daughter fell sick afterwards! The paneer, ( yes, made of milk remnants) had  been bad, and they got infected.  The rest of us, who had  shunned that dish and indulged in other delicacies hadn’t been affected.

I took a week off from work. And  in that one week of looking after a recuperating child, I  ended up translating my friend’s  taut and stunning novella- full of imageries of milk turning  bad in time, symbolising love turning malicious.  When the effect of the poisoned paneer had finally left them both, I gave my friend the first draft. Serendipity had turned a milky white mysterious angel. She loved it and then promptly asked me to ‘ sit and polish it as hard as you can.’

The fact that I was a novice in the publishing industry helped me to ignore the naysayers early on. I am a career bureaucrat, and I deal with high temperamental personalities every day of my life. Well, that  learned immunity to unsolicited negativity, helped with the less than positive comments about my translation, as it was shown around  initially.

‘Burn with the script as a writer.Improve it with sweat and blood!’ She should have been a military commander; my friend. I do not know if I burnt anything in the process, but I have always enjoyed a challenge.

That  translated novel has now been released.  If I look back, it all started with the milk turning sour…

So, why do  you write?

Because…come let us write another one.

*

Yesterday, someone gifted me six Hindi classics. Four books of Harishankar Parsayi and two of Premchand.

My little girl pointed out that she had already studied a short story of Premchand: Eidgaah. Her Amma was going to ‘study’ it only now!

‘Amma, please ask me if you do not understand it, ok?’

I smiled readily. With utmost pleasure, my darling.

***

 

 

Joyous Blue

I get my copies of ‘The Poison of Love.’ My thoughts go back to a November when I started translating Meera Sadhu.

The cover page is fascinating. They have coloured it in hues of blue and purple, to remind one of Krishna himself. My little girl gives an appreciative look. It is for the first time that she acknowledges me as someone other than her rather uninteresting mother. Ha!

Joy, I discover, can be coloured blue too. May the joy spread. Though it is a tale of pain.

*

Wisdom Is An Elephant

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So the Science Fiction aficionado goes ahead and wins a  student writing contest. She is also invited to attend the conference of all similarly inclined souls and read out her winning entry.

When I gape at the wonder of it all, my daughter laughs. Her heroine is called Sofia and she has a cat called Davetta. Sofia reads Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy in the dead of night. And she hates authoritarian figures. By the way, her cat is bionic.

*

Her sister gifts her a  cute pink baby elephant- yeah, a stuffed toy. The elder one  takes it by the tail and twirls it around with amusement.

‘Why is it pink, eh? It creeps me out,’ she opines.

‘It is adorable and small and pink. You better treat it respectfully,’the little girl is firm.

‘It looks rather ominous,’ laughs the elder one.

‘What is ominous?’

‘This elephant.’

‘Meaning of ominous?’

‘Er, not very auspicious, let us say.’

The younger one casts a baleful glance at me. I am all for getting the elephant back from such an  irreverent  new owner.

But finally, the sisters strike a compromise. They christen the elephant Sofia.

As I wonder on its fate, the elder one says consolingly, ‘Amma, it means wisdom. I will make it befriend Electra, the startled cat toy. Besides, we will make them  unofficial mascots of our Physics lounge.’

*

With all the wise ones around, I ask one question. What are interstitial spaces?

Sofia’s leap of victory had been in the  sci-fiction writing contest with that  peculiar theme. Her  story title was ‘Knowledge beyond Logic’. Heisenberg was an adored Ancient in its weave.

Does a pink elephant befriend a cat?  Would such friendship occur in interstitial spaces? As my mind puzzles over the uncertainty of it all, I remember Heisenberg in a most  happy, weird way.

‘Revere those things beyond science which really matter and about which it is so difficult to speak.’

Sofia or Electra, pink or black, young or old, elephant or cat, Physics or Spirituality, we are bound by infinite reams of love and laughter. And my story, if I ever were to write on interstitial spaces would be on that. And two laughing sisters.

The Gods at the bottom of my glass always have their faces.

*

 

 

Flowers of Various Hues

Physics

My first book in Malayalam is going to the printers. It is a collection of  spiritual essays-a translation work from Hindi, which is again a translated work from the original Tamil! I am indebted to DC Publishers for their trust in my work.

Gratitude is very much due to the brilliantly incisive writer K.R.Meera, who after going through it, did not mince words when she asked me to “rework and edit ” – a task I try to shirk often.She also wrote a beautiful sentence which I shall remember forever: “Consider writing  as an act of prayer, not  just a diversion.”

In my mind, it echoed the lovely title of Perumbadavam Sreedharan’s entrancing book on Dostoevsky, “Oru Sangeerthanam Pole.”(Like a hymn).

***

The kid is into writing too: albeit of a different kind. She is writing a Physics Quiz book, on demand from a publisher.

Q.Teleportation is a hypothetical concept that has a huge fan following since Star Trek’s “Beam me up, Scotty!” Turns out, physicists seriously believe in its possibility, albeit in an unconventional sense- the complete information of the object or being is instantaneously transferred to the receiver, where the partner particles rearrange themselves to form an identical copy. The original is destroyed. Name the quantum property which enables this to happen. (Hint: deals with non-locality)

ANS. Quantum entanglement
Q. Veneziano was trying to make a scattering theory for particles on Regge trajectories. He stumbled across a well-known mathematical concept, and went on to extend his ideas to open strings. Inadvertently, he founded string theory. Name the mathematical concept.

ANS.Euler Beta function

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( I will  most certainly flunk her quiz. But, Lord, am I proud of that particular failure!!!)

Truly, every act of creativity is akin to a prayer. The source of it all is the All Knowing Divine. I do not think to HIM/HER/INEFFABLE, it matters whether one offers a small white flower or a bouquet of abundant lushness.

***

The Path Of Light: Two Authors

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I have had opportunities of listening to authors talking about their writing skills. About the books they have read, and the company they keep and the ways of writing into greatness, fame and riches. Indeed, you need strong networking skills, and recommendations and knowing the right people and master the latest marketing platforms etc ,etc.What most forgot, I thought, were two words: The Reader.

Strange are the ways of this writing world. It survives on one pivotal point called the reader. And readers, in my view, should never be under estimated. True, you can beguile us with flashy covers and screaming advertisements and lots of awards. We will spent our money to buy your books. But in that sacred moment when the reader is alone with the book, it is like a lovers’ union. Either you fall in love, or you mock, or you are indifferent, or worst, you hate what you hold in your ahem, arms. No editor, no publisher has entry permit into that holy ground.

The reader decides, what to read till the last page and what to shut down, after a few cursory look around, and what to forget, forever. There, something of the author becomes part of the reader: a process of assimilation and agreement or disagreement in quietude, the most human phenomenon of all- where race, religion, gender, country, nothing matters. Hence, the word sacred- sorry, we do not let dictators of any  ideology to decide what to love and hate in our reading. Of course, that is why they burn books and ban schools in the first place. Who knows, if a philosopher from the frozen part of the world rouses a soul in a part of the world, where the sun burns harshly, to question the way of life in her society? The good thing is, that secret ritual, shared by readers of all human languages, will prevail forever. We are just too big in number for any eradication.

The notes on their writing journeys from two writers of Malayalam, delighted me. Priya A.S., who turned her childhood fights with illness, a la Stevenson, into a fiery writing gift, is one. I wish that she would give us more of  her wisdom in words. Considering her potential, this young lady is not writing enough nowadays. In her speech, receiving the Lalitambika Antarjanam Award, she says ..( translated from vernacular) ..”  T.A.Razakh in his screenplay comments that Artists were the blessed ones on whose heads the droplets of water fell; when the Divine shook his wet hands! I sometimes dread to think, what my condition would have been, but for those few drops that blessed me. My writing opens for me many windows, which otherwise would have remained close forever. When those windows opened, maximum sunshine fell on my own self. In that light, my eyes and mind opened….When I do not write, I am a mere leaf- floating  helplessly..But when I write, I am the flow of water, even as I remain a leaf…Writing is also a balancing act for me. I shake my mind all over in that space. An anchor like one’s mother- to lay down the burden of what the world does to you…”

Benyamin, who enchanted us with ” Aadujeevitam”/ translated into English as Goat Days (and was long listed for Man Asian Literary Prize, 2012), has something to say about his writing destiny too.

“Circumstances and incidents pushed me to the writing path. Walk if you want to, this way, they said and left me there. I decided to walk the path of my destiny. That is all…My most favourite prayer is that of Nikos Kazantzakis: ‘Lord, please make me that person,  whom you want me to be.’..In the middle of a big cashewnut orchard, within a small house, I have the memory of a mother, reading late into the night, by the light of the kerosene lamp. Perhaps, my  intense desire for reading, came that way..Behind all the lines of all the writers,you will find the writer’s soul, life, dreams, beliefs,fears all in shadowy hues. Even the writer himself might not be able to discern that truth- unknown to him,unrecognised by him,unreachable even to him…I am still standing agape at my path. If there are stories destined for me to write, I shall definitely meet them along this path.”

*****

Benyamin’s character  in Aadujeevtam, Najib, is so inspiring that whenever I feel the world is too much for me, I dip into his story. Najib and his utter humility, his trust in the Divine and his redeeming gratitude, never fails to cheer me up.

Oh, there are so many worthy writers in this world, who shine a light for others to walk by. Often, they do it without much hue and cry. Without big lights and shouts of boastful glory. They converse with the reader in an intimate space. The prayer of Kazantzakis, is handed over, from the story being told, to the reader’s own life story.

Write, rite, right…

I got my Royalty cheque. And it was pretty cool . Tell you what, there was a Tax Deduction Certificate along with it too!

Some voices trouble me at times:

” She thinks she is a writer. I do not think so.”

When a woman writes, everyone thinks that she is writing about her near and dear ones. So good women do not write!”

” You are an author, eh?” 

” How much royalty did you make?’

” Who published you?”

” How many people have read you?”

Let me do a Clark Gable to those ones.

” Frankly my dear, I don’t  give a damn!”

***********

Does it really matter, what another person thinks about you? What he or she thinks, you would be better off doing with your talent or lack of it? How long or short you should write? Who should be ideally reading you?

I am happily looking forward to two publications in my mother tongue , Malayalam, by early 2016. One is a poetry translation from English, called ” Daivathinte Pranayageethangal”  and another,a Philosophy translation from Hindi (Sree RamKrishna Upanishad).

The only truth I know, is that every human being has an inalienable right to be happy(and write!) in this world. If yours include a mixture that I cannot partake of, and mine has some ingredients that make you sniff, let us part ways as friends.

By the way, you can buy my books online. Please add to my royalty:)

http://www.nageenprakashan.com/ViewProduct.aspx?Criteria=MISCELLNEOUS&BoardId=12

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.

*****