Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Rubber, a novel by Jeyamohan

First published in 1990, Rubber is the debut novel of acclaimed writer Jeyamohan. The rise of Ponnumani, the obscure orphan to Ponnu Peruvattar, the rubber estate magnate and proud patriarch of the Peruvattar family is spanned in the nearly 200 page long book. The colossal growth of Ponnu Peruvattar is juxtaposed with the story depicting the fall of his empire.  

The end of the Peruvattar stronghold stems from the wrong business decisions that Chellaiah Peruvattar, the only son of the patriarch makes. The family is further undone due to friction between its members. Therese is the detached spouse of Chellaiah who doesn’t make any attempt to hide her contempt for “lower beings”. She lives in a world of her own and is indifferent towards her sons’ waywardness and her husband’s crudeness. Of the couple’s five children, only Francis and Livy still reside with them. Francis, Peruvattar’s favourite grandson, is a school dropout and a spendthrift. He is outspoken and is often at loggerheads with his parents. Livy is a college student who is not attached to anyone and obeys his father solely out of a sense of obligation which whittles down as the family’s fortunes decline.

The interspersed tale in this narrative is the rags to riches story of Ponnu Peruvattar. The rise of Peruvattar as a larger than life figure in the Nanjil region where he establishes his Rubber estate empire, results in the falling out of the once dominating Arraikal family, said to be of royal blood lines. The injustice he meted out to the disgraced family comes to irk Peruvattar in his last days. The theme of caste- community and pride-  is the sub text on which this tale of hate and power is built upon. I must admit I’m naïve when it comes to understanding the overt influence of caste in Tamil-Malayalam society. The political and communal commentary in the novel is indeed an eye opener of sorts -  showing the stark presence of prejudice in a grim capitalist society that lacks humanity.

The novel is as much as a collection of short stories revolving around a central theme – Rubber. Barring Peruvattar, Francis and few others, the rest of the characters do not travel along the entire breadth of the novel and their presence is limited to a chapter or two. The chapters dedicated to Therese, Kandankaani and Velappa hold their own and has the traits of a short story in a book written as a novel. This style adopted by the writer is unique and he doesn’t hesitate to introduce a notable character like Velappa in one of the concluding chapters.

The ailing Peruvattar’s demise as well as the end of his family’s hold over the Rubber estate realm seem imminent as the novel draws to a close. In “Rubber”, lives are built around the all-pervasive Rubber trees. Rubber is an alien crop- foreign to the land. So is the lad who seeks refuge, Ponnumani. Subsequently, all the other crops in the region are uprooted to grow the money raking Rubber trees much like how the existing communities are displaced to make way for the ambitious Ponnu Peruvattar. Rubber is indeed a fine novel that is least pretentious in its depiction of rustic lives and the communal tensions that overpower them.  I’m convinced – I am now a Jeyamohan fan!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Sugar Rush - Books, Beatles and a Blush of poetry

It has been an eventful three months. I met some incredible people this year and they have made a dent in my universe- Kambili, the protagonist of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's "Purple Hibiscus", Okoye, the head of Dora Milaje, the all women security force of Wakanda in the Black panther universe, Indu, a young widow from “Amma Vandhal” who wears her heart on her sleeve and Anne Frank who, with her fiery spirit and audacious mind, continues to draw sympathy, laughter and tears from all realms and makes everyone fall irrevocably in love with her awkward charm . I finally got back to reading and it feels so good like being able to breathe normally after holding it for what seemed like ages. The first few months of 2018 have been kind indeed.

The Pantheress

It is not everyday you find a movie that checks all the right boxes and milks the moolah. I'm not the quintessential Marvel-holier-than-DC fan or the other way around. Superhero movies are fun to watch and they are probably the only reason why I like watching them off late. But something or the other always offended me. Be it racial stereotypes or the dumb blonde, I'm easily offended. Well, "Black panther" caught me off guard. The women, Okoye, Naika and Shuri held their own in a movie that pitted men of legacy against each other. Nobody tells the women to back off just because she isn't a man and the women aren't given any concession just because they are women. The movie also throws in a “what if” perspective - what if an African nation was the most powerful nation in the world, even if is an imaginary one? History has been absolutely “whitewashed” and we hardly know anything of Africa before the colonisation. Though this fictional movie didn’t exactly enlighten my knowledge of African history, it definitely did spike my curiosity. I haven't acted upon it yet but coincidentally I was reading a book by a Nigerian author at around the same time I happened to watch the movie.

Firangipani, so Fragrant


Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's “Purple Hibiscus” is just the kind of book you would want to read if you crave for some good chamomile tea, find a corner chair and switch to airplane mode. It felt different to discover how a teenager from a culture completely alien to us go about her daily chores; catch a glimpse of her way of life, the food she eats and her likes and dislikes in course of an intricately crafted story, in this case, the story of fifteen year old Kambili who finds true happiness and freedom in a household not her own. She begins to question the role of her conservative father in her own rich yet curfewed home. What her aunt's home lacks in riches is more than made up for by an animated atmosphere where people speak their mind and find solace in one another. The volatile politics of Nigeria involving military coups, political threats, bribery is also included in the backdrop of the story. A truly remarkable book with a beautifully woven storyline and a compelling narrative!

Life as we know it

I have always wanted to read Anjali Joseph's “Saraswati Park”. I found a second hand copy at Blossoms in a good condition and lunged at it.  It is a good book describing the lives of a middle class couple who share their home with a young relative in a quaint neighborhood in suburban Mumbai. The plot is paced slowly so that you might truly savour the writer’s vivid depictions of the everyday mundane. Reading it is an insightful, intimate experience but at times you wonder whether you've outstayed your welcome.   

JeMo to the rescue!

Over the course of years, having read the likes of Ponniyin Selvan, Sivagamiyin Sabatham, Parthiban Kanavu (all by Kalki), a few works of Jeyakanthan, Jeyamohan’s Aram, Perumal Murugan’s Maadhorubaagan, two or three books of Vairamuthu and that of few other writers, I realised I’d hit a wall. I didn't know what to read in Tamil. I knew the names of the literary heavyweights and that was about it.  I felt guilty for reading only a handful of books in my mother tongue. I know it’s a common affliction among readers of my generation who have been raised to study and think in English. I must admit my penmanship in Tamil is not that great and a tad embarrassed too, thinking of it. Hey, I'm young and hopefully have some decades ahead of me. I can make up for the lost time and effort by reading and analysing books.  But what books? A friend (to whom I'll be eternally grateful to) lent me a book that stopped me in my tracks and altered my course of life. The book was written by someone I was critical of a couple of blog posts back, yes, it was Jeyamohan. And the book was நவீனத் தமிழிலக்கிய அறிமுகம் “Naveena Tamil Ilakiya Arimugam” (Introduction to Modern Tamil Literature). If you are interested in Tamil literature and as clueless as I was, Buy.Or.Borrow.The.Book.Now!


Jeyamohan has written the first part of book as an introduction to literary criticism and theory, giving us a general outline of the types of literature and literary movements. He also introduces us to the use of Imagery and Symbols in literature. He dwells on the need for coexistence of both commercial and realist literature without taking sides or denouncing one for the other. Be it political, science based or emotionally driven novels that sway masses, they all have a right and a reason to exist. It is not fair for a piece of literature to be criticized based on whether it is politically correct or not.  Literature is not meant to be curtailed by such ordinary bias.


The second half of the book is the answer to all our prayers. He outlays the history of Modern Tamil literature by introducing us to writers and their contributions in order of the generation the writer belongs to. He draws our attention to the writers’ techniques, their strengths and weaknesses if any and lists their notable works. You don't have to painstakingly jot down all the books he has mentioned as you read though. The last section of the book has all his recommendations put together. The list is exhaustive and I’m dumbstruck as to how the author managed to read so many books. Inspirational!

Amma comes calling

Amma Vandhal” (Mother has come) by T. Janakiraman is a true classic that leaves you pondering over it for a long time after you are done reading. The titular Amma has a mysterious countenance about her that once revealed, leaves her son flummoxed and enraged. He wages a battle with himself and is repulsed by his father’s indifference to his mother’s transgressions.Thank God I didn't read the foreword written by Sukumaran until after I finished reading the rest of the book. He has given the entire story away in his piece. Maybe he felt that the novel’s use of motifs, conversations and depiction of characters outshone the plot of “Amma Vandhal” and merely knowing the story alone will not make do for any lit lover. If that were the case, I agree. A mother is a figure we normally associate the words “virtuous”, “chaste” and “pure” with. When that image is sullied, how does the world treat her?  With pure disdain of course. Amma seeks redemption by way of her pious son and fails miserably as he too cannot bear the thought of his mother crossing the sacred lakshman-rekha of absolute chastity. The book vaguely reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s play ‘Lady Windermere’s fan” wherein Lord Windermere resorts to drastic measures to protect his wife from knowing the truth about her disreputable mother. The two books deal with the common theme ‘shame’ - while the former work confronts the truth, the latter gets away by shunning it. Also, read my friend's brilliant analysis of the classic here.

Yours? Mine? 

I also read a book of poems for leisure (again credits to my benefactor). The last time I read some poetry was when I took up the meticulous task of reading Keats, Shelley and Milton for my MA exams. Pleasure morphs into pain when it’s all work and no play! The book that lifted my spirits and set them free is the late poet Gnanakoothan’s என் உளம் நிற்றி நீ “En Ullam Nitri Nee” (You reside in my heart). His repertoire is free verse and his verses are just what they claim to be - free and uninhibited. One of his poems affected me and I feel inclined to share its translation here.

Our Tamil

We speak our Tamil
You speak yours
In our Tamil,
‘Mummy’ has a place, ‘Daddy’ has a place
Whom Mummy denotes, whom Daddy denotes
Our children know it well
In Different languages, side by side
As we continue to dwell
Our language finds a place, others too
‘Nayinaa’s there, ‘Waaba’s there
‘Father’s there, ‘Mother’s there
In our Tamil,
‘Rice’, ‘Chappati’, ‘Poori’, ‘Sabzi’ are all there
In our Tamil ‘Chudidhar’s there, ‘Jibbaa’s there
Our Tamil defines our life
You speak your Tamil
By speaking your brand of Tamil
What gain have you made?
Ruled by you for years
You lost the very land you inhabited together.
Like sheep that strike each other
You lost the ocean whose tides strike the shore
The children who go to school
The mothers who take them there
The elderly who lay in their beds
The hyperactive youngsters have all been lost by you
When did it ever exist
One Tamil for everyone?
You speak your Tamil
We speak ours

I believe that the poet addresses the issue of identity through these lines. Gnanakoothan’s mother tongue was Kannada and I wonder whether there was ever an instance where he was criticized for not being a Tamilian by birth. Being a migrant now in Bengaluru with the question of my identity looming large, I feel humbled by this poem. 
When did it ever exist
One Tamil for everyone? 
No language is semantically pure without borrowed words or phrases. Nobody should be ostracized based on one’s language. A Leader of a political party in Tamil Nadu in the name of Dravidianism, is reluctant to let anyone take up leadership posts, unless they are from what he considers to be a pure Tamil background. Even if you have lived in Tamil Nadu all your life, speak fluent Tamil and are friends with everyone in the neighbourhood but speak another language at home, you are considered an outsider by him and deemed unfit to be a leader of Tamils. I’m Tamil through and through and this doesn’t make any sense to me. The “outsiders” are as Tamil as the rest of us. I must admit, in the past, I was critical of migrants who I thought didn’t put in enough effort to blend in with the locals. Now in Bengaluru, I’m a changed leaf as I realise how very difficult it is to learn a new language and how hard it is to blend in. I dream of the day I read the legendary Kuvempu’s works in his own words. But my efforts to learn Kannada are dampened by auto drivers who stop the vehicle only when I say “Anna inga niruthunga” and not “Anna illi nillisi”. Is my Kannada really that bad?

A Friend, A confidante

The last book I read this month is the Diary of a young girl by Anne Frank, I bought it on an impulse as it was on sale for Rs.11 on Kindle. The book wasn’t part of my school syllabus or my growing up years unlike my peers. I felt I’d missed out on Anne. Well, better late than never.


Anne was a fiery, vivacious teenager who didn’t think twice in pointing out right from wrong. She saw through the flimsy minds of adults, flinched at their constant tantrums, shared secret notes with her sister and fell headlong in love with a boy she didn’t like much at first. Scenes from the life of a typical teenager except that in Anne Frank’s case, all of this happened in hiding. Anne was part of the group that comprised of two Jewish families and an acquaintance, who spent nearly two years in hiding from the Nazis. Anne is a fantastic writer with a way with words. We laugh, cry, sigh, empathize with her and at times find her too hot headed. It’s not her fault for we are the trespassers, reading personal notes that she intended to edit and publish post war. Fate had other plans and she was not the one who edited it in the end. The holocaust was a horrible and ghastly event. Anne’s diary is the most affecting holocaust related work I’ve ever come across for Anne appeared to confide in me, as I read entry after entry, like how a close friend would. I'm a true admirer of Anne and her audacity. 

Give the following movies a try if you want to know more about the holocaust or World War II- Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Bastards, FuryThe Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief.


Tangerine trees and Marmalade Skies

Kitty – the name Anne gave her diary. My diary had a name too, the one I wrote in 2008. I was around the same age as Anne Frank was when she started writing her diary. I named it LSD and all my entries would start with “Dear LSD…” No I didn’t name it after the drug. I had a habit of changing the expansion of LSD every month. So one month LSD stood for Lovely Spring Daisy. The next month it was Love Struck Doe and then changed to Light Saber Dust, Little Silly Dove, Lucky Son of Don and so on. I was fourteen alright! 

I did name my diary as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” eventually because I happened to read about the song somewhere. I would be lying if I told you I have been listening to the Beatles right from my childhood. I was more of an “ABBA” fan. I did have ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Rain’ in my playlist but they didn’t count much. 


After doing an experimental run in with Bob Dylan and ultimately loving him, I thought I’d try the same with Beatles. On loop for a week, some 50 odd songs of the Beatles running forever, I finally settled for my favourites. “Norwegian Wood”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Love Me do”,“Yellow Submarine”, “Something”, “PS I Love You”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “All you Need is Love” “Hey Jude” and of course, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  The opening lines of LSD are sheer magic!

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes 

The song composed by Lennon-McCartney is both eccentric and addictive. No wonder people thought the song was an ode to the drug (It wasn't. Lennon apparently lifted the title from his son's preschool drawing)
The hint of tambura in LSD, the sitar in 'Norwegian Wood' and the strings in 'While My Guitar gently weeps' sound sublime. Listening to them over the week was akin to taking a quick vacation. The Beatles are pop icons and every quizzer’s favourite. I knew more about their personal lives than their music until now- a fact that I wasn't exactly proud of. Thank God the jinx is broken.

 Do see this video on the Beatles cover art by the Nerd Writer. I loved his take on it!


I know this blog post is a little crowded but I told you I was on a sugar rush. In my case, the Ides of March didn't foretell any bad event. I feel ecstatic and full of hope. Glory to God.

My sugar trail is not going to end anytime soon as I've just found out that Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood" is influenced by the Beatles' track of the same name. I think of reading it next. 


What more can I say? Books are love. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The braid

The ringmaster takes his whip
The horserider, his rein
The soldier, his rifle
The teacher, his cane
The mother, her daughter's hair.

Oiled and ruffled,
Tangled and mangled,
The mother in hindsight
Knows she has to combat- to fight
Alas! No comb in sight.
Mother now wrought with worry;
'Twas infantry with no inventory

The kid brother scoots around
His eyes constantly on the prowl
For the wicked comb is at large
And was he not the one in charge?
The mother hastens the kid
And the detective makes his bid-
Lunges under the sofa with aplomb
And lo! Quite an entrance for a comb!

The vision of her mother, now armed
Makes Miriam increasingly alarmed.
Mother says "Hush! it's alright"
But each tug worsens her plight
As mother deftly fashions a plait
From twig like strands of a sparrow's nest,
Putting all her nifty skills to test.

Miriam prays for her travail to end
There are endless classes left to attend.
The blue ribbon comes to her aid.
Miriam lauds the perfection made
With one last look at her intricate braid.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

When Nithira Devi was knocked down by my nocturnal train of thought

The pillow looks so inviting after a long day. As soon as I hit the bed and wait for sweet sleep to take over, few uninvited guests come knocking. "Tadading..  tadading... " no they aren't Facebook, WhatsApp notifications.  They are pesky neurons  transmitting thoughts at the speed of 120 miles per second. I think, think and think and finally fall asleep when my neurons had had enough.... some 2-3 odd hours later.  

I know I'm not alone. This is one major epidemic seriously threatening body clocks world over. 

This picture perfectly sums up how majority of our brains work. 

Picture this. You live in a city. You look at the night sky and you hardly see any stars.  Where do they go? We fail to see them because of the artificial lights all around us.  They obstruct stars' light from falling within our line of sight. Meanwhile, if you go to a place with no man-made lighting around and look up, you'll find your jaw drop. 

Poets, musicians and painters are at their creative best at night precisely due to this reason. The stillness of the night. Serene and brilliant. 

I usually forget everything I think at night the very next morning. The smartest wisecracks*, some amazing comeback lines** and the most intricate plot lines*** that I'd conjure at night disappear into mist the next morning no matter how hard I try to remember them. I had to come up with a way to note them down.

There was a WhatsApp group to share placement related stuff during my college days.  In due course everybody left except one. I used this group (ironically named 'information unlimited') to send myself messages so as to pen down things ranging from grocery lists to birthday reminders. And this was the group I used to chart down things I think about each night for a week. 

And the results were um.. You decide. 

So here goes a random list of thoughts that keep Nithira Devi some light years away from me. 

Ratha Kanneer and Iraivi. 
          I watched the 1954 classic "Ratha kanneer" (tears of blood) this week. M. R. Radha's voice requires no Dolby surround sound to make a lasting impact. His portrayal of a spoilt educated brat with a self acclaimed  penchant for art (!) was as breathtaking as his subsequent role as an all suffering leper. His performance drew my breath away that I didn't notice the storyline until much later..yeah until I began reminiscing at snooze time. The movie had the dying protagonist admit that he is the sole cause of his wife's misery. 
My mind drew parallels between this scene and the main plot line of the recent Karthick Subburaj flick "Iraivi". 

"Iraivi" (Goddess) is a finely made movie that unabashedly states the fact that most women in our society languish  because of the men in their life. The problem with Indian flicks is that there are characters who are painted white (the hero,  heroine, hero's mom etc. ) and there are characters who are wholly black (the villain, the goons, heroine's mama payan etc.) In reality we are people of grey, with different shades of it. We all have our weaknesses and "Iraivi" boldy attempts to bridge this gap between white and black,  portraying men and women as they are. Men in this movie admit without ego, without any 'buts…' or 'ifs…' and without blaming their wives that they are directly responsible for the latter's grief. Therein lies the similarity. 

In Ratha Kanneer, the lonely wife of the rich lecher has an epiphany of sorts when she tries to convince herself to break from the shackles of society and lead her life with a new partner. A friend advises her not to depend on any man and thus lead a life unscathed. She refutes him saying a life without a husband isn't as easy as it seems to be.   

Fast forward half a century later and we see a similar scene in Iraivi where an estranged woman seeking remarriage is counseled by her friend not to give into marriage and lead a free life. The woman shrugs off her advice as wishful thinking.  

The climax of Ratha Kanneer has the leper hero, now in dire straits, convincing his wife to get married to his best friend so as to make amends. He proceeds to leave them alone, resigning to his fate.

We see a similar ending in Iraivi where one of the lead characters on realising that he faces a jail term and a grim life ahead, makes way for his divorced wife to get remarried by faking a drunken brawl, thus degrading himself in her eyes. 

Both movies have lead me to rethink the definitions of "progressive" and "regressive". Messages driven home in less than 3 hours - so stark so deep that they kept me thinking almost the entire night.

To be or not to be… organic
              I have this habit of drinking soaked Fenugreek water early in the morning in the belief that it reduces body heat. Every night, I religiously take a handful of Fenugreek seeds, put them in a bowl and then proceed to hold a mini debate as to whether wash them before soaking or not. 'Hey!  The pack read "organic" when I bought it. No pesticides to wash' I assure myself, dunk them in water and hit the bed. 

Have you seen this amazing CGI in Anniyan/ Aparajit, when Ambi transforms into Anniyan and they show this electric spark that zaps from his toe, through his nerves, his spine and makes a touchdown in his head? As soon as I hit the bed, similar imagery takes place within me, leaving my neurons super excited. The result?  Thoughts break free leaving me with puffy eyes the next morning.

So what did my neurons do that particular night? They fetched this for me!! 

Richard Muller is a physics professor at Berkeley and a name to reckon with. He has some 88.1k followers on Quora. So it is not some Buzzfeed post but a Richard  Muller answer that now haunts me. So the Fenugreek seeds that I eat everyday ups my risk of cancer? And if I buy a non organic version I'm still prone to cancer if the chemicals are not within permissible limits ? But who checks for pesticide permissible limits in India? Do they check anything at all? Remember the lead in maggi? And how it turned out to be a joke?  A costly one at that?  What about potassium bromate in bread?  FSSAI banned it after finding the carcinogenic additive in 84% of breads tested. So how far did they go to enforce it? How far can I believe the ingredient list ? The shampoo that reads "100% herbal actives" lists methyl paraben at the bottom of the label.  A video by India101 showed how malachite green is added to make vegetables appear fresh and how silicone spray is used to add sheen to stale vegetables. And there was another video where the "organic" label was abused to sell everyday stuff at a higher price and now organic isn't organic anymore! 

All this thought slamming leads to a burn out that I ultimately get out of bed, head straight for that damn bowl of soaked Fenugreek seeds, wash it thoroughly, refill it with fresh water, hit the bed and just pray to God that I fall asleep. A sob story! 

Books!  Angst!  Jeyamohan! 
         A fetish for books frequently keeps me awake from time to time,  be it reading a novel or just thinking about one.  This time around, I kept thinking about my visits to book fairs.  10 used books for 200 rupees. Stephen King,  Khalid Hosseini, Jeffrey Archer, Lee Child and a hundred more biggies among that pile. The seller mostly wouldn't know the difference.  Every book worm's delight! 

 One more reason to cherish local book fairs were regional books. Books written in English are readily available in Amazon or Flipkart but that isn't the case with regional books,  in my case Tamil ones. Book fairs seemed to be my only way to discover tamil literature. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find one good book. And why?  

Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret", Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist", Chetan Bhagat box set, the Shiva trilogy by Amish Tripathi fill most of the book shelves...in Tamil. These translated best sellers are a big blow to any reader seeking original content. Other tamil books that are rampant include the ones written by Sujatha and Kalki. I'm a big fan of these two writers but where are the others? Publishers hesitate to stock up lesser known works due to lack of popularity of the writers. Writers of regional language are struggling to find foothold in an era where the reading population seems to be dwindling with each generation. 

It's a sorry state of affairs when I see my peer group having no exposure to regional literature. To revive our sagging interest in Indian languages, an extensive campaign is needed (No I'm not talking about another Semozhi Maanadu) and reading books written in one's own language must be in everyone's checklist. Readers aren't the only one to blame. While there is a book for every age group in English, there is almost no book in Tamil targeting the teenage/ adolescent segment. Young writers below the age of 35 are painfully few in number. 

When talking about Tamil writers of this era,  it is impossible to let slide Jeyamohan. Most of his works are available online through his blog. He is undoubtedly a genius, his works are diverse and often requires pain staking research.  But he is a writer and writers world over have a common trait,  pride. 

An earlier edition of this wonderfully curated monthly magazine "Vikatan Thadam" (buy it folks!  Worth every penny) carried Jeyamohan's interview. The whole interview was thought provoking to many as well as wrath provoking to some. His views on Periyar,  current crop of writers, community bias among others may evoke criticism from some quarters. But what personally irked me was his comment on women writers.  He generalised them saying they write only for fame and for invitations to literary events held in America. How misogynist for an accomplished writer in this century! He accuses women writers in Tamil do not spend time on research before writing. But a novel is more than just some research thesis, isn't it sir?  

Writers like S. Ramakrishnan,  Perumal Murugan, Jeyamohan and the like pen incredible novels specific to a timeline and to a particular region that require solid groundwork. And there are writers like Balakumaran who write on relationships and influx of emotions. One can't claim Balakumaran is not a writer just because his novels don't belong to the former genre.  The same rule applies to women. When Dalit writer Bama writes about caste discrimination prevalent in Hindu-Christian communities in her region, she writes what she sees before her.  She has been ostracized from her community for doing so.  Women like her would rather like to speak out than seek fame.

Thus goes another night where I have make-believe conversations with a writer I guess I'd never meet in my life. 
                                                - - - - - - - - - -
Not all the nights go like this though. Some nights I’d read a very boring book so as to sleep immediately. Other nights I’d feel happy thinking about college, friends and trips that I'd taken with best pals. Thanks for the trip to Ooty guys!

Then there are nights where I hope to listen to some long lost songs and gradually fall asleep. And of all the songs in the world, this is the song my mind comes up with - "Theemthalakadi thillale" (damn you Put Chutney!) 

To all insomniacs out there - never watch a Christopher Nolan movie, eat Andhra mess kothu parotta, start going through your childhood photo album, scroll your quora feed or watch the Newshour debate at 9 just before falling asleep. Unless you are Kumbakaranan on a 6 month sabbatical or my friend Kavitha, I assure you your chances of finding Nithira Devi are pretty slim. Sweet dreams everyone!

*** classified information (wink) 

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Rain Maiden - a tribute to Satyajit Ray

The dark lords black, burdened
Heave a sigh of relief 
  Droplets flung all over 
  Stir the lake from her sleep
Concentric circles abound 
  Their lives mystical but brief

The rain maiden's soaked 
  Drops slide down her hair
  Unoiled yet fragrant, 
  Setting off ripples a few
Outnumbered  though
By the dark lords' own.

A pair of little eyes watch
Her antics from afar 
  Part thrilled part terrified 
  Join didi? um no!
Petrified or amused- Apu stands still 
  And so does the tree beside.

  The rain maiden's delirious,
Unmindful of the the dark lords' cry
She spins her fragile figure around
Weaving magic like fine silk.
If the sky, the lake, the rain make the canvas,
Our rain maiden's the art 

  The rain maiden's finished 
  She runs towards the frail thing 
And holds the child close. 
  Apu, eyes wide, seeks refuge 
  In didi's outstretched sari
Wrapped safe, fear lapses to joy 


  The dark lords filled with rage 
  For some reason unknown
Perhaps taken aback by her audacity
Cast a spell so fierce!
The rain maiden's no longer fiesty;
Gold has a melting point and so had she. 

  The rain maiden's sick 
  Bedridden, numb with cold 
  Her playfulness knows no illness.
She beckons the worried child
And promises a spectacle soon,
"We'll run alongside the chugging train!"

The dark lords still relentless
Storm her room at night.
The rickety doors, the open window
Only hasten her woes. The rain maiden-
Scared, clings onto her mother 
  And onto her dear life.

The kind neighbour relents 
  To poor Apu's plea
What awaits her is pure misery.
The mother and her young
One alive one dead; 
Eyes as lifeless as the rain maiden.    

The rain maiden's gone
And so is his smile 
  He's bereft of her fingers-
The fingers that caressed,groomed
His unkempt hair. A void, left behind,
As big as their bond.

The picture of the desolate child
Staring at the vacant sky
Evokes something inexplicable 
And soon we find ourselves say,
"Take heart little Apu, 
  Durga's only asleep, till it rains again"

The 1955 Bengali movie Pather Panchali (song of the little road) is a poignant tale laced with love and warmth.  Satyajit Ray was an unconventional story teller with an eye for detail.  His repertoire includes an assortment of genres- ranging from the highly intellectual to the deeply spiritual. Pather Panchali, his best known piece of art, was incidentally his debut movie. Watching the movie was indeed a surreal experience for me. The grandmother who gleefully relishes stolen fruits, the aspiring playwright who finds it hard as a priest to make ends meet,  his wife who is the ultimate embodiment of sacrifice, our hero Apu who is the picture of innocence and gaiety,  the child maiden Durga who wins our hearts with her sprightliness and makes us cry inconsolably at the very end are earthy characters who tug at our heart strings and claim all our love. I have tried to pen these verses as a devout fan drawn to the inimitable genius of Ray as well as the lyrical realism of his debut work.  
  To Ray, with love. 

Note - Go.watch.the.movie.