Certain books call out to you. They have your destiny entwined in their pages. Back in 2017, when I read ‘Purappadinte Pustakam’, something in its sparkling originality touched my heart. I reached out to the author and offered to translate it to English. I felt that the world deserved to meet the wonderful characters; laugh and cry along with them. The author, V.J.James, always affable and humble, erudite and kind, responded encouragingly. The journey began there. As the famous quote from Dao De Jing goes, ‘ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’
Today, we have translated six books together. Three novels : Anti-Clock, Nireeswaran and Dattapaharam have been released by Penguin Random House India. Next year, we hope to see ‘Purappadinte Pustakam’ or ‘ The Book of Exodus’ published. James had to struggle for more than a decade to see his debut novel in print. It evolved over the years, stained with sweat and tears.
Ironically, though it was the first book we completed together in the year 2018, the book took its own time to come to fruition. It has made me believe again in the subtle magic of words. We control nothing; only the effort is our portion. And when the results arrive, we have to humbly bow before the occurrence.
In an interview, long back, James was asked:
‘When do you think your books will get to a global audience?’
‘I believe in Akshara Shakti : the power of words.’
That makes me pause. And I reflect on the somber truth behind it all.
For words to grace us, we have to deserve their benedictions. To read and write more, to make the receiving vessel sparkle and shine, that choice alone is left to us. When and how the blessings pour, that is still under veils.
Every day gives us an opportunity to ready ourselves for the unseen grace. Though the mood is dark and apprehensive, or cheerful and sunny, or stoic and serene, we have to focus on the work at hand. The toil itself is the canticle. When raised to the heavens, by singing with a pure heart, the answer surely comes.
May the Lord guide us all into more and more fruitful endeavors; while staying detached and committed.
Are we grateful enough for whatever life we have been blessed with? Often, when troubles seem to be overwhelming, we end up afraid of the ‘monster inside the head’ which looms larger than life. The clouds seem darker, the whole world shrinks to a single pint of pain and we sink easily. Two incidents have perturbed me in the recent past. News about the suicides of two brilliant girls, leaving devastations in their wake. Both were adored children of their respective set of parents. Excellent academically, loved by everyone, no indication of any trauma. Just one unimaginable phone-call.
Shaking in grief, I ended up speaking to my own daughters about the deepest fears of parents. It does not matter what the trouble is, we are there for you. Nothing matters, more than your smiles. Stay happy and healthy. We shall overcome together. Realize that our lives are your safety nets and we shall love you unconditionally. It is true, parents tend to be harsh when it comes to discipline at times. But limits are drawn for your own good, mostly. I write mostly, because parents are fallible creatures too. We make our decisions based on whatever experiences we have garnered in our lives. But whether it is Iceland or Australia, irrespective of the language we speak, the colour of our skins, the god we believe in, there is a common factor which binds us together. You : the children. You matter.
Maybe we are at fault, trying to protect you always from life and its troubles. Tribulations strengthen the spiritual muscles. Even the protection is triggered by not wanting you to get hurt. My mother still prays ( and I tell her it is wrong) ‘Give the sickness of my children to me.’ I tell her, ‘Amma, pray that all stay healthy, including you.’ But now, as the journey moves close to autumn, I find myself contemplating about her attitude. And I can see why she prays like that. What she is saying in truth: ‘Let the pain be mine, not theirs. Let the cross be mine, give them the crown.’ That is the way of love, usually.
For any child thinking of ending it all, please stop for a moment. Pick that phone. Reach out. The monster in the head is imaginary. Your parents are not supporting the monsters. They care for your life. Just hold on and call them. We shall overcome together. As always.
The whole universe is a magical place. What happens to us is decided by our thoughts/words/actions melding with the Universal Mind. How the sequence plays out is the beautiful magic.
Aranya Kanda : The canto of the forest , from Tulsidasji’s Shri Ramcharitmanas has gone into publication. The Lord explores the forests and blesses many a sage in this lovely portion. Mata Sita gets abducted by Ravan and Jatayu is granted salvation by Lord Ram. The poet describes the forests, the trees, animals and birds with much affection in the original Awadhi; and my adventure in understanding and interpreting was truly blessed by His Grace.
Simultaneously, I was translating Dattapaharam- a stunning novel about the forests and its great role in human lives; by V.J.James. The author is one of the most erudite and humble people I have known in my life. Truly has the Ramayana spoken of ‘fruit laden trees bending low’: great souls are utterly simple, so unassuming and kind. They also laugh a lot.
The fact that both the books are going into print together brings me much hope and cheer. They say when coincidences happen in a miraculous manner, when serendipity graces us, the divine plan is meeting our life plan.
May the Lord help us to follow the divine path always. And empower us to do our work with humility.
Few hymns to the magic:
While I was poring over the edits of Aranyakanda and reached the portion of Mareech getting killed by the Lord, I casually clicked on songs in my mobile with nothing particular in my mind.
The song enveloped my senses, enchanting me.
I gazed at the mobile screen.
There He was: My Lord Ram, so beautiful and glorious, with Sita, and she was staring at the golden deer!
Tumhi mere Ram, tumhi Ghanshyam!
How could that happen?
I called my friend in utter delight and she asked me to bow my head lower.
He watches over every speck of dust, does he not?
I was struggling with translating a sentence which spoke of ‘sighting that which lay beyond the visible.’ Indeed, the portion referred to seeing what usually remains unseen by going inwards…a deep, spiritually heavy sentence. Typical of the author’s style, super simple, and oh-so-heavy with meaning!
I tried many a combination and permutation. The zing of satisfaction did not come.
My phone pinged. Another dear friend had forwarded a Sufi song…Tu Jhoom sung by the inimitable Abida Parveen.
Ah, Lord! Just what I needed!
The sentence translated itself in matter of moments.
He watches over every green blade , does he not? **
So both the forest journeys, soon to be in book forms, are hereby dedicated to the Lord.
Those who tell stories, and those who write them are the ones cursed by life. It was Ramaniyamma who planted the root of that great truth in my mind. The ghostly spirit, part of Lord Shiva’s entourage, called Pushpadantan (Kadha sarit sagara), doomed to be born as a human because he dared to narrate stories; ‘Vetal’ (Betaal) who hung upside down to watch stories unfolding, and Dostoevsky who hurled his own life into the burning wild fire of experiences for discovering the great secret of being a human being; all of them came into my life lessons later. Much before that, Ramaniyamma had taught me that gibbous truth and reduced herself into the silence of memory.
She makes her appearance in my recollections as a plaintive cry. From her little hovel- constructed from mud and earth, with floors plastered with cow dung-Ramaniyamma’s primitive wails would intrude into my sleep. It was not exactly a mourning, rather a humungous humming, burning with sighs. I was a small child then. The cats which slept with their heads resting against the courtyard ridge would not heed my presence. I was familiar with the long hoots of Narayanettan as he ploughed the fields with the bullocks.
The folk songs which reverberated while the rice saplings were planted, used to silence the prevailing cries around.
When darkness descended, and silence spread its net wide, Ramaniyamma would start weeping desperately. The dreadful insects of fear would start crawling on my body then. I would suffocate, unable to choke out a cry.
As I started walking, and started speaking words, Ramaniyamma’s crying abated but did not end. The intensity of her melancholy increased during the rainy season. The monsoons are the season of depression in villages. As the Kannachi river and the farms became inundated with water, the landslide and water burst of memories overwhelmed the houses too. In my mind I can see the wavering image of Ramaniyamma: seated near the hurricane lamp, staring at the rain, her legs stretched, her chin cupped by a thoughtful hand. Unable to endure the inauspicious past, she would rage, ‘ Oww…damned rain of death, why doesn’t it stop?’
In my first memory, Ramayaniyamma was around sixty five, dressed in a lungi and blouse. A smattering of hair on her upper lip, curly, iron grey hair, round face, and red paan stained lips gave her the sheen of beauty. Neither the flow of time, disaster or extreme drudgery could exhaust her.
I came to know the answer to her wild cries much later. After boozing herself with local arrack at Umbichiyetty’s house, when she returned, Ramaniyamma rolled around in agony telling about Radha’s- her only daughter’s, untimely demise. She had been married off to Muzhakoth. She died within a month of her marriage. The husband’s household insisted that it was a suicide. There was also talk of murder. Those were old times, and lots of money exchanged hands…the investigation ended prematurely. Her daughter’s death became a flood for the mother. She started wailing on top of her voice during those days, trying to control the earthquake within her mind.
She raced towards death many a time. Ramaniyamma attired herself in black. She wandered about in pitch darkness. She promised many offerings to the deities. But nothing filled up the emptiness inside her, even after decades. Like an overcouded sky, the woman held onto the blackness of utter despair.
Ramaniyamma was my grandmother’s sister. Their house was next to ours. When I say ‘their’, I mean Umbichi the black cow and Ramaniyamma. She would speak to the animal very loudly. Passersby would stop awhile, wondering whether the woman was addressing them. When she bathed the cow, plucked pests from its skin, gave it water, when she milked the creature, tied it up in the shed and fed it with fresh grass, Ramaniyamma would chatter at the top of her voice. Umbichi would sharpen her ears, lower her eyes and listen intently.
Umbichi was the clock controlling Ramaniyamma’s days. The animal which shook its horns at everybody else and was bold to a fault became meek and submissive before Ramaniyamma’s affection. Even before light ensconced our village, Ramaniyamma would have tied her freshly bathed cow in either the harvested field, on the Meethele hillside, or in Sukumaran sir’s coconut planation.
Before feeding Umbichi the cow, Ramaniyamma would pay a visit to Umbichiyetti, the village woman. After filling her tummy with a glass or two of arrack, she would return to shovel grass to her cow and then visit our house. Then she would stay till sleep arrived.
My grandmother (Valiyamma) and Ramaniyamma would enter into a secret discourse. Escaping my mother’s sharp eyes, Valiyamma would slip away to Ramaniyamma’s home. In a bottle of Ayurvedic medicine-Dasamularishtam- Ramaniyamma would have smuggled some arrack for her older sister. My amma would see red if she caught them. That is why my blind grandmother would pretend to fetch wood for the cooking and stumble her way to her younger sister’s place. There, on the ridge of the earthern cooking stones, the ‘ayurvedic’ remedy would be hidden.
When Ramaniyamma went home at night, my older brother would accompany her. He was her lone companion after she lost her daughter. I too wished heartily that I could go with them. There were two main reasons for that: Ramaniyamma’s curries and her stories!
Ramaniyamma was a gifted cook…her dishes were delicious to a fault. She could cook up a feast with very few items. Even now I can recollect the’chammanthi’ she made with the last bits of coconut which stubbornly stuck to the shell. She made the yummy ‘Enaru’ curry: complete with sardine heads, enaru, white rice and turmeric…if I recollect that my stomach flares with greed! You can float a ship in my mouth, to use the local saying. She would toast the roasted cashews into a curry and I can remember it like yesterday’s rain.
The good fortune extended further…Ramaniyamma would tell stories. Stories which were never heard before, never read before even in an Amar chitra kadha. This illiterate woman had a stock of such stories with her. She would tell these tales with the ease of singing a song. The good fortunes which graced my brother made me pensive.
And sometimes, the nights filled with stories, came searching for me too. When our father was admitted in Mangalapuram or Kanjagadu hospital for his frequent illness, my brother would stay the nights with him. I would be Ramaniyamma’s companion during such occasions. Shining the ‘Eveready’ battery torch, she would show the way. When she finished her dinner, and returned after smoking a bidi, I would be lying down on the mattress handwoven by Karichiyamma. I would snuggle close to the wall, next to the windows.
‘Have you slept, da?’
She would call me in her mournful voice.
I would raise my head.
‘Please tell me a story…can’t seem to sleep.’
I would crunch my nails against the palm frond mattress.
‘Which story? Have told them all.’
A silence would descend on Ramaniyamma.
‘Anything will do…cannot sleep.’
Spitting her paan juice into a coconut shell, the woman would again become silent. I knew…she was digging up a story from her great treasure trove.
She would clear her throat harshly and start…I would turn towards her and listen with alacrity. The cockroaches would stop protesting. Fireflies would flit around the room like the characters of the stories. Bats would swoop inside the room through the window and then go searching for some unknown fruits. Umbichi the cow would stop chewing the cud, stop her constantly flailing tail and lay down her head quietly. The cries of the night emerging from the farms would cease. The breeze would drop in to listen to the tales….’Once upon a time, an old man and woman- Thondan and Thondi- felt hungry during the rains….’
Just an excerpt from an exceptionally gifted writer’s memoirs (Translated from Malayalam)
All fathers were once kids : P.V.Shaji Kumar ( A chapter translated from his memoirs written in Malayalam).
In an evening darkened by the rain, when I was returning home after playing Kabbadi in Kalichampothy’s cemented open theatre; my knees bloodied in an interesting hammer, sickle, star design, Muraliettan ( we respectfully address older people as ettan/chettan/elder brother) called me from inside the village library on whose walls the picture of the communist leader Azhikodan Raghavan was affixed :
‘ Eda, how come you are not picking up books to read anymore?’
His voice was softer than the wind’s murmur, and I found myself shutting my umbrella, trying in vain to scrape off the mud on my shins and stepping inside the library. My trousers, bereft of any button, was on the verge of slipping down and I tightened the knot above my belly-button. My tummy ballooned into a sky skewed sidewards.
Books are the souls of those who are doomed to wander even after death. In solitariness, one can listen to the peeves and mumbles of what they were denied when alive. It is a thought which congealed within my mind at an odd hour. From the lower wooden rack, covered by cobwebs, Muraliettan pulled out a book for me. A book devoid of a cover, yellowing due to age, and of great girth due to the extraordinary texture of the paper. ‘Read this…slightly old, but you will like it.’
Like the water snake gulping down the nedumchoori fish, darkness had wolfed down down the light. There was no one in sight to accompany me. The dead Choyiyetti would be searching for lice in her hair, shaking her dangling old breasts shaped like cucumber; seated inside the desolate house on top of Palankikunnu. As I go past , she will call out from the window, ‘ Da…you brat, come and give me something to drink…’ As if a red hot iron had been pressed against it, my chest burned in fear.
Without checking the book, I wrote my name in English as neatly as I could in the register and stepped out into the rain. Chandrettan who was returning from a dip in Kannachira canal, humming a cinema song and wearing his under wear as a head gear, encountered me on the way. ‘ Da, Thangetty has sent some rice to the mill…pick it up…don’t forget to take the bran too!’ I became the proverbial dog which was waiting to howl in despair; when, to add to its woes, a coconut too fell on its head. If I did not pick up the rice and bran, Thangamani- my mother, will surely give me hell. (Especially the bran for the cows. Amma loved the cows better than her own kids.) If I wait around the mill, Choyiyetti would move out from the house and sit beneath the tree by the street.
I gathered my courage and walked to the mill.
Instead of Shashiyettan, who was commonly seen, it was Kannettan who was working there today. Nobody knew when Kannettan would turn crazy. He was nearly fifty years old. He resembled a bear in both looks and attitude. When he turned nuts, he would crouch in a place and start hooting like an owl. For some unknown reason, the man loathed me.
Ah, such lay the matters ahead.
Clutching my umbrella and the book, I gingerly edged forward. There was a crowd inside. My classmate Manjusha and her mother Savitriyetti were there. From the door, I peeped hopefully at Kanettan. As he shifted the rice grains to the platform, Kanettan stared at me harshly. His deep seated eyes reddened… “Go stand aside. Let the others finish first. I shall give you the rice only afterwards!”
I felt as if I was evaporating into smoke. As if my trousers slipped all the way down in front of all. Manjusha’s round eyes sent forth an arrow edged with mockery towards me. (You round eyed girl! Tomorrow you will come seeking my help during arithmetic. I will show you then.)
I snucked away to the corner of the rice mill where coconut shells, burned bran, and an old cycle were dumped. The rain was like the wailing of the darkness. The rustling of the leaves. The humming of the mill. Shame, fear and pain came together to enwrap me. I clambered atop the cycle, and pressed down heavily on the pedals bereft of chains.
Leaning against the wooden pillar, seated atop the cycle, I opened the book which Muraliyettan had offered me. The book’s title (in Malayalam translation) was ‘Father’s childhood’. When his little daughter Sasha was suffering from ear-pain, Sasha’s father Raskin narrates an interesting story from his own childhood to soothe her. Soon afterwards, whenever her ear ached Sasha would plead …’ Daddy, my ear is hurting! Please tell me another story when you were a little boy!’ Raskin tells her more stories of his boyhood days.
Daddy is the hero of this book. His follies, sorrows, desires fill the book. I played with Sasha’s daddy to the tune of the pouring rain. When Daddy’s precious possession, the ball which he never shared with anyone else, something more beautiful than the sun itself, burst into bits when he threw it in front of a car, I grieved along with him as his pride died. Believing what the lion-tamer said about taming any wild animal by staring at its eyes, little Daddy emulates it in front of a dog in the park. As he stares at the poor creature with his big, round eyes covered by soda-lens glasses, the annoyed dog bites him in the tummy. My grief soon turned into a laugh. As the rain drops splattered on my face, I could see Manjusha hurrying to my side to tell me she was leaving; and I royally ignored her. The pictures drawn in shades of green and black tempted me to walk along with little Daddy, with my arms around his shoulder.
Little Daddy, on a reading spree, makes his aunt cry in front of her bridegroom by writing a poetic line, ‘Who could have expected, Aunt Liza to get selected!’ The story told me about few classics like Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels.
Little Daddy who bit the dentist, this boy who drank vodka thinking it was water, always pouting at anything, who left his brother- tiny uncle Vic- all by himself…he took an avatar as myself and my father. It was as if my own self played a Theyyam ( when humans don the garb of deities in festival rites in Kerala) in front of me. The friends who teased little Daddy by saying it was a ‘ wedding’ when he played with his friend Masha, reminded me of my own friends. Indeed, very recently, for our merciless teasing of Shibu for playing with Mini, Yours Truly and his coterie had received a good caning from Bhaskaran sir!
When little Daddy refuses to eat his bread, the old Nanny tells him about how her little brother died due to hunger. Little Daddy stood in front of me, drenched in rain, upset, ashamed and wordless. After changing many ships of ambition of what he wanted to be, when he grew up : night watchman, ice cream seller, sailor, Daddy decides he would rather be a dog! He barks, scoots around on all fours, and tries to approach dogs so he can train himself to scratch behind the ears with his foot! A military officer, walking on the street, who gets annoyed at his pranks, advices him to ‘become a person.’ Though little Daddy could not decipher the depths of the words at first, he absorbs it slowly, and the next time he is asked what he wishes to become, answers firmly, ‘become a person!’ By the time my mind could understand his answer, someone kicked at the cycle viciously. I fell into the heap of burnt and dried bran nearby, head first. ‘Get out with the rice. I have to lock up!’
Behind me was Kannettan, panting heavier than the rain. At the first glance I could make out that the madness had begun and his clock had sprung ten minutes behind. Soon, Kannettan sat on his haunches in the foyer. He turned his face to the rain. His hands wrapped around his neck. He turned into an owl and started hooting.
I retrieved daddy’s childhood; and collected the milled rice and bran; tying the sacks together. Fearing that it would get wet in the rain, I inserted the book inside the bran. ‘Kannetta, would you please help?’ I felt fearless on requesting the old man to heave the sacks on my head. He scratched his thighs forcefully and came near. Having hefted the sacks on my head, Kanettan returned to the owl posture once more.
As I moved in the rain and darkness, I remembered my father. He was admitted in Mangalapuram hospital then. How was his childhood? Strikes, penury, isolation…I too became lonely in the rain . The wind wriggled inside my shirt.
It was after I reached home that it struck me: Choyiyetti had not beckoned me from the hills! I could not believe that I had crossed the Palankikunnu without an inkling of fear! At home, only my grandmother-whom I called Valiyamma- was present. As soon as she saw me, Valiyamma croaked, ‘Where were you till now? Narayani’s daughter Radha threw kerosene on herself… played with death. Everybody has gone to see her.’ A tremor took hold of me. I knew the woman. An enflamed human form shuddering to death silently, became visible to my eyes. I put down the sack of rice in the kitchen and went to the verandah. The rain had abated. The enigmatic silence of the dark. After feeding grass to the cows, grandmother returned and lay down to sleep on her mattress. The house and I were left to ourselves.. The chirping of the crickets and the frogs rose together in a crescendo.
I retrieved daddy’s childhood from the bran. Laying on my stomach, I opened the book. Hiding my mind’s trepidations, I went walking with little Daddy. Snow clad white mountains could be seen. Daddy had started school wearing his coat. Due to his love of sleep-the paradise on earth- Daddy reaches late to school and becomes a laughing stock. I started loving little Daddy who withered at the least of recriminations; and who was wont to shed much tears. Daddy who could not even manage to say a fib; the one who was easily tripped up by his friends…There is a depiction of Daddy, who wished to read his poetry through telephone, to the great Russian poet Valdimir Mayakovsky (who committed suicide eventually.) Daddy’s words would dry up like a desert whenever Mayakovsky picked up the phone! The picture of Daddy’s unceasing efforts for a week, which end in failure, jumped out from the book.
I laid on my back, having finished the book, my eyes on the shadows hanging onto the attic. When Amma, my aunt, and my brother returned and narrated the story of death, I did not panic as usual.
Today, after many decades, when I opened the book, that night rains in me again. I had no idea in my childhood that it was published during the time of the Soviet Union, by Progress Publishers and that a great man called Gopalakrishnan had directly translated it from the original Russian language. Only Daddy was in my mind, just little Daddy.
Now I feel that my conclusion, that death and madness are a big child’s play, became pellucid due to that night and this great book . Probably due to the incidents which occurred parallel to reading Daddy’s childhood, the book haunts me more than any other, even today. Not probably, let me say, for sure.
This is a book to be read by fathers more than their children. ‘When Daddy was a little boy’ by Alexander Raskin, forges a third eye which will not only force anyone to re-enter one’s own childhood but also to dive deeper into their kids’ own.
Alexander Raskin in his ‘Word to the children’ concludes thus: ‘There’s more to this book! Each one of you can discover the rest for yourself, for your own daddy can tell you about things that happened to him when he was a little boy. And so can your mommy. I would love to hear their stories, too.’
Maybe every reader feels the same. The book does not end here.
Note: In the English translation, it was not a military officer who advices little Daddy. It was just a man , passing by, who asks, ‘What kind of a boy are you, if you can’t even be a dog? That’s not what a person should be.’ When little Daddy asks, ‘What should I be?’ The man replies, ‘You think about it yourself’, and walks away. Little Daddy decides to become a person…a good person.
For those who wish to read this gem for themselves or for their kids…
The phantasmagoric imagery was striking and intriguing. Could not help translating for other language speakers.)
By the time I had finished playing kabbadi and started back home, darkness had fallen. The birds which had returned to roost, announced to the world, that they were about to sleep. As I descended the hill, Karichiyamma, who was gathering fallen cashews beneath the Parangimanga tree *, caught sight of me.
‘Come home with me…made chakkakkoottan ( jackfruit curry) today.’
My stomach growled in response. Well, Karichiyamma had invited me…it was chakkakoottan too…might as well indulge!
As I slouched behind her, she asked me something or the other. I responded. I asked her something or the other. She responded too.
Inside the kitchen, a young girl was gobbling down the jack fruit curry ; seated near the smouldering embers. Who was she? I had never seen her before in the house. The girl smiled at me. Before I could smile back, Karichiyamma served me the chakkakkoottan. Gnawing hunger, the deepening darkness; ignoring everybody, I started wolfing down the food.
As I got ready to leave, after washing my hands, Karichiyamma extended some jackfruit curry, wrapped tight in leaves, towards me….’Give it to Thangam’. (My mother’s name is Thangam).
I received it.
‘Could you recognise the girl?’
I shook my head to negate the query. Typically, I feel very embarassed while speaking to girls of my age.
‘ She is your grandmother’s sister.’
Karichiyamma nodded in affirmation.
Grandmother’s sister would be aged, wouldn’t she? But this girl seems younger than me! Karichiyamma must have lost her marbles…
Maybe she is making fun of me.
The girl stepped out.
‘I had visited your home that day …on the feast of the dead.’
She grinned at me.
‘Weren’t you the one to apportion food to the ancestors?’
‘But I didn’t see you anywhere’, I said.
She smiled instead of replying.
Karichiyamma bent down to whisper to my ears.
‘She died at your age.. a cobra bit her when she was carrying the rice stalks .’
A lightning struck me down.
She…no, what do I call her, was still smiling at me.
I remembered my mother commenting that Karichiyamma went loony in Karkitakam: the month of the crab. Karichiyamma said that the dead visited her then. I had overheard her narrating to my mother about how she chatted with them and fed them.
So that meant, she was not loony…was it for real?
‘If you invite me, I will accompany you home. We can play together’, the girl said.
I could not bring myself to look at her.
My mind advised sagely, ‘Listen, it is your grandmother’s sister, she has come from the land of the dead, and you can see her because of love…invite her home.’ But terror drowned all voices.
‘I am leaving‘.
I thought I would scream in fright. Remembering my mother telling that men don’t cry, I controlled myself and started walking away fast, without a backward glance.
Both of them said nothing.
The leaves rustled in the wind.
I thought the dead were following me; and that the heavy panting was not of the rain.
I shut my eyes tight and took flight….
Late at night, covered from head to toe with a sheet, as I lay, I remembered the girl.
I did not feel afraid then.
I should have brought her along.
Grandmother would have been so happy.
I could have played match-boxes with her…
I felt miserable.
The rain, which was hiding, started pouring again.
( Literally: Mango tree brought by Parangis or the Portuguese. The Cashewnut tree)
A chapter from a simple book of memoirs, of growing up, by P.V. Shaji Kumar.
Book Title: Itha Innu muthal Itha Innale vare ( Here, from today ; Here, until yesterday)
Side Note: Tongue-in-cheek nostalgic take on an iconic movie title
The Wind Blows As Yet
The wind which comes harrumphing like an intoxicated elephant raises its trunk when I recollect my MCA days in LBS College of Engineering.
The wind was everywhere: in the classrooms, canteen, boulders, side paths…It never abated in its fury. Like a lover driven mad due to a tragic affair, it wandered incessantly, unable to sit still.
When I arrived at the campus, I was like a leaf caught in the wind. My mind struggled free from my grasp and went flying. I had never been a regular student even during my pre-degree days. The proclivity to skip classes increased during my degree days. And when MCA started, the tendency went overboard. On the rare occasions when I did sit inside the class room, the wind would rip in, seize the windows and bang them against the walls. Almost as if the wind took offence at my presence inside the classroom.
Within a few days of joining the class, I came to realize that computer science was not the path meant for me. My mind resolved many a time to drop out and study some other subject. But it was all in vain. The wind took away three years. I would start from my home in the morning; spent some time inside the campus, before catching a bus to Kasargode.
I was lost amongst the mountains of self-contempt. ‘Why am I so worthless?’ I would constantly recriminate myself. While my classmates studied whatever they could, I would remain alone inside the circle of zero.
That was how Jayashankar and Rauf came to befriend me. Jayashankar, who hailed from Palakkad and studied in Coimbatore, and Rauf, who was educated at Sulli, knew the fundamentals of computers. Jayashankar was least interested in continuing his studies. He would repeatedly tell us that he would not be completing the MCA course and would take up a job in some IT company. Rauf was eager to agree; but the anxiety about procuring a job made him attend classes. I became a companion to Jayashankar who avoided going to the classroom. The tender-hearted Rauf could not resist the pleasures of our vagabond style and soon joined our tribe. Both of us affirmed that we would be taking up jobs without completing the masters course too. I had no clue about bagging an assignment since the A, B, C, D of computers remained unknown to me.
Jayashankar got a job when the first semester came to an end. I can recollect, as if yesterday, the horror with which Rauf and I stared at the examination schedule. I cannot remember what I scribbled on the answer sheets.
It was with my friends that I watched the first adult film of my life. Inside Kanyaka Talkies ( Virgin Talkies). Terrified of being espied by the locals, pretending not to be natives, we sat hidden at the very back of the theatre. It was an English movie. After watching it, when Jayashankar asked, ‘How was it?’ I replied, ‘The music was good.’ Really, it was a harmonious melody!
After many years, when I wrote the story 18+, the Kanyaka Talkies, the audience and the movies played inside my mind. The story evolved from the thought that the church and theatre were similar in looks. Afterall, men lay down their sins in both the places. The name of the theatre in my story was ‘Kanyaka Talkies.’ The theme was how a theatre, which played adult movies, transforms into a church and the hallucinations of the newly arrived priest.
The story was made into a movie called ‘Kanyaka Talkies’ later.
If I had not studied in LBS College, the story would not have been written; neither would the movie be made.
My LBS days were chaotic, to say the least. As I meandered within the rebellious chaos, the cowardly me, proclaimed himself to be brave and strong. That increased the inherent anxiety and insecurity. During the examination on ‘Pentium’ during the third semester, I sat there unable to write a word. Everything vanished from my mind. Dread swelled within like a sea at high tide. I stared through the window at the sun scalding the rocks. When depression encircled me in its entirety, without further thought, hardly five minutes after the examination began, I left the hall and walked out. I would have collapsed at a mere touch.
My shirt, which had space for two more humans, became wings in the wind. As I boarded the bus to the railway station, I could hear the hungry, greedy beckoning of death.
My mind kept whispering, ‘Death while being run over by a train is so quick…’
‘This damned world will end with death!’ Some voices rained furiously from inside.
As I stepped down determined that there was no answer but death, a rain came holding the fingers of the wind, stamping down the sun. As the other passengers took shelter in nearby places, I stood in the rain, getting drenched. It was raining within and without.
The rain danced in the wind.
‘Death is easy, it is tougher to live.’
The rain within spoke up.
‘Live…miracles are waiting for you somewhere…do not let go of your mind…let whatever happen, happen.’
I found myself jumping inside the bus to Kanjagadu.
There was no death inside me then.
Somehow, I passed the MCA course.
I am still playing football with life.
The wind blows as yet.
Like a leaf torn away from the branch, I am still flowing in the wind.
Sab bidhi puri manohar jani/ Sakal siddhiprada mangal khani//
Bimal kadha kar keenh arambha/ Sunat nasahi kaam mada dhambha//
Knowing that Ayodhya is beautiful in all ways, grants all siddhis and is the seating place of all prosperity, I started writing this pure story. If anybody listens to it, all desires, ego and pride (kama, mada, dhambha) shall be cleansed from within.
Mann kari bishay anal ban jarayi/ Hoyi sukhi jaum ehim sar parayi//
The name of this work is ‘Ramcharitmanas’. On hearing it with one’s ears, it leads to peace. The elephant called mind, which is burning in desire’s fires, shall find itself cool and blissful when it steps inside the lake called ‘ Shri Ramcharitmanas’.
Tribidh dosh dukh darid davan/ Kali kuchali kuli kalush nasavan//
The Ramcharitmanas is beloved to sages. This beautiful and pure story was told by Lord Shiva. It destroys three types of doshas, sufferings and penury; and all the hypocrisies of Kaliyuga and all forms of sins.
Rachi mahes nij manas rakha/ Payi susamavu siva san bhasha//
Tatem Ramcharitmanas bar/ Dharevu naam hiyam heri harashi har//
Lord Shiva conceived the story and it stayed within his mind until he narrated it to his wife Parvati. Since the Lord’s story was gracing his heart (manas), Lord Shiv was pleased and named it ‘Ramcharitmanas’.
Kahavu kadha soyi sukhad suhayi/ Sadar sunahu sujan mann layi//
I am going to narrate the same beautiful, blissful story of Lord Ram. Devout souls, listen to it with sincerity.
Jas manas jehi bidhi bhayavu jag prachar jehi hetu/
Ab soyi kahavu prasang sab sumiri uma brishketu//
Now, remembering the divine Uma and Mahesh, let me describe how the Ramcharitmanas was created and which reason it spread across the world.
Sambhu prasad sumati hiyam hulasi/ Ramcharitmanas kabi tulsi//
Karayi manohar mati anuhari/ Sujan suchit suni lehu sudhari//
Due to Lord Shiva’s grace, intelligence dawned, and Tulsidas became the poet of Shri Ramcharitmanas. He has created it as beautiful as his intelligence could endeavour. Yet, devout souls, by listening to it with pure hearts, kindly modify any mistakes.
Barashahim Ram sujas bar bari/ Madhur manohar mangalkari//
Clear, pure intelligence is like earth; the heart is a place within; Vedas and Puranas are the oceans, and the sages and saints are the rain filled clouds. These clouds shower us with the rain waters of Lord Ram’s glorious, beautiful, sweet, wondrous and ever bountiful grace.
Leela sagun jo kahahim bakhani/ Soyi swachhata karayi mal hani//
Prem bhagati jo barni najayi/ Soyi madhurata susselatayi//
The elaboration of all the wonderful lila of the Lord forms the pure waters of Sri Ramji’s glory; which annihilates all evil. The ineffable loving devotion to the Lord causes the sweetness and coolness of the above said divine waters.
So jal sukrit saali hith hoyi/ Ram bhagat jan Jeevan soyi//
The waters of Sri Ramji’s glorious story are very beneficial for the rice crop of good deeds; and is the very life of Ram devotees. The pristine waters of Sri Ramji’s story fell on the earth of intelligence, flowed through the ears, and entering the ‘Manas’ or heart, stayed still therein. Residing there forever, it became beneficial, cool, sweet and beautiful.
Sudi sundar sambad bar birache buddhi bichari/
Teyi ehi pavan subhag sar ghat manohar chari//
The four enchanting and glorious conversations interwoven within this story ( Kaka Bhushundi-Garudji, Shiva-Parvatiji, Yagyavalkya-Bharadwaji, Tulsidas-Sages) form the four ghats of the immaculate and lovely lake.
Sapt prabandh subhag sopana/ Gyan nayan nirakhat mann mana//
Raghupati mahima aguna abadha/ Barnab soyi bar bari agadha//
The seven sopans (cantos) are the seven steps of this gorgeous lake of Ramcharitmanas. Gazing at which, through eyes of wisdom, the mind becomes pleased. The description of SriRamji’s nirguna (transcending all qualities) and unique greatness ushers in the depths of the graceful waters.
Ram Siya jas salil sudhasam/ Upma beechi bilas manoram//
The glories of Sri Ramji and Janaki are like amrit. The metaphors in the poetry are like the play of waves. The beautiful chaupayis are like lotus blossoms in the lake; and the poetic references are the sea shells holding pretty pearls.
Chhand sorada sundar doha/ Soyi bahurang kamal kul soha//
The beautiful play of words (Chhand, Sorada, Doha) is like an ensemble of vibrantly coloured lotus flowers. The incomparable meaning, spiritual elevation and exquisite language are the pollen, honey and fragrance of these flowers.
Sukrit punj manjul ali mala/ Gyan birag bichar marala//
Dhuni avareb kabit guna jati/ Meen Manohar te bahu bhanti//
The gathering of punya is like a flock of blue bees. Wisdom, detachment and contemplation are the swans. The intonation, word play, quality and character of the poetry are like beautiful fishes swimming about the waters.
Nav ras jap tap jog biraga/ Te sab jalchar charu tadaga//
Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha: these four purusharthas, the wisdom and practical knowledge ingrained within, the nine rasas of poetry, recitation of the Lord’s name (jap), tap or meditation, yoga, and affirmations of detachment- these are all the enchanting creatures which thrive in this water body.
Sukriti sadhu naam guna gaana/ Te bichitra jalbihag samana//
Santsabha chahu disi avarayi/ Shradhha ritu basant sam gayi//
The pure souls, sages and songs eulogizing Sri Ramji are the scintillating water birds around. The groups of sages are like the mango orchards surrounding the lake and the prayerful dedication shines like the spring season.