Saturday, April 29, 2017

FORTUNATE CHOICE: A Review of The Judas Strain

Being a writer, I believe in the power of reading. Reading is like physical exercise. It’s lovable. It’s also hard. Reading requires a bit of pushing around from the part of the person or teachers.

            Since I am my best student and the world my best teacher, I take cues from the reality that plays out around me. Occasionally, I get fortunate enough to pick up a good thriller. I said fortunate because often, due to a prejudiced mentality, cultivated by years of academic training, people like me ignore thrillers. We consider thrillers a mere pass time genre, a meaningless fluke.

            This mentality is hard to put aside. Even if one succeeds in keeping oneself at bay from the scorching eye of the prejudice, the thought that someone will criticize always haunts.

            The Judas Strain was available at a generous discount through Amazon. I bought it a year ago, kept it in my home library, and never opened it until six months before. Although I did open it before six months, I could not feel in harmony with the introductory part of the story: A map and a few historical records on the journey of the legendary Italian sailor and explorer Marco Polo.
           
            I went on reading other books. Six months later, I watched an interview through YouTube. It was with an author named James Rollins. I did not find the interview very much thought provoking, like interviews should be in the bubble of academic prejudice my friends and I inhabit. However, the author’s presence in front of my eyes triggered a memory, not so distant: The Judas Strain.

            Published in 2007, The Judas Strain features Sigma Force as a coterie of protagonists, the central egalitarian force that rivals the antagonists, the Guild. Although this book is part of a series, Sigma Force Novels, anyone starting James Rollins afresh can enjoy The Judas Strain.

As I implied earlier, this is the first time I read James Rollins. The Judas Strain could be read as a wonderful stand-along novel. Still, there are moments when you want to take a dip in the stream of novels that form the Sigma Force series just to find out those hidden links.

            I was startled at the final part of the novel where it exuded elements of a certain spiritual-scientific evolution of the characters. This open ending is a mark of unique excellence of the writer. When in comparison, James Rollins writes in a direct, lucid, and occasional cliché language unlike his compatriot Lee Child, as a storyteller, James Rollins has unmatched gifts. The quality of his storytelling skill became evident when I realized that he weaves tales and intrigues even better than Dan Brown and Lee Child himself.

Undoubtedly, James Rollins is at the top of the thriller genre in English language literature. In the scale of adventure and thrill that James brings into the story, he is surely unmatched even by the legends of the genre like Dan Brown and Lee Child.
           
The Judas Strain is a good book to push yourself over the edge, if that is how you’d like to see your reading graph. First jump and then grow the wings. Reading skill is difficult to maintain. It requires a certain compulsion. The Judas Strain is a compulsive read. It’s a long book. But it took me about three weeks to finish the book. If lack of time is the excuse you put up for yourself in order ignore regular reading habit, a thriller is your remedy. While I was reading The Judas Strain, I felt sad that my eyes were drooping down at midnight and that my day job was taking too much time out of my precious reading schedule. After a short period of fretting over what wasn’t going good, I decided to make good of the fortunate opportunity of discovering this good book. Before long, I was finding more time than I needed and reading had once again become a compulsive strain. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A NEEM TREE STANDS

I am reflecting on the woman. I am inspired by the celebratory nature of 8 March. I do not want to argue if only one day should be celebrated as Women’s Day. I am not even sure if it should be “woman’s day” or “women’s day”.

I feel petrified at the responsibility of speaking something about women. However, I must speak. I am a writer. The world listens to me. It wants me to speak. That is why the world gave me the attribute and the honour of the writer. Author Anu Lal is not an individual. He is the personification of the archetype of the seer. I am not humbled by this thought. Neither am I honoured. Instead, I am in fear.

I do not think I can speak in depth about the conceptual side of a woman. From what I read at the University, every word I utter about the woman and the feminine would be used against me. I am not afraid of being criticised. On the other hand, I find it mortifying to be the cause of any damage to the women I love. I cannot think of hurting them. It’s personal. It’s not theoretical. Theory can go away. The women I love cannot.

We live in a time when we cannot write or say openly about woman what we (anyone) feels or knows honestly about her. We are supposed to wrap our deepest knowing in the commonsense theory of detachment. Detachment works most of the time. We can say, “Let me not judge.” We can also say, “I am not the right person to comment on the issue or person.” We can even quote Simone de Beauvoir and say, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” We cannot say how badly we need her body to survive. We cannot state that woman has the secret to the nourishment of humanity. Woman—from mother to lover. Either men or women cannot say openly that a woman tastes nourishing and salty, and soothing in her smells. All of such truths are against the commonsense theory of detachment. So we are not supposed to write it or say it out loud. It will be treated as an erroneous stand or political incorrectness. I may be wrong, judgmental about the times we live in. Aren’t we all judgmental about something or other in life?  

I wanted to write about the most important woman in my life, the person who I call ‘the muse’. So I made a clever choice. I decided to write about the Neem tree that stands outside my house.

I could see it through the window across my writing desk. I could hear it murmur. Dear reader, you replace the Neem tree with a woman and the narrative here will mean what I really want to say about the woman and all women.  

A Neem tree stands guard to the front gate of our house. It is a small tree. It has not many leaves during the summer season. During the rainy season, the South Western Monsoon, it sheds its leaves again. I consider it a very thoughtful tree.

The Neem tree is small but wise. It knows that its leaves do not just belong to the tree alone. The whole family benefits from it. The breeze that sifts through its lean branches learns how to rejuvenate the human spirit. The leaves that I spoke so intently about are medicine to many viruses that are otherwise undefeated: chicken pox, skin rashes, and influenza. In many ways, unknown to me, the tree harbours life. Invisible spirits, sentient beings, bacteria, spiders, bugs, and lizards find shelter on the skin of the Neem tree. Even the leaves that fall benefit someone.

It seems every moment of the life of the tree is fulfilment. As human beings, ours lasts only milliseconds. The tree manages to make every moment of its life and every stage in it journey through life an affair of fulfilment. The Neem tree produces some sort of fruit, I think. It is its seed. However, it is not conspicuous, like the mango or the papaya. I think the life of the Neem tree itself is a fruit.

The existence of the Neem tree is reflected in the way it looks. The Neem tree does not look grand. It looks significant. The tight curves on its body and the groovy thick bark mark the relevance of its sickle-shaped thorny-edged leaves.

The Neem tree can trick me into believing that it is very feeble in nature. When I touch it, I feel the bark strong. Once I chewed a leaf. It was salty and had sap that was greenish in colour. The sap went down my throat and made me feel I am whole. I felt like my body received the liquid with an eager pleasure.

I hold on to a branch in an attempt to pick some leaves. The branch bends. I take advantage. Pick a couple of leaves for boiling with my bathing water. Then I realise how dangerous the strength of the Neem tree is. The branch I held on to came off from the trunk of the tree. For a moment, I felt something like an electric shock. I could not do anything to fix the branch back. The Neem tree cried. I could hear a cry. It is a quiet tree, usually. Even her agonies aren’t supposed to trouble me. But on that day, I was troubled. The Neem tree had taught me how to listen to its agony.

The strength of the Neem tree was not on its rough bark or lean branches. The strength of the Neem tree was in its capacity to make me feel the pain it felt. I stood there engraving that scene in my mind for another day, for another purpose.

Today, a man with two kids came in a motorbike. He asked our permission to pick some leaves from the Neem tree. I felt jealous. I did not want to give away the previous leaves to some stranger.

I thought about the tree for a moment. I thought about how I am renewed by its sap. I decided to think about the Neem tree, not as a possession. I decided to change my mind.

I watch as the elder kid climbs up the wall that skirted our property and picks the leaves. The Neem tree murmured its consent. I heard it and went inside to write this piece.

I know that the Neem tree has come closer to me. I know that the cells of my body now carry the juicy sap of the Neem tree.

I know that the tree and I are one.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

THE ART OF BLOG WRITING AND ME


Today, I was fortunate enough to share a stage with these legends: Prof. Tharanathan sir, Prof. Abdulla, Sri. PV Gangadharan sir, and Mrs. Linu. M K, and give a talk on blogging and writing. The best part was when Prof. Tharanathan sir introduced me. He said that my stories remind him of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. I was sitting with the others on stage and my eyes were full, overwhelmed. At the end of my talk, I took the time to thank him and tell the whole gathering how I felt about his wonderful comment on my book Prabuddha.  

The ambiance of the hall was phenomenal with academic exuberance and energy. What bowled me over was the enthusiasm the students showed from the very beginning. They were all ears. Every word was nodded at and discussed among them. I believe, these are the moments that pay off every effort you make as a teacher. It makes you think about sticking around a few more years, doing the same job. I am very impressed by the participation of students in the discussions that followed the talk, too.

Prof. Tharanathan sir delivering his presidential address
Mostly, students from Kerala are reluctant public speakers. This especially reflects in their English language speaking skills. Hardly, does anyone get past this stage of inhibition, even after years of practice at special coaching classes! These students made it a point today, to stand up and speak their mind at the end of the session. Some of them surprised me with their fluent and confident use of English language.

I would like to thank my teacher, Prof. Tharanathan sir for this wonderful opportunity. I would also like to thank Sri Prakasan sir and Sri Thomas sir for organizing this wonderful gathering. 

These pictures say most of it. My gratitude as a student of this great person is beyond words.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I HAVE A CONFESSION TO MAKE

I never really enjoyed reading Hemingway, forgive me guys for I have erred. I dislike the dry dialogue sessions when he, the author could easily have told me what the characters said and took me to the real fun, the journey into the depth of their psyche, rather than leaving the whole trip to the reader’s whim.

The point is not that everyone has the right to read a story and take the journey into a character’s psyche in one’s own terms but it is the difficulty involved in convincing the reader of doing so. Perhaps, it was OK with Hemingway, not with me. I mean, the reader’s right to interpret a story in whatever way one wants it, will remain unquestioned until the reader chooses to be otherwise.

The times that I live in, demand a different narrative sensibility. One that is short, fast, and to the point. People have no time for subtle analogies. I don’t know if I achieved that in my latest short story; saying is one thing, doing another.

I would like to get your feedback on my new short story named “My Muse and I on a November Morning”.  

My new short story is a flash fiction with word count a little shy of 1500. I hope I don’t imitate Hemingway in this story. I never wanted to. Please do tell me, if you feel that way. Or whatever way that is. Any feedback is essential for the artist in me.

One of my friends, Stephen Boka read this short story and told me this: “Your story made me wonder: isn't it enough for the writer's inspiration to coalesce on paper or is publication the only way to vindicate oneself? Writers always seek approval and vindication through being published but maybe the journey is more important than the desired destination.” [Facebook]

As Stephen suggests, the story is about writers, about the art of writing, and about journeys that we take in our lives, and our destinations. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

I WRITE THESE WORDS

Read the poem that I wrote for my recently published anthology:


"I write these words, my dear, for the time when wordless passion overrules the days of our togetherness. Saving what I wished I could tell you in detail in the pages of my memories.
I write these words, my dear, for the days that make our tomorrow, so no one forgets what it was like to have met you and felt the need for you.
I write these words, my dear, for those who wander in search of love; to tell them what they seek is in the depths of the bottomless ocean in the eyes of the beloved.
I write these words, my dear, of the gift you are, my love. "

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A CELEBRATION IN SEARCH OF MAN: Contemplating Onam

Routledge Publishers publishes a book in 2001. The book is, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, written by German psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. I consider Jung, one of my gurus. The book seems significant to me in two ways. One: Its title reminds me of another life changing book namely Man’s Search for Meaning. Two: I have an intuitive awareness that all human beings undergo some form of soul-searching at least once in their lifetime. What I realize today is more significant than a man’s soul-searching. I realize that sometimes, celebrations search for man.

Before untangling the knots of this puzzling thought let me take a moment to wish each one of you out there, reading, thinking, and sharing human being, a very happy Onam.

A celebration is in search of man. By ‘man’ I do not mean a gender specific entity. I would like to use the term to refer to the entire human kind. Apart from being a Malayalam nostalgia, Onam is yet another celebration where the role of humanitarian considerations have given way to concerns and anxieties of a post-humanist universe. Love has not a dime’s worth of value neither does family, commitment of friendship, and respect for our fellow beings’ feelings. “I don’t care what someone else thinks,” they say. It’s fine until the bothering is restricted to the other person’s thoughts. Still, I think there is a little hypocrisy about it. No one actually bothers to check how our behavior made the other person feel about life. 

We can’t find enough time to go and meet our grandparents, or parents, for that matter. Our cousins and siblings are mere buddies in Whatsapp and Facebook. Reality TV is our new pal. But they don’t give us that sweet friendly hug. We are not great huggers, by the way, so that is OK. The TV show host tells us that our childhood was better and that there used to be a lot of flowers in the open fields. They tell us in the morning that Onam is here and everyone is celebrating etcetera. The truth is available readily in front of us. It’s laid on the couch. The patriarch lies and the mother is either tending the garden or getting busy with her kitchen chores, as usual. By noon, they eat an ordinary meal and by night, the kids come home from special tuition and complain of not getting enough out of Onam holidays. The patriarch argues about getting a better future. The children dream about their summer vacation. In some other homes, the wife calls the catering service and orders a good Onam sadya, the family feast.

There is celebration. There is no celebration. Between this ironic binary exists one of humanity’s greatest challenges: the loss of empathy. The culture of celebrations acts as yearly reminders of the lost empathy among humans. What someone else feels about our actions does matter; it is this concern that makes us human. Instead, today, we are concerned about our performance and stand in public. This concern is all for the wrong reason. A verse from the Bible comes to mind: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8.36-37).

Only a success, which is harmonious with our ability to show empathy, could help us keep our souls in exchange for all the agonies we go through. After all, we go through all those nerve-breaking struggles to be happy and content. It seems that the new generation of India is busy improving their grades in schools. I doubt if they truly feel the great joy of forgetting every worry in a celebration. Each celebration and holiday season is an opportunity for an additional tuition class or remedial coaching. They prepare for an endless contest, forgetting that the beauty of any contest is at its conclusion. Onam comes every year. So do Easter, Ramzan, Christmas, and Diwali. And these festivities are supposed to remind us that it matters what our actions make someone else feel. Empathy… empathy… empathy.

But… the root of empathy is love, isn’t it? It’s simple and clear at sight. The celebration is in search for man, to be fully present, without holding any of the joys back, without holding any of the love back, a man without prejudices, a man with empathy…    

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

TECHNOLOGY VS TRADITION: Familiarity Breeds Blindness



There is no other way to fool someone better than to speak of these two in antagonistic sense. Technology is not in antagonism with tradition nor is tradition antagonistic to technology. They are in mutual alignment. In fact, their mutual correlation even surpasses those devices and symbols that come to our minds when we contemplate these two universal notions. Let me elaborate on what I have already said with a new example.

Occasionally, my computer breaks down. I use an old desktop version of it. I am no computer savvy. But I use this legend of technology whenever I can. The limits to which it could help us have no limits. Therefore, when this device breaks down I feel great anxiety. What would happen to all my readers’ souls across the universe that are at this moment in dire need to peruse some wise damn pearl of wisdom that I puke out random! This worries me a great deal, as it might, any self-confident writer, blogger, or columnist. One of the many painful realities they endure on a daily basis.

I worry a great deal about my own soul that would rot and degenerate without the help of the Internet or the writing mechanism that I am addicted to: the Word Doc. There really is no other way around if your desktop breaks down, is there? Your android cell phone, you think, might help you hit out a quick 200 words passage. But once you paddle around with that virtual, touch key pad, you discover for the umpteenth time that these gadgets look cool but are clumsy in reality.

Ultimately, I run with the heart of the mice caught in a trap for salvation. My escape route is through a telephone number. I dialed the number and the messenger of peace answers: “Hello, Computer Service.”

This phone call does not mean that everything is sorted out clean though. Peace of mind after the clean sorting out of things wouldn’t bless me yet. I must wait. The service person said before hanging up the phone that he wouldn’t be available until the next two days.

It was disappointing. The immediate ally on such an occasion would be what Dr. Viktor E Frankl called, an ‘existential vacuum’. Although not a computer savvy, I still spent my fair share of time in front of my personal computer to get things done. The vacuum created in the place of the computer was the first challenge I had to deal with. What surprised me in my own reaction to the situation was that I preferred to deal with the existential vacuum rather than dealing with the work to be done.

My focus was tuned to curb my psyche from wandering off at the edge of the darkness of the emptiness created by the malfunction of the computer. I adopted a strategy that one may call traditional. I decided to spend time with books, my favourite remedy for all issues- reading.

Elizabeth L Eisenstein in her book Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe presents a technological advancement that washed over the European society in the early 15th century. This technological advancement transformed the whole of humanity, just like how the internet today.

Books are equally a product of technological advancement, just as the computer and the internet. To consider books and publishing a matter of tradition is only relative with reference to the computer technology- and not entirely true. What we understand and pass along as tradition in the present, therefore, might be a cutting edge technology in the past. Perhaps, familiarity breeds blindness too. What we take for granted as ‘tradition,’ therefore, is not antagonistic with technology.

My reading experience was fabulous. The breakdown of the computer was indeed a blessing in unexpected garb.         
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