Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THE WATER DREAMER: Thoughts on Water, Poets, and Contemporaneity

Blood has dried up, the blood of humans. You can smell the dried up blood of the man of the future in your surroundings. The blood of humans is the water of the soil. Humanity’s blood is in the water of the earth.

In Kerala, the culture is exceptionally sensitive towards the water. However, because the culture is a consumer-centred one, water deficiency threatens in the scarcity of drinking water only. The consumerist culture doesn’t bother too much about the scarcity of water in agricultural pursuits. The thought process is that someone would grow the food we want and bring it to the market. If we have the money, why bother thinking about who cultivates all the food and how.

Deep within the culture of this land, I have always sensed an agrarian spirit. This spirit has dried up due to two reasons, in my opinion: availability of opportunities in gulf countries and crazes for white-collar jobs.

It is common sense that these two cultural phenomena are not direct reasons for the scarcity of water. The attitude of the people towards these two events caused the shift. From a balanced environment, our land has shifted onto an imbalance.

The government now plans to have artificial rain. I have never seen artificial rain. It must be quite a sight. Would it be as wonderful as the real one? Or would the artificial rain be just a copy, an imitation, a simulated reality?

Poets and artists have resorted to rain for inspiration. However, I have also heard writers remark that rain fills them with longing and they reach a state of ecstatic creative high. This could mean that more than resorting to rain and using it as a subject of exploration, the artists and poets have been used by rain. Does rain have a mind of its own? Is rain an organism?

Can artificial rain bring the same gifted minds of artists to fruition? Would there be a poetry of any sort that the rain could inspire? If this rain that is only a reflection without a mirror of the other true rain created poetry, what would be the nature of that poetry? Wouldn’t that also be artificial, like the artificial rain?

My questions are stretched beyond a realm I could see. The perspective of anyone living in my time, at my place, is dangerously walled. The wall is made of political correctness and the fear of being wrong in front of everyone else.

Someone might quip that these truths are always written in books. No one reads anymore, for that matter. No one cares about artificiality hijacking originality. Artificial flowers are in vogue everywhere during Onam days. Onam is the festival of flowers in Kerala, the time of harvest. No one foresaw what was following artificial flowers. Artificial rain would soon replace original rain, the water from where our ancestry stems.

Artificial rain would inspire artificial art. That would gain prominence to artificial souls. Afterwards, man would die without a soul to pass through to the other dimension. The artificial soul has a price that wouldn’t let us pass through the hole in the needle.

Everyone seems to be very fond of Arabia, here. In Arabia, the Monsoon doesn’t rain down as it does in Kerala. Arabia is surrounded by a desert. So must our land also be like Arabia, with no rain to irrigate our paddy fields, surrounded by a wretched desert? I like this question, whenever it is posed. No one asks this question though, for fear of being wrong.

It seems to me that Monsoon would be early this year, as the summer had started early. It must be that way. “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

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.
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