Tuesday, November 21, 2017

SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 16 FROZEN MOMENTS





SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 16
FROZEN MOMENTS

I seek the secrets of the soul,
From the secrets of her heart,
Where lie the frozen moments of the past,
Long buried and forgotten, frightened,
To be consumed in the heat of my desire,
The glacier moves to warmer climes,
To melt and merge with the wide expanse,
Giving form to rising tides,
As I wait to be swept away,
To far off shores, to be alone,
With those moments long forgotten,

The flame still burning in my heart.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

BOOK REVIEW – TEN SUTRAS FOR A GREAT LIFE by R.A.KRISHNA



BOOK REVIEW – TEN SUTRAS FOR A GREAT LIFE by R.A.KRISHNA

In the preface to the book the author says “To tell the truth, I am a fledgling seeker of Truth and my Understanding, and articulation, of the concepts of spirituality could well be severely wanting. However, I have gone ahead guided by my devotion to Lord Krishna and have been able to complete this book”.

This is a small book of 95 pages (Kindle edition) but one which packs within it the wisdom culled out from the Hindu scriptures – The Bhagavad Gita for the major portion. The author has tried to condense the essence of the Holy book of Hinduism in Ten Sutras or a collection of aphorisms in the form a condensed manual or text. It is not that the author is found wanting like he has said in the Preface to the book, for it is not an easy task to interpret the Gita or any Hindu scripture in a such a shortened form nor can they be interpreted in a general way. Every individual finds his own interpretation and meaning and in this one can find shades of the author’s own beliefs regarding the conduct of one’s life and the search for the truth. We should laud the author’s sincere efforts to make it as intelligible to the layman or people who have not had the opportunity or the inclination to go through the wisdom contained within these great works of Hindu Philosophy.

There is not much of a storyline except for the fact that a despondent Vishal meets the Guru Vishnu the epitome of wisdom and who in a series of meetings at different locations in Bangalore pulls Vishal out of the rut in which he had fallen into and teaches him the way to a better and more fruitful life. One can note that the author has chosen to name the Guru as Vishnu, a reminder of Lord Krishna and in my own interpretation the name Vishal would signify and embrace within it, the whole of mankind.

I like one quote from in the book which has been mentioned by the author – James Thurber’s “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness”.

There many passages of the author in the book which I have highlighted on my Kindle for ready reference and as a source of inspiration. I can appreciate the efforts of the author in putting down these Ten Sutras of wisdom for a great life and the passion with which this has been written. Whether everyone agrees with some of the interpretations this is a must-read book and does not take much time to read it. I would classify this under the category of self-help books. Expecting more such snippets of wisdom from the author.  
  


Monday, August 7, 2017

MY JOURNEY AS A WRITER – 2



MY JOURNEY AS A WRITER – 2

It was in October 2009 when I first took to blogging trying to revive what I had left many years ago, and what better way to start then posting some of my earlier writings. Maybe it was the thought that I had just eight months to retire and it was time that I prepared for my journey into retirement from the mundane world of banking and finance which to be truthful never did invade my psyche despite all those 35 years I had spent there earning my living. But to be fair, those years spent in that world had ensured that I retired in peace not having to sink into a morass of making both ends meet. Within the space of three months till December 2009 I had made nineteen postings on the blog. But the entire 2010 drew a blank as I was busy wrapping up things and preparing for my second daughter’s marriage. 2011 was active again except a brief period of six months when I was recuperating after a surgery. Thereafter I have been active. It is interesting to note that the very first post that I made on my blog was titled ‘Anonymity’, for that was the last thing one could expect while entering the public domain. This was something I had written long ago in my diary and reflected the mood I was steeped in on that particular night in October 2009. I reproduce that here -

There is solace in this anonymity,
in the gentle hiss
of the summer breeze,
the rustling of leaves,
and the walk
through a dimly lit avenue.
As the darkness beyond beckons,
the spurts of sound
from speeding lights
on the distant highway,
move in and out
of my memory lanes.
And one moves through this darkness,
through this silence,
oblivious of an earthly existence.
Nothing stops the soul,
its flight to freedom.
But the approaching lights
of an automobile,
makes me move to the side.

On 20th February 2013 in my 100th blog post I wrote –

Initially when I became active on my blog it was more an inward journey and more for myself. But a few inputs from some of my well-wishers made me realize that when I write something which I place on the public domain, it must have a certain interest to the reader. I was and am interested that people read what I write. Why, I shall come to later. My elder daughter was the first critic with whom I spent those six months. She said “Appa, you write very well but most of it goes over my head”. She used to diligently read them after all she was my daughter. Another valuable input came from one of my senior colleagues in the bank, quite senior in fact, who had retired long before, a person whose views I value a lot. He said nearly the same thing but in a different way, he said “Subbu you write well but most of it are philosophical excursions, the only thing I can say is that I like them by way of comments but that does not really mean anything. With your varied interests, you should be able to write on things which the reader can connect with”. I took him seriously and changed my approach. I found in the process that I could explore all those things that I have been passionately interested in like art – painting and music. I found that slowly the number of page views increased and knew that I was now connecting. Now I record my introspections separately elsewhere.

It took me three more years to reach the 200th post, but in the process, I learnt my lessons as a published author. Though I had vented my frustration as an author trying to break through into the literary world through a series of light hearted posts – ‘The Writer’s Dilemma’ and the ‘The Travails of an Aspiring Author’, I realized that for me writing was a Celebration of Life. I wrote –

Now, when I am on the verge of reaching the next milestone on my journey, I pause to reflect on what I have seen and experienced and what I have understood of life and what it means to live. I ask myself the question whether it is vanity that forces me to write. Maybe it is there in some measure but to be truthful I have found that my writing is a mirror I hold in front to understand the lessons that life has taught me. It has taught me that each day is a celebration. As you wake up to see the sun streaming through the windows and you stretch your limbs re-enacting the very process of being born again and to live one more day, it is a celebration.

‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ was a very personal journey and though laced with allegorical anecdotes and projections into the future, places it in the realm of a fictional autobiography and that is how I like it to be read for I wanted the reader to connect it with his own journey through life. I was happy when I found that it did, but the measure of success is different, isn’t it?

‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ was a journey into the external world of all those who have gone through the darkness of living and still find hope in living and an authenticity that defines their existence. In fact, from the quotes I have used in the book these two really describe the essence of what I have tried to get across –

“In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” ― Robert Frost

Each day is a little life; every waking and rising, a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little death. - Arthur Schopenhauer



Saturday, June 3, 2017

MY JOURNEY AS A WRITER - 1




After seven years of blogging with 230 posts and nearly 50,000 views and two books published during the last three years and in the process having keyed in close to 3,50,000 words this has been a journey through a labyrinth of a world of words. This defines my life post retirement and though it is not a full-time occupation it has been a meaningful one and helped me through the process of exploring my inner world and coming to terms with the external web of relationships surrounding me. I am a better person now.

I have grown to appreciate and empathize with people, things and events, which in the past would have just passed me by as I was too preoccupied with all things centered around my own existence. Maybe I have more time now but that alone is not the reason for this empathy. Ever since I started putting my fingers on the keyboard (like the good old pen on paper) I found the words give shape to experiences and people populate the pages of the word document. There are stories out there back in our world which still lie undiscovered waiting to be given form. Though I have an image I do not have a plot when I start of and I write as the story unfolds. This is very much in evidence in my second book ‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ the characters developed as I continued writing and when I look back now I feel happy that I have done justice without resorting to over emphasis and melodrama, making them feel more real. Writing without a plot has made me grow along with the characters and make their experiences my own. It has been more exciting and adventurous this way. I felt like a reader myself waiting for the next piece to fall in place.

It is when darkness falls and I am at my work table with only the table lamp on that my explorations start. I retreat into that world where things past and people whose lives have crossed mine, emerge. Not that I wallow in nostalgia and ache for things gone by, it is when they become characters on the pages, taking shape on the screen in front of me.

My journey started nearly forty-four years ago on a winter day which by no standards can be called winter in Bombay but for the fact that it was in December. The Introduction to my first book Í am just An Ordinary Man’ gives an account of this –

It was in 1973 that I first started to write. Since then I have reread what I wrote from time to time whenever I felt I was being swept away by the mundane existence of an inconsequential life. Now as I hold the diary in my hands, a possession forty years old, feel the pages which have more or less turned brown, and as the whiff of an ancient fragrance burrows its way through the corridors of my mind, I am transported through the years to that day in December 1973. I was shaken out of a stupor into which I had fallen. It all happened in the bus you may say. As I sat in the bus, a good two hours’ drive to my destination, I was riveted to my seat without being aware of what was happening around me. I am still unable to comprehend what it was, but maybe it was something which had been building up inside over a period of time, spilled over. When the bus reached its final stop, I got down and rushed home. I took out an old diary and started to write. I penned down a few lines in verse, which when I look back now does indicate the angst that had been haunting me then. I called it Ghosts. Though the ghosts have long since been exorcised, they still lurk in the background.

For the next three years, I wrote with an intensity that only youth can shower. There was rebellion, there was romance and there was angst, filling the pages of my diary more in verse initially and a shift to prose gradually. I filled up nearly two diaries with my writings during that period. The writings ranged, though largely unstructured, from deeply introspective to the romantic. These later served as the building blocks for my blog and my books. This was also a time when my reading peaked and a habit which I have retained to this day.
Stephen King in his book On Writing says-

If you want to be writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.

My early reading has had a lasting influence on my thought process. Though I read all genres the ones that left an impact were the existentialist writings of Camus, Sartre, Kafka, Dostoevsky and the works of Hermann Hesse.
Maybe I was reading Camus’s The Rebel, I am not sure, but I ended writing some pieces when the Emergency in India was declared and the day the papers went with a blank first page as a symbolic silent protest -  

Cobwebs
People don’t be blind,
You are hurting me,
But I don’t mind.
Just open your eyes
And you will find,
I am beside you.
Your eyes are now open,
You still don’t see;
Well it’s the darkness,
The cobwebs cut the light out.
Raise your hands
And you will find,
The cobwebs are above you:
It’s the top that needs a cleaning.
The air is foul, you cannot breathe,
Cause the cobwebs cut the air off.
Stop hitting me,
Here’s my back,
Climb, reach for the top,
Clear the cobwebs once for all,
For it’s there,
That needs a cleaning.

Why are people scared?
Why are people scared?
I wonder, they wonder.
Is it mounting frustration,
That has given rise,
To a weird hallucination?
They walk as if in fear,
With their eyes closed,
They do not speak nor hear,
Led, as if by an unseen force,
They walk the road,
Heedless where it goes.
If there were a pit,
They would fall into it,
Without a word or a whimper.
Why don’t you open your eyes?
You’re not blind
Wake up from the trance;
With all your strength, you should try,
Only then there is a chance.
If you take the trouble,
To use your mind,
To question or to answer,
From the front, never behind.

I also wrote –
Batons shall not beat us back,
And even though our skulls do crack,
We should fight with all our might,
For what is just and what is right.

My writing abruptly stopped or rather pushed to the background as I felt myself immerse deeper into the humdrum of a normal existence with its attendant gains and pains. It was not writer’s block, but only changed priorities. I have come a long way since then.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

SECRETS OF THE SOUL -15 EXTINCTION




SECRETS OF THE SOUL -15

EXTINCTION

I seek the secrets of the soul,
Where the neon light casts its ghostly glow,
On the bundle of life that lay below,
A refuge from the surrounding shadows,
Beckoning to the darkness beyond,
To melt away to final extinction.
The light flickers as the strings snap,
And I watch as the bundle shivers,
A last gasp as stillness overtakes,
The shadows converge on their prey,
As the neon light flickers and fades away,

Somewhere in the shadows stands the ghost.

Monday, May 1, 2017

ONE PART WOMAN/ MADHUROBAGAN by PERUMAL MURUGAN BOOK REVIEW OF TRANSLATION by ANIRUDDHAN VASUDEVAN


ONE PART WOMAN/ MADHUROBAGAN by PERUMAL MURUGAN
BOOK REVIEW OF TRANSLATION by ANIRUDDHAN VASUDEVAN

‘One Part Woman’ is the English version of Perumal Murugan’s book in Tamil ‘Madhurobagan’. The translation by Aniruddhan Vasudevan absolutely brilliant and lyrical in its rendition won him the Sahitya Akademi Translation Award for the year 2016, while Perumal Murugan finds himself in the midst of a controversy and ostracism from his community for his alleged blasphemous depiction of certain rituals which were said to have been prevalent during the early part of the twentieth century. Despite the excellent translation of Aniruddhan Vasudevan which I could read, I am sure that the original flavor of the novel written in the native tongue with its peculiar nuances in the dialect of the region and the caste would have been diluted to an extent.

The English title is derived from the Tamil Madhurobagan which is a translation of the name of the deity Ardhanareeswara which means one part woman and one part man in this case Parvati and Shiva. In fact, the Ardhanareeswara is the presiding deity of the temple in Tiruchengode.   

Storyline
The story has its setting in the early part of the 20th century in a village near Tiruchengode where Kali and Ponna belonging to a lower caste in a society ridden by stringent caste divisions, are a childless couple. The plot revolves around the rituals and practices that are said to have been prevalent during the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara at Tiruchengode. This is elaborated in the following extract from the book -

“For the people of Tiruchengode the chariot festival was a three-month affair.

At the peak of the celebration, all rules were relaxed. The night bore witness to that. Any consenting man and woman could have sex. In the narrow lanes, on the fields around the village, in the rest stops on the hill, and on the open surfaces of the rock bodies lay casually intertwined. Darkness cast a mask on every face. It is in such revelry that the primal being in man surfaces.

No one sent unmarried women to the festival. But women over thirty were to be seen everywhere. Young men roamed all over the place. These men tried to lure as many women as they could on this one night. This was also the night when many of the young men had their first taste of sex. And women took on the role of their teachers.

This was on the night of the fourteenth day of the festival and was accepted as a means of helping a woman bear a child after having consensual sex with a faceless stranger who for all practical purposes was considered as a god. This is said to have been an accepted ritual. In the story Ponna is persuaded by her mother-in-law to go to the festival

“Ponna, please go to the fourteenth day of the festival” said her mother-in-law to her happily. 

“Your brother will take care of everything. How long can we keep looking at each other’s faces in this house? Don’t we want a child to bounce around this place?”

Her mother-in-law had told her “What is there to think about? This is God’s work. You are going to be with whoever appears as God to you. God will show you the way.”

Ponna does go the festival assuming that it has her husband’s acceptance having been tricked into believing it is so.

It is possible that in a typically caste ridden agrarian society of those times especially the lower caste smaller farmers and laborers the need for a progeny and the stigma attached to a barren woman is so great that the possibility of such rituals being prevalent during those times cannot be ruled out. It appears they did exist and have been documented.

The hue and cry raised by caste based outfits against the author for what they consider as portrayal of historical traditions of the temple rituals in a bad manner and calling for withdrawal of his books from circulation only served to fuel the controversy surrounding an author’s literary freedom. In fact, Perumal Murugan unable to withstand the onslaught against him decided to leave his native place after declaring that he was giving up writing stating that ‘Perumal Murugan the writer is dead’.

The protests have since petered out after the Madras High Court disposed of the petitions filed by protesters in favor of the author. Perumal Murugan is a Professor of Tamil and teaches at a college in Namakkal. He has won State awards for his works and three of his books have been translated into English – the other two being Seasons of the Palm and Pyre.

In a sense the controversy surrounding ‘Óne Part Woman’ has catapulted him onto the national stage. The other books are also rooted to the traditions and behavior patterns of the society in which he had grown up and touch on caste divides and depictions of real life patterns. One can say his writing is simple and truthful and since I have read only the English translations a lot of credit is due to the translator and perhaps that is why the Sahitya Akademi Award 2016 for Translation has been given to Aniruddhan Vasudevan. An Award for the Original author would have been a befitting response to his detractors.

I am only left with certain questions – 1) why rake up a controversy over a custom which no longer exists especially when the story is set in the early part of the last century? 2) though the entire story has an underlying element of sexuality at no point has the author transgressed the rules of decency, in fact at no point does one feel distasteful while reading the book. 3) our epics especially the Mahabharata is replete with examples of children born through the intervention of the Gods. Here in the book the consensual partner is referred to as a god. May be the ritual traces back its origins to the epics (or is this a controversial statement that I have made?).


In the end of the book while Ponna goes to the festival assuming that her husband is aware and his acceptance is there, the truth is far from that. This does raise the question of the morality of all such practices.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

VISAKHA – A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

The pillar where my father breathed his last


VISAKHA – A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

It has taken me fifty four long years to revisit and recapture what I had left behind. I left as a thirteen year old, leaving behind a childhood and a father whose ashes I had gathered and immersed in the Bay of Bengal. The 28th of March 1963 is forever etched in my memory, when I was rudely awakened from what now appears as a dream. This trip was in the nature of a pilgrimage primarily, something I planned two years ago when I was in Hyderabad, but was prevented from doing so as Visakhapatnam was felled by a severe cyclonic storm then. This time around it was Chennai that bore the brunt of a cyclone. 

As I alighted and stood on the railway platform, I looked around for familiar sights – the bookstall (if I remember right it was Higginbothams) from where I had procured my huge collection of Illustrated Classics books, my father making sure to get me two or three books every time we visited the station and that was pretty frequent, what with a host of relatives travelling between Madras and Calcutta. Vizag was midway and as the train from Madras would arrive around lunch time (similar being the case with the train going to Madras) it was taken for granted that home-made meals would be made available to them. My parents never failed to fulfill their expectations. I remember standing on the platform watching as the train chugged in. The steam engine has never failed to fascinate me. It looked so alive huffing and puffing as it pulled the coaches behind it and then letting of a sigh as the steam was released. Well I couldn’t find the bookstall.
The Street where we lived
The old city Main Road

I was caught in a time warp. I was still a thirteen year old who had pressed the button on the time machine taking me fifty four years into the future. Vizag was now a big city with broad roads and bustling crowds. The guest house where I stayed was in a sprawling residential colony which once upon a time was a picnic spot. I would not have been able to navigate myself to the old part of the city where we had resided if not for the landmark of the temple of what was once a village deity, now grown big, blocking the entire road where it was situated. 
The Kanak Mahalakshmi Temple


The Kanaka Mahalakshmi temple was my first destination from where I traced my way to the street where I had grown up as a small boy. The street appeared to have grown narrower with the old buildings having been replaced with two or three storied dwellings which seemed to have encroached on to portions in front of them. Anyway I was not sure for may be the street had appeared wider and now when I saw it with eyes that had grown five decades older it seemed narrow. Well there was no one who could help me trace out the inhabitants or rather the landlord’s family of my old dwelling, though I ultimately did succeed by tracing the shop on the Main Road of the old city, thanks to the alertness of my wife who had spotted it while we were driving down. The name was same though the location had changed. What now followed was an emotional reunion after fifty four years. The landlord’s son was eighty four years old now and he had last seen me as a lad of thirteen years.

The Seetha Ramaswamy Temple

For me my pilgrimage was completed when I visited the Seetha Ramaswamy Temple situated just behind the street we had stayed. This was where my father had breathed his last. As I stood in front of the pillar against which my father had sat leaning while listening to the discourse on the Ramayana the images came back vividly. I am quoting from my book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ –

My childhood is filled with the memories of a father, a father who fills the major portion of this period. His death at the age of fifty three due to a heart attack was the first transforming moment.

I have suppressed these memories as it brings back the last moment of my father’s life. I was sitting in the temple where a discourse on the Ramayana was in progress. I was sitting on the other side directly facing my father when it happened. It was all over in an instant. A brief contortion of the face and then he slumped down onto the floor. He was not sick and he did not suffer in death. However for us, it was so sudden. Later, others would console us saying that he was blessed as he died in a temple while listening to the holy book of God. Well how did it matter, to us he was dead and lost forever. I remember running to our family doctor’s place, all the while praying that my father was still alive. I returned as the doctor was away, but they had already shifted my father to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

That day as I stood near the funeral pyre, a boy of thirteen, to perform the last rites, since my brother elder to me by sixteen years could not reach in time, something happened. My tears dried up and as I lit the pyre the finality of it all hit me. I grew up that day. I understood what death was all about.

I stood there for some time allowing all those memories to sink in and in a manner allowed their exorcism. Later my wife told me that I appeared upset, may be yes.

St. Aloysius High School

The next stop was my school St. Aloysius High School where I had studied from the Nursery class till the first term of Ninth standard – my entire childhood. The school was as it was structurally, a magnificent medieval monument, but I was saddened by the fact that the entire sea front at the back of the school was now lost to the ore handling terminal which had also brought with it ecological inconveniences to the school. The big Banyan tree behind the sports ground, on whose branches we had spent many a time was now no more, having given way to the ore conveyor belt (though fortunately enclosed). We had time to go through the school accompanied by one of the teachers, peeping into my old classrooms and the Chapel. I met the present Principal and Rector and introduced myself as one of the favorite students of the first Indian Rector and Principal of the school – Father Cherian. It was his recommendation that got me admitted to St. Patricks High School in Madras in the middle of a term, when we shifted there after my father’s death. I was informed that the Government wanted the school to shift and declare the present building as a Heritage site. It was the concerted action taken by all the teachers and the school administration which ensured that the school remained where it was.


Though we stayed for three days covering the city’s various beaches hills and temples, the first day completed and fulfilled what I had been aching to do for many years –a trip down memory lane and a childhood recaptured.

Friday, January 6, 2017

ROSES IN THE GARDEN




ROSES IN THE GARDEN

Something irks,
Once again I feel restless,
As I see,
The roses in the garden.
It was last year,
In a similar setting,
I had written poetry.
And she was there in front of me.

We met,
Brought together by a cursory glance.
Our glances held,
Searched for deeper content,
But no word spilled,
my heart’s lament

Sometimes on that castles height,
We stood gazing,
At the orange west,
And as the sky,
Grew speckled with little lights,
She spoke to me,
Of distant domains,
The abode of Gods,
Of divine love and death.

The days passed,
I beside her, content,
In her closeness,
The sweetness of her tone.
And the fever grew,
The fire within me raged,
And in delirium,
I disclosed the scars within,
In love of her my heart had burnt.

She had blushed;
A mist covered her sparkling eyes,
As she stared at the setting sun,
A silence reigned supreme.

In this stillness, I chose
To pursue, remain close,
To my fixation,

She receded slowly from the scene.

An year has passed,
Now alone,
I sit in the garden,
In wonderment,
In solitude,
I speak to the roses,
And they gaze at me.

A similar tenderness,
A significant silence pervades.

Something irks,
It was last year,
In a similar setting,
I had written poetry.

And she was there in front of me.