From the world of stars-II

“There is a book launch today. Jayakumar sir is inaugurating the function. Do you want to come?”, Babu Ettan asked me over the phone.

Babu Ettan knew my weakness for Jayakumar sir. 

“Jayakumar sir? Oh yes! I would love to come. But it may not be possible to speak to him, I guess. He may not have much time to spare”, I mused aloud.

“Come a little early. Perhaps you can catch him then”, Babu Ettan suggested.

“I doubt. All the same, I shall come”, I replied.

I like book launches. It is a place where you get to meet interesting people. People who have somehow preserved their ability to appreciate the gift of life. However, that wasn’t the case when I had attended book launches of English books in Kannur. The crowd is superfluous and elite; the discussion and interaction lacks passion and warmth; the conversations are centered around achievements and publicity. There is an air of superiority that most people carry, and they flaunt their literacy. The book launch of Malayalam books, in stark contrast, is a simple affair. I love the simplicity, modesty and warmth that characterizes these events. It is an intellectual environment where people discuss thoughts and ideas, rather than facts. People are more receptive. I feel at home; there is an Indian flavour to it. Perhaps it is the lack of the artificial formality that accounts for the Indian feel.There is mutual regard and respect, but there is no formality or prejudice. Everybody is treated equal, and the focus is on exchange of thoughts and ideas, sharing of experience, and learning. It is actually hard to leave because the discussions are so stimulating. 

I was right about Jayakumar sir. He arrived just on time and I only had time to greet him as he walked to the dais. The speakers were listed on the invitation card. I noticed that one of them was film director M.A.Venu. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. I scanned the faces on the dais for any familiarity, but there was none, apart from Jayakumar sir. I wondered which of them was M.A.Venu.

Jayakumar sir’s speech was a show stealer, as always. This time, he spoke about why it was more difficult to write a short story than a novel. Writing a novel may be laborious, but to bring the vast canvas of life into the confines of a story, demanded a certain sensibility. He reflected on Guy de Maupassant’s story ‘The Necklace’, one of my personal favorites. He took us through the plot of the story in brief, emphasising on the climax that held the essence of the story. The story ended there, but refused to end in the mind of the reader. The story compels the reader to dwell upon the untold chapters in the central character’s life. And there lay its strength. Many unanswered questions linger in the mind. ‘What if….’

My mind wandered to films that ended on a similar note. While there are many films that end with a haunting climax, two films that instantly came to my mind were Meghamalhar and Chakoram. 

Meghamalhar is the story of two childhood friends who rediscover each other by a strange coincidence of fate, but are compelled to go separate ways on account of their circumstances. The film raises many questions. What if they had resumed the friendship? If so, would it have complicated their lives? Why did they run into each other when they had to eventually separate? The film raises a scenario of conflict between the nature of worldly relationships and the philosophical nature of relationships that exist in our minds. Which is real? The film blurs the thin line between fact and fantasy.

Chakoram takes us through the fragile, but resilient character of a woman who has learned to don the masks that enable her to survive in an opportunistic world. Into her life walks the eccentric ‘Mukundan Menon’ who sees through her masks and melts away her defenses. Just as she dreams of giving a fresh start to her life in the comforting shade of his companionship, fate intervenes and Mukundan Menon is killed in an accident. The viewer is left pondering. Why did fate play such a cruel game on her? Why did fate tempt her at a juncture when she had learned to fight her battles alone? Why did fate take away her dreams before they could even blossom? 

Little did I know that the man who had directed Chakoram was in that very hall…

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From the world of stars-I

The years I love the most are the years when there existed a distinct separation between the artist’s private world and his audience. To the audience, the artist was an unreachable star in the sky. We had to be content, looking up at that star, admiring the way it lit up our world. So we read books and watched films for the pure joy of savouring them, never once aspiring to make it to that world of stars. I read, not because I wanted to write. I  watched films, not because I wished to gain access to the internal world of cinema. To me, it appeared as if all these beautiful works of art were created in heaven and then sent to earth for us to savour; the names of the artists never mattered to me. 

When I first started writing, I was too shy to share it with people. I feared they would find it childish. If not for blogging, I might never have shared my ramblings with the world. The blog platform had the advantage of anonymity. Not a soul there knew me personally. Those were the days that I wrote the best. Partly because I wrote exclusively for myself. Those were years when I had lost myself. I was so lost that I resisted nothing, and into that void within me, a universe walked in. I saw through the void in me the abundance in the universe. Every object around me, animate or inanimate, suddenly seemed to acquire immense beauty. The world walked into my mind, draped in the beauty of sunsets, glow worms, monsoon clouds and love songs. It was as if my sorrows had found new expression. I still remember how an old man’s face came floating into my mind- a destitute or a mad man perhaps, with an overflowing, unkempt beard. I remember feeling attracted to something about this picture- I couldn’t point precisely as to what had captivated me about this picture. I couldn’t even point to where I had seen him. “Like weeds that joyously erupted in a long-neglected garden”, I wrote of his beard, not knowing where I found the words. But I was satisfied. No, ecstatic. The analogy seemed to capture what had attracted me to the image. I still hadn’t nailed it, but I had captured the feel of the image; I had captured something of the old man’s spirit, something of his life. It was then that I felt I had gained access into the beautiful world of language- a private world that quietly celebrated the beauty of creation. Like Michael Jackson wrote of his inherent inclination to music, I too had discovered my inner life in this world of language. I wanted to take a walk across this world, explore and savour. Quietly. Without too much noise. It was like walking through a beautiful garden, with no specific goal to chase. I didn’t even want to touch the flowers. I just wanted to sit down perhaps, and blend into the spirit of the garden- lose myself into its soul. I wanted to feel the garden, inside of me. That was all. 

Those were golden years. Especially the year that it rained incessantly. A landscape bathed in rain added character to my writing. Analogies came spontaneously. Never had I written with so much ease. And yet, the spontaneity was something that made me feel it wasn’t me who was writing them. My childhood belief came true. I felt these words had already been created in heaven, and at some moment when the veil between my soul and the soul of the universe was momentarily lifted, I gained access to the soul of the universe. The words were already composed; I had to only deliver it. Such moments were divine. It was then that I awakened to the joy of this gift from heaven.

Over subsequent years, my writing changed significantly. I evolved as a writer. I experienced a natural drift to analytical writing, as opposed to ‘poetry in prose’. However, I regard those early pieces as the finest writing that ever escaped me; their rawness and purity were never replicated in my subsequent writings. 

I am also attached to the first book I wrote. I am not sure if I would write more, but I suppose this book will always have a special place in my heart. When I published this book, I did not know what to expect. I still do not know how the audience perceives this book. The book deals with a complex subject. It is less of literature and more of a ‘film studies’ book. It is a scientific analysis of art. The issue with such books is that they have a highly specific target audience. A mental health practitioner may relate to the theories of personality, but not to the characters of the book unless he is familiar with these films. So the essence of the book would be lost upon him. A movie buff may be familiar with the films, but unless he has significant inclination to psychology, he would not relate to the theories of personality. What I love the most about this book is that through the deep insight concealed in these films, I taught myself how the interaction between personality and circumstances culminates in diverse outcomes, ranging from self-actualization to mental illness. This book was essentially a research study to me. I would categorize this as scientific work, rather than literature. But nevertheless, it is a gray zone. 

On account of its complexity, I felt I had to back it up with campaigns. I felt it was important to arouse interest in the book through campaigns where I could interact with the public and create a foundation that could enable them to understand the contents of the book to some extent.

All along, I had longed to be able to talk about its contents to somebody who could look at it from the same perspective as I did- from that zone of confluence of art and science. If Lohithadas or Bharathan or Padmarajan were alive, they might have understood, I thought to myself. Also, it would have been thrilling to read about one’s own work from this perspective- they would have been thrilled that their films were so true to the ‘science’ of human behaviour, to the extent that they even answered what science is struggling with (and can never answer): What steers some people to creativity of the highest order and others towards mental illness? Where does vulnerability feature in this equation?

Considering that these directors were no more, I came to acceptance that I may never have an audience that might really have the desire to know. I am sure there are many people in the field of Malayalam cinema who would be interested and would also comprehend, but what access did I have to them? Especially since my book was in English.

And then the miracle happened…

A place to die

“Miaow…Miaow!”

The cry seemed to come from the bushes. I moved closer and caught sight of the creature. It was a black cat with white spots. As I took a closer look, I realised that there was something terribly wrong with it! It was emaciated and its coat was dull. Its eyes lacked lustre and its skin had peeled off at places. It was moving, but with effort.

As I looked at it, it threw me a desperate glance.

“Miaow? Miaow?”

Its plea was desperate. It wanted a place to rest- a place where it would not be disturbed. It almost seemed to say,”Please don’t chase me away! I can’t run anymore!” Something told me the animal would not live long. The animal seemed to be in the last leg of its journey. And yet, I was surprised by its mammoth effort at seeking a place where it could breathe its last. 

“What’s the matter with you, little one?”, I asked in gentle tones. The animal understood. It immediately lay down by the side of the pond. The proximity of water was probably comforting to it. We decided to leave it alone so that it could sleep. We checked after a couple of hours to find that it had moved deeper into the shade of the Bougainville. Every few hours, it changed its position, depending on the direction of the sun. In the evening, we couldn’t find it.

But it appeared next morning. I thought it looked more ill. It was quieter today, and probably in some kind of discomfort. We put out a small bowl of milk, but it refused to drink. It moved yet again in response to the heat, seeking cooler places. We put out some water and this time, it took a few sips with great difficulty. It seemed to be exhausted with the effort and lay down yet again. In the evening, we couldn’t find it. 

“Where are you, little one?”, we called out.

“Miaow”, a faint reply came from somewhere.

Eventually, we found it huddled behind a cement slab. It was much cooler here. The animal had however, significantly deteriorated.

That night, it rained. There were loud claps of thunder that made us shudder, despite being indoors. I thought of the cat that lay outdoors, at the mercy of the thunder and lightning, perhaps cold and lonely…and so helpless in its illness. Who was it to complain to? Do guardian angels really make it more comfortable for the dying? I liked to think so. 

How fortunate we humans are. We have houses and cosy beds to sleep in. We have people fussing over us when we are ill. We have pills and injections to make us feel better. I wish we had places where dying animals could be nursed and made comfortable. I wondered if the cat had survived the storm. I wondered if it had died of fear.

Next morning, it was my mother who woke up first and went to the kitchen. There were no sounds from the backyard, and in all possibility, the cat had died. 

“Oh little one! What has happened to you?”, my mother called out. There was no response. My mother sighed. “Well, end to your suffering”, she said aloud.

After some time, there was suddenly a loud Miaow, accompanied by a lot of noise that sounded like an animal rolling about in pain. My mother called out,”Little one, You are there?”  The cat responded to my mother’s call with an agonizing Miaow. To each call, it responded, using the last vestige of its life. A couple of Miaows later, there was silence. My mother found the cat curled up against the cement slab, clutching its edge like how a frightened, helpless child clutches its mother. Its face was now small and the magic of life had gone from its being.

My maid helped us bury it. 

We thought of this little creature that had walked into our garden just two days ago. We didn’t know where the dear creature had come from or what kind of life it had lived until then. We didn’t know how it found our house. God must have sent it. Death is never easy to watch, but I still felt glad the animal had sought us in its last days. Every creature deserves to die with dignity. I cried thinking of its suffering, but I was still glad it had come to us and not gone to a house where it would have been chased away. For a moment, the cruelty and selfishness of human beings dawned upon me. We have seized land that belongs to all creatures. Today, they don’t even have a place to die. I promised the dying animal that I would always treat all life with reverence.

Return to innocence

child

I have been searching for quite some time now.

Within me…

Around me.

For some trace of the innocence that lit up the world once upon a time. It used to be everywhere- within me, around me.

I was not proud of my innocence then. It used to embarrass me because it prevented me from being street smart- a trait necessary for survival in a man-made world. I felt ashamed of the ignorance I demonstrated in social circles. People discussed popular soaps and TV shows and raised their eyebrows when I appeared completely ignorant of their very existence. Those were embarrassing moments because people looked at me with a question mark that almost seemed to ask: ‘What planet are you from?’ I feared those awkward pauses in conversations that came up when they picked up a trending topic and expected me to contribute an opinion. I often felt out of place. Everybody seemed to settle so naturally into a common world of people, places and interests. It baffled me as to how they all shared the same interests. They knew exactly what dress to wear for an occasion. They all watched the same movies. They knew the top ten songs trending at any given point in time. They knew how to order drinks and how to shake a leg. It all came so easily and naturally to them, and I wondered where they had learnt this art of fitting in. I wondered what their secret was. How could they possibly know what was expected of them?

On the contrary, my world was so different. It was as if I was still stuck in my childhood reverie. I continued to love and long for the world I had reveled in as a child. I continued to love stories, walks, games, riding, nature, children- all that I had loved as a child. I could sit on the terrace of my house and watch the moving clouds, the trees yonder, or the people faraway who looked like little blobs that moved on the landscape, and feel enthralled. I could read a book, find myself transported to a magical world, and feel happy. I could play with a child and feel happy. But I couldn’t talk about these things to people. There was no place for such emotions in conversations. I dreaded moments where I was forced to socialize with people who had no room for the true magic of life in their conversations. I was happier chasing happiness as I defined it, and I would chase such joys, collecting beautiful perceptions as they dropped into the basket of my mind.

I have always loved the company of children. I would surround myself with children. It was perhaps my attempt at holding on to the childhood I never wished to leave behind. It came naturally to me; I could settle effortlessly into their world without disrupting the integrity of their world. They never regarded me as a threat or as an intruder and they easily allowed me into the privacy of their beautiful world. My house was home to many children in the neighbourhood- children of all age groups. Children who walked into my room, would find it hard to leave. My room was full of things that would delight a child. In fact, many people would mistake it for a child’s room. My neighbour’s daughter who was only 2 years of age, would refuse to go back to her house at the end of our play. I had to pretend to play hide and seek to hand her over to her mother and slip back to my house. I remember 4-year-old Sai Shraddha who came crying to me because her brother was being sent to boarding school. I remember that night when she and her brother came to sleep over at my place. We spent half the night talking and when our eyes finally began to slip into sleep, Sai Prem asked me,”Vidya didi, do you know why we close our eyes when we sleep?” I was certain he had a beautiful answer. “Why?“, I asked. “So that we can see our dreams better“, he replied.

I remember young Srijit whose sister was getting married to one of our acquaintances. Srijit was a shy child and he was deeply attached to his sister. He had come over to his cousin’s place for the wedding. There were many kids in the neighbourhood and we would all play games the whole day long. We would also play pranks, taunt and tease, and have silly fights. Srijit became very gloomy towards the wedding. After the wedding, when he said goodbye to all of us, I remember that forlorn look on his face when he said,”You will get married too and go away, right?” It was only then that I understood what was playing on in the child’s mind. He felt a sense of loss when his sister was getting married. In the brief time that we had all been together, I had temporarily covered up that loss. And now, he felt it again. He sensed the fact that you could not own people forever. I was deeply touched.

Children made me feel beautiful. They thought the world of me. This was delightful because in my world of adults, I certainly didn’t qualify for ‘beautiful’. I would take Sai Shraddha to the terrace, lift her up, and the two of us would chatter away, oblivious to the difference in age. Somehow, we saw the same world, and it was lovely seeing it together. The wind would blow and a few strands of my hair would cover my face. Sai Shraddha would suddenly stop talking, look at my face with awe, push aside the strands of hair, and innocently remark, “Vidya didi, you are so beautiful!” She would sometimes pinch my cheeks, play with my hair, mess it up totally, rub noses, give me a hug, and say,” You are so beautiful!” Children taught me that beauty was something deeper than what adults make it out to be. Her mother surprised me one day by informing me that Sai Shraddha had started to ask every young man who visited them if they would marry Vidya didi!

I also remember the poor children in my world. Especially the children who belonged to the construction workers who would appear out of nowhere, set up a temporary shelter made of bricks, and go about their work while the children were left to fend for themselves. I remember the sight of little girls carrying their younger siblings and taking care of them. In those days, it was not their poverty that I saw. I saw their abundance. The glee on their faces as they crawled and climbed mounds of sand in tattered and soiled clothes, struck me. It seemed to reflect pure, uncontaminated joy- a joy that was progressively thinning out in the world I lived in.

I was torn between these two worlds. On one side was that beautiful world of childish innocence, and on the other side was the adult world where innocence had lost its value. After much embarrassment over my innocence and ignorance, I learned to surround myself with people who were street smart and adept at survival, but who valued the innocence within me. I owe much to these people for they taught me essential survival skills. Also, they exposed me to the true essence of a world I had feared until then. There were people who were truly passionate about music or dance or films or places, and they would be willing to take me along and help me find out for myself what I liked and what I didn’t. That awakened my interest and curiosity, and also helped me shed feelings of worthlessness.

In later years, responsibility taught me much. When I was forced to stand up on my own feet and take decisions on my own, I realized that it was necessary to understand the ‘business of life’- the shrewdness and manipulation that was all around. One learns the ways of the world, at least to a degree that enables survival. I feel proud that I did learn, despite being me. However, at the end of it all, I look at the world with new eyes. I look at it all over again, and realize there is something I have been gradually losing. Something I miss immensely. At first, I couldn’t point out as to what it was. But now, I am beginning to see light.

All around me are people who are trying hard to establish something. Everybody is competing with everybody else. Everybody wants to be the hub. Everybody wants to be spoken to, and spoken about. Everybody wants to be unique, different and famous. Applause and appreciation- these are the driving forces for most people. People wish to be successful, and to most people, success translates to money and fame. People chase formulae that would lead them to success. But in truth, these are people who have permanently lost the one gift that makes life worth living- the gift of innocence. I have finally realized that it is this childish innocence that preserves our ability to be truly and purely enthralled by experiences. Only a mind brimming with childish innocence can feel the joy of a little beam of sunshine stealing its way into the darkness of a tunnel through an inconspicuous crevice. Give me a choice between fame and innocence, and I would choose innocence. For in that state of innocence, there is nothing that you wish to prove to the world, and so you are free. Free to feel and be enthralled. Free to cry and to laugh. Free to be mystified and to explore. Free to be clever or foolish. It is in this innocence that we discover the real ‘us’. And to be true and real- that is the greatest freedom of all. For then you are what you are capable of. Nothing more, nothing less.

I sometimes look at the millions of people trying hard at establishing themselves, and wonder how many of them still have the ability to be delightfully tempted by the food spreads that Enid Blyton artfully describes in her books. I wonder if they have the ability to be tickled enough to laugh aloud when Buster, the dog, sets himself on Mr Goon’s ankles. These private moments when you can feel the temptation of food, the thrill of a mystery, or the satisfaction of playing a prank on a troublesome character- these moments are priceless. For the simple reason that you are real in these moments.

I think back to the most beautiful moments of my life and I realize that they were all embedded in innocence- in the innocence within me, and around me. Whether it was the joy of playing with a child or holding the hands of someone you loved, the happiness of those moments was rooted in the innocence that characterized our personalities then.

In conclusion, let me quote one of the most beautiful pieces I have read about this innocence. This is one of the pieces from Michael Jackson’s book “Dancing the Dream“. It is titled ‘Wise Little Girl‘.

I know a wise little girl who cannot walk.  She is confined to a wheelchair, and she may spend the rest of her life there, since her doctors hold out almost no hope of ever making her paralyzed legs better.
 
When I first met this little girl, she flashed me a smile that burned me with its blazing happiness.  How open she was!  She wasn’t hiding out from self-pity or asking for approval or protecting herself from a sense of shame.  She felt completely innocent about not being able to walk, like a puppy that has no idea if it is a mongrel or a champion of the breed.
 
She made no judgements about herself.  That was her wisdom.
 
I have seen the same wise look in other children, “poor” children as society sees them, because they lack food, money, secure homes, or healthy bodies.  By the time they reach a certain age, many of these children grasp just how bad their situation is.  The way that adults look at their lives robs them of that first innocence that is so precious and rare.  They begin to believe that they should feel bad about themselves; that this is “right.”
 
But this wise little girl, being only four, floated above pity and shame like a carefree sparrow.  She took my heart in her hands and made it as weightless as a cotton putt, so that it was impossible for me to even begin to think, “What a terrible thing.”  All I saw was light and love.  In their innocence, very young children know themselves to be light and love.  If we will allow them, they can teach us to see ourselves the same way.
 
One sparkle from a little girl’s gaze contains the same knowledge that Nature implants at the heart of every life-form.  It is life’s silent secret, not to be put into words.  It just knows.  It knows peace and how not to hurt.  It knows that even the least breath is a gesture of gratitude to the Creator.  It smiles to be alive, waiting patiently for ages of ignorance and sorrow to pass away like a mirage.
 
I see this knowledge itself in the eyes of children more and more, which makes me think that their innocence is growing stronger.  They are going to disarm us adults, and that will be enough to disarm the world.  They feel no reason to spoil the environment, and so the environment will be cleaned up without a quarrel.  A wise little girl told me the future when she looked at me, so full of peace and contentment.  I rejoice in trusting her above all the experts.  As light and love drive away our guilt and shame, her prophecy must come true.

 

 

 

When you are made of stardust-II

god

There was this poem I once read. It is called ‘Footprints in the sand‘. This is how it goes:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

When I first read that poem, I was speechless. It was as if through this poem, God was prompting me to look back at my life and dwell upon those dark moments when I had thought I was all alone. I then realized that there had always been something- a clue, a direction, a sign that I couldn’t ascribe to anybody. Something to guide me when I was completely lost. My instinct would prompt me to follow it, and I would see light again. And then, I would learn to trust myself again.

But those were not the miracles. The real miracles were those moments when I would find myself caught up in situations that were beyond my ability. I would always approach such situations with fear for I was well aware of my weaknesses. At such moments, I would plunge into the situation, certain that I wouldn’t survive this phase. I would cry to nobody in particular. And then the miracle would happen. The universe would respond, and take up the burden. The most unexpected things would happen (what I would then label only as wishful thinking until they materialized), the most unexpected people would step into my life, and everything would be taken care of. It was almost as if a well thought out plan or scheme was being followed. But who could have planned it and tailored it so perfectly as to suit my needs? At such moments, this is exactly how I have felt- as if I was being lifted and carried by somebody, and then deposited on the shore, where I was safe once again. I would wonder if I had dreamt it all, and I would be filled with something that I can only describe as gratitude. A gratitude that would fill my heart with the invisible presence of God. I loved this feeling- it was more overpowering than the moments we spend praying formally to God. To me, this was the moment of prayer, for I could feel God flooding my being. In the gratitude I felt, there was God. And this time, my faith in the universe would be restored.

I have often felt that I am a child of the universe. At all the times that I have not trusted my ability to confront a situation and cried to nobody in particular, the universe has always responded- in a way only a mother can respond to her child. And this faith has made me feel loved, cared for, cherished and protected- a feeling that one cannot derive from mortal relationships with fellow human beings. I feel I have a universe to turn to, whenever I really need help. The helpless child in me has to only cry for her to hear me. I have often felt invisible chords connecting my soul to the soul of the universe- to the heart of life. When my soul bleeds, the chords tug at the soul of the universe, and awaken it to my misery. The universe then propels its infinite limbs- people, places, forces, and tends to me. I have also realized that I am also one of the limbs of the universe, and it mobilizes me when there is the need to tend to another suffering soul. Once we learn to recognize this power- the power of the central force of life that comes from the heart of the universe, it is impossible to feel lonely. 

Yesterday, I had been to the hospital for a follow-up. I bought a thank-you card and some chocolates. I met all the doctors and nurses who had taken care of me when I was hospitalized, and thanked all of them. I especially thanked the sister who had stayed up all night in the post operative ward and tended to my needs. They were thrilled by the card. I meant every word of what was written on the card. And they are apparently framing it and putting it up on the display for people to see! Everybody was happy and I love these moments when I can thank people and make them see the worth in the roles they play. I love the happiness of the world, and I promise that until my last breath, I will keep making people happy…as often as I can!