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…

Advertisements

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…

Nurture a fantasy!

Human life is unique and special. We are the only beings that have the ability to perceive beauty in the things that surround us; we are the only beings capable of being moved.

It is within our minds that the rain is enchanting. It is in our minds that a poem is beautiful. We alone have the ability to be fascinated by a child’s play. We alone have the ability to see the beauty in an individual’s personality. 

This ability to perceive the aesthetic quality of the world we live in, is unique to human beings.
However, though we are born with this potential, it lies dormant within us and must be awakened in the early years of our life. Childhood therefore plays a key role in our ability to see the aesthetics in life.

Childhood has witnessed considerable transformation with the passage of time. When I think of my childhood, the song that comes to my mind is ‘Kannam thumbi poramo’ from the film, ‘Kakothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal’.

 

 

The song captures the magic of a childhood spent in the proximity of nature. A childhood that was about freedom and the outdoors, with no goals to chase. A childhood that was about reveling in the magic of sight, sound, fragrance, flavour and touch- about endless stimulation of the senses.

A childhood that taught us to fall in love with the touch-me-nots that cowered under our touch, the moist earth on which we walked barefooted, the lanes fragrant with the scent of the chempakam and pala flowers, the rustling of the coconut palms, the lullaby of the rain and the croaking frogs that put us to sleep, the sand castles we built and the mud cakes we pretended to bake, the mysterious glow worms that lit up the darkness of moonless monsoon nights, the howling of foxes that cut through the silence of the night, the little fish that we tried to catch in the canals, the taste of the steaming hot pancakes with their coconut-jaggery stuffing that melted in our mouths, and so much more.

Our childhood was a paradise. Nature awakened our senses to the infinite beauty in the world and taught us the art of using our senses to perceive this beauty.

Apart from nature, our childhood was also shaped by stories– the stories that our grandparents narrated to us. Sometimes, to distract us enough so that we would eat our food absent-mindedly. Sometimes, to put us to sleep. And then, when we were old enough to read, there were the stories we read in books. Beautiful books that had pictures in them.

stories

In the stories we grew up with, there were forests and rivers, there were animals and birds, there were human beings, Gods and demons. They were portrayed as beings that felt, thought and dreamt like human beings. I was enchanted by their secret lives- a life that was not visible to us human beings. It was as if the stories let me into their secrets. A secret that I became part of.

As children, we believe in fantasies. As we grow older, we gradually lose this ability. A child must therefore be exposed to fantasy. Only then is the fantasy firmly rooted in our minds.

These stories helped me see fantasies in the world I lived in. To my young mind, the trees, stars, river, animals and birds had a secret language- a language that was not about words. I learned to talk to them, and to listen to them in my mind. As a child, this was my little secret- the ability to silently converse with the universe. That ability is rooted in me. To this day, I can hold silent conversations with the universe, and perceive the beauty of this phenomenon. It lights up my soul on the darkest of days.

Childhood must therefore gift us two things:

Sensory stimulation, awakening our senses to the immense beauty in this world

Create a fantasy world in our minds, built from the reality of the world we live in. Only stories can accomplish this.

The film ‘Kakothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal’ is unique in that it is woven around a childhood fantasy. Murali, an orphan, is abused by his caretakers. His young mind is fascinated by the story of Kakothi– a legendary female character who kills her tormentor in an ultimate act of courage. Perhaps, Murali’s young mind finds liberation from the torments in his own life through the legend. When Murali encounters Lakshmi (Revathi), humming a tune on the harmonium, wearing a stone beaded necklace, his young mind fantasises her as Kakothi. This fantasy forms the basis for his adoration of her and the deep-rooted bonding that develops between them eventually. To Murali’s young mind that believes in the fantasy of Kakothi, there is nothing more joyful than this fantasy turning into reality.

kakothi

If we were to closely analyze the role models we choose and the relationships we form in life, we would realize that most are to do with our unconscious fantasies- these people often represent fragments of what we dream of being ourselves.

So why is fantasy so important?

First and foremost, fantasy fosters imagination. If we give our children beautiful fantasies to believe in, they will always see immense possibility in life. No matter what adversity surrounds them as adults, they always have a fantasy to come back to. That defines their motivation. This is beautifully illustrated in the above-mentioned film where both Murali and Lakshmi are surrounded by adverse circumstances, but they live their lives with much zeal, optimism and happiness. To them, every day is rich with possibility. They find creative ways of dealing with people and with challenges. Their mischief and pranks are expressions of their creative potential. They transform every day into a perpetual celebration.

In life, imagination is a more valuable tool than intelligence. Only if you have the ability to fantasise, are you alive until you are really dead.

Secondly, it is this fantasy that teaches us to dream. If we are moved enough by a fantasy, we transform this fantasy into our reality. We thus define a dream.

The happiest adults are those who have kept their childhood fantasies alive and transformed them into reality.

Perhaps, there is nobody in the world who is not familiar with the characters of Mickey and Donald. Almost a century after its creation, these Disney characters continue to be loved by children and adults, worldwide. Walt Disney found the inspiration for these characters in his childhood fantasy.

His most famous creation, Mickey Mouse, is a universally recognized cultural icon. And his numerous films celebrating the triumph of the little guy and the simple charms of small-town life captured the imaginations and fueled the dreams of six generations.

Walt Disney’s childhood was anything but idyllic. His father was a strict disciplinarian who thought nothing of taking a switch to Walt and his brother Roy to administer “corrective” beatings that became a part of their daily routine. Young Walt found an escape from his father’s brutality through drawing. With pen and ink, he created his own little fantasy world where life was always beautiful, people were always happy, and, most important, he was always in control.

Disney hit upon the idea of creating a new cartoon character based on a mouse that had lived in his office in Kansas City. As Disney liked to tell it, “Mice gathered in my wastebasket when I worked late at night. One of them was my particular friend.”

There are numerous examples of such people. People who define happiness. Some celebrated, and others uncelebrated. The ones who have kept the fantasy alive. The ones with the ability to fly on the wings of their imagination…

In the shoes of a writer

What is your advice to aspiring young writers?‘ This is a question writers are often asked.

Here, I have a distinction to make. What aspirations are we talking about? The aspiration to be a writer? Or the aspiration to be published? It has taken me years to understand that the conventional definition of a writer is different from what actually defines a writer.

writer-4

A writer…

I wonder how many young people would want to be writers, if they knew what it takes to be a writer and what it is to be a writer.

Being a writer is the realization of a potential. It is a journey, not a destination. A writer is a personality type, and not anybody who writes stories or essays or poems. A writer is one for whom writing is like breathing- it sustains him and keeps him alive. It is immaterial if his work is pronounced good or bad by the world. It is immaterial if he is published or not. It is immaterial if he becomes famous or not. He writes for the integrity of his spirit; writing keeps him together, keeps him whole. But in the process, he often unearths certain truths and deep philosophies of life that connect not just to him, but to all of mankind. His words offer hope, strength and consolation to the numerous souls who are otherwise immersed in a world of struggle and suffering, and they become the medium through which his work reaches out to the world. A true writer gives- to those who are in need of his words. But left to himself, the true writer has no desire for name, fame or publicity. In fact, he often finds himself intimidated by attention and expectation; he is comfortable in his anonymity. It is his work that he loves. It is his engagement with life and with his writing that he loves and desires. It is this that he aspires for- the ability to engage with himself powerfully so as to be able to write.

Throughout the history of literature, various works have been published and written anonymously, often due to their political or controversial nature, or merely for the purposes of the privacy of their authors, among other reasons. 

There are so many good reasons to write: revenge, passion, the purging of grief or despair. The love of beauty, the exposure of villainy. The recording of a life (one’s own, or someone else’s) for preservation. Or one might hope to inform later deliberations about history, as Thucydides did: “[If my work] be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content.” And then there is the matter of fame, in the present or in the future. How many do not write in hopes of attracting the admiration of a distant posterity? With what awe does the ordinary scribbler contemplate the glorious achievements of Chaucer, Cervantes, or Fielding! In silence, in secret, perhaps he dares to imagine himself in their company, in ages yet to come.

One kind of writer, at least, is immune to the lure of fame: the anonymous writer. No name, no literary glory. What would possess someone to go to all the trouble of writing a book and then take no credit for having done so? What compulsion drives this strangest of artists?

Anonymous is more than a pseudonym. It is a stark declaration of intent: a wall explicitly thrown up, not only between writer and reader, but between the writer’s work and his life.

A writer is indeed a personality-type, and deep empathy lies at the core of that personality. Empathy is often a misunderstood term. Though many people understand that empathy is different from sympathy, they perceive empathy as a phenomenon akin to kindness or compassion.

writer-3

Empathy is the ability to dissociate from the self and become the ‘other’ momentarily, feeling the vibes and currents of the other, experiencing the other.

The ‘other’ could refer to inanimate bodies too- one can empathize with the river, the wind, the moving cloud, or with any inanimate force in the environment.

It is this empathy that allows writers to perceive life in inanimate bodies- to perceive the spirit of the river, the spirit of a forest, the spirit of a mountain, each different from the other and unique. It is this empathy that enables a writer to perceive the spirit of all living creatures inhabiting this planet. It is this empathy that enables a writer to perceive the wounded, shattered and fragmented mind that often lies beneath the aggression and violence demonstrated by an individual. It is this empathy that enables a writer to read people’s secret thoughts, decipher people’s underlying motivational drives, differentiate between fake/manipulative and authentic statements or acts.

It is this empathy that weaves the writer inseparably into the fabric of the universe so that everything that affects the universe is his own concern. He is pained by the war in another continent, he is pained by the stories of rape and murder, he is pained by the suffering inflicted on the poor by governments and capitalists, he is pained by the human assaults on nature.

writer-1

This empathy makes him a ‘feeler’; his perceptive ability is strong- in intensity, range and duration. His perceptions are intense; they encompass a broad range of stimuli, and they last for a long duration, knocking at the doors of his mind, urging him to act and deliver.It is this urge that eventually drives him to writing.

This empathy defines the artist in general- be it a writer, painter, sculptor, scientist or teacher and propels him to rise above the pain and suffering of his world.

Often, personal trauma plays an important role in a writer’s self-discovery. The writer is in a state of constant inability to fit in and to conform to the ways of the world around him. This creates persistent conflict in his mind, and the drive therefore, to resolve this conflict. The writer discovers that he is unable to express his personality freely in the world because convention and reality impose restrictions on him. The world therefore suppresses the writer. Often, there is a suppressed world within a writer- a beautiful world that he is constantly trying to retrieve. The writer is sensitive to the sharp contrast between two emotional worlds- the bitterness of his experiences and the rich possibility of a fantasy. It is this contrast that contributes to the beauty of the world in his mind.

Initially, the writer finds his escape in reading, and in other sources of aesthetic engagement. He connects to words that resonate with the suppressed world within him. As the writer reads extensively, the words find their way into his unconscious. The deep empathy enables the writer to experience the words as his own. The barrier between the words and his emotions is broken down progressively. It is then that he learns to translate his own emotions into words. The writer is often self-conscious. He may stammer and stutter when spoken to. But left to his spontaneity, his perceptions knock powerfully on the doors of his mind and he creates magic with his words. As the writer matures, his empathy causes him to expand the horizons of his mind to embrace a larger segment of the world. He awakens to the vast expanse of human conditions- poverty, illness, loss of a loved one, natural calamities and man-made disasters, death, oppression, and much more. It is then quite natural that his mind is never quiet, for it feels the torments of a universe.

So, coming back to the question that I was trying to answer here- ‘What is your advice to young aspiring writers?’. I would say the question loses its significance in this context. However, my advice to society would be to create opportunities for children- opportunities to engage with their environment, with stories and books, with their own perceptions. The true writer would automatically discover himself in the process. It is when such opportunities are absent (as is the case with our current education system) that children never discover their potential- a scenario that breeds mental unrest and mental illness.

To the writer (the writer personality), my advice would be- preserve your anonymity. With the advent of blogging, self-publishing and numerous platforms to ‘advertise’ , ‘promote’ and ‘market’ one’s writing, the writer often gets distracted from his path.

I remember reading somewhere that psychologically, one must be a nobody. To the world, we may be many things. But to ourselves, we must be a nobody. That is when we write best- when we uncover some truth of significance to the world, for we do not shield us from ourselves. All other writing is only our means of appeasing our bruised ego. I think that is also why failures contribute more to ‘growth’ than do achievements. Failures provide us an opportunity to be a nobody and be comfortable with it.

writer-2

Technology: My gateway to the past

buniyaad-1

 

I must have watched about forty episodes of Buniyaad by now. I have lived the life of the resilient Lajo– from her youth to her old age. The orphan Lajo, who has learnt to take life in its stride, and has learned to laugh at her miseries. “Gaiety becomes ingrained in the character of one whose life is filled with misery“, remarks her uncle when Lajo responds to Master Haveli Ram‘s practised discipline with laughter and gaiety.

Buniyaad digs into the foundation of relationships. Buniyaad essentially explores the factors that shape the human spirit- the factors that nurture the human spirit and awaken man’s humanity, and also the factors that erode the human spirit and take man away from his humanity and from his own self . Buniyaad takes us through the lives and minds of people in relation to their circumstances.

The relationship between Lajo and Haveli Ram forms the core of this story. It is the strength of this relationship that forms a pillar and holds disintegrating family structures together, preserving and protecting humanity against all odds- the partition of India, the homelessness, the economic crisis, the differing motivational drives of the youth of the family, and much more.

The story therefore dwells generously on that phase where Lajo meets Master Haveli Ram, capturing those intricate moments that bind the two into a deep rooted relationship.

buniyaad-3

The gentle, somewhat shy and hesitant Haveli Ram, a man of principles, and the high-spirited, playful and mischievous Lajo. Their personalities contrast, and yet complement each other.

Ramesh Sippy creates magic in these moments:

The laid back evenings when Haveli Ram tutors Lajo. The innumerable memories created in that hour that form the foundation of their subsequent relationship. Those tiny moments that may appear insignificant to a trespasser, but that weave the invisible threads of a deep-rooted relationship between the two. The grandfather clock ticks in the backdrop, as if marking these priceless moments in their lives. ‘Vichhovali’- Lajo’s uncles’s house in Lahore, transforms in these moments into a house that harbours the couple’s most precious memories. A house that is eventually orphaned at the time of partition when the family is forced to move out, reminiscent of millions of houses that stood as mute witnesses to the journey of human life- to the unfolding of the human spirit- its throbbings, its pangs, its woes. Houses that witnessed the woes of partition. Houses that witnessed the demolition of the human spirit as the ‘individual’ assumed importance and family structures disintegrated,  and money and power replaced human values.

There is something very Indian about this serial. One falls in love with the traditional Indian spirit, and understands the true meaning of love, respect, mutual regard, relationships, patriotism, womanhood, patience, kindness, compassion and other human values that today, are merely on paper. I think stories of those times dug deep into the cultural essence of our country. Today, the authenticity has been replaced either by blind conservatism or by rebellion and denial.

Take Indian women, for instance. There are women who believe that in their submissiveness to patriarchal systems, they are ‘upholding’ traditional Indian values. Such women are oblivious to the big gap between traditional values and conservatism. Conservatism is only an emblem; an emblem that is to be worn for the world to see, an emblem that conceals the darkness of their spirits. And then we have women who wear the emblem of individuality. Women who do not wish to be looked upon as submissive, and who wish to break free from the chains of tradition. Sadly, many end up denying their feminine qualities in the process. For many young women, abandoning the traditional lifestyle and embracing a western lifestyle, defines individuality. Most find their identity in their lifestyle.

Where are the Indian women who taught us that womanhood was a far superior quality for beauty lay in the feminine? Where are those Indian women who taught us that individuality was about the freedom of mind, and that the mind could find its freedom even beneath traditional garbs? Where are those Indian women who taught us that courage was not about the liberalism with which one dressed, but about confronting the horrors and tragedies of life, surviving them and outliving them? Where are those women who taught us that courage was not about sitting in the company of men and smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol , but about sitting in the company of men, and being able to talk intelligently about the subjects that concern human life on this planet… from politics to astronomy!The women who taught us the difference between rebellion and revolution?

One is mesmerized by Lajo and Veeravali, as they discuss the political scenario of the nation. ‘Somehow, my heart lies more in revolution than in these textbooks of literature and Mathematics!‘, says Lajo when Master Haveli Ram tutors her.

They are all unique in their own ways- Lajo, Veeravali, Mangala, Nivedita. And yet, there is something common to them- that traditional Indian spirit that gleams in their eyes, like a raw, uncut diamond. They are vulnerable and easily wounded. But within them is a spirit that enables them to outlive their personal tragedies. It is this resilience that makes them attractive- their refusal to be victimized by the tragedies in their lives…their ability to be wounded, and yet gather themselves up and walk again.

buniyaad-2

Somehow, Buniyaad transformed my world. In this numbness that surrounds me, I always look for emotions. The opportunity to feel. To feel without having to think. To cry, to rejoice. And with the characters in Buniyaad, that is what I have been doing. I cry with them, I rejoice with them. And I find that I am suddenly able to do the same in my life. They teach me to pause in the course of my life, just so that I allow myself to feel…so that I can rejoice, and I can cry. They teach me that its is okay to be wounded…it is okay to cry. Just that you must be able to get up and walk again.

Technology is a boon. For many, it is a gateway to the future. To unknown possibilities. For me, it is a gateway to my past- to the emotional world that characterized my past-

It is a gateway to the forgotten essence of a rich tradition and culture that we somehow left behind.It is a gateway to the forgotten alleys where an ancient Indian spirit lies, trampled by the horses of globalization. It is a gateway to the humanity that once thrived on this planet.

I had never imagined that some day, I would be watching all the TV shows and cartoons that I watched as a child, recreating the magic of my childhood.

I have now moved on to the classic cartoons. I realize that even cartoon characters in those days were inspired by life. As I watch the adorable Pluto who is carried away by his impulses, but is moved to tears by the suffering of fellow creatures, I feel that perhaps these stories that made up my childhood, have played a huge role in shaping my perspective of the world. I strongly suspect that these stories that sowed the seeds of humanity in me and have expanded the horizons of my mind to embrace all living creatures as deserving kindness, empathy and compassion.

The past will never return, but I know that I will always belong to the past. Every step that I take into the future, will always have its foundation resting in the past- a beautiful and fragrant past. A past that has immortalized itself in my soul and that shall accompany my soul in its journey from this world. This beauty and fragrance is all that I shall carry from this world to the next…

What is the color of fear?

theyyam

 

With the practised strokes of an artist, he adds final touches to the mural. The mural is of a fiery-eyed, bloodthirsty demon. 

‘The car is gone’, speaks a voice at his doorstep.

He turns around. It is his neighbour, an adolescent girl whose eyes are still that of a child. She peers at him, terrified of something she has witnessed.

‘When I see that man, I am terrified’, she says. There is the inexplicable fear of the unknown in her words. The abrupt exposure to a world that the child doesn’t understand, but that her instincts mark as ‘dangerous’. 

Sadayam was a film that I was never comfortable watching. I was in school then, and I remember it as a rather disturbing film that left me feeling weak, turbulent and helpless-

The feeling of being stifled, when you actually wanted to scream.

I remember how that film was played once in the bus while we were travelling. I remember forcing myself not to look at the monitor. And yet, I couldn’t run away from the dialogues that sent a chill down my spine, and the background score that knocked louder at the doors of my mind.

That there were women out there, standing all alone, standing naked to the brutal forces of society, was a chilling revelation to my young mind. That I lived a life of dignity while there were women out there who surrendered their spirits to the sheer adversity of their circumstances, opened my eyes to the horrors of being a woman. It struck me that I was bound to them by the commonality we shared- I was a woman too. More fortunate, perhaps. But I couldn’t shed away the fears that crept into my mind when I confronted on screen the brutal experiences that my gender had to confront in life. These women on the screen were my own faces in a different context. This realization was the magic of writers like MT. 

‘What is the color of fear? Is it blood red?’, asks the artist.

The young girl is perplexed by this question.

Those words lingered in my mind. MT’s signature script. Haunting.

sadayam
Mohanlal in the film ‘Sadayam’, directed by Sibi Malayil

‘Are you a communist?’, asked my mother.

That is always her question when I wear red. It always makes me conscious. I go and take a second look at myself in the mirror. And somewhere, I feel a little uncomfortable.

Perhaps red is the color of fear. Or of violence. It is the color of blood…of bloodshed.

There is always a certain discomfort I feel when I regard the color of buses in Kannur. They are painted in shades of red and orange and yellow. Like buses that have caught fire. They speed through the traffic, desperate and chaotic, with no regard for all other life.

Theyyams are indigenous to Malabar. They are colorful and vibrant. But in them is an uncomfortable portrayal of violence too. They embody the prominent characteristics of primitive, tribal, religious worship. The costume of the theyyam artists is blood red.

These artists go into trances and transform themselves into forest and ancestor spirits, mythical heroes and flamboyant toddy-consuming gods who leap through fire, roll on burning coal, and accept blood sacrifices of live chickens.‘, reads an article on this folk art:

http://www.natgeotraveller.in/coming-face-to-face-with-keralas-fierce-gods-and-goddesses/

It seemed as if the entire village around the Theyyam artist as he danced in a corridor of wild fire, screaming and kicking flames in every direction; he seized full control over the crowd around him, leading the villagers to scream in ecstasy into the dark night sky as he performed the ancient rituals. There were moments where the artist’s helpers thought he had lost control and would try to stop him from stepping into the fire, but he would violently push them away, throwing himself again and again into the eye of the fire, determined to complete his transformation and embody the God.

http://www.svidensky.com/blog/the-chained-gods-of-india

I have often seen a similarity in the violent expression of the theyyam artists in Kannur and in the political bloodshed here or the violent tones in which the labourers in these parts reciprocate to the more elite. A palpable insecurity governs the life of the common man in these parts- an insecurity that is skilfully utilized by politicians. There is a palpable suppression in Kannur, and that suppression is chronic. It is this suppression that the theyyam artist perhaps liberates in his violent expression. A suppression rooted in casteism. Kannur is populated by people belonging to the Thiyya community- a community lower in the caste hierarchy. This is contrary to the scenario in the more central and southern parts of Kerala where the upper castes are dominant.

The article sheds light on the violent expression of Theyyams:

Ironically, the Theyyam finds its origins not just in the worship of ancestors and forest spirits, but also in a polarised society which once allowed only higher castes to enter temples. This forced people of the lower castes to employ other means with which to engage with their gods. Since participating in a Theyyam is open to all, it created an egalitarian space for the oppressed. They discovered a powerful voice with which to narrate to their feudal persecutors stories of injustice and exploitation. This transformation from man to god that began during the post-paddy sowing month of Thulam (October) also initiated a dramatic status reversal within prevailing social hierarchies.

Somehow, the suppression has trickled through the generations and despite the fact that the caste system has dissolved, the insecurity generated by this suppression appears to have been rooted and passed on. Today, Kannur has become the land of red. Red that is violence for some, and fear for others…

Red, the color of blood that appeases the Gods in these parts.

Utopia

You must be so happy‘, they said.

About what?‘, I asked.

Your book is getting published! What else?

I sighed.

Yes. I am very happy indeed.

This morning, as I drove to work, I passed the wetlands that have somehow survived the process of urbanization. There are green pastures in the vicinity. Just before Onam, those pastures were transformed into temporary shelters for cows and calves. The animals had been brought from different places. I would peer into those eyes that looked back at me in all innocence. I felt like a traitor. These animals were unsuspecting. They had no clue as to why they had been brought here. The whole day, those scenes played in my mind- the animals grazing on the pastures, the calves nuzzling against each other, little boys playing with some of the calves. After Onam, as I drove that way, none of the animals were around. The pastures and wetlands stared at me in mute silence-

A silence that seemed to echo the screams of hundreds of animals as they were slaughtered.

There is ‘Keagan‘- the calf in the neighbourhood. Every evening, it is at our doorstep for food. Bread, biscuits, oranges, watermelon- it will eat anything, as long as it is not tasteless grass! Keagan is a male calf and will be sent to the slaughterhouse soon. When I pat its forehead and peer into its affectionate eyes, I always think of that moment when this animal would be exposed to man’s brutality…

I wonder what one would see in those eyes then.

I think of my cat that passed away a few months ago. I think of its helplessness as it lay in mute silence, suffering, until death put an end to that suffering.

         Somehow, one can never run away from the pain and suffering that has touched one’s life. Even as one celebrates one’s ‘success’, these faces peer from the abyss of the mind- a reminder of how transient our moments of happiness are and how our happiness is rooted in the happiness of the world in which we live. 

My publisher looks at my book as a commodity. The future of my book is gauged in terms of how it would sell. Profits, expansion, competition– these are the words that govern the modern world. Aspirations are built on the foundation of these words.

If you ask me, I would say anxiety is the dominant feeling that defines my current state. A little excitement, a little happiness, but profound anxiety.

For me, the future of my book is defined by the lives it would touch.

Can my book bring about a social transformation, however little? This is my concern. For me, the publishing of this book is a dream, not an aspiration. And that dream is much larger than just building my identity as an author. That dream revolves around cinema and the human mind.

Cinema, that has been a companion to me in all my lonely moments…

Cinema, that taught me to celebrate my vulnerability…

Cinema, that taught me to love and to live.

When I watch a good movie, I experience a father’s love, a brother’s reassurance,  family moments, and all that I miss in my life. My loneliness abates and I experience the warmth and emotional comfort of a big joint family!

Could my book help people discover themselves? Could my book transform society’s perspective of cinema and revive ‘good cinema’? These questions define my dreams.

So, there is a long way to go. And if my book can bring about such a transformation, that is my happy moment.

        For that happiness is collective happiness- of a society, of a community. And it is only at that moment that the suffering faces that peer from the abyss of my mind will be put to rest. For they would have achieved their purpose in my life.