Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE GOAT THIEF BY PERUMAL MURUGAN: A Review


Reading Perumal Murugan is equivalent to stepping into a flowing river. My first encounter with Murugan is The Goat Thief. It’s a collection of ten short stories translated into English by N. Kalyan Raman. A south Indian by birth, at first I looked at Murugan’s creative universe with some scepticism. I doubted the possibilities of engaging with the noetic realm of the characters to the extent Perumal Murugan does in this collection. The natural and the supernatural could be seen merging in all the stories of the collection. The real meets the surreal also. Every reading and rereading of these stories render them with a meaning unexplored in the earlier attempt. This makes him a versatile writer.

I heard of Perumal Murugan for the first time through a controversy a year ago. The author had written his own obituary following the subversion of his Tamil language novel, translated into English as One Part Woman. The Goat Thief is his first collection of short stories in the English language.

Reading his short stories in The Goat Thief, starting with “The Well” curiosity had the better of me. I was engulfed by the intent to decode signs through which Perumal Murugan may have responded to the time of suppression. However, far from being a propagandist, this South Indian author establishes himself as a major literary artist India has seen.

The translator has approached the text with honesty that springs forth through the lucid yet deep prose. Tamil is supremely a lyrical language. The idiosyncrasies of the source language are not easily transferable into the target language. As Perumal Murugan himself attests, his prose style is “dialect-inflicted”. The stories of The Goat Thief are extremely readable. The tools and strategies successfully employed by the translator are evident.

The publisher also deserves a special mention. Juggernaut Books is revolutionizing Indian publishing scene through their interventions in the digital space through the Juggernaut reading app as well as print publishing in the traditional format. The book I review here is a hardback volume with a cover that speaks through the spaces between the reader and the author. The cover establishes an abstract connection with the text and the landscape that becomes the background of the story in a simplistic way. Juggernaut books also recently published the English translation of the Malayalam novel Enmakaje by Ambikasuthan Mangad translated into English by J Devika as Swarga. Through such attempts where a writer from the peripheral space of national literature, marked as ‘regional language writers’, is foregrounded, translated into a language that the whole of the country understands.

This process is not merely an act of locating artistic equivalence. A different kind of equivalence is also sought through this attempt. The regional woes seek a way to penetrate the psyche and imagination of the nation. This has the impact of healing the wounds of the nation and the pain of its regional subjects. Sharing the concerns and receiving the acknowledgement are part of this healing process. The Goat Thief is also a book that tries to find out how to heal those spirits that are in disharmony with the rules of the society.   

Perumal Murugan locates his stories in the most usual and habitual fields of everyday life. He transforms the 'every day' into the extraordinary through diligent prose as well as audacious creative interference. The Preface to The Goat Thief contains the meaning that Perumal Murugan gives to short fiction. He equates the art of writing short stories with the art of drawing kolams in Tamil culture. 

Every character in this book has uniquely identifiable rhizomatic elements deeply rooted in the culture of the author. For instance, the well from the story by the same name pictures a well that traps an individual. Perumal Murugan beautifully mingles a nightmarish agony with a seemingly everyday activity. However, jumping into a well to take bath is not what one may see in Kerala, for example. The wells here are mostly too deep to jump in. even if the depth is not a challenge, people refrain from such activities. Needless to say, it is a uniquely Tamil event. 

Like stepping into a flowing river, each reading renders these stories with multiple significations. The ripple of the first story is seen through all the others in the collection. The natural and the usual appears in the universe of Perumal Murugan as the supernatural and the unusual. In the short story titled “Musical Chairs” for example, a chair forms the central concern of the story. Through introducing the almost supernatural existence of the chair as someone with a personality, the writer unveils a poignant tale of a married couple. The major themes of the stories serve the purpose of elaborating the lives of those who are in conflict with the mainstream society. 

I can certainly say that this is one of the best short story collections I have read. The Goat Thief may be the best short story collection of the year not just in India. This is the work of a genius.


Buy:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

WHO IS AFRAID OF PRIVATE-BUS OPERATORS?

I would like to bring to your focus two different yet connected issues today.

I came across a newspaper report that instilled memories that were seemingly dead beneath the ashes of time.

It was an April evening. April was summer in Kerala. The late April campus was especially oriented towards the end semester exams and of course, a steaming series of work for a teacher.

It was about five years back. I worked as a Guest Faculty at a reputed institution, back then.

I was coming back home after an especially tiring day at college. The usual bus I took had left from the bus stand at Thalassery at the usual time. I was a bit late that day to reach the bus stand. So I missed that bus.

The reason for that was to be immortalized in my later writing life.

I went to a book fair at Thalassery old bus stand. Books have always been my craze. I bought Edgar Alan Poe’s collection of short stories with a yellowish cover and the title “Penguin Classics” on top of the front cover.

Then I went to the bus stand, I took a bus from the old bus stand. But I was tired and decided to choose bus ride instead.

I was fortunate enough to snatch a back corner seat in the next bus.

I was happy. So I waved to one of the Guest Faculties at the Legal Studies Department when I saw him get on the bus. He was late too. And he had to hang on to the iron bar on top as there were no seats available by the time he got in. I raised my left hand. He smiled and walked towards the front side of the bus.

The bus had already started. I listened to the music I had stored in the memory card of my cell phone. It was good music. I kept music as my constant companion to drown out all my tiredness and fatigue. Music is a good companion.

When the bus left Mambaram, my destination was coming nearer. The next stop was the Jawan Stop. There was a shelter for waiting for the bus on the right side of the road. On the left side of the road were two stationery shops. A few people flocked on the left side of the road to catch the rare buses that go to Chalode, my hometown. Buses to Chalode were rare from Thalassery in those days. I think it continues to be the situation. There are many buses running between Anjarakandy and Thalassery though. Anjarakandy is a junction and small town that sits between Mambaram and Chalode.

I was immersed in the music. I felt heavy with sleep.
Then, with a loud roar, something hit me on my back.
I was knocked forward. I couldn’t breathe.
I saw the metal sheet from the right flank of the bus rip off and dangle from one side.
Quickly it dawned on me that another bus from behind had hit my bus.
How? Why? Would I not be able to reach home in time? What would I tell my folks who are waiting for my arrival?

Something or someone repeated inside my head, “keep breathing… keep breathing….” So I did.

Someone, a human being, this time, asked me, “Are you wounded?” I couldn’t talk. I coughed and tried to nod.

The good people in the bus took me to the nearest hospital. They took my cell phone and called my parents at home. Because I had occupied the back corner seat I was the one most seriously hit.

My parents were in shock. Somehow, they managed to reach the hospital.

The doctor said I had to be operated immediately. The veins and tendons on the left wrist were severed by a piece of sharp glass. All over my face and body were bandages to cover wounds caused by broken glass and iron bars.

“You are fortunate to be alive,” one of the co-passengers who took me to the hospital and waited beside my bed until my parents showed up said. He is a good friend of mine at present. Later that night I discovered that the person was from Chalode too.

My parents spent thousands of rupees of money on my treatment.

My job as a Guest Faculty did not have a medical insurance or provision for applying for leave on a medical emergency. So my superior suggested I quit. I did that happily, as I was contemplating a life with my parents and family, with a less stressful job environment.

That one moment of the accident, that shock, that utter chaos, created something inside my soul—a realization that family is precious.

Then there was the case against the driver of the bus that hit my bus and the claim for insurance. When I came out of the shock and pain of the wounds, I started processing the events that took place on that evening. The bus that hit me was going to Anjarakandy. From there it was to return to Thalassery. The stops between Jawan Stop and Anjarakkandy junction were three or four. The bus that I was in was going to Chalode, through Anjarakandy. The bus that came behind was racing with the bus that I was in, for more passengers, for a few coins more.

When the case against the driver came to court, I met him face-to-face. He had a beard and long hair. He looked as if he was drugged. He said he knew where my house was. He said he wished he could come meet me at the hospital or at home in order to make apologies. He said he didn’t because he was scared of the wrath of my family. I said it’s OK. I realized that the man was also threatening me in a subtle way. He knew my house. He knew that my family lived there. He looked like a maniac. So I decided to drop the charges and leave the matter there. Deep inside I wished he refrained from driving jobs in the future.

Recently, I saw him behind the wheel of a bus named “Prathija” that runs between Thalassery and Chalode. The same man, the same looks, and my mind raced backwards. I shouldn’t have left him like that. If he caused another human being to suffer from his rash driving, I would never be able to forgive myself. 

This craze for meagre economic profit haunts the private bus operators in Kannur. The impact of this madness is borne by the innocent people of the community. These private bus works or their owners never learn their lessons. Many people lose their lives due to bus accidents every day. The government too is blind towards this unabashedly open carnage. I was being lucky on that day. There are many who not as fortunate as I was. Here is an example.

Today, as I went through the pages of Mathrubhumi Daily, a Malayalam newspaper, a similar story hooked me. It was the story of Dilna from Kannur. Dilna underwent a bus accident at a very young age. The bus she was travelling hit a sidewall and the laterite stones fell over her causing her permanent handicap. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t go to school.
A scanned cop of the newspaper report: Courtesy: Mathrubhumi Daily

Her family doesn’t have the money for further treatment. When the insurance was claimed, the company did not release the money saying that the money that was claimed was more than they deserved. Who would teach these rascals the price for human life?

Thank God, Dilna is alive. However, she bears the cross of her wounds throughout, even if she didn’t deserve it.

I feel a guilty conscience when I saw the report. It is the fear of people like me that become the strength for the demons behind wheels racing buses across the streets. I am not worthy of taking up the case of Dilna or any other person. I know someone may feel more confident that I do at the moment. To that someone, I urge, please do something.        

Sunday, August 6, 2017

TAKING ACTION: Motivation

I know that you are a person of immense potential because I believe in the theory that everyone is born equal. I may be wrong. It doesn’t matter. If you want to be the best in your field, be successful. Everyone dreams of success, only a few live it.


You need to take the decisive step, that journey, that phone call, or send that email with your bio-data attached, or see that person face to face in order to make the magic happen. The magic of success is the denominator of all human actions. Momentum creates consistent action and thereby success. Without a move, there is no hope for momentum in life. so taking action is more important than planning action. 

The greatest threat humanity faces is perhaps global warming. As individuals, we face our own version of a cataclysm: non-action. You act when you log into Whatsapp Messenger or Facebook. That’s good action, right? Does it take you anywhere close to where you want to be in the next ten days? If the answer is no, then you know what kind of action I am talking about.

If the job you seek is abroad, away from your family… from your beloved ones… hesitate all you want. At the end, it must be the decision you want to make that must be made. You, not how others influence you, must be the commander of your journey.

Your heart is that of a dreamer. It can take all the challenges in the world. Remember the pains you have gone through in the past… the departure of that family member…Oh…that was painful… wasn’t that? Don’t you remember that humiliating experience with your class teacher? Yet, here you are. Alive and well, wondering if your heart could take it anymore.

Let it burst if that is its fate. What good is a heart that cannot take the pain of a dream coming true?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THE CATALYST CALLED PAIN: Motivation

A connection between your present and future is evident. What we do in the present is paid for in the future. Someone keeps the accounts. Call it the cycle of nature. Therefore, it is important to realise how important it is to live with a mission. Every step counts. What’s your life’s mission? Have you taken your first step?

The process to convert your present into future is automatic. The process to convert future into the success you planned for in the present is not automatic, and requires consistent effort.

Pain is the catalyst that converts the present dream into a future reality.

I am talking about the pain inflicted in the process of fighting for your dreams. Don’t bypass pain. Pain, on the experiential level, is like a book of wisdom.

You must differentiate between the pain of the world and the pain of your mission. Run as much as you want from the pain of the world. But the pain of the mission is yours to experience and learn from. Don’t run from it.

Have you a chance to find that opportunity you always longed for somewhere away from your home? Are you afraid to go in search of your dream job alone? The difference between the successful person and the unsuccessful person is the ability to face the pain in following a dream. All of them experience pain. But when they talk about their efforts their pain seems like a good story that leads to a great ending. “Turn your wounds into wisdom,” said Oprah Winfrey.

Lesson:

The pain in the present could be transformed into fruits of the future.

Have you taken the first step towards your dream? Read about first step here> http://anu-lal.blogspot.com/2017/07/motivation-first-step-rule.html

This Blog Post is in association with BW Books

Sunday, July 23, 2017

MOTIVATION: The First Step Rule

The first step is always the worst step. This is the irony of life. It is our first step that we make some of our greatest mistakes. It is the same step that we learn some of the greatest lessons of life. The first step has the trap of inexperience. It is also the doorway to opportunities.

You either take your first step or perish consumed by inertia or non-action.

What’s your greatest dream? Whatever it is, the moment of achievement is born with the first step. 


The Mr You in the future might be that elegant human being, fully developed, and self-actualized. You are murdering that individual by not taking the first step towards your goal.

After the first step, at least for a couple of days, don’t look back. Don’t think about the past. Don’t recollect the pain. Let’s go back there later. Now, it’s time to arrange our stuff… to look for further opportunities, to take the second step in the journey. Remember, your first step always offers you the possibility to choose the next.

Only the first step blesses you with the miracle of the second step. The hope of the journey belongs to those who stop the postponement of the start. 

Start!

If you don’t know what your first step is, create the first step by writing about your goal.

Non-action is the failure. By taking the first step, you have already defeated failure. Everything else is only lessons for future steps.

LESSON:
The difference between a goal and a daydream is the first step.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

REPETITION: An Old Story

"Champions keep playing until they get it right.” - Billie Jean King
 
In repetition lies the reality of success. Repetition without total commitment and passion is, however, a waste of time.

Often, in classrooms, I give repetitive writing exercises to my students. Most of them would certainly show a tired face or boo my instruction right away. I always take it as a good occasion to tell them the significance of repeating words and sentences on paper.

I unveiled the same measure in an English Literature classroom about six months ago.
I saw the tired faces. I saw the silent frustration and the booing from the backbench.

“All great writers did this exercise. This is the rhythm of creation. Write, repeat… write, repeat.” I sing sang my words into that chaos of conflicting interests in front of me. 

“Didn’t you get the reason why I want you people to do this?” I asked.

“No,” they said. “Why do we care?”

I looked into their faces. Innocent, yet affirmative. I thought, why on earth did I become a teacher!

What they said was their honest response. However, their words were sharp. It hurt the teacher in me… or should I say the ego of the teacher in me?

“Sir, do you have any printed notes for us?” suddenly, someone stood up and saved me from the state of embarrassment. 

“Why do you want printed notes?” I enquired, a little frustrated because, in the previous class, I had told them that by doing the classroom assignments they’d be able to answer all question in their examinations. There need not be any note-giving in this class. They simply did not need it, I had arrogantly concluded.

It was a girl student named B. I had thought that she was saving me from the embarrassment of facing the earlier response of the students. But it was clear now that she was only stabbing me behind my back.

“Printed notes are for losers,” I said aloud. “They will destroy your ability to think and write for yourself. Write. Find your own voice.”

“Sir,” the girl student who sat next to B, named F stood up. 
“Yes,” I looked at her, regretting that I shouted, perhaps unnecessarily, at my good student B.
F looked around and asked hesitantly, “Can you dictate those printed notes for us, then? We will write it down in our notebooks.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

ACTOR DILEEP: When the Mob Dictates the Punishment

Events like what has transpired in the previous few weeks related to the arrest of Actor Dileep used to be rare in Kerala society about a couple of decades ago. With the growth in visual media and the arrival of digital media, the news has metamorphosed into a show. If it’s a show, there must be a director. Who is the direction of this grand show?

The police have taken actor Dileep to various places for evidence collection. Various media reported that mobs have chased the crew with angry slogans. Perhaps, this is the bottom end of the mountain of showbiz looks like. It’s a deep bottom filled with dark irony.

The value of any actor in Malayalam cinema is based on the number people who cheer for him or her. This is the same criteria for much of Indian cinema. The irony is that the same number of people make a mob that pursue someone, whatever the reason is.

When a mob dictates punishment, the potential to postpone justice for the given culture increases. We have seen the same in Northern states where mobs kill individuals in the name of caste, keeping beef, or stealing money. We are a republic, a civilised society, with our very own judicial system. When a mob conceives the right to deliver punishment, the system breaks down.

Actor Dileep is accused of conspiring to assault and rape an actor. Let the judiciary decide what punishment it thinks relevant this man is to be delivered to. Let the trials happen.

A group of people seems to win any argument in Kerala. Various groups have wiped out many murders, political or apolitical. This must change.

Crimes are abominable. Every crime is. The system must be able to prevent each of these crimes. If the system fails to prevent crimes from happening, if the system fails to instil in the subjects of a state the security and confidence it deserves, then people will rise up and take the necessary measures to prevent future crimes by committing more crimes. They will also take revenge against crimes that were left unchecked in the past.

The mob eruption in the actor assault case has a historicity. The culture has a history of many such cases where women were assaulted and the culprits remained either unpunished or found ways to dilute the punishment by playing the judiciary. For example, the Soumya murder case.

When the society fails to win the trust of its subjects, the culture rises up against the social system. One of the many reasons for the presence of these large mobs in the actor issue is due to such a failure of the society. Mob justice is not a solution. It’s a problem.

When a woman is assaulted, we must take part actively in relocating our priorities through bringing the discussion to the forefront of the society. However, a group of people, under a flag or a label, should not be lead to demolish properties or kill other people in the name of justice. We cannot all be criminals. Criminals should be punished. But by punishing them, we cannot afford to lose our sense of justice. That would bring total disaster to the thin line that separates justice and injustice.   

Friday, July 14, 2017

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAM?

If you have a dream that keeps you awake all night, that inspires you, motivates you, fills you with enthusiasm and hope, gives you the courage to face any challenge, then you must do something to materialise it. Enthusiasm is a language that our soul understands. It’s an instruction from the realm beyond ours.

If a dream, a desire, or a thought fills us up with enthusiasm, that dream, desire, or thought deserves to be actualized. It is meant to actualize anyway. Whether you would become its bridge to this world or not, is the question.

If it is, a dream about writing a book that fills you with enthusiasm, that book must be written. That book is meant to be written. Someone will write it if it’s not you. But where is the magic if it’s not you who is writing the book?

I have seen people whose life standard could officially be classified ‘pathetic’ in terms of our general culture. But some of these people have a radiance about them. I cannot name these. They are in search of their key moments, to open the door to their dream realm. Any mention of their names could jeopardise their journey.

The intention with which they serve the dream fills them with radiance and liveliness.

If you don’t follow your enthusiasm your mind would rebel and this will lead you to many troubles. Soon your body would mimic the madness of your mind and this will reflect in the breaking down of your physiology. By not following a dream, you gain nothing. The way to stay healthy and alive is to follow that incessant calling that you heard from the deep recesses of your subconscious mind. Follow the call of enthusiasm. Follow your dreams.   

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DILEEP, MALAYALAM CINEMA, AND THE FUTURE OF A MEMORY

How well the episode of public scrutiny played out through the past few weeks if not months in the media! “The Actress Abduction Case” was relayed in the media as if it was a mega reality show. The investigation and the various twists that followed were all showcased for the hungry audiences. It was a classic thriller of a certain variety, which even nullified all other competitions and nailed the attention of the audience.

There was a victim. There was a perpetrator, (who for some people, due to some reason, was also a scapegoat). There was a show.

What Kerala witnessed though the past few weeks is the ultimate pinnacle of the showbiz. I say ‘ultimate pinnacle’ because show business has attained new heights in this mega reality show. The showbiz entered into the discourse of morality and ethics, not on a silver screen, as usual. The difference, this time, is that the showbiz entered into the realm of reality and played foul and is caught in doing so, on screen.

In the age of camera and digital distribution, an event on screen is a scene engraved for millions of eyes, for an infinite repetitive performance. Each day, the news bulletins are full of content on the abduction issue repeating the same faces and finding new angles for the event. Dileep, the culprit, according to the Kerala Police, has already undergone punishment. Remember, punishment is a loaded term. The term has a history that meant torture techniques like flagellation, crucifixion, hanging till death, etc. In the digital era, punishment apparently means a psychological torture through moral scrutiny in public. The culprit simply could not deny his involvement in such an event because the event and the many events that lead to the major event are all recorded. These records are audio-visual, mostly. 

Dileep has already been undergoing a punishment. The society of media and the followers of the media at large have a major role in enacting this punishment. The Indian legal system is yet to decide on shreds of evidence and punishment through its judgment. As per the rule of law, the conclusion of this event is yet to appear. Justice to the molested actress is yet to be delivered. But that is the legal side. The social side of this event has already announced its concluding verdict. The man behind the conspiracy is revealed. His acts are the centre of all scrutiny.

Such a scrutiny in public is the punishment. This man has a family, relatives, and friends. All his social relations along with the others will suffer a great deal in this public scrutiny. One man’s action is burning the whole family down. Thinking and visualising how those others will suffer may surely have an impact on the psyche of the culprit who is undergoing public scrutiny. His punishment is psychological not just in facing his own humiliation in public, but also in knowing that his beloved ones are being cornered and suffering due to his own actions.  

Now the question comes to whether Dileep could make a comeback to Malayalam cinema and to the media society of Kerala in general. It seems dubious, but not impossible. However, this possibility exists only if he could keep himself out of jail by playing legal games. They say that if the police could establish his crime in court, he may even get a life sentence. This could be a very serious problem for him. However, he has advocates like Adv. Ram Kumar appearing for him. This could give him a slight advantage.

How could Malayalam cinema get rid of the influence of Dileep? Not in the artistic sense. Dileep definitely has a significant space in the history of Malayalam cinema. At least, he would be the first lead actor in Malayalam cinema to be arrested on the charges of conspiring to abduct and rape an actress. So the history of Malayalam cinema wouldn’t be written without his name in it. What about the other influence, then?

The influence this man has in Malayalam film industry was evident in one of the previous meeting organised by the major union of actors. Even the mainstream major actors kept silence in front of the questions from journalists on the actress abduction case and Dileep’s involvement in it. A few of them even used caustic language at the journalists and attempted to divert the issue into one where one of their male members was being victimised for the mishap in the life of one of their female members.

From the body language of the members of this organisation of actors in Malayalam cinema, it was clear that they were under the influence of a powerful and corrupt system. Some newspapers and television channels attributed the term “mafia” for this system. It isn’t a secret that many senior actors in Malayalam cinema have formed their own ‘teams’ or ‘lobbies’. Malayalam cinema isn’t a totality. Everyone knows that it is fragmented in many ways: the Trivandrum lobby of upper-caste members, the mid-Travancore lobby of egotists and businessmen, the third lobby of Other Backward Caste members, etc. Dileep is not the first person who established such a ‘system’ in Malayalam cinema. He merely used one of these systems or the ideology of these systems that are already in existence for his purpose.

Would it even be thinkable for people who control the business of cinema in Kerala to break down this system itself? Can they dismantle all these lobbies?

The memory of the actress abduction incident is the only backdrop against which one could, at least, discuss these issues. Therefore, the memory of this event is the beacon that our culture has, at the moment, to cleanse Malayalam cinema of these malign influences.


This memory is etched across the culture of cameras and digital transmission. Everyone has seen the culprit and the way he attempted to save himself. Instead of saving himself, all his attempts made his fall even more sinister and amoral. If Malayalam cinema is to exist, it has to actively keep the memory of this crime against a woman, alive for the future.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

HONEY BEE 2: The Angels and Subalterns of Malayalam Cinema

Image Courtesy: Google
More than the success of this film, a controversial day made it appear on my radar. A prominent actress was abducted and attacked in Kochi. Among the reports that poured in after the assault, someone mentioned that the actress had played the female lead in Honey Bee 2. Someone had used this as an instance to criticize the society and culture in general for promoting such films. This scene occurred in a mainstream news show. The discourse was later repeated in various news shows. When a woman is attacked on the streets of Kochi, Kerala’s financial capital, a different sort of moral consciousness rose up.

The discussion of morality that is foregrounded here is not that same stand of moral policing that shamelessly dances on the streets of Kerala when a man and a woman share an intimate moment in public. This moral show is a different one. The whole culture takes part in it and a sexist bias takes over the discussions that follows. The victim is victimized further to the point that the status of the victim grows larger than the real-life victim. The culprit, at this juncture, where too much media discussion explodes the topic on the face of the culture, takes up the role of the victim and cries for mercy. Once this scenario is born, no one is sure who the victim is and who the culprit.

I noticed the name of this film way back when its first part was released in 2013. Honey Bee is a popular brand of liquor in Kerala. As a young boy, I remember seeing bottles of Honey Bee strewn across the hidden open spaces around every bush on the dirt road that meets Edayannur, where my post office is situated, from the South. In Kannur, Mahe, which is a territory part of Pondicherry, is the centre of alcohol availability.

In the selective process that marks the tradition in any given culture, this film was sidelined as a handicapped production. The reviewers were never considerate towards a film with booze as it major theme. The so-called “serious film critics” only treated Honey Bee as a mass entertainer with a major flaw in the message it delivered to the public. In Kerala, the moral code suggests that all can write or make films against booze consumption, but no one could go pro. Spirit, released in 2012, written and directed by Ranjith is one among many anti-alcoholism films.

When one goes through the history of Malayalam cinema in terms of its subject matters and symbolism, one may observe an irony. It is rather fear of showing pro-alcoholism and its aftermath than the concern towards health that makes Malayalam film makers to produces movies that appease this anti-alcoholistic moral code. It is fear, not genuine concern for constructing a healthy society. Alcohol consumption has always been the symbol for masculinity in malayalam cinema, among many such symbols. A popular example is the super hit film Devasuram (1993) in which the protagonist portrayed by Mohanlal consumes alcohol with tender coconut water.

Within this cliche of moral codes, Honey Bee 2 (2017) occupies the ‘asylum’ reserved for the deviant member in public discourse, especially among the talk shows on popular news channels. Recently, in a classroom, I inquired the students if they could suggest some films that have any social influence. “This could be negative influence. Don’t just stick with the pleasant movies”, I clarified. I posed this question with the premise that films and art in general have some influence in society. It’s a debatable point. However, I do consider such an influence to be real. Sometimes, such an influence could go in harmony with the moral codes in a society. Occasionally, this harmony is broken.

The students were vibrant. They started discussing among themselves. When I opened the discussion, many names came up. All of the films referred to were in perfect harmony with the moral code that ruled the society of Kerala. I stressed the point that this balance could be reversed, sometimes. I did not, at that point, in my mind the name of Honey Bee film. And there it comes.

A students stood up and said, “Honey Bee.”

If a film disturbs the harmony that is regulated by some moral code, is it necessary to eliminate that film from the documentation of our tradition of serious art? Let me take this argument further by expanding the space for all of artistic productions. Is it necessary to kill a particular form of art, simply because it denies the existing moral standard? If that is so, Where does this code come from? This society, as I mentioned earlier, does not have an essential code of morality. The code in existence is amoral, as grotesque as the reality portrayed in the film, whether it’s the case of alcohol consumption or unbridled violence. Thus, Honey Bee 2 becomes a reflection of a social imbalance in its theme.

The broken English used by the characters as well as the lengthy babble made by Harisree Ashokan’s character, Potti Master Uri, on the culinary bias of the modern-day Malayalees also deserve a close observation.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

FORTUNATE CHOICE: A Review of The Judas Strain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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