Thursday, March 31, 2005

The infinte grace of Vijayan

You might probably know that the malayalam writer O.V.Vijayan is no more. Please read Dev's blog to know more about him.

I am feeling weighed down by my own expectations to write about O.V.Vijayan, the writer who died this week. I would not add anymore adjective to his name. I would not.

I found Vijayan from Mathrubhumi, the equivalent of Times Litt Journal for a Malayali and I thank my father for subscribing the weekly. Vijayan was writing an epilogue series for his magnum opus Khazakinte Ithihaasam (Legends of Khazak). I had not read him before nor I had heard of him and I must confess that I was not really excited by malayalam writing till then. But a casual glance on one of the pieces transformed me as a reader and I felt an unseen presence of a benevolent Guru who provoked and inspired to think originally and honestly.

Vijayan started writing in English. He infact finished his first fiction and then began the phase of questioning the book and himself. He finally figured he was not going to wallow in the cosmopolitan dynamics of Indian English Writing. Knowing him as I do now, I sense the grace of a great mind and am grateful. I am grateful to this writer who shattered my pride in knowing the angst of life from Kafka, the surreality of life from Gabriel Marquez, the absurdity of life from Samuel Beckett, the lyrical sadness of life from Milan Kundera and the architectural constructs of life from Italo Calvino. He replaced everything with an infinite grace of life and the words he jotted down would sit beside me in silence, pointing to the far end of this life and beyond ever so gently.

Vijayan took twelve long years to complete his first novel in malayalam. He was patient and he knew he had to bide his time. When it came, it took the literary world by storm. The book was titled "The Legends of Khazak" - the story of Ravi, a teacher in an informal education centre in Khazak and his existential crises. His forlorn meanderings and visions took him from the Christian College in Thambaram to the ashram of Bhodhananda and finally to the dilapidated rickety pre-school in Khazak. The novel ends when Ravi provokes a snake to bite on his feet and gradually begins his journey to the unending realms of karmic existence.

The linear exterior of this quaint story was nothing but deceptive. The language, the visions and the few characters would get inside your senses before you realize. Invariably it would set you off to a journey that will liberate your imagination as a reader. You could set existential angst of Ravi, the lyrical eroticism of Maimuna and the human prototype of Appukili (the retard) with the backdrop of wind blown palm trees and dense nights of Khazak anywhere in the world. He differed from other writers the way he integrated everything to look at the commonplace life with the grace of a visionary. Vijayan himself acknowledged his affinity for Lawrence Durrel's Alexandria Quartet that looked at life with an integrated vision.

Please get a peek on this great work here:

The next book from Vijayan was Dharmapuranam (The saga of Dharmapuri). If you want to relate to the satire and black comedy genius of Vijayan, this is the one for you. The book lampooned political monkeys who are sitting at the helm of Indian democracy and shreds every bit of its sense to pieces. The cartoonist that you have seen in NY Times and other publications at his riotous best. If you have read P.J.O'Rourke's satire, you would know what I am talking about.

His third book is the personal best and the object of hatred for so many at the same time. The book is titled "Gurusaagaram" (The infinity of Grace). Here is a writer who is speaking to you the reader one-on-one as a Guru to the seeker. He showed us the hidden truth in lost battles of ego and the fatigue of wisdom. The novel talks about Kunjunny, a journalist from Kerala after his long and winding physical and spiritual journey finds his way to the Infinite Grace of life. Finally we find the seeker partaking the Guru in attaining awareness of self. His language is deep and the style is tantalizingly elusive for the conventional readers of fiction, but plenty of food for thought for his followers.

Each book from then onwards underlined his growth as a thinker than a popular writer. "Madhuram Gayathi"(I am not going to translate the title:) ) dealt with the awareness of man, environment and the universe with an integral vision. This has some profound and almost prophetic utterings on the ecosystem, man's greed and cycle of life and death.

The power of his language is such that no one dared to translate them. Finally Vijayan had to be persuaded to do it. There are folks who cannot even think of translation, such was the raw power and alchemy of his words when it happened. Viajayan had to transcreate the book in English.

I have not read his last two books but I am sure I will not be disappointed, neither will you.


Besides novels and cartoons Vijayan wrote a lot of short stories that will stand the test of time. Notably "Kadaltheerathu" that distantly evokes similarities to malayalam movie "Piravi" and Alan Patten's book, "Cry my beloved country".

True to his philosophical self, he was never found compromising his values or pandering to the obnoxious award committees. He was just beyond all that, way above.

He also wrote several articles and books on politics and humanities that stand so mcuh apart from the regular pastiche from the columnists in Delhi. He was a colossal presence for the enlightened readers. I for one with all the triviality of my existence would devour everything that he ever wrote. Please go here to get a peek of his political acumen. I am sure you would feel the presence of a Guru who is relentless in his pursuit of truth and meaning of life.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Theory of Chaos

I was a misfit as a masters student of physics. The wordy books of thermodynamics and classical mechanics doused what little fire for physics I had in the first year. I was not surprised when the examiner who came from a distant university appropriately identified me during viva-voce. But I did not read Milan Kundera that night. I had my dinner and slept like yesterday.
After masters, one of my options was to do research. I went to the university. The department head told me that they had just one vacancy for research associate and that too in theoretical physics. Nothing was going to make much difference to me anyway. I said I would take it.

He spoke a little bit about the scope, stuff that needs to be done for a prelim thesis and that the topic was called theory of chaos. Theory of Chaos - The title impressed me. I needed to pick one of the mathematical problems that he was trying to solve, distantly related to photonics. I was impressed with the title. More like my life then. If I could extrapolate a little bit on it, who knows...

Mathematicians have known about nonlinearity (a characteristic of discontinuous events) since the work of Henri Poincaré, at the turn of this century. Most equations that attempt to predict the actions of nature or natural materials are close approximations rather than exact. They contain one or more factors of nonlinearity; which are approximated by using constants (in the engineering community, such constants are sometimes called fudge factors). Think about your simple newtonian
equation. The constant that you add has in it the seed of unpredictability that can grow upto very large proportions and the system eventually would look like it has lost its "memory" of what were the initial conditions.

Much like most of our life where the simple equations of life go down off an unpredictable tangent when the deemed constant factors plunge into patterns that we don't understand.

Have you watched "A Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon"? a swedish movie on Sonia Kovalevskaya. She was the first woman mathematician to recieve a Ph.D and made major contributions besides working on the intial formulations of Theory of chaos. The movie had a fascinating account of the disintegration of her personal life into chaos in parallel to her research on quasi-linear differential equation.

My research was gone for a toast in a few months and I took up software for a living. I thought I was done with chaos. It was only a beginning. The bigger the application; longer the code; bigger the team; deeper grew the chaos and eventual lead up to the great american way of problem solving!!!

The seminar I attended the other day discussed adapting the principles of theory of chaos into project management practices and reduce risk factors. Infact every enterprise individual, family or business is living with the possibility of failure.

You cannot wish the angst away. Even after many an implementation of complex projects, sometimes I am still haunted by the lingering question of being a misfit among the go-getters.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Zarathushtra, the final war and sacrifice

I asked my manager to repeat what he just said. It came too fast to comprehend the exact sense of his statement. He repeated:

"If war breaks out Pakistan will nuke you (india) even before you think about it".
We were silent for sometime. I listened to the rattling of wheels and ruminated. Could it be the edginess of this navy vet or the war-sense of an american? We did not discuss the indian response.

We were on one of our long overnight drives to client site through the grayed undulating interstate roads in Pennsylvania. The news of one of the biggest indian and pakistani army deployment has been the talking point.

And we drove into the loneliness of evening fog...

I pondered over the imminence of devastation and the visage of scarred earth. I thought about the egalitarian - death. I thought about the good and evil, perfect and the imperfect, beautiful and the ugly. I thought about the folks who are living their lives and waiting forsomething else...
I remembered Alexander from Tarkovsky's Sacrifice and his solitary trails. His prayer to god to make everything as before in return of the sacrifice of his family, possessions and silence, when the nuclear disaster was announced. I tried to visualize the stunning visions and landscapes that Sven Nykvist showed ever so magnanimously. It was called a flawed masterpiece of a dying man(Tarkovsky was diagnosed with terminal cancer then).

Not the wisdom of death but the earnestness to find conscious life saved from death will define and atone for human. And thus spake Zarathushtra:I come again with this sun, with this earth, with this eagle, withthis serpent- not to a new life, or a better life, or a similar life:-I come again eternally to this identical and selfsame life, inits greatest and its smallest, to teach again the eternal return ofall things

Tarkovsky engaged Nietzschean doctrine of eternal return to delineate the need of waking upto life as it is. The last scene where Alexander sets fire on his house as sacrifice had to be retaken because Sven's camera was jammed. On watching the conflageration, as I read somewhere - "One wonders if, on that second occasion, Tarkovsky was inwardly gnashing his teeth or mentally smiling at the cosmic irony and repeating, together with Zarathustra: "Was that life. Well then, once again!".

*Andrei Tarkovsky: Late Russian cinema director
**Sven Nykvist : Legendary Cinematographer. Known for hisassociation with Ingmar Bergman. Worked with Tarkovsky for the movie referred to in the blog, The Sacrifice.
***Zarathushtra: Generally known as the prophet and founder of Zorastrianism. But the blog refers to the Nietzsche's philosophy from his book Thus spake Zarathustra.

Saving the World!

It came about in this way. During the children's revolt of the sixties and the seventies, I was just old enough to understand what t...