Chronicles

A recountal of a pointless hopeless train of thought...

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Kunhunni maash

Kunhunni maash was an archetypal teacher of children and adults who have an open and earnest mind of a child to learn. No one has distilled knowledge and enlightenment to the degree of simplicity that he so effortlessly achieved. It spread like sunshine for decades over many generations of young kids who not only soared in their imagination about the open sky he unleashed, but learned the secrets of goodness and being kind and appreciative of mother earth.

For the twenty years I who read his(Kuttettan) editorial notes and advice to budding writers in the Children's Section (Baala-Pankthi) of Mathrubhumi magazine and having met him under a tree along with other students at school, felt the irrevocable loss of his long shadow. It's not just the charm of old world that is lost; I believe it is more than that. I doubt if we can ever find such fine folks anymore who can clear the gloom and guide your spirit to all that is worthy of life and living.

He was a short man. His poems were short. It took the world quite a while to read through the silly word play in his poems to understand the genius. The big and tall truths in small and short words, the nimble sketches of native life in Kerala and the gentle social and political satire have found their way through his poems which bordered on absurdism thematically and a distant similarity on Haiku in style. It is impossible to translate his poems since he used the oral and traditional words and expressions quite liberally. Once taken out of context, they simply wither away. You would feel like you have uprooted a healthy tree. However here is a sample, with due apologies to maash:

"Read or not
You will grow up.
You will reap
If you do,
You will trip
If you don't"


- as an ardent campaigner for library and reading, he has words of wisdom for children and adults.

"I am kunhunni.
My mother? Narayani.
Grand mother? Parukkutti.
Grand mother's mother?
That is the limit of my grasp."


- reveals his humble self even though he is a scholar in Malayalam literature and linguistics besides an accomplished teacher.

"My son must learn English
from the moment he is born.
Hence I had my wife
deliver in England"


- a taunt on the craze of English that began to threaten the existence of Malayalam.

I wish all my readers know how to read Malayalam so that Kunhunni maash could unveil the verdant language and the sprightly spirit of rural Kerala.

He called himself children's poet. There had been numerous child prodigies he nurtured through his writings and otherwise. He traveled for a long time campaigning for the need of libraries and literary activities. The throngs of children visiting his house and playing in the yard must have recognized maash and hopefully one of them would go on to lead his kindly light.

Note: maash is the endearing way of addressing a (school) Teacher.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A case for Portrait - Revisiting James Joyce Part 2


Stephen grows restless with his decadent life. Father Arnall's hellfire sermon draws his sensibilities on the incursions into the realms of sin and redemption. The contemplations on sin, death, confession and deliverance reveal a quest for a personal god who can restore the beauty and purity of his world. Here he is ruminating on God's majesty and its manifestation in the imagery of Emma, his partner in sin and a vision of biblical deluge:

"-- Take hands, Stephen and Emma. It is a beautiful evening now in heaven. You have erred but you are always my children. It is one heart that loves another heart. Take hands together, my dear children, and you will be happy together and your hearts will love each other.

The chapel was flooded by the dull scarlet light that filtered through the lowered blinds; and through the fissure between the last blind and the sash a shaft of wan light entered like a spear and touched the embossed brasses of the candlesticks upon the altar that gleamed like the battle-worn mail armor of angels.

Rain was falling on the chapel, on the garden, on the college. It would rain for ever, noiselessly. The water would rise inch by inch, covering the grass and shrubs, covering the trees and houses, covering the monuments and the mountain tops. All life would be choked off, noiselessly: birds, men, elephants, pigs, and children: noiselessly floating corpses amid the litter of the wreckage of the world. Forty days and forty nights the rain would fall till the waters covered the face of the earth."

The prose unleashes scores of images as if they were musical notes with spatial awareness of the landscape, chapel's damp light, clouds that gathered above and the rain. I read somewhere that Joyce was a tenor of rare talent.

Noticing the piety and talents in Stephen, the director of the school suggests him to take up priesthood. Caught between the choice and a growing awareness of his true self, Stephen begins to recognise his desire for freedom and the craving for aesthetics of life. He recollects how repulsive the stale odor in the corridors of Clongowes for him and unbearable, the unyielding and obscure questions of catholic doctrines. He accepts the life of imperfection and the smaller joys that are denied in the rigors of religious regimen and canonical penances.

"The faint dour stink of rotted cabbages came towards him from the kitchen gardens on the rising ground above the river. He smiled to think that it was this disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father's house and the stagnation of vegetable life, which was to win the day in his soul."

Stephen passes a turning point a little while before joining the university. He sets off to the seashore and witnesses the mirth of school chums swimming and then the vision of the winged Greek god Dedalus escaping from his prison island. His imagination soared at the spectacular sight of a girl wading in the ocean and his soul cried in an outburst of "profane" joy. For a moment he defied the strangleholds of faith and touched the freedom of spirit. He acquires great faith in the power of creativity and the eternal beauty of seemingly ephemeral objects.

"Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

He halted suddenly and heard his heart in the silence. How far had he walked? What hour was it?

There was no human figure near him nor any sound borne to him over the air. But the tide was near the turn and already the day was on the wane. He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sandknolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.

He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.

He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep..."

Joyce introduced the imagery of Greek myth to suggest Stephen’s premonitions of Ireland as the Prison Island and exile. This is followed by the revelation of his artistic self and the freedom that came along with it when he felt the exhilaration of watching the girl swim and being engrossed in the beauty and harmony of the moment. He is no longer holding back on the profanity of such joys anymore

We will see a sober and determined Stephen later on. He does not let himself hurt when his father refers to him as "lazy bitch of a brother”. He would not be cowed down by McCann over his petition or swayed by Irish nationalism and politics. He finds college insipid and uninspiring. He explains his theory on the aesthetics that delineates some of the major thoughts in the modern age such as definitions of Kinetic and static arts; lyrical, epic and dramatic forms of art and his views on dramatic art as the most uplifting, rhythm of beauty etc. It is not just Lynch who benefited; it must be the reader who is following Stephen’s intellectual tour-de-force avidly.
The consummation of Stephen's persona and self-expression soon follows when he meets Emma and settles down to write the poem that he couldn't write ten years ago. But he never shows it to anyone. Stephen develops friendship with Cranley and confides everything to him and asks Cranly's advice. Stephen and Cranly have a long conversation about religion, politics, family, and Ireland. Stephen admits, under Cranly's intelligent questioning, that sometimes he fears that the Catholic Church is right and he'll be damned and sent to hell. But he still must choose as he will choose. He realizes with sadness that after he leaves Ireland his friendship with Cranly will come to an end; he accepts that he may be alone. He must be independent. He is not afraid to be alone. He is not afraid of making a mistake, even if that mistake sends him to hell.

We follow Stephen in exile through his diary:

"April 15. Met her today point blank in Grafton Street. The crowd brought us together. We both stopped. She asked me why I never came, said she had heard all sorts of stories about me. This was only to gain time. Asked me was I writing poems? About whom? I asked her. This confused her more and I felt sorry and mean. Turned off that valve at once and opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus, invented and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri. Talked rapidly of myself and my plans. In the midst of it unluckily I made a sudden gesture of a revolutionary nature. I must have looked like a fellow throwing a handful of peas into the air. People began to look at us. She shook hands a moment after and, in going away, said she hoped I would do what I said.

...

April 26. Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

April 27. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

Dublin, 1904

Trieste, 1914"

You cannot read the book in one go, even though it is relatively skinny. You would have to revisit midway or on a random imagery or a composition that Joyce indulged you in. In all these you would realize the brave and firm convictions of Stephen Dedalus who grew up to become James Joyce. He lived in exile somewhere in Trieste which is no more than a windswept crossroad in Europe.

I chanced upon this book and the charmed world of Stephen. Revisiting after so long is like recreating the life and times with hope and innocence.

A case for Portrait – Revisiting James Joyce Part 1

Reading Portrait while I'd just begun hobnobbing with literature left me with vague stirrings of the inner workings of a mind. A mind flourished in the throes of awakening into the grace of wisdom and anguish.

I remember the sunshine in those evenings and creaky window of my cousin’s attic overlooking the cemetery of the church sharing the fence. I was captivated by some of those dreamy passages in the book and I knew Stephen Dedalus was here to stay. The seductive power of Joycean language weaved a bit of magic tangle for me, even when I wasn't aware or never curious for Irish politics, his specifics of catholic dogmas and the morals of the Irish society in general.

However what was palpable at the time was an instant recognition of Joyce's genius and how tactile was Stephen Dedalus' mind that worked its way through an evolving awareness from his childhood. The autobiographical signposts in the book were as misleading as seemingly direct and simple literary techniques employed. Stephen narrated his own life in various phases and evolution of his consciousness built up on a masterful control of words. What set Joyce apart from most was the unprecedented ability to combine his rebellious experiments in form and content.

Joyce lived in exile and in attempts to ward off impoverishment. In many ways the self imposed exile left him living on the edge. The crossroads in Trieste where he stayed, inhabited by people of multiple nationalities provided him a linguistic melting pot and the psyche of an exile. The Portrait to Ulysses and culminating in Finnegan’s Wake provide ample evidences of this progression.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914) is special not in the least it pioneered stream of consciousness form, not even the brilliance of language but the fact the book has a lot of heart in it. You would find the spirit and its mellowing of consciousness in the transitory stages of childhood, adolescence and youth. You would imbibe as much as you revel in the sensitivity applied in his imageries and the narrative.

Stephen's childhood goes through the bittersweet experiences surrounding his parents, governess Dante, Catholicism and Conglowes School. His impressionable mind responded to the seemingly overwhelming and insecure life and times. His fascination for the innocence of Eileen who is a protestant is disapproved, the induction of church, nationalism and politics at the dinner table with him as witness, his sense of punishment and justice when he complains to the rector about Father Dolan as the latter pandied him for the broken glasses which he was falsely accused for having done it deliberately - You could find Stephen grow up fast and developing a sensitive but tenacious mind. This evolution is drawn in a metaphor as given below:

"He (Stephen) turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.

Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
Sallins
County Kildare
Ireland
Europe
The World

The Universe"

Stephen's run-ins into the charms of romanticism and sexuality are the next phase of his life. He would be on a journey to come into terms with his perceptions which are in conflict with his immediate world. The reveries about the girl in the tram and his urges to talk to her, his amorous melancholic visions of Mercedes from Count of Monte Cristo, the unconventional views of writers (the boys attacked him for defending the heretic poet, Byron), his dispassionate realization of his father's failures, his longings and first sexual encounter with a prostitute reveal the growth of an artist's psyche. Joyce employs the metaphor of walking to imply Stephen’s awakenings and you would see him do at different stages of narrative:

"He had wandered into a maze of narrow and dirty streets. From the foul laneways he heard bursts of hoarse riot and wrangling and the drawling of drunken singers. He walked onward, dismayed, wondering whether he had strayed into the quarter of the Jews. Women and girls dressed in long vivid gowns traversed the street from house to house. They were leisurely and perfumed. A trembling seized him and his eyes grew dim. The yellow gas-flames arose before his troubled vision against the vapory sky, burning as if before an altar. Before the doors and in the lighted halls groups were gathered arrayed as for some rite. He was in another world: he had awakened from a slumber of centuries."

The torments of Stephen walking alongside the vagaries of lust and loss of innocence after the brief spells of romance, and the burgeoning of his artistic self finds expression in Joyce's imageries and word play.