ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Random Pieces

"... You don't belong here, in this World,

Where the laughter of sunflowers only reveal cruel fangs and trecherous claws,

Where dungeons as dark and heartless as the final Judgement await those who love their Land,

Where the bleached bones of the Just lie strewn over the wastes as rainless storms whirl and screech above..."


- a fragment from a Malayalam poem by K. Sachidanandan, in my translation.

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"One night, as he prepared his favorite paan, our much-loved lyrical poet P complained: "This patch of moonlight on my plate confuses me; I mistake it for the lime!". Now a time has come when our people crib: "Moonlight, what a waste - can't even dry copra!"

- from a typically pithy and sincere speech from media person Johny Lukose.

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The other day, I saw a drawing of Siva. The lord had the now fashionable Meluha features (square jaw, high cheekbones) and physique (muscular in a very lithe way, six pack and everything). His expression was warlike and agitated, eyes glaring. However, a curious counterpoint was provided by the cobra coiled around his neck. Facing its master, the snake had its hood puffed up and fangs bared but looked to be having a hearty laugh.

Nowhere else have I seen a laughing snake(*) but the drawing suddenly reminded me of a laughing *fish* and a very creepy story read long ago in the children’s magazine ‘Balarama’. It was titled: “The Skull that would kill four people and the Laughing Fish”. I remember being far more frightenened by the fish that keeps appearing at critical points in the story - and it would rapidly slip away laughing a shrill, piercing laugh - than the Death’s head which spelt doom for four people.

I can't find a copy of this story online. But a brief mention is here . The story is apparently of mid-eastern origin and spookiness apart, its core theme is adultery; perfect for a children's magazine I suppose!

Another Fish and laughter come together come together to concoct a disturbing vision in Goya's dark masterpiece: 'Burial of the Sardine' (can be seen at Wiki). A considerably more benign laughing fish features in this allegedly Indian fable .

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Watching ‘Interstellar’ and its intriguingly twisted time-tunnel, I was reminded of this story from ‘Yogavasishtha’, as was retold in an interview given to a Malayalam magainze a few years ago by eminent physicist ECG Sudarshan:

"A visitor presented king Lavana with a horse which he claimed was perfect for a hunt. The king promptly mounted the steed to check it out. The beast sped off, leaving the royal citadel and the surrounding country far behind. Eventually, it lost its way lost its way in a treacherous jungle. The utterly exhausted and famished king chanced upon a tribal girl cooking some meat. She refused to share her food and said: "We are untouchables. You look rich and high born!".

"What if i marry you and stay here?" the desperate king asked. She said: "ask my dad".

Lavana obtained the old man's consent and stayed put, partaking of the rough jungle food and getting used to the new way of life. Over the years, he fathered two children by the girl. Then came a severe drought and famine; the entire jungle shriveled up and there was nothing to eat and the children were crying in despair. Lavana lit a fire and told his wife: "When i am done, feed them!" and jumped in ..

Lavana woke up with a start. He had dozed for but a few minutes whole experience had been a dream! But he thought further: "it cannot be. It was too real, too bloody detailed. I need to check!" He promptly set out to look for the forest - his memories had an uncanny clarity and accuracy and they guided his search straight to a burnt out looking forest-clearing; there sat a wailing woman and her children. She lamented: "my husband immolated himself two days back!"

Who really was whatever - Lavana, the king who dozed off briefly, the desperately suicidal father or both or neither? I am told Gaudapada (or someone thereabouts) had speculated on our life being a dream played out in somebody's sleep. And Pindar is said to have said: "Man is a shadow's dream!"

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Once upon a time, all trains in Kerala were pulled by sooty steam locomotives and all coaches were the color of dirty rust. I distinctly recall the surprise I felt as a five year old on seeing a red and white liveried train headed by a gleaming blue diesel loco at Calicut station. Pop told me: "this is the new Jayanti Janata express; it goes all the way to Delhi. And it gets to Shoranur from here in one hour flat!"

Somehow, Pop's statement stuck and whenever I traveled by any train between these stations, I would check the time; the Holy Grail of one hour never happened; it was always 75-85 minutes for the nearly 90 kilometer distance. Obviously, that was a 'stretcher' from Pop (as Huck Finn would put it - strictly speaking, it was a 'compressor! - not by much, around 20 percent; okay for Pop!

...until last week when I took the Sampark Kranti express. Between Shoranur and Calicut, its WDM3D loco let it really rip in a sustained blast of diesel power. The train thundered past Tirur and Parappanangadi at full tilt and as it reluctantly slowed to a crawl at 'Kozhikode outer', only 58 minutes had elapsed from its stirring into action at Shoranur.

I reported the whole thing to Pop and he remarked. "Hey, the one hour thing was no fiction. I often took the Mangalore Mail to Shoranur when I was a student and it would reach in one hour!". "No way!", I protested. "You are talking about 1960 and lumbering steam locos; and it was a single track line in those days!" But Pop was adamant: "Hello, I know what I am talking about. One hour flat it used to be!".

Aside: I have had my present cellphone for several years but it was only last month that I figured out it incorporated a stopwatch! It was thrilling to see the Sampark maintain a smashing 105 kmph speed for long stretches, occasionally grazing 110. Flip side: the Kozhikode line is all set to switch to electric traction and the days of such diesel-fueled thrils are numbered.

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I saw a thirtyish woman and her 3/4 year old son step out of a shop on a quiet Ernakulam lane. Pointing at a lone tree standing across the lane, she tells the boy: "Look, a Paala tree with all those lovely flowers, so tiny-tiny and white, don't you see them?!".

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(*) One does recall an episode of a snake *possibly* sporting a smug, mocking smile; indeed it is this very cobra. Snugly safe on Siva's neck, he asks his wrathful nemesis, Garuda the eagle: "Hey Garuda, Howd'yedo?" (the cobra actually spoke Tamil, the translation is mine).

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