Remembering Padmarajan - and Chakki
“Make me mortal with a kiss!”
I had believed for a long time the above line is spoken by Marlowe’s Faustus. Today, I faced real disappointment on learning from Vimal that the Doctor actually says "immortal", a considerably weaker word. But moments later, it also struck me that a lot closer to home – and to our own times – there was another brilliant and short-lived writer, Padmarajan ( “Pappettan” to many of his fans, many of whom were not even born when he passed away on this very day in 1991), one of whose most loved characters, Gandharvan, could have said exactly that to his earthly beloved: “Make me mortal with a kiss!”.
Here is a proposal to those who remember Padmarajan as not only a fine writer but one of our best-loved filmmakers: Some good director should film his 'Itha ivide vare', a dark and gut-wrenching tale of lust and retribution. Of course, any production of it would be a huge improvement over I V Sasi's absolutely godawful film interpretation that came out in the 1970s; but what one wants is not improving upon the abysmal but a work of art that captures at least some of the story's lean muscularity and unbridled sensuality.
Looking Forward to Chakki:
The forthcoming National Games (India's Olympics) has a snappy mascot, a perky and colourful great hornbill. And the organizers were thoughtful and sensitive enough (neither virtue not exactly plentiful in today’s Kerala) to give a female name to the bird – a salute to Womankind and a proud reminder to one and all that Kerala is the one state in the Union with more women than men.
The name they chose for her, “Ammu” is another thoughtful choice, an obvious feminine counterpart to ‘Appu’, the fondly remembered young elephant who symbolized the 1982 Asian Games. But I can suggest an even better name: ‘Chakki'. Let me lay out my reasons:
The name Chakki, an earthy version of the Sanskrit ‘Lakshmi’(*) is more emphatically Malayali than Ammu. Further, it rhymes better with ‘pakshi’(= bird) and still better with ‘Malamuzhakki’(**), the great hornbill's Malayalam name.
However, on second thoughts, I won’t press the point; things are fine as they are; for, as at least those Mallus of my generation would recall, there was a fairly popular film around 1990 named: “Ente Ammu, Ninte Tulasi, Avarude Chakki". An approx. translation of the relevant portion of this elaborate name is “(You are) Ammu to me and Chakki to them!”. Of course, with our mascot, things are the other way round. But that's okay!
While pleased with the mascot, one is decidedly not thrilled about the import of ex-cricketer Sachin Tendulkar as brand ambassador of the games. Cricket is not an Olympic sport and Kerala is not exactly lacking in top-class exponents of Olympic events. Some would say Tendulkar promotes football - but that he owns a professional soccer team does not make him any more qualififed to represent even that one game than Mrs. Ambani (or Srinivasan for that matter) is qualififed to represent cricket.
The other day, a massive public run was organized all over the state. I too jumped in and ran a kilometer and some in the heart of Cochin city. Except for the blazing midday heat, the act posed no major physical challenge but I was mildly excited that the last few dozen meters were on synthetic track at the Maharaja's College ground - the first ever time I got a feel of this object.
On a different note: The second Kochi Biennale is on in a big way and as is the case with many lovers of art, I am liking it. The local Member of Parliament appears to have a rather different take on the whole business. I am told he has written somewhere: "There is this Biennale thing going on - so many random things collected in incomprehensible piles called 'Installations'. In my village of Kumbalangi (quite near Cochin), folks have started a new practice. Sweep the couryard and make a heap of the trash, plant the broom vertically on top and call the 'installation' thus created, the 'Kumbalangi Biennale'".
My take on the venerable MP's take: Welcome to Kerala, the land where a half-decent performance in a mediocre comeback film lands for a yesteryear actress the 'Person of the Year Award' from the leading newspaper and where (yes, I am saying that again!) Tendulkar is seen as the best person to represent the Olympic spirit!
Update (May 2015): I just discovered, the same MP was also closely associated with the Biennale as a member of its 'Apex Advisory Council'. Again, Welcome to God's Own Country!
(*) or is it 'Yakshi'? Indeed, the Tamil equivalent of Chakki is probably 'Isakki' and the Tamil folk goddess 'Isakki' is said to be 'Yakshi' in disguise. And viewed from a higher level, the words 'Lakshmi' and 'Yakshi' are themselves cognate!
(**) literally, the one that makes hills reverberate. The great hornbill is a big forest-dwelling bird and in flight, its wings are said to emit a loud whirr like helicopter blades. I have never seen one although I have often seen the Malabar hornbill, a much commoner bird. There are curious legends about how the hornbills can only drink rainwater as it falls from the heavens – apparently, they are the descendants of a reincarnated farmhand who neglected to give water to the cattle he was responsible for and so was condemned to generations of thirst (source: Prof: Induchoodan, Guru of Kerala birders).