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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Odin's Eye

This post returns to the 'fragments' pattern.

Bijoya Ray, model for the 'Demure Venus' by her husband Satyajit, passed away last week at age 98, a lifetime after that alluring vision was created. Although I came to know the sad news quite late (via Gyani), I console myself with the belief that I was the last to pay the lady a tribute when she was still around (see the post 'Our Masters and THE Masters' put up here but a few weeks back).

1. ‘Ernakulam Charakkukal’

The old and abandoned ‘Ernakulam Goods’ (in Mal, ‘Ernakulam Charakkukal’) Railway station to the north of the High Court is a remarkable sleepy hollow. Riotously overgrown and maddeningly green, this hundred plus acre site looks every inch, a calm and meditative lung space in the heart of the city. Its Brit-built, stone-arched buildings, now slowly being reclaimed by fig trees and creepers, make for a very Arcadian spectacle. And the piece de resistance to me is this object. When I approached to take the picture, some local youths asked me: “Chettaa, what is that thing?”

One wants to caption the above photo: “This IS a pipe” as an Elder’s answer to their query as well a rejoinder of a tribute to Rene Magritte. For it was indeed used to refill the boilers of steam locos eons ago - an inscription says it was forged in 1927.

I wrote to Gyani with the picture and a question: “Why is that thing bent in such a funny way (indeed every such water filler I can recall had that odd bend)?! It could just as well have been shaped like a walking stick;” And let his sagely-ness have the last word on this business: “I loved that forlorn pipe - so lost in Time that even the reason for its being bent in that way has been forgotten by most folks!”

But there is trouble in this little slice of paradise. No, I am not talking about the odd anti-social element.

All those powerful looking trees are actually under unrelenting attack from a very good-looking serial strangler. Wiki says: the money plant, a pacific island native has become a very serious weed in south Asia – especially in tropical forests.

Old Survives New:

In Tripunithura, there is a curious little edifice with an equally curious name: “Bungalow Palace”. This building has the reputation of being the first ever double storeyed building built in these parts (well, its ground floor is probably no floor at all but a hugely elevated pack of masonry atop which the lone residential floor sits, thus giving the building a double-storeyed look; I repeat, its dimensions are very modest). I remember reading somewhere that the Dutch built it more than 200 years back.

Bungalow Palace is said to have been originally used as the residence of the Maharaja of Cochin when he came visiting. Then sometime in late 19th century, an increasingly prosperous (or status-minded) king decided on something bigger and statelier and a three-storied structure came up. Here is how it was (an old photograph).

Old timers say that the building was at least 6000 sqft in area, that there was a garden and fountain in front, that the flooring was of imported tiles and so forth. And it was called ‘Puthen Bungalow’( = ‘Brand new Bungalow').

And this is how it has come to look.

The area around Puthen is in active use – a temple, an orphanage and modern residential buildings – but the plot itself, all of 30 meters by 30 meters, has become a tremendously dense jungle (to see it all, one needs a machete). Only the two portions of the walls shown above still stand, everything they once supported has fallen and crumbled and in the former interior of the building, there is only vegetation. Even at noon, the crickets keep up a loud drone and mosquitoes sting the life out of any trespasser (I could not last more than 10 minutes there).

The collapse of the building happened around 20 years back. Many blame the State for this state. However, I also suspect that the building had poor foundations underneath its grandeur and so its fall was inevitable. In contrast, the packed first floor of the old Bungalow has enabled it to survive - and function (it still is in active residential use).

Odin’s Eye:

Rains have played truant. But there are clouds and they assume such crazy forms and patterns that any visit to the Marine Drive is sure to reward you with wonderfully atmospheric views of the Cochin seascape.

The other day, a thick bank of purple clouds lay to the northwest, blocking out the sun totally. And then, a crack shaped like an eye opened up in it just above Vallarpadam island and at that precise instant, the sun dipped in and poured a torrent of molten gold directly over the twin spires of the Vallarpadam church. “Odin’s Eye!(*)”. I took a picture but won’t show it here. For it was a vision deserving only to be described in Words.

‘ 'Shshhi’

As my readers know, I keep returning to Khasak. The other day, I read N S Madhavan’s Marxist analysis of the agrarian economy of Khasak (‘Khasakile Sampadvyavastha’). Then I recalled photographer K R Vinayan once quizzing the author Vijayan himself on the mysterious writer Prince Thiruvankulam (his works form Ravi's collection along with Gita, Rilke, Baudelaire and (populist Mal novelist) Muttathu Varkey).

Yes, Khasakology is a thriving area. People have dug up all kinds of trivia about this fictional village. One more example: Who is the only Christian in Khasak? Answer: the monkey-handler migrant belonging to the Thottian caste named ‘Senthiavu’ (‘Santiago’).

Now, let me briefly ponder a politically wrong question. What is Ravi's caste? The novel once says he is a Nair (someone referring to him as ‘Mashter Moothaaru’). But there is a problem: at least twice he uses the unique Malayalam word ‘shshhi’. Meaning ‘plenty’ or ‘lots’, it is almost exclusively associated with Nampoothiri Brahmins and some castes which are closely associated with them and not with the Nairs of Pattambi area (Ravi’s home territory). But Ravi’s deceased mother does not speak her few lines in the Nampoothiri dialect; his communications to his step-mother is in formal Malayalam indicating the lady was no Malayali at all; and he never speaks to his ailing father in the book.

Question: why did Vijayan choose to make Ravi speak in such a pronounced Savarna fashion?


` (*) – there are many Gods with two eyes (including the Father himself, as he appears in Euro art) and at least one with three. But to my knowledge, Odin is the only one-eyed Jack in the pack (he is also the only top God who actually gets killed without reincarnation or resurrection). Of course, where I saw Odin, a Goya could see a threatening Cyclops (and a Redon, a benign one)!