ANAMIKA

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

November Gains...

Note: The title above is a translation of the Malayalam 'Novemberinte Nettam'

'Jezebel'

At the entrance to the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary is a small garden frequented by butterflies. Stone slabs with pictures and names of butterflies have been kept around the place. One of them:



The name Jezebel caught the eye, as did the Mal equivalent: "Vilasini".

Jezebel is the Anglicized transliteration of the Hebrew אִיזָבֶל ('Izevel/'Izavel), She was a foreign-born queen of Ahab, King of Israel in Old Testament days. In these times of intolerance and discussions on intolerance, it would be interesting to know more about her and how she earned the wrath of God. Wiki:

Jezebel went so far as to require that her (alien) religion should be the national religion of Israel. She organized and maintained guilds of prophets, 450 of god Baal, and 400 of Asherah. She also destroyed such prophets of Israel as she could reach....

Her intolerance met its match in the zeal of Elijah, prophet of the *real* God:

Elijah ordered people to seize the prophets of Baal and Asherah, and they were all slaughtered. The superiority of Elijah and of his God and the slaughter of the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, fired the vengeance of Jezebel. Elijah fled for his life to the wilderness, where he mourned the devotion of Israel to Baal and the lack of worshipers of Israel's God.

Long story short (read Wiki for more salacious details): "For these transgressions against the God and people of Israel, Jezebel met a gruesome death - thrown out of a window by members of her own court retinue, and the flesh of her corpse eaten by stray dogs."

Of course, her false Gods had no power to give the same treatment to Elijah.

Jezebel became associated with false prophets. In some interpretations, her dressing in finery and putting on makeup led to the association of the use of cosmetics with "painted women" or prostitutes.

So just like what happened to Lilith, a fiercely patriarchal society and its vengeful God turned a disobedient and proud woman into the embodiment of Evil.

It is a surprise why a rather moderately colored and innocuous-looking butterfly came to be named after the fiercely regal Jezebel; but Vilasini (which can imply 'graceful seductress') certainly is an interesting, albeit partial, translation. It sure is a lot truer than Desi turned American redneck Dinesh D'Souza saying somewhere that "'Nandini' means 'Holy Cow'"

Equally curiously, Jezebel/'Izavel has nothing much to do with 'Isabella'. The latter is the Latin equivalent of 'Elisabeth'. One notes in passing that to go from the la-sa-ba of Elisabeth to the sa-ba-la of Isabella is quite a bit of phonetic mangling.

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The Brahmini ('krishna') kite is not exactly a rare bird. But in the zoo adjoining the Thattekkad butterfly garden, nearly half dozen of these birds have been kept thus; to what end is not clear:



And right next to the kites is a 'Simhavalan' confined to a 10 foot square cage. I would spare my readers a pic thereof.

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'Amritavarshini' in Ethiopia:

A promotional video often played these days on the Safari TV channel has visuals of an arid Ethiopian village with a presumably indigenous folk song playing over. The tune is just what one would call 'Amritavarshini ragam'( a nice film example is Ilayaraja's 'thoongatha vizhikal randu'). The correspondence is not really surprising. ... varshini is one of the simple pentatonic melodies (5 notes up the frequency scale and the same 5 notes down) and folk music across the globe favors such melodic patterns over ones with more notes - and more complex permutations among these notes. But this particular raga is associated with rains in Karnatic tradition and it sounds very curious (although by no means incongruous) in a desert setting. And yes, I remember hearing (long back) a set of folk songs from the Sahara desert country of Mali, all set to raga Megh - another pentatonic melody that can create the atmosphere of rains as per the Hindustani tradition.

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A Vote that went waste:

A few days ago, elections were held to local governing bodies in Kerala. I didn’t vote because (a) my name was not on the rolls and (b) I had never bothered to get myself enrolled. But this story is not about my being apolitical or otherwise but about an election I actually participated in long ago. The trigger: A candidate in some ward of a nearby village scored a clean zero.

As I had written here sometime ago, the school where I studied used to conduct elections on party basis and they were fiercely fought affairs, the main contestants being SFI (left-backed) and KSU (congress affiliated). In our 10th standard batch, there was a three way election – a certain Stanley (a committed SFI chap), Anil (backed by KSU but whose ideology was little more than “I too want a slice of the pie”) and Ramesh (an independent). Stanley had been the leader the previous year.

The day before the election, they each addressed the batch in a soapbox session.

Ramesh the independent went first: “Friends, I am not a politician. I don’t promise strikes and shutting down the school like them; that is not our game, we are here to study. But if elected, I will take up all your academic and other difficulties energetically and interface with the management. Please vote for me”

Stanley: “Comrades, try to see one thing: has there been a single instance where any of your genuine issues was addressed by the management without our raising it vigorously, and if the need arose, shutting down the school?! I am sorry to say this but I pity you Ramesh, for toeing the line of the powers that be! Comrades, I promise to be with you, to fight for you straining every sinew of mine, to ensure that you get the best! I won’t be neutral in any issue concerning you and anybody else. I am one among you, I am totally biased in your favour, I am yours!”

Anil: “I agree with Stanley and not Ramesh, if the need arises, we have to agitate. But since Stanley has had his chance, let me have mine. Please vote for me!”

The votes were cast and the counting began in front of the whole batch. The first vote taken out went to Ramesh and there was a general murmur of surprise. The next vote went to Stanley, then Stanley, again Stanley,….

It was a landslide. Anil picked up some crumbs. Ramesh did not add to his tally.

I came face to face with a somewhat crestfallen Ramesh shortly thereafter. He said: “I had a feeling at least you would vote for me. I know you did not because my sole vote was mine.” I had no answer. I did not admit it then but I sensed that I had wasted my vote. And now, in hindsight, I had missed a once in a lifetime opportunity to really make a difference with a vote. Sorry Ramesh (he is the only one in this note whose name has been accurately retained)!

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I sign off with impressions from a clay modeling and sculpture workshop for collegians that I got to watch over the last week:



Sunday, November 01, 2015

Lilith



It so happened that a link to the song ‘Lilith’ by Greek singer Nena Venetsanou came my way(*). The name of the song sounded vaguely familiar but I first tried listening to it – and got seriously hooked.

Still under the spell of the Venetsanou’s rich, plaintive voice and the song's hauntingly dreamy flow, I went to the Wiki page on Lilith. With surprise, I realized I had been there just a few months back (and my fading memory had retained but the frailest shadow thereof).

Exerpts:

Lilith (Hebrew: לִילִית‎ Lîlîṯ) is a Hebrew name for a figure in Jewish mythology, generally thought to be in part derived from a far earlier class of female demons in Mesopotemian religion.

In Jewish folklore, Lilith becomes Adam's first wife, who was created at the same time and from the same earth as Adam. This contrasts with Eve, who was created from one of Adam's ribs. The legend was greatly developed during the Middle ages - in the 13th century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she coupled with the archangel Samael. The resulting Lilith legend is still commonly used as source material in modern Western culture, literature, fantasy, and horror.


So, Lilith is either the original femme fatale or the primordial Feminist icon or both.

Without quoting online sources, let us note that the mid-Eastern Lilith metamorphosed into our own ‘Lalita’. The latter of course, goes by the full name of ‘Lalita Tripurasundari’ and is one of the most benevolent and glorious of the 10 Mahavidya forms of the Divine Mother. Perhaps the most heartfelt paean to her is the Muthiah Bhagavathar krithi ‘Himagiri Tanaye’. Note: the Lilith-Lalita change parallels the Ishtar-Tara story. Of course, a dissenting voice just told me: "this kind of theorizing is like saying Homer wrote the Mahabharata before Indians appropriated it!"

India has traditionally been less fearful of the Female then Israel (“the Jews hated and feared the sexual power of Woman, embodied in the figure of Lilith and demonized it” as an online source put it) but we certainly have retained memories of the original fear of our middle-Eastern forerunners. Indeed, in several Kathakali dramas, Lalita refers to the appearance of an evil demoness as a bewitchingly beautiful woman - Lalitas feature in ‘Kharavadham’, Kirmeeravadham’, …. See here: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/unfolding-the-lalithas-in-kathakali/article59432.ece

Further searching led me to another version of Venetasanou’s song with animated versions of (mostly) some paintings by Frenchman Bougereau and some pre-Raphaelite works:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZHBDcTwDtI

The visuals rekindled memories of poems learnt and forgotten in a long-lost innocent dream time …. Before I sink further into Lethe, let me capture some images from ‘The fairies’ by William Allingham-

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Up the airy mountain Down the rushy glen, We dare not go hunting

…..

Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; Green jacket, red cap, And white owl's feather. Down along the rocky shore Some make their home, They live on crispy pancakes Of yellow tide-foam; Some in the reeds Of the black mountain-lake, With frogs for their watch-dogs, All night awake.

…..

With a bridge of white mist Columbkill he crosses, …… Or going up with music, On cold starry nights, To sup with the Queen, Of the gay Northern Lights.

Note: As a child, I had memorized a good portion of this poem and would sing it in a tune borrowed from the old Hindi film classic: ‘Aajaa sanam madhur chaandni mein hum…’

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And yes, ‘Dream Love’ - we will always have ‘Dream Love’ by Christina Rossetti, sister of Dante Gabriel, a prime mover of the pre-Raphaelite moevemnt.



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Young Love lies sleeping In May-time of the year, Among the lilies, Lapped in the tender light:

….

Soft moss the pillow For O, a softer cheek; Broad leaves cast shadow Upon the heavy eyes: There winds and waters Grow lulled and scarcely speak; There twilight lingers The longest in the skies.

Young Love lies dreaming; But who shall tell the dream? A perfect sunlight On rustling forest tips; Or perfect moonlight Upon a rippling stream; Or perfect silence, Or song of cherished lips.

….

Young Love lies dreaming Till summer days are gone, Dreaming and drowsing Away to perfect sleep: He sees the beauty Sun hath not looked upon, And tastes the fountain Unutterably deep.

Him perfect music Doth hush unto his rest, And through the pauses The perfect silence calms:

…..

Young Love lies drowsing Away to poppied death; Cool shadows deepen Across the sleeping face......

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And here is a 'triptych': A traditional Keralan Hindu 'Nilavilakku' and an equally traditional Keralan Christian ‘Deepastambham’ with entwined serpents at the top (**) flank the Lady herself, as visualized by John Collier.



And I can imagine at least some of my Readers admonishing me: "Lilith? Don't be Sillith!"

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(*) Thanks, Malini.

(**) Thanks, Rekesh.