Saturday, February 9, 2013

Home Journey

It was at 12 at night when I got in at Calicut. Everyone had folded their eyes when I was back to my home town. I walked to the bus stand and caught a bus to Calicut University. Though it was night and alone I was, the whole city and the lonely paths wondered me a lot. It was as if I was traveling first time in a unknown country. Some birds still chirped and tweedled at night to welcome me to the home land. Nobody was there to speak, so I knowingly made a small fuss with the conductor, only to call back that was my land! Around 1.30 I landed at the University of Calicut bus stop. It was thick dark, and there were no autos to bring me home. From university I had to walk at least three kilometer through a paseo to reach at home. I preferred to take the air rather comfortably getting in an auto. I called mother and she strongly advised to catch any auto at any cost. But I wanted to walk in such a calm but frightening night. Dogs were horribly woofing from everywhere. Some dared to trace me! I kept two three concrete stones with me only to get some courage. Fist time in my life I walked alone in such a darkest night. Still I felt a warm feeling to meet my parents. I reached home around 2.15. The doors were open already in expecting me there. Mother served some hot dinner (rather a supper!) that time. She was waiting for me whole the day. I was feeling at home after a long time. Everybody cordially received me to the land. I tried to meet everybody. For a week I completely kept my books away and stayed with the parents. They were very happy to send me to the wonderland.

The following day I set off ‘exploring my city’ journey. I usually do a journey without any destination only to see my home place with wild eyes! That day too, I caught a bus to Kondotty. It was Rs. 5 from Vadakke Bazar to Kondotty. By the time, the government had slightly stepped-up the bus fare, but interestingly the government had extended the minimum fare distance, so I had to give five instead of four. I passed on at Kondotty. Next was either to go to Manjeri or Calicut. I waited for the first bus. Luckily it was to Manjeri. I jumped into it. I was observing what people had  newly constructed on the road side. I wondered the fast and sudden development my land was getting! Everywhere, construction was progressing, new buildings, houses, farms and other concrete forests were coming day by day. The greenness of country was gradually disappearing from the sight. When I reached Manjeri, I took another bus back to Kondotty.  I was sitting near the window watching outside. I was noting only the outside scenes. Suddenly an old man (sorry a senior citizen!) asked me to close the shutter! It was not a request but a kind of demand and command. I helplessly gandered at his face. There was no any sign of understanding and relief. Very politely with a very low tone and trying to make my facial expression gentle I said:
“Hey! Kakka! I am travelling this long journey only to watch these missed sights! Pls don’t ask me to close it down, it’s a request to you, and you can still have a seat other side”
Then he sat very comfortably a bit and whispered in my both ears,
“Son! I am travelling in this only to forget everything and close my eyes at least sometimes..! I don’t want to see the world anymore!”
He was trembling with anger. I did not understand anything. Again I explained:
“I am a pravasi, not an exact pravasi, but I am staying outside of Kerala. I am studying in Hyderabad, the Pearl City and I usually travel on this route only to see what changes my city gets every day, Pardon me if I disturb you by opening the window of the bus!”
He again eased his sitting and held my right hand mildly and asked about the stories of Hyderabad Nizam and Hyderabad. I explained what I could. For a long both did not utter any word. I looked outside and gazed my co-traveller’s face alternatively. He was looking straight and different emotions were flashing on his face.
After a long pause, he mumbled in my ear. “Our land changed drastically!”
True! Kerala is developing day by day and the signs of progress are reaching in every nook and corner.
I agreed and nodded.
“.....That’s why I take this way to go to Calicut everyday in this time!” He added.
I really could not understand what he was averring. I desperately looked his eyes. The silent communication passed my helplessness to him.
“I am travelling to Calicut everyday to forget my place and house. I reach to Calicut around 12.30 and I go to Palayam Masjid for Zuhr prayer. Then I sleep there to dream my childhood. Only when I am in this dreaming my mind gets sharp. That is the time when I am living here in this world. I am dead now; you are speaking to a dead man! But when I sleep I wake up to dream my childhood!”
Then he untied the stocks of endless history and stories he had to say, about his child, Mappila Rebellion, family, the good and better old days, and the nasty and cheating of the present time. It was not a discussion, but he was showering his unhappy to the world, to his family, children. I listened the wild expressions he made in his face. The gestures seemed he lost all trust to the present world. When bus reached at Kodangadu, I said I was getting off next stop. Then he stared at me and held my hands tightly. I was afraid his tight holding might break my hands! His mouth touched my ears and spoke to my eardrums: “Son! Now, first time in my life, I feel that those all good old days are coming back again!
I really did not know why he said so, but our conversation eased his anger and tension. I got down at Kondotty and went to Fish market, even our Mackerel was upgraded to the royal fish, now the poor only have sardine as theirs! But to my surprise every sardine was screaming to save them from there, people changed suddenly their taste and everyone began to think they were part of the rich!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Belief or nonbelief? a confrontation; by Umberto Eco and Carlo Maria Martini

This book is a dialogue between a self- acclaimed secularist, Umberto Eco and a catholic scholar priest, Carlo Maria Martini. Umberto Eco, the author of the labyrinthine novel, Foucault’s Pendulum is not a closed skeptic in a strict sense, but he is more a man marked by a restless ‘incredulity’. He is not an anti-religious ex-Catholic, but is a one of those mature sages who is not interested in refuting believers but in illuminating genuine difference and finding common ground. Carlo Maria Martini, the other hand is interested in frank and unfettered dialogue with any kind of people. He usually addresses ‘the believers in non-believers and non believers in believers. It becomes a matter of interest among the public when both come together to share some of their ideas on some complex matters. The  copies of the book were sold out when it published first time, which shows the interest of the readers to know what happened when two big wigs in their own area of interest come together to lock the horn! In his first letter to Martini, Eco addresses his as ‘Mr’ instead of any of the respectful and hierarchical name, and he explains why he addresses him so. Calling by name is an act of homage and of prudence. Usually in French, people are addressed by their own name, so it’s an act of homage, and secondly both scholars come together as free men and representative of the people, so Eco does not want to keep any kinds of reverence. This book is a compilation of four three letters by Eco to Martini on specific issues. Firstly Eco asks about Apocalypse. People are compelled to live in a shadow of fear in the spirit of bibamus, edamus, cras moriemur (eat, drink, for tomorrow we die) because of the presence of religious believes. 

Vegetables sacrifices to preserve animal life and we are horrified at the idea of slaughtering an animal, but eat their flesh, we never squash a caterpillar in the park, but kill a mosquito when it comes to suck our blood, so what is the value of living being according to the religion? If a monkey is taught how to read and react, could it be recognized as human being and asserted all the human rights? What is the status of women in a religious set up? For all his questions in another letter Carlo Maria Martini explains from a religious platform. Though the book is fascinating, it loses its continuity. The letters were written in different time, and very different topics, so the reader may not be more interested to engage with the discussion. It is very passive discussion, that Eco asks something, and Carlo Maria Martini replies. It seems that there is not much interaction between each other.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: In those days there was no coffee Writing in Cultural History by A.R Venkatachalapthy

 ‘History is not yet what it aught to be’ – Marc Bloch

This book narrates the day to day life of Tamil Nadu in colonial time and their cultural artifacts in those days. AR Venkatachalapathy explains how coffee, tea, tobacco and other cultural signs had significant meanings in the colonial time. Instead of going to the stereotypical, elite and traditional historical narratives, Venkitachalapathy, a disciple of KN Panikkar, searches what roles coffee, tea and tobacco engaged in the making of modern Tamil Nadu. The book is divided in two parts and in the first part both material (coffee, tea and tobacco) and cultural (the cartoon, the city and modern literature) artefacts are elucidated and further the books related how they were consumed in colonial Tamil Nadu. And in the second part, it engages with the politics of language and identity in colonial Tamil Nadu. In the first part, the discussion is about the coffee. Coffee is not a simple word in those days. It is something very important sign, a cultural symbol which differentiates a range of cultures which transform through various trajectories. Drinking coffee was considered as a habit of middle class/ upper class/ caste of Tamil Nadu. Coffee has been accepted in the cultural domain of Tamil Nadu after years’ long negotiations with the tradition and practices. It was also considered as the symbol of acceptance of modernity of Tamil Brahmins and the reluctance of lower class/ caste people. It is not as easy as saying ‘drinking coffee’ but some opine that ‘One can write a whole puranam on coffee’; and ‘to go without my morning cup of coffee is like the world as crucial economic crises.

The story of coffee is a very recent one. According to the archives, the morning cup of coffee was unknown to people in those days. Coffee was first cultivated in Ethiopia; but soon it reached in India with it’s its cultural other, tea. But when it was introduced in India, it represented the colonial Europe; soon the debate was centred on the replacing of morning drink –neerajaram- of Indians with an alien drink -coffee-. So the general opinion was that coffee drinking is not required in our nation. Our ancestors never ever consumed it. Coffee is a kind of liquor. Stri Dharma, a radical woman organisation claims: ‘coffee here seems to stimulate cheerful for a little while  after drinking, but gradually subvert the vitality of the digestive organs that’s why the body is weak, this creates all sort of unknown diseases. People in Tamil Nadu used to drink the cold rice in those days, but coffee created a threat to that habit. So the debate soon diverted to the English coffee Vs Indian cold rice (payachoru) and cold rice personifies coffee as an immoral woman, who has led people astray and disturbed the (fasting) austerities connected with amavasi, ekadasi and karthigai. The patriarchal way of life taught that women are addicted coffee and consumed to western culture.

But the upper caste Brahmin used coffee as an evidence of their earlier acceptance of colonial modernity and they utilized it to dominate others, soon Tamil Nadu faced the discrimination in drinking coffee. For cultural reasons both coffee and tea were understood as the specific symbols of upper and lower castes. For Brahmins, coffee was a touchstone of hospitality, even if they were not providing coffee to their hosts, a mere invitation would do more in that days, the question ‘let’s have some coffee, was more symbolic than the act of providing coffee. If they did not invite for a coffee, it was understood as an insult to the host. The most insulting word in those days was to say, ‘their coffee is awful’. When coffee was a cultural symbol and more coffee hotels were open, Brahmin of Tamil Nadu found a new method to keep their notion of pollution up. They introduced the metal tumbler with rims. It served the role of hospitality to their co-casters and also a tool to keep untouchability. 

When coffee was somehow accepted in day to day life of Tamilans, the Tamil literature started to reflect the new habit. A lot of short stories, articles, puzzles, and riddles were written on coffee. There was an interesting passage in Tamil short story in which Siva descended and offered Kandasami Pillai a cup of coffee with Him. The story goes on like that:

‘As god sipped the coffee, a divine demeanour of having drunk some suffered his face.
This is my leela, said god.
‘This is not your leela, but the hoteliers’. Mixing Chicory with coffee is his handiwork. Show your mettle when you pay for the bill’, whispered Kandaswami Pillai, with his ears, content that he had sorted out the issue of paying for the coffee.
Chicory... what’s that? God looked up quizzingly.
Chicory powder resembles coffee, but it is not coffee. Like those who defraud people in the name of god’, replied Kandasami Pillai.

The issue of good/bad coffee rose soon. Making coffee with buffalo milk was a sign of cultural and moral degradation. It countered with the ‘Pasumpal Kapi Klub’ of Brahmin and Beef biriyani of lower caste/ middle class people. The Coffee hotel which was started every nook and corner of Brahmin populated streets soon became specific cultural symbols. Every third house is either a hair dressing saloon or a coffee hotel. This coffee hotel played the role of a place of congregation, for traders to clinch dealings with others, for families a meeting point in week days. The general addressing of coffee maker was, ‘Iyer, bring me a cup of coffee’ which says, that only the upper caste Brahmin had run hotel in those days. To overcome caste pollution, each hotel facilitated separate corner for Brahmins, and to question this was interpreted as the interfering of the personal matters. Later Periyar Ramaswami sharpene3d his knife against this inhuman practice and called for forcefully destroying the board which showed a sign of Brahmin.

Tea acted as the other of coffee. It was considered as the drink of middle class, lower caste people. The advertisements of tea have always been shown with the working class people. All most all the offices served with tea. Unlike coffee which was served mainly in Brahmin’s coffee hotel, Muslims were famous for strong and best tea. The common notion about the best tea was, ‘the best tea can be had only at Muslim house hold and non- vegetarian restaurant run often by Muslims. In colonial Tamil Nadu, both coffee and tea understood in a very different ways. Both produced and reproduced very different connotations, meaning. Though reluctant at first when coffee was introduced, but later it became a habit of most of Tamilians, there is story in Tamil literature, and it can be read as:
When a husband and wife quarrelled each other, wisdom appears and advises them that,
‘I tell you seriously, and after bitter experience, whatever you do, don’t cut out coffee. You may cut out food, you may go out in rages, or walk three miles to your office, but don’t meddle with coffee.

The story of tobacco was very different from that of coffee and tea. Tobacco was readily accepted by Indians. But later, after the colonial medicine and education introduced in India, tobacco lost its earlier charm and was considered as an intoxicants and dangerous substance as ganja and other drugs. If lend the words of Ashis Nandi, Tobacco was an Indian crop accidently discovered by the European! It was in its earlier days considered as a sign of good life, relaxation, cultural attainment and so on. Without any resistance, the Indian farmers accepted it as a domestic crop. It was not for exportation for two reasons. Europeans considered the Indian tobacco as coarse, rank, ill-flavoured. And Indians felt all these accusation as positive and they liked it, so the exportation held in a very low rate. 
The Tamil word for Tobacco is Pugai-ilai which means smoking leaf. Soon tobacco was explained with divinity. Divine origin of tobacco as explained in Tamil literature is: once three gods Siva, Vishnu and Brahman had a quarrel each other over the supreme power. Each claimed they were the most powerful. To find out a solution it was suggested that let three of them keep a leaf with them and give it without losing. Siva was given a vilvam leaf and Vishnu a basil leaf and Brahma was given a tobacco leaf. Both Siva and Vishnu lost their leaves, but Brahma could keep his leaf with him, and he relaxed: ‘em pathram pogalai’ (my leaf is not lost), the tobacco got that name, pogalai from this word. The rest of the book deals with other cultural and literary issues like cartoons in colonial Tamil Nadu, Imagination of a city, literature, culture and Identity.

Tamil Nadu from time immemorial tried to stand alone and agitated the cultural domination of non-Dravidian forces. So it stood up against the imported Indian nationalism over Tamil nationalism. Whenever a call for English/ Hindi/ Sanskrit education, then they counter-argued for a Tamil Nationalism.  Non Brahmin Vellalar elite challenged the notions of a monolithic Sanskrit based Hindu vision of India. Jadunath Sarkar’s book, ‘Confession of a History Teacher’ deals the importance of English in history writing. To him, for a better history work, English (language) is a necessary thing, a historian without linguistics skill and literary abilities and sensibilities would be no historian at all. According to Partha Chatterjee, all the historical works written in colonial time expressed the duality of material/ spiritual, outer/ inner, man/ women, world / home. The book seeks to negotiate the hierarchy of knowledge. Literature aspiration to occupy the space between the best of professional social science writing in English and the culturally sensitising centre in Tamil Nadu addressing for the most part of literary audience.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trace: A Strong Messege to the society

“I read about eight newspapers in a day. When I'm in a town with only one newspaper, I read it eight times.” - -Will Rogers


The assassination of T.P Rama Chandran has wounded the psyche of Kerala profoundly. Kerala has already eyewitnessed a number of political murders, but the killing of TP Rama Chnadran must be read in a diverse angle. More over a conflict between two different ideologies, TP’s murder actually tells us the bigotry of a mainstream political party to its faction which was formed in very particular political circumstances. The people of Kerala have carried the burden of the incident of the assassination for a long and they woke up anticipating an odious event each day. The people were frightened of someone who was honing a knife for him/her. 

(to watch the film on youtube kindly click here)



                                     (The film: Trace)


The sequence in which TP was viciously killed with more than fifty stabs in his body has made a strong ripple in the society. Even the cultural leaders who were believed the bed-shares of Communist party broke their silence against this brute killing. The young film director Mufeed Muthanoor has developed his new short film ‘TRACE’ from this point.  Each murder is a very well planned one. When the foes set off for killing a targeted person, the plan which is already conceived gets practiced. We are afraid even the single word, ‘murdering’ ‘killing’, because the word itself generates complicated and many-sided meanings which injure the psyche of the society. A murder is very perilous and dodgy to the cultural paradigm of the society and it needs a lot of time to heal the society from the blow of such an incident.  How the repeated political killings trim the society down into permanent panic condition, is the starting point of this film.

Ayyappa Panikkar
Ayyappa Panikkar, a Malayalam poet, might be the first writer who analysed the process of meaning-making of a trouble-free word like ‘murder’. In the word ‘Kolapaathakam’ (murder), even it’s each letter can produce different connotation. It seems at the first look, that these separated letters and syllables of ‘kolapaathakam’ are very innocent, above suspicion and without any meaning, but the tone of each words actually manufactures some meaningful symbols, Ayyappa Panikkar observes in his poem, Kolapaathkam’.

The media which push the boat out each news on political killing by manoeuvring, colouring and embellishing, are not actually aware about the injuries they are causing to the minds of the people. This news on killing are actually affecting to the young people of any society. 

Mufeed starts the film, Trace in the milieu of a newspapers reading room.  The everyday readings of the newspaper, according to Charse Baudelaire, actually negatively affect to the people. He says, ‘any newspaper, from the first line to the last, is nothing but a web of horrors, I cannot understand how an innocent hand can touch a newspaper without convulsing in disgust’. It is right in a sense, if we analyse how different media establishments handle the news items such as killing, rape and others which damage the positive attitudes of the society, then we can understand the intensity and depth, these news cause to the society. Each reader internalizes what he/she gets from the newspapers and he/she develops the same view point whenever gets a possibility to harangue about the incident. 

Mufeed Muthanur (Director)
After visualizing the manner of how different media handled the news of the heinous killing of TP, the director portrays some youngsters who have internalized the reporting of their own politically biased newspapers look the issue in different angles. The story starts when the reading room which is supposed to be a platform for creative discussion, turns to the political debates and discussion, then a silent reader sitting beside them, starts off his bike and rides it very swiftly. 

The background music and the political symbols which are repeatedly shown in the film produce a feeling of dread and insecurity in the viewers’ minds. The quickening bike, knife, the broken words from mobile phones, airport and others intensify the terror in the viewers. After repeatedly shown all these panic-producing symbols and the bike ride which terminates in a very isolated house. The film ends when the protagonist after a high drama and long-time-suspense slashes a water melon. 

Punnodi MA Rahman
Political killings, as any other crimes should be punished strictly. And in some cases the assassin may be punished, but the injuries and pains a society suffers from such killings are seldom healed. This is the message of the film. The body language of such murdering is in a conspiracy, this clandestine nature of such action, in fact making even a daft job like cutting a fruit in suspect. The basic function of a knife is to use for cutting vegetable and fruits, but even such acts are made in doubt in the changed and charged atmosphere. All the characters are youths in the film. Even the youths who are thought to be very audacious and courageous are actually living in the fog of trepidation, and then pondering over the mental trauma of weaker section of the society is more panic.

This is the third project made by KPB Production. MA Rahman Punnodi performs the leading role. K.P Sadarudheen, Munavvir Alingachaal, Suresh and Muhsin are the other actors of the film.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: Giving Offence by Martin Rowson

After a long, exactly after 2 months, I am lettering another blog post! Frankly, a minute before writing this, I have never thought I must write something. The sudden reason for this new blog is, what I encountered in EFL library today. We had a presentation today, so as always, I went to participate it before an hour, and I had an hour to spend in some way. I could have gone to the teashop to meet any of my friends, or to open facebook and upload a new photo on its wall, or to sleep and see a wonderful daydream, but I preferred to be a good boy, therefore, I went to the library. I had an empty bag and the bag was not allowed to take inside of the library. An empty bag always behaves like our intimate friend and some theoreticians already introduced the importance of the possessiveness of a bag. For example, in everyday he is talking about the possessing of a bag and why a bag is important.
I got a token, and when I was about to sign the registrar, suddenly the security person asked my ID card! The interesting thing is, that security guy knows me well, he sees that I come and go back from the library at least two-three times every day. Still he dared to ask me the library card! I avoided his demand and pretended I heard something else, but he repeatedly demanded and glued on his need. I felt strongly offended by that person and in a hurry; I took my ID card and rushed inside the library. To air out my felt offensiveness, I could go out taking my bag arguing with the security guy or simply go and sit before a book. Here again I preferred to be a good boy. Therefore, the next option was to select a book that is suitable to the situation. Here I, either, could select a book on Mappilas of Malabar (I know there are two books in the library), or go to the magazine section and read something. In that moment, Martin Rowson’s book appeared to console me!

In the new arrival section, I saw ‘Giving Offence’ written by Rowson, a London based cartoonist. His self-explanation is one who gives offences to the society. This book is examining the psychic of an offender and why people always are offended by others. Offence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and it is a subjective business. There are many minor offences, but there are also some major offences that are not worth to be mentioned like cannibalism, incest, paedophilia, necrophilia or coprophagus. He traces the history and goes for saying that these overwhelmingly offensive acts were practiced somewhere in some point of time. For example, Tom Stoppaardi’s noted-play Jumpers explains the cannibalistic practices of some society. The playwright describes a community who eat their parents’ dead bodies believing that by doing this they are actually venerating their parents. Even Christianity in certain community played a role to encourage them to eat the brain of the dead bodies. For example, a new disease, Kuru was found among Fore People of Papua. The reason for this disease was when they converted to Christianity, they mixed their own ritual practices with the new theology and started to ete their parents’ brain when parents were dead.
Incest was a common practice of most of the ancient communities like Greek, Roman, Egyptian and ottoman to protect their monarchy and to revolve their power around their own people. Paedophilia is seen in some societies still. There is a myth of Zappa about his act before a huge crowd. Once when he was performing in a stage he challenged the audience to do the most repulsively offensive thing they could imagine, he promised to outdo that. A woman did a ‘most offensive thing’ and he, as promised, outdid that.

Offence is a very subjective one, a daughter is easily offended when she is not allowed to wear what she wants to wear, a father is offended when he sees his son wears something he does not like, and the daughter is offended when mother wear an old dress or something. There is a story about a German Brownshirt. She went to watch Marx brother’s movie. She liked it and she laughed, laughed and laughed. But when she came out, she knew that Marx brother were actually Jew, so she was offended and went to the counter demanding her money back! Humour can be used both aggressively and defensively. When Diana was killed in a car mishap, it actually made mixed responses. As a satirical cartoonist, our author drew some cartoon on Diana’s death and it invited the offence of some people.

He goes to explain the caricature and how caricature works in a society. When 9/11 happened, he drew a cloud sky, called his manager, and said to him that he had a meaningless and senseless cartoon. The manager was impressed and responded, ‘this is the best time to give people that meaningless and senselessness!’ The book is written with very less pages and in am easy way to comprehend the idea he is presenting. I read it and ran to participate the research scholars’ open presentation.