Lucid Dreams

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Stop for a while and take in these spectres a bit more,

Close your eyes and watch them flying inside,

Wake up savouring the whiff of warmness, masked by the dead, frozen layers,

Croon along with the serenading gale, humming a haunted, plaintive tune,

Waltz across with the dreamy shadows as the light sleeps still,

Drink in the frosty moonlight that drips into the inky night.

 

Wipe off the dust and ashes from the distant mirror,

Sprinkle the dazzling stardust on the flawless surface, 

just to gaze into the other self that lives inside.

 

Are they lucid dreams, webbing the strains of the mind,

blurring the mirage betwixt fact and fancy?

Or enmeshed memories clinging to a cloistered soul?

 

Some untouched, some crumbled, some flying, some shackled,

Some as light as the milkweed seeds, drifting like wishes unfulfilled,

Some saddling like the rain-bearing clouds about to erupt in fits of flurry,

Some as white as a downy dove cooing in a mellow tone,

Some as sanguine as a rainbow that chases us,

Some like a black hole that sucks in the rhapsodies around,

 

Some as raw as the dewy-eyed four o’ clock flower,

the fragrance of which embosoms the night in a marvellous embrace,

only to slither away to oblivion in the lambent morning light.

Some as touchy as the touch-me-not that feigns sleep, while wide awake,

and nestling up among the sturdy ones, intractable and hard to root out.

 

Some languishing in the mildewy dungeons,

oblivious to an extant, caressing, refreshing zephyr.

Some inhumed in the graveyard of time,

with a stygian heart still beating to the music of madness.

 

I wish I could bridle the pace of the galloping time,

traversing the realms, naive and leery, placid and murky,

halting the eternal flow into the inscrutable destiny.

 

I wish I could grasp those lucid dreams raging in a fiery blaze,

and meld together the splinters of fragmented memories,

moulding the prismatic glass shards into the iridescent mirror of life.

I wish I could unshackle the chained memories echoing in the stilly dank labyrinths,

baring their plangent melody to the hellish outsideness.

 

I flow and meander and cascade  in the boundless space,

unbroken, unceasing as a rivery wave,

the only travelling companion, the time that trudges along,

where no two moments ever happen to be the same

until draining into the ultimate infinity.

 

I wish I could glimpse those lucid dreams in there,

nothing but the unshackled memories breathing free,

the euphony of the soul song girding the flow the life,

the effulgent light plucked away from the gyrating shadows,

the vivid colours reaped from the blaring field of light,

drops of moonlight gleaned from the defiant night,

wisps of feathery reflections that soar higher and higher into the clear ether.

 

I wish I could reach for the horizon,

when the trancey realities tryst with fervid reveries,

where the scarlet faith fire rises time and again, promises flicker in the gloaming,

even as the darkling mystery blindfolds the heaven-born starshine.

 

I wish I could discern the shape of the dreams from the shades of memories,

blending with each other and masquerading as one another,

like the murmuring waves lapping the solitary shore,

whispering mystical hymns to the songless birds,

winged dreams imprinting those little secrets

as memories on the sands of time.

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Book Review ‘The Four Books’ by Yan Lianke

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Genre-     Political fiction

Subgenre-    Political satire

Author-         Yan Lianke

My rating-      3 star 

My Review

                   A political satire by the Chinese novelist Yan Lianke, winner of Franz Kafka Prize and the finalist for the Man Booker Prize 2013. The catastrophic times during the Maoist Great Leap Forward, the state surveillance, moral policing, political oversight of literature, academia, and misrepresentation of history, expressed allegorically and satirically has an Orwellian theme with Grand Guignol-ish narratives in between. It is no wonder that this book is banned in mainland China and is the apple of the Western literary jurist eyes.

The satire illustrates how policy mistakes batter the lower rungs of society when ideologies are translated into realities. For those not familiar with the Maoist ‘ Great Leap Forward’ and it’s catastrophic consequences dealt with in this book, let me summarise what I had read about it from the recorded history( not from Chinese authors and historians, who might have a different take on the whole thing).

The Great Leap Forward was an economic and social campaign led by the Communist Party of China from 1958 to 1962 under Chairman Mao Zedong. He emphasized collective farming and industrialization as vehicles for the rapid economic and social progress to keep pace with the rapidly developing Western world. Aggressive farming and steel smelting were supposed to bring progress in the short term. The resources from the agricultural sector were invested in the industry with the result that agriculture bore the brunt due to lack of essentials and this finally culminated in the Great Chinese Famine that caused millions of deaths. The statistics of agricultural production was greatly overhyped, exaggerated and contorted. History tells us that the common man died out in droves, though the ‘higher-ups’ withstood the onslaught and China was exporting rice when the people starved.

Political control and manipulation of art, literature, history, and academia reached a zenith and anti- Rightist campaign saw the compulsory internment and re-education of intellects, students, artists, authors and so forth in Re-ed camps. The novel is set in a Re-ed camp called the ninety-ninth district close the Yellow River. The inmates are identified by their professions and not their names- as Author, Scholar, Musician, Physician, Theologian and so on. The camp is overseen by a part dictator, part naif, part martyr character termed The Child( Not sure whom the author is evoking, could be Stalin) who uses a carrot and stick policy to keep things going as per the will of the higher-up’s. The Child keeps an eye on the day to day happenings in the camp with the help of the Author, who is being bribed to provide incriminating details about the other inmates through a collection of documents titled ‘Criminal Records’. He is being offered freedom in return. Though the initial agricultural and steel smelting processes came out well, the policy mistakes caught up with the whole thing and the consequent famine took millions of lives and the barely living were forced to feed on grass, wild vegetables and ultimately human flesh. (There is a gory, grisly, upsetting account of human flesh being cooked into a broth and fed. )

The name ‘Four Books’ comes from the names of the four books that the Author is composing in the novel- ‘Criminal Records’ for the higher-ups and three other manuscripts being composed in a clandestine way. Throughout the novel, there are allusions of Christian Mythology( crosses, Inferno, etc.), Chinese Mythology and the novel ends with A New Myth Of Sysiphus( an allusion to divine punishment and human response). The title also evokes the four gospels of Christianity and the four sets of Confucian texts.

Carlos Rojas has brilliantly translated the Chinese text to English. As he has mentioned in the prologue, Yan Lianke is one of the Chinese authors who does not care a speck about whether his works are critical of the regime, is being banned or goes unpublished. He famously wrote that he just wants to produce a work as he exactly wanted to without regard to the topics, contents, terms, recklessly without any concern for the prospect of getting published. As Carlos puts it in the prologue, ‘in view of this, Kafka Prize is a befitting one to Yan, named after an author who famously burned the majority of his compositions and demanded, on his death bed, that his remaining unpublished manuscripts be destroyed as well’.

‘Crime And Punishment’ – By Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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Literary Movement   – Realism.

Literary Genre  – Psychological fiction, philosophical fiction.

Setting    –    Russian Empire, St. Petersburg.

 My review

My third try beating the brain out, mustering all idle neurons on the qui vive for delving into the allegories and nuances of Raskolnikov’s thought process that is something akin to a weathercock. The first two readathons seemed like Chinese arithmetic, more like the transcript of Graeco- Roman theatre played in St. Petersburg, that my muddle-pated neurons couldn’t make the head or tail of it nor read between the lines. One of the best ten classic fictions of all times couldn’t be a no-brainer either- Cela va sans dire. So this time, the lecture notes, analysis and summary at the ready and at a click of the mouse helped to see the lost thread in a new light. And the translation by LarissaVolokhonsky and Richard Pevear is on par with the work itself.
               

                 Intellectually exacting and viscerally overpowering, the metaphysical elements are still beyond me. Simply put, it’s a psychological thriller, a rigmarole of a crime, no less than murder, justified by the logic of the protagonist, a new esoteric theory put forward by him, that had been put to test. The rationales of the murder are multifarious- poverty, inequality, tug of war between his moral compass and necessitude to name a few. As Sonia( the protagonist’s future lover) mentions in the story, no matter what, the hideousness of the crime merits confession and so punishment as no one could take a life for whatever reason. 
           

                Dostoyevsky’s novels are the culture media of new ideas and propositions, by and large, those that had been making rounds in 19-th century Russia in particular, insanity theories, for instance. They depict the societal milieu and vices like drunkenness, debauchery, adultery prevalent during the century. The Marxist theory of dialectical materialism( conflict as caused by material needs) is alluded to in a conversation between the protagonist and others in the novel.

             Nineteenth century Russia was a breeding ground of intellectuals and the burgeoning readership buttressed the literati in propounding various theories, out of the box at times, and to make them seep into the minds of masses. Strikingly, many parts of the novel betray the thought processes and religious convictions of the author. Critics inveigh against his support for the Tsars and antisemitism ( ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ has repulsive instances of this), his anti-Jewish stance much more toxic than Charles Dickens, notoriously known for his execrable antisemitism.

The Blue Whisperers

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(Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash)

They never dissipate in the silvery melody, nor drown out in cacophonous dissonance.

Never do they thaw away in the aureate sunbeam, nor fade into the crepuscular gloom.

 

Searing Inferno with the galloping flames graze them not, undefiled they remain in the hellish ferocity.

       

Raining fire dare not shower its wrath, nor do the icy embrace freeze them numb.

Hovering like a nebulous pall, not too near, yet not as far, they are the guises of invisibly visible blues.

             

Amorphous and nebulous, weightless they feel, yet burdened by the splendor of solitude.

Like a cobweb spun from crispy yarn, dyed in the bluish twilight, crisscrossing the wavy, shimmering incantations,

the glassy teardrops trapped inside bring a salty tang of the warm sea breeze.

 

Unbounded, hazy, they seem to the bare inner eye as subtle blends of blues and purples, their rapturous ecstasy heard as muffled whispers, 

sudden epiphanies to a half-empty soul, draining and leaching into oblivion.

 

They are the ‘blue whisperers’, the inescapable notes of woe, unseen, unbidden, artful seductresses, from the dark voids of the back of beyond.

 

In the green vales and mystic dells, where a distant skylark trill dithyrambic odes,

when the solemn dun twilight cast tranquil grey dapples, 

that caper to the mellow strains of the breeze,

they lurk in the mournful blue shade of simpering aspens,

trembling leaves of which coquet with the lusty gusts of a sultry summer.    

 

On misty azure mornings, they dawdle over sullen, sleepy rivers and placid lakes,

where all the leaden grief from the heavens above,

 pour into the veins of the earth as rivulets of ashen-shrouded ember from the hearth.                                        

                 

Soaking up the plaintive sighs of the snowbird,

they snuggle up to the canary yellow dawn,

 subtly darning a wispy bluish-lilac on the distant horizon, 

elegiac laments of eons, petrified as passionate lilac gloom in the flaming Baltic amber.

 

 

Great dissemblers of shade, callous illusionists in disguise, 

damsels, bleeding hues of blue as they whirl around,

tinting monotone indigo on the spring canvas,

crystallizing the dreams of angels in  static sapphire,

tainting the hearts brimmed with honeydew in chalices of cyan,

ensnaring glints of desire in splintered moonstone,

they whisper in tones of blue in a hushed voice,

dissonant echoes of which weave an eerie silence, a hollow tranquil,  bare bleakness, and cold emptiness,

in the guise of bewitching enchantresses.

They are the ‘blue whisperers’ from the back of beyond.

 

 

 

A brief vignette of a wakeful mind

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                                 And nothing in the world is lovelier than sleep,
                                       dark, dreamless sleep, in deep oblivion!”

                                                                        [D.H Lawrence, ‘Sleep And Waking’]

                         If just skipping through these immortal lines make me yawn wide and deep, I consider myself one of the few lucky Sapiens roaming the earth, walking on air. Don’t get me wrong, I slide off to slumberland, not for the reason that these lines are tedious. But, for the reality that these timeless words read like a lullaby to me. D.H Lawrence, for all his fame and creativity, had not been as lucky. He happened to be the chronic insomniac wandering on the sea of wakefulness, the shore of sleep sailing afar from him. It seems ironical that those same lines, written by him on one of the many sleepless nights, rock me to sleep as I read them.

                       I grew up reading Dickens’s classics and studying Wordsworth’s poems during the course of my school years. I should never say that I had been rote learning those poems for the exam, I was literally dreaming about them, ‘wandering like a lonely cloud among the golden Daffodils‘(‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’ by William Wordsworth). I met with those clouds and Daffodils while tripping into the deep abyss of sleep. Little did I know then, that these two literary maestros were connected by a ‘common chord’. Both of them were intractable insomniacs.

                      Many of us might have sailed through the rough sea of wakefulness at some point or phase in our lives. Those journeys almost strike me as sailing on tides high and low, twisting in the wind, solitary, disconnected, languishing as outcasts banished from the kingdom of slumberland, yet, they never drag on for long. Soon I catch sight of the sleepy shore, sneak around for some time and moors the restive, swinging mind to the secure wharves, piers, and docks. In short, that sort of sleeplessness simply means our body is responding to the vagaries of life and it autocorrects itself by some tweaks and twists, lulling us into a stupor.

                     In ‘Night Walks’, a collection of essays, Charles Dickens describes his nightly walks that extended for hours through the London streets, reaching back home by sunrise. His literary prowess and insomnia were intertwined, in a way. The same should be true for other night owls like Wordsworth. Those creative minds were melting pots of dazzling ideas and hyperactive brains were a maze of fired up neurons. Some of the famously insomniac creative class brought out their respective magnum opuses during one or the other of the sleepless nights. It seems, this sort of insomnia, known as ‘creative insomnia’ is an efficacious exasperation, offered free, gratis, and for nothing along with the creative genius.

                   But, cerebral and creative minds do not automatically equate with insomnia, beyond question, and without doubt. While there is some direct and observable correlation between creativity and insomnia, there are no studies that substantiate definitively that sleeplessness contributes to creativity or all mental giants are insomniacs or stretching the point even further, that all insomniacs harbor giftedness, talents, intellect or skills of some sort, by all means. In fact, a good night’s sleep could enhance the creative skills per se and long term insomnia is definitely detrimental to creativity and health. To be specific, an assortment of medical reasons, thyroid issues, for example, should be ruled out and never should one seek to self-medicate.

                   As a physician, I have had occasions of getting reminded about the ‘lucky me’ in full control of this intangible asset, something I had taken for granted. Or, sometimes encounters of mind-bending synergistic interaction with patients, while I keep my ears open, mouth shut, eyes of the mind receptive, sailing near the reveries of the wakeful drifter who goes over again like the haunting refrains of a discordant dirge. In short, I could appraise the ‘sensible experience’ after those interactions and a few up-close-and-personal ones with my near and dear. Yet, one could never get to the bottom of it unless one experiences it. There is an adage in my local language that translates like ‘you could never understand what fire is unless you feels it’. I would say I had only been near to the fire or I could only see the burning ember. Its a dream I dare not feel.

                 Let me add the finishing stroke by dedicating this article to one of my colleagues, a friend who happened to be a chronic insomniac. That was, back in time by 11 years in the Middle-East where I had been working in a multi-specialty hospital. The place had been sort of a microcosm of the globe, a world city, cosmopolitan, tolerant, secular and above all welcoming. My friend, an Arab, was a blend of all these qualities, an archetypal lady from the East, and I could easily glimpse in her a commonality of views, interests, and traditions of an Eastern culture that I was accustomed to. More than anything else, she stood out from the crowd in the country of my origin, only in her appearance by virtue of her azure blue eyes.

                The truth was that I had seen those eyes only on the pages of novelists like Charlotte and Emily Bronte. They seemed exactly like the novelistic material from those pages, like the deep, calm ultra-marine sea on a cloudless day. Or, from an exclusively Eastern perspective, like the turquoise blue lapis lazuli on the incisive eye of a khamsa.

                 Coming back to her insomnia, a few of our friends once tried to extend our solidarity just to lighten her up from a melancholic reverie. She peppered it figuratively, poured in color, kneaded that into an easy to mold texture, molded it into a simple form with a subtle shape. We were able to discern the form with vivid colors from the abstractness and vapidness of the term. It should have been something like this if I would express her thoughts in verse 

                     

                   ‘ When you glide away into the dark abyss of slumber,

                              My soul goes astray in the vast expanse.

                       

                      I clamber onto the thorny track uphill,

                               To seek my alter ego who is awake,

                     But to find her deep asleep on the tattered, tawny shroud,

                               With all her dreams spangled,

                      Like diamonds on the ink black hair.

                       

                     Catching on to the tip of a low hanging dream,

                             Wading through the murky bank on the shore of sleep,

                     I stumble on the deep spreading roots of thought,

                             Watching the fog of consciousness drown the land.

 

                     I pine for the knight in shining armor,

                              To take me to the no man’s land,

                      Beyond the curtain of the eyes,

                              Where the thespians perform the vivid showpiece.

 

                      I close my eyes tight, beseeching to reach the shore,

                              Before they exit the stage in the rage of light,

                       But all I see, through the faraway curtain,

                              Is dancing dandelions and a flashing spectrum.

 

                      I keep my eyes closed,

                            Still, all I do is chase my rambling muse,

                      Now, I see the chink of light,

                             Sneaking through the worn out facade.

 

                     I see him with the palette and brush,

                            Blending the black and white,

                    On the dull ashen monochrome sky,

                           Pasty as my pallid face.

 

                   I watch him paint the dome of the sky,

                         Dipping the brush in the vibrant sun,

                   Strokes of lemon yellow, warm orange and flaming red,

                         Dappled on a cool opalescent cerulean blue.

 

                  The kaleidoscopic dance from the strokes so flawless,

                        Smooth and flowing and vertical and circular,

                  Nothing but a banal reflection,

                         Yet never do the hues reflect in my mind’s eye.

 

                 All I possess is a drop of azure sea,

                       In the deep well of my eyes,

                 For you all to see,

                       And dreams of a dreamery,

                  Buried deeper beneath.

                       

              Oh dear sleep, it’s not you whom I miss,

                      I miss those wistful dreams of yore,

              Woven from the web of mirage,

                      Dancing to the tune of light,

              Dreams that escape the dreamcatcher’s grip……

                       

                            I am sure I might not have been able to get to the bottom of her thoughts completely, yet, at the very least I was able to look behind the curtain of her beautiful blue eyes and dredge up those obscure layers from the deep well of her eyes. The salient thing for me was that I could see other sleepless souls through her eyes, from thenceforth.

( Photo credit:  Seth Macey on Unsplash)

 

 

 

 

I, me and my shadow

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(Photo by Simeon Jacobson on Unsplash)

                       The vague, scant, childhood joys doggedly cling on to me like barnacles with an engaging tenacity, occupying the reserved spaces deep within, the most obstinate tenant whom I refuse to replace or evict at any cost. That point in time seems like an inordinate moment in the infinitesimal pauses of time travel, stopping intermittently to peek into the well-lit repositories. There were confines, restraints, limits, rules, but also a celebration of the joy that seeped into every corner of life.

                         Any likelihood of indulgent or materialistic splurges was virtually non-existent there. As a child, I never had many toys. Of the odds and sods that I had, I cherished a happy drummer monkey that turned defiant after years of toil. I could never discard it since it looked so happy, even if dysfunctional. My wish list was full to the brim, still, I could pluckily strike them off without a murmur or a speck of resentment or simply there was no other alternative. There wasn’t any need to pursue happiness, it just happened, bright, breezy, full of joys of the spring. No hard feelings, no anguish, no frustration, no disillusions, no despondency, no dejection. Wonder how grown up a child’s mind could be and how puerile a grown up’s mind!

                        Happiness was an orderly passion then, never chaotic, a perennial feeling that lasted long. I still savor the moment of the yearly treat to a single Cadbury’s Five Star chocolate, conditional on getting good marks for the final exam for the grade. The tacit edict of conditionality meant, no chocolate treats in between, no matter what. I had the feeling of achievement, a rhythm of joy repeated in a cycle, the zest alive in all respects until the next year. A bite of chocolate meant scaling the peak of success and accomplishment, a sublimity, not a material to be surfeited with. The taste, a hard-earned bliss and not an indulgence. Though I never possessed the mastery of self-restraint against the tantalizing sight of it, rules were hallowed in a stern upbringing and I wilfully followed them jolly well. The consumerist and materialistic culture had no place in that world, a modest milieu that stressed a familiar ‘make-do-and-mend’ groove.

                       Personal space had never been cramped or exclusionary. There was no definite perimeter or bounds and it was ever-expanding like the Universe. It made space for all and sundry on the earth without needing to rely on affected decorousness or without needlessly delving deep into dialectics, dialogues or debates. Contenting with the few possessions was not hard. There never seemed any need for someone to teach the noble art of sharing and caring, those were opportunities accepted with alacrity and enthusiasm.

                     Getting along with someone was an undemanding exercise. And the accompanying rapture was different. It was not facile, it had a certain depth and it never went dry. It was not just happiness, but happiness fortified with faith, though the halo was discreet then. While struggling to compete, to hurriedly climb the different ladders, this cardinal asset seems to have been left behind. Not sure whether it had been a leap of faith or a stretch of inanity, to have thought of it as an enduring patrimony in the present times of avarice, puffed up egotism, one-upmanship and calculated grandstanding.

                   No amount of excesses could bring back the warmth of the lost spring. Turning back to the distant dream is a no-win, on a rock-strewn road. The vast space has now shrunken to a twilit zone with restricted access, and the self a shadow that has condensed unto itself.