“Stalin is not dead”-The legacy of the ‘Man Of Borderlands’.

Stalin is not dead‘ is a poem by the Russian poet Boris Chichibabin(1959)

“It’s early still to celebrate—Let some other oracle shout out
That our old wounds will hurt no more . . .
That the dead foe’s body won’t be our banner . . .
Let him shout, but I know well—Stalin is not dead.

We know the man Joseph Stalin through books, articles, essays, films and so forth. His name is synonymous with Communism, Gulags, Famine, dicatorship and a whole lot of mostly unappealing, obnoxious terms, ones that we would wish to consign to the dustbin of history. But, burying Stalinism and his cult of personality hasn’t been that easy as burying the body of Stalin, who had died of a stroke in his Volynskoe dacha on 5-th March, 1953, aged 74. Even his body was removed from Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square by stealth at night by Nikita Krushchev in 1961. His successors, Krushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev were equally worried about the problems engendered by his legacy. The American historian Martin Malia in his book, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917–1991 quotes, ” Although Stalin no longer lived physically, he still lived, and would continue to live…. The remaining four decades of Soviet history would be dominated by one overriding problem: How to bury Stalin.

My Georgian experience

This essay is not about Stalin and his deeds, but a short reflection on how, why and to what extent his legacy had taken root and been cemented among the social and political landscapes of Russia and three other post- Soviet Union States, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I became interested in his persisting legacy, albeit in different forms and shades,after a visit to Georgia and Armenia two years back. The references include some articles, essays and books on the subject, the links of which I have appended. This is not an all-encompassing essay on the topic, but subsumes a few notable points relevant to the contemporary political and social landscape in these countries, Russia and Georgia in particular.

It all started with a plan to visit Georgia in 2018. I try to read about places that I plan to visit, as much as possible, and suggest to my husband of my choice of places. Stalins Museum in Gori, his birthplace was top on my list. I had read that many people there, the old generation particularly, revere him still. I thought I would be able to hear something good about a cult figure loathed by many and revered by some. No reading would do justice as seeing with one’s own eyes and hearing with own ears. We got a personal guide, Gaby, a short, stout Georgian man, ex- military, in his fifities who moonlighted as a freelance guide, his main job being a military contractor coordinating supply of military personnel to the US led NATO forces stationed at the border. A well-read man, and a treasure trove of information on history, geography and politics, with an eidetic memory and an excellent command of English.( I remember him telling the exact day, date and year of events that I had randomly asked him, rather impromptu ones that he never would have expected). And he knew a handful about my place, Kerala, as a Communist state, about the 100% literacy, female literacy etc.. etc…( possibly from the many Keralites who visit Georgia especially from the ME countries. There is visa on arrival option for many ME resident visa holders).

Since Stalins Museum had state appointed guides, Gaby didn’t come inside with us, mentioning that two guides couldn’t talk at the same time and about the ensuing ‘clash of information’ (stressing the phrase with a seriousness evoking Huntington’s ‘clash of civilization’). For the past two days Gaby had been eloquent in doling out polemics against Georgian politics, economy, constantly swearing against Stalin and Communism all the while eulogizing America, the NATO forces and the US military personnel stationed in Georgia. He was more an American than a Georgian and brusquely confessed his untainted faith in the US military head stationed there( he was working for this ‘head’ whose name he did not divulge). He had been promised ‘a special visa for those military personnel who work for the NATO’, green card later on and subsequently citizenship. I didn’t intend to warn him, but did so seeing the shine in his eyes and sensing his blind belief despite his worldly knowledge. ( I had in my mind a freshly read article about how the US defence department promised visas to some of the Afghan military personnel for risky espionage operations against the Taliban. Later, after the US had had the required data, most of those Afghanis were left out and the Taliban killed many of those volunteers).

Inside the museum, a young Georgian guide started explaining about the exhibits that included among Stalin’s personal items, his death mask. Our group was a disparate one, there were Americans, Russians, Georgians, other Europeans and Indians. We moved as a mass from room to room, the guide delivering lengthy tirades against Stalin and his tyrannies,all of them cliched details available in history books, like an actor repeating the script. Almost one hour passed, no one was asking any questions. It’s not often that we visit these countries. I expected to hear at least some unique, different facts/ stories about Stalin, a balanced account of his deeds and career from his birthplace. I am no fan of Stalin, but he was not born a tyrant. Like the artist and architect inside Hitler, he might have had something good, positive, creative. So I asked the guide to mention something engaging about Stalin, afterall he was Georgia’s son. To which he tersely replied ‘nothing good about him’ .

What I had observed was the sript-like enumeration of the state appointed guide, and the hatred for Stalin among the young Gerogians in our group, and the pro-western esp. pro American and anti- Russian sentiments that Gaby and a lot of others( according to him) harbor. In the capital, Tblisi, Stalin’s footprints are hard to find, but in his birthplace, Gori, you can still find his busts, streets named after him, his pictures hanging on the walls of restaurants and shops, his handsome face etched as wall murals and graffiti, his images in the flea markets.

Post- Soviet legacy of Stalin

A poll conducted by the Carnegie Endowment in 2012, the first ever comparative opinion polls on Stalin in the post- Soviet countries of Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azeraijan suggests a worryingly high level of admiration for him. In Georgia it is 45% and 68% called him a wise leader. He rests in a tomb in Red Square in a prominent site in Moscow. Political rallies carry his portraits still, buses carried his image in Russia during the 2013 anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad and in a poll conducted on great figures of Russian history in 2012, Stalin came first. While, Azerbaijan showed the greatest antipathy towards him, 22% of the population( 39% of young people) didn’t know who Stalin was.

The alarming level of Stalin worship in these countries prompted the pollsters to parse the reasons. It is illogical to think that people want to go back to gulags. Alfred J Reiber, the famous American historian, in his renowned essay, ‘Stalin , Man of Borderlands‘, explains how Stalin as a Marxist revolutionary in the South Caucasus, a borderland of the Russian empire projected himself as an eclectic mix of identities, an ethno-cultural Georgian, dominant class proletariat and a Russian with Great Russia as the center of political power.

The reasons cited for Stalin worship are many in these countries and analysing them are not made easy by concurrent discrepancies. Though 45% of Georgians approved of Stalin, a much higher percentage supported democracy. Those who approved him equally disapprove his brutalities. Thus the worship there assumes a personal touch than a political one. Among the old generation in the Caucasus, Stalin veneration is higher than in Russia, as they tend to evoke the Great Patriotic War when Stalin won over Hitler, though the brunt of the damage was suffered by Russia during the war. While, the main reasons for Stalin worship in Russia are the perceived failure of democracy, Soviet- era nostalgia and love for strongmen who singlehandedly run the country. Putin has strategically revived Stalin worship projecting his image a strong man, reviving Stalin through television and other propogandas highlighting the bright and heroic aspects of the Soviet past and pushing aside the repression and genocide to the margins of the collective consciousness. In effect, an unambigous condemnation of Stalin is almost impossible in the Russian psyche attaching the significance of a great nation to the victory in the Great War, Stalin being the architect of that victory. So the ramping up of victory celebrations of May 9 in Russia, reminiscing the once superpower and compensating for the collapse of USSR.

De- Stalinization or Krushchev’s Thaw begun by Nikita Krushchev following Stalin’s death, involving discrediting Stalin, reforming Russia, dismantling the gulag system and a thaw in the cold war, was not succesful after Krushchev’s removal from power. Gorbachev‘s perestroika to restructure the Soviet state was the second attempt, but that too failed and eventually led to fall of communism and collapse of USSR. Putin too made an effort at de-Stalinization in 2010. The Russian parliament issued a formal statement that the Katyn crime (a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia carried out by the Soviet security police in 1940) was committed by Stalin and other Soviet leaders. Kremlin quashed a plan by Moscow city authorities to adorn Moscow with Stalin’s images at the time of the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, in May 2010. An adapted version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was published at what was reported to be Putin’s personal initiative, following his meeting with Solzhenitsyn’s widow to discuss how best to teach her husband’s four-volume epic about communist repression. Putin had approved the book for Russian Secondary Schools.

In October 2007, during his second presidential term, Putin visited Butovo, the site of mass executions at the height of Stalin’s terror in 1937–1938. Putin was visibly shaken. “Insanity,” he said. “It is incredible. Why [were they killed]? . . . Those who were executed, sent to camps, shot and tortured number in the thousands and millions of people. . . . We need to do a great deal to ensure that this [tragedy] is never forgotten. Contradictorily, less than two months after the visit, Putin celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of FSB, the successor of KGB and NKVD the perpetrators of these massacres. The main aim of Putin’s de- Stalinization was rapproachment with the West. Not long after the initiation Putin reinstated and revived Stalin. Though Gulag Archipelago and other fiction and nonfiction works of Stalin’s repressions are easily available in bookstores and online, surpassing them are the publications and TV shows glorifying Stalin. Books defending Stalin are displayed side by side with those condemning him, some of these Stalin-supporting books published by Russia’s largest publishing house, Eksmo. Academic research on Stalinism is unrestricted, though access to archives has been increasingly limited. Memorial, a well known NGO conducting archival reasearch documenting Stalin’s crime has been increasingly targetted according to the Carnegie report. Putins Russia was always the Soviet version of centralised, uncontested state power with the help of security forces.

For a new generation in Russia, who do not beleve in symbolism or hero worship, what the state delivers is ultimately the most important query. A significant proportion of young people do not care about the legacy of Stalin according to the Carnege poll. They were the ones in front of the 2011 protests and the recent protests exhorted by Navalny, the opposition leader.

De Stalinization in Georgia is characterized by the contradictory attitudes of Georgians to Stalin and his legacy. For some Georgians the Stalin museum itself is wrong. It was initially called History Museum. But Stalin was prescient to choose it’s location near his birthhouse in Gori. The Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze( Communist party leader) in 1995 planned to transform the Stalin Museum a study center of the phenomenon of Stalin. In 2004, when President Mikhail Saakaashvili‘s pro- Western government came to power, he made some attempts at de Stalinization. A banner was strung in front of the museum declaring it a falsification of history, plans were made to convert it to ‘Stalinism museum’ by including the exhibits of Stalin’s victims but opposed by the museum employees at the time, government cranes removed the six meter Stalian memorial in front of the Gori town hall overnight which was reinstated after an angry mob of 5000 people signed a petition supported by the regional parliament. Stalin statues kept popping up after it’s removal. These illustrate the national schizophrenia of Georgians towards it’s famous son. A Museum of Soviet Occupation was opened in Tblisi in 2006, showcasing the history of Soviet rule in Georgia, but excluding the Soviet era and Stalin in particular. School text books do not teach the Soviet era in depth and it is practically absent in universities. One thing was certain, with change in Presidents and government, though the attitude to Stalin changed, for many of the Georgians he is an object of devotion, his samll house in the museum, a shrine.  A picture of the powerful cobbler’s son, portrayed as a saint and patron of cobblers, still hangs in a Georgian shoe mender’s workshop next to the icon of the Virgin Mary.

Ref:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2692742?seq=1

https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/stalin-and-the-struggle-for-supremacy-in-eurasia/stalin-man-of-the-borderlands/AE846D828F6ACEDE3282DA6A71378FAB

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/10/vladimir-putin-russia-rehabilitating-stalin-soviet-past

https://carnegieeurope.eu/2013/03/01/stalin-puzzle-deciphering-post-soviet-public-opinion-pub-51075

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2009424?seq=1

https://www.thoughtco.com/de-stalinization-1221824

https://www.dw.com/en/georgias-struggle-with-the-stalin-myth/a-16992871

https://qz.com/292901/historical-statues-illegal-stalin-statues-keep-popping-up-in-gori-georgia/

https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep21100.9?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

 www.reuters.com/article/2010/03/05/us-russia-stalin-idUSTRE6241M820100305.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11845315

Book Review “A Rainbow In The Night” by Dominique Lapierre

Author– Dominique Lapierre

Genre/ Category – Nonfiction/ History , Science and current affairs

About the author

Lapierre was born in France and at the age of thirteen he travelled to the US with his father who was a diplomat. He studied in a Jesuit school and later developed an interest in writing.

I am not sure if he is basically a historian or whether his books be categorized as exclusive history works. He is one of the nonfiction authors I love to read, one among the few whose works are as enjoyable as touching. The plus in his books is that you never feel like you are reading about wars or conquests or scanning through years and periods as in the usual history books. You get the feel and curiosity of ‘what next’ as in some fiction. You never get bored reading history from his books.

He was awarded Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award in 2008.

Review

The post- apartheid South Africa after 1994 was called “The Rainbow Nation” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. ‘A Rainbow in The Night’ tells the apartheid history of South Africa. The book reminded me of ‘Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad ( My review- https://deepanairsmusings.home.blog/2020/02/27/book-review-and-analysis-heart-of-darkness-by-joseph-conrad/)

During 1652, The Dutch East India Company sent a small group of farmers to the southern tip of Africa. The purpose was to establish an encampment to collect fruits and vegetables so as to prevent scurvy, a disease that literally stopped their long sea journeys to the East in search of gold, silk and spices. Their leader was an ardent Calvinist, Van Jan Riebeek. The soil was unbelievably fertile and Riebeek believed that they were the chosen ones, god-sent to the chosen land to Christianize Africa, just like Canaan was gifted to Jacob’s sons by annihilating the races there.

The future generations of Riebeek waged all out wars with the African tribes, whose war tactics and traditional weapons like spears and arrows became ineffectual. The land of the ancient tribes was conquered and the inhabitants transformed to slaves to their ‘white guests’. Ships, Victoria’s armies, merchants from the East and the West in search of gold and diamond mines, and their slaves started reaching the Cape of Hope and in the bloodshed that followed the black soil slowly began to change it’s color.

The Dutch migrants who believed themselves to be the chosen people started to feel these invasions unbearable. These parochial religious people who spoke the ‘Afrikaans‘ language called ‘Africaners’ started migrating to the interiors of Africa in search of the promised land. By the 1830’s this trek made by the future generations of the Dutch by encountering and annihilating the local tribes came to be known as ‘ The Great Trek‘.

Many years passed, many wars were waged with the other inhabitants and during the beginning of 1900’s Boer War was fought with Great Britain followed by a truce. By the time the demarcation and chasm between black and white had widened beyond the unthinkable. The minority whites owned majority of land and wealth and the majority blacks lived in suffocation amidst penury, destitution and diseases.

While the end of world war and Hitler in 1948 saw the new birth of humanity and rules of law around the whole world, South Africa lived up to the name ‘Dark Continent’ and was busy molding a barbaric system. In May 28, 1948, the National Party came to power voted in by the white people. Inspired by Hitler’s pure Aryan concept, the National Party leader and Church minister, Daniel Francois Malan, exhorted in parliament, ” At last God has bestowed South Africa to us“. That was the beginning of the system of apartheid as we know today, robbing the natives of their freedom and basic rights in their birth country forcing them to be prisoners.

Apartheid means ‘the state of being apart‘ in Afrikaans language. The term was translated by it’s prophets to the outside world as an opportunity for the black race to live according to their tribal culture and for others to live with their beliefs without chances of intermingling. But, South Africa was divided in all means and respects into black and white. Public places, religious and educational institutions became unreachable for anyone other than the whites. Blacks were forced out from urban areas and segregated into ghettoes. For those above 18 years of age to walk around, they had to carry a document called passbook. They were not given the citizenship rights or considered as citizens of the country.

Voices of dissent started to rise as the people suffocated under poverty, diseases and police atrocities. African National Congress was born under Nelson Mandela. Gandhism and nonviolence were incorporated, but was pointless. Armed revolution called ‘ spear of the nation’ began. Mandela was jailed for 27 years. Riots, dissents and bans by the world nations and organizations brought the Africaner supremacy to it’s tipping point. Mandela was freed in 1990 and ANC rose to power in 1994 under him led to the official end of apartheid n SA.

Lapierre includes glimpses of humanity, white and black, touching anecdotes of some humans who spread their light when SA had gone dark among the world nations. World’s first heart transplant surgeon Dr Christian Bernard, the white lady, Helen Lieberman who had spread hope in black alleys, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela, who had suffered torture and led ANC during Mandela’s absence and a few others many of whom we have seen and heard during our own generation.

Lapierre writes about a wagon rally conducted a few years before apartheid officially began in SA to spread Africaner nativeness and greatness reminding the Great Trek of their forefathers. South Africa was able to slowly transform from a white only view to a rainbow of colors. But there are countries now, like India for instance, regurgitating history and excavating a buried past turning the wheels of time to the graveyard of past instead of into a bright future, a trend that we need to worry about.

Jean-Paul Sartre, his philosophy of Existentialism and his work, “Nausea”

nausea

Author–                        Jean-Paul Sartre

Category/ Genre–       Philosophical Fiction

Author Biography

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher and pioneer, dramatist and screenwriter, novelist, and critic. He was a leading figure in 20th-century French philosophy. He is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War.  Born in Paris in 1905, he was brought up by his mother’s family, the Schwitzers ( The Alsatian polymath Albert Schweitzer was his older cousin). His grandfather was the inventor of the Berlitz method of teaching languages. He spent his early years with his grandfather in his library and is later said to have started writing seriously to ward off boredom.

He eventually studied philosophy at French and German Universities and taught at Le Havre, a port in the Normandy region. ‘Nausea‘ was his first full-scale work in which the commune of Bouville is modeled from Le Havre. The book was published in 1938 and was condemned by the academics, but welcomed by young readers of France.

Sartre entered the army during the second world war, was captured, sent to the prison camp, and released later due to ill health. After returning to Paris, under occupation he wrote several plays and his first major philosophical work, ‘Being and Nothingness‘ (1943). When the war ended, he was widely known as the leader of the entire war-bred generation of Parisian intellectuals.

He has produced novels, plays, short stories, essays, biographies, political and journalistic works, pamphlets, manifestoes etc…. He has been called the most brilliant Frenchman of his time. No one matched him for his wit, argumentative skill, polemical zeal and learning. ‘Nausea‘ is a powerful Existentialist novel and the protagonist Antoine Roquentin, a fictional and real archetype.

Sartre had long been fascinated with the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Among the last of his many uncompleted projects are a multi-volume study of Flaubert’s life and times, The Family Idiot (1971–1972). In this work, Sartre joins his Existentialist vocabulary of the 1940s and early 1950s with his Marxian lexicon of the late 1950s and 1960s to ask what we can know about a man in the present state of our knowledge. This study, which he describes as “a novel that is true,” incarnates that mixture of phenomenological description, psychological insight, and social critique that has become the hallmark of Sartrean philosophy. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature, which he famously declined lest his acceptance be read as approval of the bourgeois values that the honor seemed to emblemize. He refused all official honors, stressing that  “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.

Sartre was not politically involved in the 1930s though his heart, as he said, “was on the left, like everyone’s.” The War years, occupation and resistance made the difference. He emerged committed to social reform and convinced that the writer had the obligation to address the social issues of the day. He founded the influential journal of opinion, Les Temps Modernes, with his partner Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Merleau-Ponty, Raymond Aron, and others. In the “Présentation” to the initial issue (October, 1945), he elaborated his idea of committed literature and insisted that failure to address political issues amounted to supporting the status quo. After a brief unsuccessful attempt to help organize a nonCommunist leftist political organization, he began his long love-hate relationship with the French Communist Party, which he never joined but which for years he considered the legitimate voice of the working class in France. This continued till the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956. Still, Sartre continued to sympathize with the movement, if not the Party, for some time afterwards. He summarized his disillusionment in an essay “The Communists are afraid of Revolution,” following the “events of May,” 1968. By then he had moved toward the radical Left and what the French labeled “les Maos,” whom he likewise never joined but whose mixture of the ethical and the political attracted him.

Politically, Sartre tended toward what the French call “libertarian socialism,” which is a kind of anarchism. Ever distrustful of authority, which he considered “the Other in us,” his ideal was a society of voluntary eye-level relations that he called “the city of ends.” One caught a glimpse of this in his description of the forming group (le groupe en fusion) in the Critique. There each was “the same” as the others in terms of practical concern. Each suspended his or her personal interests for the sake of the common goal. No doubt these practices hardened into institutions and freedom was compromised once more in bureaucratic machinery. But that brief taste of genuine positive reciprocity was revelatory of what an authentic social existence could be.

Sartre came to recognize how the economic conditions the political in the sense that material scarcity, as both Ricardo and Marx insisted, determines our social relations. In Sartre’s reading, scarcity emerges as the source of structural and personal violence in human history as we know it. It follows, he believes, that liberation from such violence will come only through the counter-violence of revolution and the advent of a “socialism of abundance.”

What Sartre termed the “progressive/regressive method” for historical investigation is a hybrid of historical materialism and existentialist psychoanalysis. It respects the often decisive role of economic considerations in historical explanation (historical materialism) while insisting that “the men that History makes are not the men that make history”; in other words, he resists complete economic determinism by an implicit appeal to his humanist motto: “You can always make something out of…”

Never one to avoid a battle, Sartre became embroiled in the Algerian War, generating deep hostility from the Right to the point that a bomb was detonated at the entrance to his apartment building on two occasions by supporters of a French Algeria. Sartre’s political critique conveyed in a series of essays, interviews and plays, especially The Condemned of Altona, once more combined a sense of structural exploitation (in this case, the institution of colonialism and its attendant racism) with an expression of moral outrage at the oppression of the Muslim population and the torture of captives by the French military.

Sartre dealt implicitly with the issue of race in many of his works, beginning with Being and Nothingness. Race relations, especially segregation in the South, figured centrally in his reports from the United States during two visits after the War (1945 and 1946) and were a major topic of his many writings on colonialism and neocolonialism thereafter. It formed the theme of his play, “The Respectful Prostitute” (1946). He claimed that even as a boy, whenever he heard of the French “colonies,” he thought of racial exploitation. He wrote in Black Orpheus about the Africa poets using the colonizers’ language against them in their poems of liberation: “Black poetry in French is the only great revolutionary poetry of our time.” He fulminated against the violence of colonialism and its implicit “justification” by appeal to the sub-humanity of the native population. On several occasions in diverse works, Sartre referred to the cry of the oppressed and exploited: “We too are humans!” as the guiding ideal of their fight for liberty. His existential humanism grounded his critique of the capitalist and colonialist “systems.” He wrote that “the meanness is in the system”—a claim that resonated with liberation movements then and now.   His appeal for violence to counter the inherent violence of the colonial system in Algeria reached hyperbolic proportions in his prefatory essay to Franz Fanon‘s The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

Some of the images and language of his earlier work were clearly sexist in character. And yet, Sartre always favored the exploited and oppressed in any relationship and he encouraged his life-long partner, Simone de Beauvoir, to write The Second Sex, commonly recognized as the seminal work for the second-wave of the feminist movement. Sartre, in his short work, Antisemite and Jew(1946) on the other hand, argues “synthetically” (concretely) for the rights of the Jew or the Arab or the woman (his examples) to vote as such in any election. In other words, their “rights” are concrete and not mere abstractions. One should not sacrifice the Jew (or the Arab or the woman) to the “man.” In Michael Walzer’s words: Sartre is promoting “multiculturalism…avant la lettre.

In his last years, Sartre who had lost the use of one eye during his childhood became almost totally blind. Yet, he continued working with the help of a tape recorder. He was in an open relationship with the prominent feminist and fellow existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir till his death in 1980. As the headline of one Parisian newspaper lamented his death: “France has lost its conscience.” The relevance of Sartrean existentialism remains as actual today as does the human condition that it describes and analyzes.

Nausea Analysis

The protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, a historian living in Bouville, France, has been researching the Marquis de Rollebon, a French aristocrat who lived during the French Revolution. He starts experiencing strange feelings of nausea that result in loss of interest in his work. He begins to write a diary noting down his strange feelings and experiences. He becomes aware of the existence of objects and connects his nausea to to this awareness of essence masking existence. . He fails to communicate these to his ex-lover or the self-taught man in the cafe and finally decides to move to Paris and write a novel.

Existentialists stress artistic creation  as a vital aspect of existence. Sartre’s fiction is not allegorical or mythological, but an outline of straightforward philosophical arguments. The ultimate cure to his nausea rests on artistic creation. The main themes are ‘existence precedes essence’ and the differentiation between ‘being in itself’ and ‘being for itself’. He concludes that the essence of objects like color, smell, shape, weight etc. are all facades that mask the fact that the thing exists in first place.

Existentialism

To understand the deeper meanings of ‘Nausea‘, one needs to go through the basics of Existential philosophy. So adding whatever little I have understood from some essays about the topic. It is not a novel with straightforward indications, guiding lampposts, or thrilling plot twists. But, Nausea is not only a powerful philosophical novel but a crucial event in the evolution of sensibility.

The strategy of “indirect communication” has been an instrument of “Existentialists” since Kierkegaard adopted the use of pseudonyms in his philosophical writings in the early nineteenth century. The point is to communicate a feeling and an attitude that the reader/spectator adopts in which certain existentialist themes such as anguish, responsibility or bad faith are suggested but not dictated as in a lecture. Asked why his plays were performed only in the bourgeois sections of the city, Sartre replied that no bourgeois could leave a performance of one of them without “thinking thoughts traitorous to his class.”  And this is what existentialism is chiefly about: challenging the individual to examine their life for intimations of bad faith and to heighten their sensitivity to oppression and exploitation in their world.

Sartre’s early work Nausea (1938) is the very model of a philosophical novel. Its protagonist, Roquentin, works through many of the major themes of Being and Nothingness that will appear five years later. It can be read as an extended meditation on the contingency of our existence and on the psychosomatic experience that captures that phenomenon. In his famous meditation on a tree root, Roquentin experiences the brute facticity of its existence and of his own: both are simply there, without justification, in excess (de trop). The physicality of this revelatory “sickly sweet” sensation should not be overlooked. Like the embarrassment felt before the Other’s gaze in the voyeur example , our bodily intentionality (what he calls “the body as for-itself”) is revealing a reality.

In an introductory note, Hayden Carruth the American poet, literary critic and anthologist explain how the existentialist ideas are not new. He mentions its presence in the myths of Abraham and Job, pre-Socratic philosophies of Greece, dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides, Greek and Byzantine culture of mystery and as a fine thread in the central European tradition: the Church Fathers, Augustine, the Gnostics, Abelard, Thomas. In the Orient, concurrently, the entire development of religious and philosophical attitudes, particularly in the Buddhist and Taoist writings, seems to have been frequently closer to the actual existence of mankind than the rationalist discourses of the West.

Existentialism as we know today springs from philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Although they lived a generation apart, were contrary in many respects, they shared the same experiences in the concern for the fate of individuals. They influenced Dostoevsky, who expressed the existentialist sensibilities in his novels, especially ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ and ‘Notes from the Underground’. Carruth mentions that “In literature many, or even most, of the chief modern authors have been, consciously or not, Existentialists; certainly the tradition is very strong in the line of development represented by Kafka, Unamuno, Lawrence, Malraux, Hesse, Camus, and Faulkner“.

The philosophy cannot be defined distinctly as it is a living experience as opposed to the rationalist tradition from the Renaissance. The Ideal Reason of the mind in the rationalist tradition could not account for human experiences like pain and ecstasy, doubt and intuition, anguish and despair as Kierkegaard was aware. The philosophy of Hegel, Hegelianism, described the reality in a unified rational mind of a crowd, submerging the consciousness and giving prominence to the mass instead of the individual. But for the Existentialist, who insists that reality is only what he himself knows and experiences, self and consciousness are not submerged and also they are cruel and coercive. For the Existentialist, the self is present, suffering existent and “A crowd is an untruth”. Only in the self could the truth occur. Focussing on self and consciousness is one of the ideas of existentialism.

The next idea is ‘nothingness as the reality‘. When a person looks back beyond his birth or forwards after his death, there is a void. Similarly, when he looks inside himself, setting aside the memory, knowledge, and sensations, he sees a chasm of formless ego, a nothingness. This nothingness becomes a reality that leads to man’s despair or existential integrity. Nothingness inside self as the new reality makes the human-centric version of the philosophy of Humanism untenable according to existentialists. Thus mankind is an accident in existentialist philosophy, a late and adventitious newcomer whose life is governed by contingency; and the proof, paradoxically, comes from rationalism itself, from the Darwinian idea of evolution. Man, the thinker is a contingent by-product only, a non- essential component of the reality of a world of stars, stones and trees. Thus, man and his works cling to existence by a tenuous hold.

Nothingness and absurdity of existence and the confrontation with anguish and despair are basic ideas of existentialism from which each existentialist philosopher found his own specific ideas of individual existence, Sartre one among them. The idea of confronting existence with anguish and despair has had a huge impact on the minds of the common people as well as intellectuals in a chaotic world as in the post-world war society of Europe. Thus the philosophy flourished in Europe in the twentieth century. Those who lived through torture, uprootedness, or chaos were impacted much by this philosophy. Thus the reason for the pessimistic, nightmarish imagery in Existentialist literature. Though the chaotic world impacted the flourishing of the philosophy, it is also seen in the works of Dickens, Pushkin, and Balzac. Also,  neither Kierkegaard nor Nietzsche lived in a turbulent, chaotic external world, too. So, it could be surmised that their inner searchings were deeply rooted than the external chaos in the origins of existentialism.

Suffering is the origin of consciousness,” Dostoevski.  

Life begins on the other side of despair.” Sartre

Sartre himself is an example and has been at great pains to define and enforce his exemplitude: in journalism, in fiction, in drama, in political activity, and in teaching.

Nietzsche’s remark: “I honor a philosopher only if he is able to be an example.

Sartre posits the idea that “what all existentialists have in common is the fundamental doctrine that existence precedes essence“, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals—independently acting and responsible, conscious beings (“existence”)—rather than what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individuals fit (“essence”). The actual life of the individuals is what constitutes what could be called their “true essence” instead of there being an arbitrarily attributed essence others use to define them. Thus, human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life. This view is in contradistinction to what Aristotle and Aquinas held; they taught that essence precedes individual existence.  In his essay, ‘Being and Nothingness‘, he explains the kinds of beings as in-itself (en-soi), for-itself (pour-soi), and for-others (pour-autrui). En-soi refers to the existence of inanimate objects, not conscious, neither active nor passive, and harboring no potential for transcendence. For humans, Sartre defines the for-itself being as one who is conscious, free, transcendent, with multiple roles. Sartre famously states that “humans are condemned to be free”.

One of the problems of human existence is the desire to be en-soi or to attain an absolute identity, full control over one’s destiny or the desire to be God. Sartre gives the example of a cafe waiter to explain these terms. Take the inanimate object, an inkwell for example. It plays the exact role of an inkwell only and so is a being-in-itself. The waiter in the cafe acts the waiter’s part, but his actual identity is that of a man and many other things who happen to be functioning as a waiter. So he is a being-for-itself. In playing the part of the waiter, he reduces himself to a being- in -itself and thus acts in “bad faith”.

The notion of absurd encompasses the meaninglessness or unfairness of the world. Thus it opposes the Abrahamic religious perspective that the purpose of life is to follow and fulfill God’s commandments. Albert Camus states that the world or the human in itself is not absurd, but the absurdity of existence happens when both juxtaposition against each other. The view by Kierkegaard states that absurdism happens by actions and choices of human beings. Any tragic event could plummet someone, good or bad, irrespective to confront the absurd. The notion of the Absurd has been prominent in the literary works of Kierkegaard, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Eugène Ionesco, Miguel de Unamuno, Luigi Pirandello, Sartre, Joseph Heller, and Camus that contain descriptions of people who encounter the absurdity of the world.

Facticity signifies all of the concrete details against the background of which human freedom exists and is limited. For example, these may include the time and place of birth, a language, an environment, an individual’s previous choices, as well as the inevitable prospect of their death. For example: currently, the situation of a person who is born without legs precludes their freedom to walk on the beach; if future medicine were to develop a method of growing new legs for that person, their facticity might no longer exclude this activity.

In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which an individual’s actions are congruent with his beliefs and desires, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures, and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith.

Existential angst“, sometimes called existential dread, anxiety, or anguish is a term that is common to many existentialist thinkers. It is generally held to be a negative feeling arising from the experience of human freedom and responsibility. The archetypal example is the experience one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off. In this experience that “nothing is holding me back”, one senses the lack of anything that predetermines one to either throw oneself off or to stand still, and one experiences one’s own freedom.

Despair is generally defined as a loss of hope. In existentialism, it is more specifically a loss of hope in reaction to a breakdown in one or more of the defining qualities of one’s self or identity. If a person is invested in being a particular thing, such as a bus driver or an upstanding citizen, and then finds their being-thing compromised, they would normally be found in a state of despair—a hopeless state. For example, a singer who loses the ability to sing may despair if they have nothing else to fall back on—nothing to rely on for their identity. They find themselves unable to be what defined their being. What sets the existentialist notion of despair apart from the conventional definition is that existentialist despair is a state one is in even when they are not overtly in despair. So long as a person’s identity depends on qualities that can crumble, they are in perpetual despair

Atheistic existentialism is a kind of existentialism which strongly diverged from the Christian existential works of Søren Kierkegaard and developed within the context of an atheistic world view. It was formally recognized after the 1943 publication of Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre and Sartre later explicitly alluded to it in Existentialism is a Humanism in 1946. His novel Nausea is in some ways a manifesto of atheistic existentialism. It deals with a dejected researcher (Antoine Roquentin) in an anonymous French town, where Roquentin becomes conscious of the fact that nature as well as every inanimate object is indifferent towards him and his tormented existence. The existential angst experienced by the protagonist allows him to eventually understand that meaning exists only when he creates it for himself. Sartre once said, “existence precedes essence”. What he meant was “that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterward, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first, he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence”  Sartre wrote other works in the spirit of atheistic existentialism (e.g. the short stories in his 1939 collection The Wall).

Albert Camus writes of dualisms—between happiness and sadness—as well as life and death. In The Myth of Sisyphus, such dualism becomes paradoxical because humans greatly value their existence while at the same time being aware of their mortality. Camus believes it is human nature to have difficulty reconciling these paradoxes; and indeed, he believed humankind must accept what he called “the Absurd”. On the other hand, Camus is not strictly an existential atheist because the acceptance of “the Absurd” implies neither the existence of God nor the nonexistence of God (compare agnosticism).

Sartre believed in individual freedom of consciousness, a consciousness that results from each person’s subjective and individual experience of the world. He questioned the larger social structures like capitalist exploitation, colonialism, racism, and sexism that systematically objectified people and failed to affirm their individual consciousness and innate freedom. His focus on individual freedom shaped his views on Marxism. Though allied to the French Communist Party, he never joined and opposed authoritarianism especially after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Sartre always harbored a healthy libertarian or anarchist streak. He wanted the working class to collectively overthrow the capitalist system and believed that any political struggle should affirm and allow for the individual freedom of all human beings. Sartre affirmed that people are always essentially free. No matter how objectified they may be, the gifts of freedom and consciousness mean that they always have the possibility of making something out of their circumstance of objectification. In Sartre’s view, individual freedom of consciousness is humanity’s gift—as well as its curse, since with it comes the responsibility to shape our own lives.

The Burden of responsibility– Sartre believed in the essential freedom of individuals, and he also believed that as free beings, people are responsible for all elements of themselves, their consciousness, and their actions. That is, with total freedom comes total responsibility. He believed that even those people who wish not to be responsible, who declare themselves not responsible for themselves or their actions, are still making a conscious choice and are thus responsible for anything that happens as a consequence of their inaction. Sartre’s moral philosophy maintains that ethics are essentially a matter of individual conscience.

The difficulty of knowing the self– For Sartre, for any individual to claim “that’s just the way I am” would be a statement of self-deception. Likewise, whenever people internalize the objectified identity granted to them by other people or by society, such as a servile woman or dutiful worker, they are guilty of self-deception. Whenever people tell themselves that their nature or views are unchangeable, or that their social position entirely determines their sense of self, they are deceiving themselves. Sartre believed it is always possible to make something out of what one has been made into. This task of self-actualization, however, involves a complex process of recognizing the factual realities outside of one’s self that is acting on the self (what Sartre calls facticity) and exactly how those realities are working, as well as knowing fully that one possesses a consciousness independent of those factors.

Following Hegel, Sartre writes that an individual person, or being-for-itself, can become cognizant of his own existence only when he sees himself being perceived by another being-for-itself. That is, we can formulate a conscious state of being and identity only when we are confronted by others who are also possessed of that consciousness and we apprehend ourselves in relation to them. As Sartre explains, however, the encounter with the Other is tricky, at least initially, because we may first believe that in being perceived by another conscious being we are being objectified or essentialized by that being, who may appear to be regarding us only as type, appearance, or imagined essence. In turn, we may seek to regard others as definable, simple objects not possessed of individual consciousness. The notion of the Other plays a central role in Sartre’s thinking and writing about large-scale systems of social objectification, such as colonialism, racism, and sexism. Such systems enable the Other to be falsely seen as an object, a definable being-in-itself, and not as a free individual, a being-for-itself, possessed of his or her own undefinable, conscious state of being.

(Ref: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sartre/, http://users.telenet.be/sterf/texts/phil/Sartre-Nausea.pdf,https://, http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/sartre/themes/,  )

 

My poems

Lucid Dreams‘ is one of the poems from my collection, ‘Shadows and Shades‘. The kindle edition is a collection of 17 poems, some of which are already on my WP page. The images of the poems range from real to surreal. I have tried to touch the imageries, fantasies, and realities, some of which are in colors and shades, some real, and a few surreal. Some are in prose form and some are really dark. The poems had been written over the past few years from the imageries that had flashed inside my mind from time to time.

For those interested, the collection is available as kindle edition in Amazon.

Lucid Dreams

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.

                                                                       Copyright © deepanairrp

എന്റെ ഓർമ്മയിലെ സുഗതകുമാരി ടീച്ചർ

അഞ്ചിലോ ആറിലോ പഠിക്കുമ്പോഴാണ്, ഞാൻ ആദ്യമായി ടീച്ചറിനെ നേരിൽ കാണുന്നത്. നാഷണൽ ബുക്ക് സ്റ്റാളിലെ സ്ഥിരം അന്തേവാസികളെ പോലെ ആയിരുന്നു ഞാനും അനിയനും. അമ്മയുടെ ജോലി രാത്രി എട്ടര വരെ നീളുന്നത് കാരണം സ്കൂൾ വിട്ടു ഞങ്ങൾ അവിടെയാണ് ഇരിക്കാറുള്ളത്.

എപ്പോഴും ചിരി തൂകുന്ന വട്ട മുഖവും, വലിയ മെറൂൺ സിന്ദൂരപൊട്ടും, അലസമായി ഉടുത്ത ഇളം നിറത്തിലെ കോട്ടൺ സാരിയും. ഇതാണ് എന്റെ മനസ്സിൽ ഉള്ള ടീച്ചറിന്റെ രൂപം. ബുക്ക് സ്റ്റാളിൽ പുതിയ പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ എത്തിയാൽ അത് ടീച്ചറെ വിളിച്ചറിയിക്കുന്ന ജോലി എന്റെ അമ്മയ്ക്കായിരുന്നു. ചിലപ്പോൾ പുസ്തകത്തിന്റെ പുറകിലത്തെ ബൈൻഡിൽ എഴുതിയിരിക്കുന്ന ചുരുക്കരൂപം വായിച്ചു കേൾപ്പിക്കാൻ പറയും. ബുക്ക് സ്റ്റാളിൽ വന്നുകഴിഞ്ഞാൽ എല്ലാപേരോടും സംസാരിച്ചിട്ടേ പോകാറുള്ളൂ. പുസ്തകം വാങ്ങി അമ്മയുടെ നേരെ എതിരെ ഉള്ള കസേരയിൽ ഇരുന്നു കുറെ നേരം അമ്മയോട് വർത്തമാനം പറയും.

ആദ്യമായി സ്കൂൾ യൂണിഫോമിൽ അവിടെ ഞങ്ങളെ കണ്ട ദിവസം ടീച്ചർ അമ്മയോട് നെറ്റി ചുളിച്ചു ചോദിച്ചത് ഇന്നും എനിക്ക് ഓർമ്മയുണ്ട്. ” ഇതെന്താ ഇവരെ ഇവിടെ കൊണ്ടിരുത്തിയിരിക്കുന്നതു . പരിചയമില്ലാത്ത എത്ര ആളുകൾ വരുന്ന സ്ഥലമാണ്”. ‘അമ്മ കൊടുത്ത ഉത്തരവും ഇന്നലത്തെ പോലെ ഓർമ്മയുണ്ട്. ” വീട്ടിൽ ആരുമില്ല. അച്ഛൻ വരാൻ രാത്രിയാകും. ബന്ധുക്കൾ അടുത്തുണ്ട്. അവരെ ബുദ്ധിമുട്ടിക്കണ്ട എന്ന് കരുതി.ഇതാകുമ്പോൾ എന്റെ കൺവെട്ടത്ത് ഉണ്ടാകുമല്ലോ രണ്ടാളും”.

ടീച്ചറിന്റെ ചോദ്യത്തിലെ പൊരുൾ എനിക്ക് മനസ്സിലായത് വർഷങ്ങൾ കഴിഞ്ഞാണ്. ടീച്ചറിന്റെ പിന്നീടുള്ള ചില സാമൂഹിക രാഷ്ട്രീയ കാഴ്ചപ്പാടു്ളോട് അതിശയം തോന്നിയിട്ടുണ്ട് എന്ന് ‘അമ്മ പറയാറുണ്ട്.

Bookstall സെക്രട്ടറിയേറ്റിനു നേരെ എതിർ വശത്തായതിനാൽ അക്കാലത്തെ സമരങ്ങൾ ഒട്ടുമിക്കതും കാണാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞിട്ടുണ്ട്. സമരം അക്രമാസക്‌തമാകുമ്പോൾ bookstall ന്റെ മുൻപിലുള്ള ഗ്രില്ല് താഴ്ത്തും. പോലീസ് വന്നു സമരക്കാരെ നിയന്ത്രിച്ചതിനു ശേഷം മാത്രമേ ഗ്രില്ല് തുറക്കാറുള്ളൂ . ഒരിക്കൽ ടീച്ചർ ഉള്ള സമയത്തു ഗ്രില്ലും ഇട്ടു കുറച്ചു സമയം ഇരുന്നതായിട്ടു ഓർക്കുന്നു. സമരം അടിപിടിയിൽ അവസാനിച്ചു ലാത്തിചാര്ജും മറ്റുമായി, അവസാനം ഗ്രില്ല് തുറന്നപ്പോൾ കണ്ടത് ചിന്നിച്ചിതറിക്കിടക്കുന്ന കുറെ ചെരിപ്പുകളും , രക്തക്കറ പുരണ്ട വെളുത്ത കുറെ മുണ്ടുകളും, കൊടികളും, കല്ലുകളുമാണ്. ഇതിനെപ്പറ്റി ടീച്ചർ പിന്നീട് ഒരു വാരാന്ത്യപ്പതിപ്പിൽ എഴുതിട്ടുണ്ട്.

സാഹിത്യ പ്രവർത്തക സഹകരണ സംഘത്തിന്റെ പരിപാടികളിൽ ചിലതൊക്കെ ടീച്ചർ പങ്കെടുത്തിരുന്നതായി ഓർക്കുന്നു. എം ലീലാവതി ടീച്ചറും( അവർ SPCS ബോർഡ് അംഗമായിരുന്നു അന്ന്) സുഗതകുമാരി ടീച്ചറും അമ്മ അടുത്തറിഞ്ഞ, സഹോദരതുല്യരായ രണ്ടു പേരായിരുന്നു. ടീച്ചറിന്റെ കവിതകൾ സ്കൂളിൽ പഠിക്കുന്നതിനു മുൻപ് എനിക്ക് പരിചയപ്പെടുത്തി തന്നത് അമ്മയാണ്. പിന്നെയും പലപ്പോഴും ടീച്ചറിനെ bookstall ഇൽ കാണാറുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. അവസാനം ഞാൻ നേരിൽ കണ്ടത് മെഡിക്കൽ എൻട്രൻസ് റിസൾട്ട് വന്നു കഴിഞ്ഞു ഒരു ദിവസം ആണ്. അമ്മ എന്നോട് ടീച്ചറിന്റെ അനുഗ്രഹം വാങ്ങാൻ പറഞ്ഞതായി ഓർക്കുന്നു. നല്ല മെലിഞ്ഞിട്ടായിരുന്നു ഞാൻ അന്ന്. ആഹാരം നല്ലവണ്ണം കഴിച്ചാലെ ഇത് പഠിച്ചെടുക്കാൻ ആരോഗ്യം ഉണ്ടാകൂ എന്ന ഉപദേശവും തന്നാണ് ടീച്ചർ പോയത്. അത് 28 വര്ഷങ്ങക്ക് മുൻപായിരുന്നു. കുറച്ചു നാളുകൾക്കു മുൻപ് ‘അമ്മ ടീച്ചറെ കണ്ടിരുന്നു . മരിയ്ക്കുന്നതിനു മുൻപ് ഒന്ന് കൂടെ കാണാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല എന്ന വിഷമം അമ്മയ്ക്കുണ്ട്. . ഒരിക്കൽ ഞാനും അമ്മയും ടീച്ചറെ കാണാൻ ശ്രെമിച്ചിരുന്നു. അന്ന് അവർ കൊച്ചിയിലോ മറ്റോ ആയിരുന്നു. മരിക്കുന്നതിന് മുൻപ് ടീച്ചറെ ഒന്ന് കൂടി കാണാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല എന്ന വിഷമം എന്നും ഉണ്ടാകും എനിക്കും.

അമ്മ എന്നെ ഇന്ന് രാവിലെ വിളിച്ചു ടീച്ചറിന്റെ മരണവാർത്ത പറയുമ്പോൾ കരയുന്നുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. എല്ലാ മലയാളികൾക്കും ഒരു അമ്മയെപ്പോലെ ആയിരുന്നു ടീച്ചർ. അടുത്തറിയാൻ ഭാഗ്യമുണ്ടായ ഞങ്ങൾക്ക് അവർ അതിലുമപ്പുറത്തു ആരൊക്കയോ ആയിരുന്നു. എഴുതിക്കഴിഞ്ഞു വായിച്ചപ്പോൾ മനസ്സിലെ വിങ്ങലിനു കുറച്ചു ആശ്വാസം. ടീച്ചറിന് വിട.

ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും – ദേവി / യക്ഷി സങ്കല്പങ്ങൾ ഒരു വ്യത്യസ്ത കാഴ്ചപ്പാടിൽ

കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ പുസ്തകക്കൂട്ടത്തിൽ വലിപ്പമുള്ള പുസ്തകങ്ങളിൽ രണ്ടെണ്ണം ആയിരുന്നു ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും( children’s version). വായിച്ചാൽ തീരാത്തത്ര കഥകൾ, ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ, പുരാണകഥകൾ, കാല്പനികകഥകൾ എന്നിവ കോർത്തിണക്കിയ ഒരു നീണ്ട മാല. വളരെ പുരാതനമായ ഒരു ക്ഷേത്രത്തിന്റെ തൊട്ടടുത്താണ് എന്റെ അമ്മവീട്. എന്റെ പതിനേഴാമത്തെ വയസ്സ് വരെ ഞങ്ങൾ അവിടാണ് താമസിച്ചിരുന്നത്. ദേവി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും, യക്ഷി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും, ഭദ്രകാളി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും പ്രധാനമായി വച്ച് പൂജിക്കുന്ന ഈ ക്ഷേത്രം ഞങ്ങളുടെ ജീവിതത്തിൽ ഒരു വലിയ പങ്ക് വഹിച്ചിരുന്നു. പുരാതനമായ സർപ്പക്കാവിന്റെ അടുത്താണ് യക്ഷിപ്രതിഷ്ഠ, പാലമരച്ചോട്ടിൽ.

ക്ഷേത്രത്തിനെ ചുറ്റിപ്പറ്റി ഒരുപാട് കഥകൾ ഉണ്ട്. മഹാഭാരരതത്തിന്റെ സമയത്തുള്ള ക്ഷേത്രമാണെന്നാണ് പരക്കെയുള്ള വിശ്വാസം. ഒറ്റക്കല്ലിൽ കൊത്തിയെടുത്ത വൻ തൂണുകളും, ഒറ്റക്കൽ നടപ്പാതകളും , കല്ലിലും തടിയിലും നിർമ്മിച്ചിരിക്കുന്ന അകത്തമ്പലവും കേരള വാസ്തുവിദ്യയുടെ ഒരു നല്ല ഉദാഹരണമാണ്. ഇതിനടുത്താണ് പുരാതനമായ കൈപ്പള്ളി വീട്. ചരിത്രപ്രാധാന്യമുള്ള ഒരുപാട് കൊട്ടാരങ്ങളും അമ്മച്ചി വീടുകളും ഇതിനും ചുറ്റുമുണ്ട്.

സമയം കിട്ടുമ്പോഴൊക്കെ ഞങ്ങൾ കുട്ടികൾ ഈ ക്ഷേത്രത്തിലും കാവിലും ആണ് ചിലവിട്ടിരുന്നത്. അതിനാൽ തന്നെ ഐതിഹ്യമാല പോലെ ഉള്ള പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ ഒരു ഫിക്ഷൻ വായിക്കുന്നതിനേക്കാളുപരി യഥാർത്ഥ സംഭവകഥകൾ പോലെ ആണ് ഞാൻ വായിച്ചിരുന്നതും വിശ്വസിച്ചിരുന്നതും. അടുത്തയിടെ ഈ രണ്ടു പുസ്തകങ്ങളെ പറ്റിയുള്ള ഒരു പ്രബന്ധം വായിക്കാനിടയായി. പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലെ കഥകളിൽ ആഴത്തിൽ ഒളിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്ന സമകാലീന പ്രാധാന്യമുള്ള വസ്തുതകളാണ് പ്രബന്ധത്തിൽ വിവരിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നത്. ഇത് വായിച്ചപ്പോഴാണ് പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ പുനർവായനകൾ എത്രത്തോളം വ്യത്യസ്തമായ കാഴ്ചപ്പാടുകളാണ് വച്ച് നീട്ടുന്നതെന്നു വീണ്ടും വീണ്ടും ഉറപ്പായത്. കൊട്ടാരത്തിൽ ശങ്കുണ്ണിയുടെ ഐതിഹ്യമാല തെക്കൻകേരളത്തിലേയും, വാണിദാസൻ ഇളയവൂരിന്റെ വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാല വടക്കൻകേരളത്തിന്റെയും വ്യത്യസ്ത മിത്തുകളെ പറ്റി പറയുന്നു.

ഭൂതകാലം ചരിത്രത്തിൽ മാത്രം ഒതുങ്ങുന്നതല്ല. പുരാണങ്ങൾ, ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ, ബഹുജനവിശ്വാസങ്ങൾ, സാമൂഹികരീതികൾ, കുടുംബങ്ങളിലെ രീതികൾ , ആചാരങ്ങൾ എന്നിങ്ങനെ പല ഇഴകൾ കൊണ്ട് നെയ്തെടുത്തതാണ് ഭൂതകാലം. ഈ കഥകളിൽ നിന്ന് പല ഉൾക്കാഴ്ചകളും നമുക്ക് ലഭിക്കുന്നു. ഉദാഹരണത്തിന്, ദേവീപൂജയും സ്ത്രീകളുടെ സാമൂഹിക അവസ്ഥയും തമ്മിലുള്ള ബന്ധം, ക്ഷേത്രാചാരങ്ങളും ജാതിവ്യവസ്ഥയും ആ സമയത്തെ മറ്റു രാഷ്ട്രീയ സാമൂഹിക സാമ്പത്തിക വ്യവസ്ഥകളുമായുള്ള ബന്ധം, എന്നിങ്ങനെ. Caste and Gender dynamics നെ പറ്റിയും, കഥകളിൽ ഒളിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്ന സാമൂഹിക സാംസ്കാരിക പാശ്ചാത്തലങ്ങളെ പറ്റിയും വ്യക്തമായി നമുക്ക് മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ സാധിക്കും. ഈ രണ്ടു പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലും ( അധികവും ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ ആണ്) ദേവികഥകളും, യക്ഷിക്കഥകളും വായിക്കാൻ സാധിക്കും. ദേവിയെയും യക്ഷിയേയും മാനവീകരിച്ചാണ് narrate ചെയ്തിരിക്കുന്നത്. ഇതിലെ ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളിലെ ദേവി പുരാണങ്ങളിലെ പോലെ ഒരു consort അല്ലെങ്കിൽ ഭഗവാന്റെ നല്ലപകുതിയോ അല്ല. മറിച്ചു, കരുണയുടെയും ദയാശീലത്തിന്റെയും രൗദ്രതയുടെയും സമ്പുഷ്ടതയുടെയും ആശയങ്ങൾ ഈ ദേവികഥാപാത്രത്തിലുണ്ട്. ദേവീപൂജ അന്നത്തെ സമൂഹത്തിലെ hierarchical pattern നെ കാണിക്കുന്നു. പൈശാചിക ശക്‌തിയുള്ള യക്ഷി uncontrollable sexual urge നെ സൂചിപ്പിക്കുന്നു. ഇത് പല വ്യാഖ്യാനങ്ങളിൽ ഒന്ന് മാത്രമാണ്. അക്കാലത്തു പ്രബലമായ ഹിന്ദു ആഖ്യാനങ്ങൾ, ആചാര നിഷ്ഠകൾ എന്നിവയോടു ഇഴുകിച്ചേർന്നു നിൽക്കാതെ സ്വന്തമായി ഒരു വിവരണ രീതി ഉണ്ടാക്കുകയും പ്രാദേശികമായി ഇതിനെ ക്രമീകരിക്കാൻ കഴിയുകയും ചെയ്തു എന്നതാണ് ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ പ്രത്യേകത. നൂറ്റാണ്ടുകളായി കേട്ട് പോരുന്ന വായ്പാട്ടു രീതിയിൽ ഉള്ള നാടോടിക്കഥകൾ തന്നെ ആണ് ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളിൽ പറഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്നത്.

ദേവി അഥവാ ശക്തി പല സമൂഹങ്ങളിൽ വ്യത്യസ്തമാണ്. ഗ്രാമദേവതകൾ, വ്യത്യസ്‌ത ഗോത്രങ്ങൾ പൂജിക്കുന്ന ദേവികൾ എന്നിവക്ക് പ്രമുഖ ഹിന്ദു സംസ്‌കൃത ദേവിപൂജാരീതികളോട് പല സാമ്യങ്ങളും വ്യത്യാസങ്ങളും ഉണ്ട്.ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളിൽ നിന്നും നാടോടിക്കഥകളിൽ നിന്നും ഗോത്ര ദേവി ആരാധനയിൽ നിന്നും കടമെടുത്ത ദേവീസങ്കല്പങ്ങൾ ലക്ഷ്മിയായും , പാർവതിയായും കാളിയായും ദുർഗ്ഗയായും ഹിന്ദുമതത്തിലേക്ക് കയ്യടക്കപ്പെട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്. ദേവി സദാചാരത്തിന്റെയും സദ്ഗുണത്തിന്റെയും മാതൃകയാകുമ്പോൾ യക്ഷി പൈശാചികശക്‌തിയോ, തിന്മയുടെയും ദയയുടെയും നിഴലുകൾ ഉള്ള ഒരു അർദ്ധദേവതയോ ആണ്. ഈ ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ വഴി സദാചാരം, മനുഷ്യന്റെ പല കഷ്ടസ്ഥിതികൾ, അജ്ഞാതവും ഗൂഢവുമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ, ആചാരങ്ങൾ എന്നിവ മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ കഴിയും.

സ്ത്രീയുടെ ചാരിത്ര്യവും വിശുദ്ധിയും ദേവി / യക്ഷി കഥകളിൽ ആവർത്തിക്കുന്ന വിഷയമാണ്. ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ യക്ഷിക്കഥകൾ ഉണ്ടെങ്കിലും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ അധികവും സ്ത്രീസ്വഭാവരീതികൾ ചാർത്തപ്പെട്ട ദുര്ദേവതകളും ബാധകളും ആണ്. ക്ഷേത്രങ്ങളും കാവുകളൂം ദേവിയുടെയും യക്ഷിയുടെയും വാസസ്ഥലം എന്നതിലുപരി ആ പ്രദേശങ്ങളിലെ സമ്പദ്‌വ്യവസ്ഥകളിലും കാര്യമായ പങ്ക് വഹിച്ചിരുന്നു. സ്ഥലമായും സ്വര്ണമായും ആനകളായുമൊക്കെ കിട്ടിയിരുന്ന സ്വത്തു, മതവിശ്വാസം ലൗകികമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ തീരുമാനിക്കുന്നതിന് ഉത്തമ ഉദാഹരണമാണ്.

കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ എന്റെ ഓർമ്മയിൽ തെളിഞ്ഞു നിൽക്കുന്ന ഒന്നാണ് ക്ഷേത്രത്തിലെ വെളിച്ചപ്പാട് തുള്ളൽ. ദേവിയും യക്ഷിയും ഈ മാധ്യമങ്ങൾ വഴി സംസാരിക്കുന്നതും, അത്ഭുതങ്ങൾ പ്രവചിക്കുന്നതും ഒക്കെ ഇന്നലെയെന്നത് പോലെ ഓർമയിലുണ്ട്. പല രക്ഷാകർമക്കൾക്കും ഇവർ വിലയിടുന്നത് സ്വര്ണത്തിന്റേയോ സ്ഥലത്തിന്റെയോ രൂപത്തിലാണ്. ചോദിക്കുന്നത് ദേവിയാകുമ്പോൾ ഇതെല്ലാം മറുചോദ്യമില്ലാതെ ക്ഷേത്രത്തിന്റെ കൈപ്പിടിയിൽ എത്തുന്നു. അതുപോലെ തന്നെ അസുഖങ്ങളെയും യുദ്ധത്തെയും ഒക്കെ ദേവീശാപമായി ചിത്രീകരിക്കുന്നത് വഴി നീതിയുടെയും നീതിശാസ്ത്രത്തിന്റെയും ഒരു പ്രബോധനം ആണ് കഥകൾ വഴി നൽകുന്നത്.

യക്ഷിക്കഥകളിൽ ആവർത്തിച്ചു കാണുന്ന ഒന്നാണ് ദേവിയുടെ സഹായത്തോടെ യക്ഷിയെ മെരുക്കുന്ന ബ്രാഹ്മണൻ. ഉയർന്ന ജാതിക്കാരനായ ബ്രാഹ്മണന് അടിമയാകുന്ന യക്ഷി അയാളെ സേവിക്കുകയും, അയാളുടെ കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങൾക്ക് ജന്മം കൊടുക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുമെങ്കിലും ഒരു ഭാര്യയുടെ നിയമപരമായ അവകാശങ്ങൾ അവൾക്കു ലഭിക്കുന്നില്ല. രാത്രികാലങ്ങളിൽ മാത്രം ബ്രാഹ്മണനെ സേവിക്കാൻ അവൾ വിധിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു.

ദേവിയും യക്ഷിയും സൗന്ദര്യത്തിന്റെ മൂർത്തീഭാവങ്ങൾ ആണെങ്കിലും ദേവിസൗന്ദര്യം സ്വർഗാനുഭൂതിയും യക്ഷിയുടേത് നരകത്തിലേക്ക് വശീകരിക്കുന്ന ഉറവിടവുമാണ്. ദേവിയെ പ്രതിഷ്ഠിക്കുന്നത് അകത്തമ്പലത്തിലും യക്ഷിയെ പുറത്തുമാണ്. ഒരു സംസ്കാരത്തിലെ gender role ഈ രണ്ടു കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളിലും നിഴലിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. രണ്ടു പേരിലും മനുഷ്യ നന്മകളും തിന്മകളുമുണ്ട്. അസൂയ, ആസക്‌തി, കുരുതിയോടുള്ള താല്പര്യം, മാംസാഹാരം, മദ്യം എന്നിവയുടെ ഉപയോഗം എല്ലാം ദേവിയിൽ കാണപ്പെടുന്നുണ്ട്. യക്ഷിയെ ഒരു erotic force ആയിട്ടാണ് കഥകളിൽ ചിത്രീകരിക്കുന്നത്, consummate and consume ചെയ്യുന്ന ഒരു entity . യക്ഷിയുടെ ഈ രീതിയിലുള്ള ചിത്രീകരണം സ്ത്രീകളുടെ sexuality യെ പറ്റിയും സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തെ പറ്റിയും സമൂഹത്തിനുള്ള ഭയപ്പാടാണ് വ്യക്തമാക്കുന്നത്.

ജാതിവ്യവസ്ഥയും അധികാരക്രമവും ലിംഗക്രമവും എല്ലാം കഥകളിൽ വ്യക്തമാണ്. അകത്തമ്പലത്തിൽ പ്രവേശനം ബ്രാഹ്മണന് മാത്രം, മാരാർക്കു പാട്ടും കൊട്ടും മാത്രം, സ്ത്രീകൾക്ക് മാലകെട്ടലും വിളക്ക് ഒരുക്കലും മാത്രം.. ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ ധാരാളം കാണാൻ കഴിയുന്ന കഥകളാണ് ബ്രാഹ്മണരെ പറ്റിയും നമ്പൂതിരികളെ പറ്റിയുമുള്ളവ. കുഞ്ഞുനീലി എന്ന പുലയപെണ്കുട്ടിയുടെ കഥയിൽ, ഉയർന്ന ജാതിക്കാരായ പുരുഷന്മാർക്ക് വഴങ്ങിക്കൊടുക്കാത്തതു കാരണം അവർ അവളെ വഴിപിഴച്ചവളായി മുദ്രകുത്തുന്നു. നീലിയുടെ അച്ഛൻ അവളെ കുരുതികൊടുക്കുന്നു അങ്ങനെ അവൾ നീലിയമ്മ എന്ന ദേവിയായി മാറുന്നു.

മുടിയേറ്റും കളമെഴുത്തും ഞാൻ ഇന്നും ഓർക്കുന്ന രണ്ടു rituals ആണ് . ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലെ കഥകൾ ഐതിഹ്യം എന്നതിലുപരി എനിക്ക് യാഥാർഥ്യങ്ങൾ ആയിരുന്നു. ചിലതു ഒരു lived experience ആയിരുന്നു. കഥകളിൽ പലതും ഇന്നും ഒരു മങ്ങിയ film പോലെ ഓർക്കുന്നു. വായനക്കാരെ അവർ സൃഷ്ടിക്കുന്ന മായിക ലോകത്തേക്ക് കൊണ്ടെത്തിക്കാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞു എന്നതാണ് ആ എഴുത്തുകാരുടെ കഴിവ്.

“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart

Author: Douglas Stuart

Genre: Fiction/ Coming of age novel

Awards: Booker Prize 2020, National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2020)

 The winner of this year’s Booker Prize is Douglas Stewart, a Scottish- American, for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain. An autobiographical novel, this is about the lonely gay son of an alcoholic mother in 1980s Scotland.

After 30 rejections from different publishers, Stuart sold it to Grove Atlantic and Picador, and now, his debut has won the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world. The novel is gripping, poignant, and dark that would leave deep scars in the readers mind. It is a tribute to Stuart’s mother who died of alcoholism when he was 16. Stuart describes himself as a working class Scottish kid .

The story unfolds in 1980s Glasgow and is centered on the boy Shuggie who takes care of his alcoholic mother. His awareness of being gay and heightened sensitivity to precociousness makes him an easy target of school bullies. Shuggie and his siblings had to take the additional burden of caring for Agnes, their mother who descends into alcoholism. Her husband, a taxi-driver, is a philanderer. Thatcher’s policies force him and the children out of work and the family descends into poverty and substance abuse. Agnes keeps her pride by trying to look good with make-up and and pearly-white false teeth. The older children finally distance themselves from their mother leaving her under the care of young Shuggie. She oscillates between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Though she loves her son, alcohol blinds her and eclipses the love she feels for him. The story is about the relationship between the boy and his alcoholic mother.

The novel includes many themes like abuse, addiction, rape, sexuality, and poverty. In a world where the term sexual consent is absent, Agnes is repeatedly being raped by men including her husband. The plight of the children forced by their circumstance to bear witness to the marks left on their mother’s body after rape, and to religiously wipe the bile and vomit from her body is heart wrenching. Though the read is pretty grim and poignant, the novel draws the reader deep into it and the atmosphere it creates around the reader is hard to shrug off.

Two things that could be off-putting are heavy prose and wide spread use of adjectives.

‘Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair’ by Pablo Neruda

Neruda wrote in a variety of styles such as erotically charged love poems as in
his collection Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair, surrealist poems,
historical epics, and overtly political manifestos. In 1971 Neruda won the Nobel
Prize for Literature. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him
“the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” Neruda always wrote in
green ink as it was his personal color of hope.

In the wave-strike over unquiet stones

“In the Wave-Strike Over Unquiet Stones”, is a poem which expresses how romantic love fades. Like the waves of the ocean, Neruda expresses romantic love ebbing and flowing. As Neruda says: “the brightness bursts and bears the rose”. In other words, Neruda is saying we sometimes meet a unique romantic love interest in life which shines so brightly; however, love does not always last. It collapse and “destroys its continual forms”. Obviously, something so beautiful and strong like the waves of the ocean will dissolve and disappear, which is how Neruda sees romantic love.

However, despite the lovely metaphors of the poem, the flowery nature of Neruda’s poem overwhelms the senses of the reader. It is as if the imagery is too rich and disturbs the flow of the narrative. Despite this flaw, Neruda’s poem is still fascinating and compels the reader to create their own meaning about love.

In the wave-strike over unquiet stones
the brightness bursts and bears the rose
and the ring of water contracts to a cluster
to one drop of azure brine that falls.
O magnolia radiance breaking in spume,
magnetic voyager whose death flowers
and returns, eternal, to being and nothingness:
shattered brine, dazzling leap of the ocean.
Merged, you and I, my love, seal the silence
while the sea destroys its continual forms,
collapses its turrets of wildness and whiteness,
because in the weft of those unseen garments
of headlong water, and perpetual sand,
we bear the sole, relentless tenderness.

Pablo Neruda

courtesy: https://pablonerudaproject.tumblr.com/PoetryReview :

Lord Byron’s Insanity

Lord Byron, English poet, aged 25 in a painting by Richard Westall (1813)

This is a poem by me about the turbulent and gloomy thoughts and moods of the famously infamous 19 th century English Romantic poet, George Gordon Byron, simply known as Lord Byron.

Believed to have had Bipolar disorder(controversial), he suffered for all his life time with frequent mood changes, fiery tempers bordering on violence, inebriation, licentious practices and a whole lot of odd behaviors.

The bright side of his malady happened to be his poetical genius. He was a prolific writer who has magnum opuses like ‘Don Juan‘ and ‘ Childe Harold’s pilgrimage‘ to his credit. The beauty and brilliance of his verse is unmatched. Though a Romantic poet, each of his biographers stresses the degree of realism evident in his verses. I have read only excerpts from Don Juan and Childe Harold’s pilgrimage, the ones given in his biography. The wit and satire he had used in most of the lines is so brilliant. This is exactly so, as to the emotional intensity in his verses.

Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with possible Bipolar Disorder posthumously from existing historical records and he never received the proper treatment or empathy from those around him.

I happened to read this short biography of Lord Byron recently and thought it a good idea to present his mind as a poem instead of writing a book review.

This is my short trip through the mind of the temperamental Lord Byron, a poem about what could have been going through his mind during the 36 years of his existence.

                                   Lord Byron’s Insanity

Whom should I blame for making me lame?

My blood, fettle, stars or Him?

To whom shall I whine, for warping my mind?

My blood and blood only by a grim twist of fate.

A savage beast bolting rampant, unfettered,

The row of the brutes ring unbroken,

Out of sense and out of nerves‘.

Rein in, O’ racing mind,

Thy wild whims and heathen rage

Mellow down, O’ beloved bosom,

Thy passions, vile and fierce.

Once, the soul fluttering like a thousand vibrant butterflies,

trembling and shaking, powdery colors spilling in the voids,

Of which I pine for the peacock blue shimmering in the muted shadows,

the grass yellow smeared in streaks of summery light,

scarlet red forged from glowing embers

And the grays and purples of cold, hoary November dawn.

Wraith visions of this passionate dreamer,

whirling in cyclonic eddies, in vertiginous spirals

sink down to infernal abyss of ferny hemlocks,

chastened in the murky, baleful waters of the Styx .

Hover over,O’ lucid mind, buoy up with the fragile sanity

Or the forked tongue of hellfire waits to tear you asunder

in the underworld, a hairsbreadth from here.

Why the soul once sublime been leached of the splendid colors?

Like a veined autumn leaf changing it’s hue.

Unlit and sinking, morbid dead ball of shadows.

The grays hiding all the warmth

How the dreary arms of gloom spread inside the vast space?

Once again, it’s bare me, my sinister shadow and the infinite solitude .

Drain my soul of these direful woes,

Of the fleeting shadows, of the faceless primal fears,

Of the ponderous fog clogging the mystifying senses

and the looming maelstrom brewing in the calm of bosom.

A blissful sleep is all I crave for,

Which not Laudanum, nor one singular water of life,

Nor Rahab and the strumpets could ever gift.

I would sooner die a thousand deaths.

Let me pour this settled lunacy into words,

in verse and prose, through the life of Don Juan,

and upend that unchaste Lothario with my unbridled wit.

Let me raise the glass castle of spirit

for, many a pietistic man peer,

before it shatters in my inner light.

The whole universe is warring with me, one that I won’t win

and the homeland loathes this rebellious,perverse poet, an unredeemable defect.

With a heart of stone, I embrace my offences

Though I have nothing to do with the masses.

But, Anabella dear, my ‘princess of parallelograms‘,

my brilliant Lady, O’ thou sharpest among women,

threw my sibilant whispers to the winds,

never once looked through the glass,

to single out the vile frenzy in me.

Let me not hold on the spirit, long splintered ,

letting loose the angels and fiends alike,

but not before uttering these final words to thee.

Detest me, O’ my virtuous wife, as long as you like,

but be done with my phantasm, by punishing or pardoning.

And for Ada, my lovely daughter, touched with the fury and fire

as her blood will tell, let not the venom of verses spread in her veins.

All I yearn for is eternal sleep, a dreamless, painless sleep

deep in my daydreams felled by broken wings.

O’ ferryman, accept the coin and row me across the Styx

To the shore where Hemlocks grow aplenty

And hellfire doles out eternal damnation

For, die I must, a loss no one would lament.

I let loose the last string of sanity ,

tying me to the morbid world

To enter the netherworld,

devoid of fears, angst or vile

For, this is the penance I pay for my blood

To purify my soul in the wrath of Inferno.

The dark side of moon

Meera’s FB post got me to write this and think through the term ‘self-defense’ when it comes to women. I don’t think any of us women have had the rare luck of evading the unseemly behavior from boys and men, be it insistent taunts, jeering catcalls, seemingly unintended touches or worse, at least for some, the gratuitous and vicious violence.

Unless a man steps into the lady-shoes and experience the unease, they would never be able to understand the anguish, whoever they might be, be it a father, brother, son, or any male for that matter. It is not easy for a girl to stride away with meek, downcast eyes and insecure, diffident steps while someone or a group jeer at her persistently or to stay away from prying eyes or indecent touches in a crowded bus routinely. All of us might have gone through these, but we were wont to ignore them and be on our guard all by ourselves, lest it would be worse and provoke them more. Beyond this wisdom, or carrying a safety-pin while inside a public transport or later, displaying the white doctor’s coat on the forearm hoping that ‘respect for doctors’ would ward off the evil behavior, I do not remember any sort of self-defense that I had practiced when young. Thus, the girl avails those only skills at her disposal. And early on she gets the taste of being vulnerable, powerless, capitulating, and gets to see the darker facets of the world. Far removed from my place for the past many years, I do not know if the situation has changed now in Kerala.

Whenever possible, I was accompanied by my father or brother, but that was not a constant. And after my marriage, I was entirely left to defend by myself in risky situations, something that I had learned the hard way. I learned to drive, but still the fear of ‘what if’ never ever left me. After finishing the 9 PM duty in a hospital at Kerala, I had to pass through a deserted place to get to my parent’s house and take my toddler son back home. The fifteen-minute drive was literally a sort of daily adrenaline-soaked adventure trip. I would make sure that all the four side-window panes were rolled up, locks intact, check the tyres and set my old Nokia mobile to a ready-to dial my husband’s number mode, but the dread of what if a glitch or flat tyre happened at exactly the same spot was always there with me. I do not know how other women would feel under similar circumstances, but it wouldn’t be this dreary for a man driving at night. I would say my inanimate companion never failed me, and hence my feelings for this twenty-five-year-old Maruti 800 are akin to those for the animate beings, it is still with me in good condition.

The Gulf years were not very smooth either in terms of my dread and paranoia, initially, though the strict laws in favor of women there checked transgressions to a limit ( Those laws were routinely misused too, as I later observed). The difference was that my afternoon duty would stretch until 12.00 AM. But the city never sleeps, taxis, people, police cars and ambulances plying the road all through the night. And that slowly gave me the confidence to fearlessly go to and come back from work, and travel alone. But the dread stays and to this day one thing that I would always do to pre-empt an anticipated incident is the only self-defense that I know of, I try to avoid. The one and only one element that could be factored in for me or anyone else to have escaped any of those incidents until now would be just ‘pure luck’.

Even today, the beads of wisdom from people including the world-wise men and women do not amount to anything positive but mostly to parse the situation to finally find a grain of fault with the girl, if ever something happens. The onus to pre-empt an untoward incident is placed on the shoulders of the girl or woman, on her choice of restraint or freedom. These concepts of avoidance behavior, choice, and non-choice went completely over my head after having to examine an eight-year-old girl, a case of sexual abuse at the hospital there, where I had worked. What choice does an eight-year-old have when incidents happen under her own roof? There was no dearth of unfortunate events there too.

A confidential survey done in one of the private schools there a few years back revealed that a good many of the students((boys and girls) had confronted some form of abuse, a minority opened up about the sexual abuse they had endured. They started educating the children and included self-defense training for them(both boys and girls). Karate classes and other self-defense training are a common sight there, and so many girls train themselves to fight back. That was another new for me then.

Which brings me back to some habitual and some strange responses to the gravity of the problem, and the significance of self-defense for women, from the parents and others. Sad to say that most are either in denial or complacent or unintentionally blind to the status quo or callously indifferent and flippant. Even though aware that the world out there is a den, there is a pervading aura of overconfidence that ‘such events’ would not happen to me or mine and as such distancing from taking ‘extreme measures’ to defend those.

‘The girls should try to avoid dangerous circumstances.’ That was the response of one of my colleague’s husband, years back, and a widely prevalent one at that. He is a professional, well-read( if he is to be believed), cognizant and aware of what is going on around him, is the father of a teenage girl, still he expects the fourteen-year-old girl to codify circumstances into a whole gamut of potential hazard from a scale of zero to ten and plan accordingly. Sadly, this is not a singular male opinion, many women go with it full-throatedly. The girl would have to mingle with her male-peers in a multi-cultural, multi-national crowd, or to travel with male colleagues as a part of her work or study in the future. When danger lurks everywhere, even among the routines of work and sleep, the first and the most important thing that would aid her would be her confidence to defend herself.

‘First, teach the boys to behave ‘- Another commonly heard response and true too. The onus should be on both. But, waiting for the ideal romantic vision of a social utopia where all the boys and men turn over new leaves and morph into chivalrous knights overnight would be as good as a charming fairy tale or an unrealistic, self-deluding fantasy. So, prepare her along with teaching the boys.

‘Age-old and incipient feminichis molding the future ‘feminichi warriors‘- This interesting response was an eye-opener for me, originally a covert one in Malayalam in a men’s only whats up group, that somehow turned overt and turned up at the doorstep of another females only group, some time back. The paradox and irony of it all were that the culprit, a father of two daughters, was a strong supporter of women’s rights on stage. Understandable that locker room banter works differently within groups with pack mentality instincts, each one supporting or competing to be an alpha male. Still, the dichotomy inside such a double-faced strategy is hard to come to terms with, since ensuring the safety of women, including his wife and daughters, should not be pigeonholed as a feminist rebellion but it is a duty of each one of us, himself included, and safety is the birthright of every individual. And additionally, a word of caution when it comes to people who go to great lengths to establish their liberal bona fides.

‘Let women be knowledgeable and kind instead of taking up arms‘- Knowledge and wisdom are essential and highly welcome, for sure, but a girl confronting a psychotic assailant about to tear her apart would have little use with kind words or Solomonic wisdom. She needs to have the presence of mind and confidence for a counterattack with whatever object at her disposal.

This is not to incite girls or women to violence or goad them to take up martial arts lessons asap. These pieces of training would definitely add up the confidence of the girl if they are accessible. It might not be possible for a girl to overthrow a man or men single-handedly, but the confidence it gives is worth it. The possibility of misuse of self-defense gadgets is an often- referred concern. Teaching responsible use after weighing the event and outcome could help. The first time that I had seen a can of pepper spray for real was one year back inside the bag of a girl I had met in the apartment lift in India, a smart, young techie staying alone. She struck up a conversation with me and was friendly enough for me to ask how she would come back from work fearless, at wee hours sometimes, since the tech company was a bit far. And she showed me the can and a small pocket-knife with the phrase “just in case“. Something unthinkable for me while I was her age.

As long as the ‘what if’ and ‘ just in case’ phrases remain as doubts, questions, tensions, feelings, and uncertainties the girls need to see the dark sides early on, be confident, learn to say NO, and practice to defend themselves.

The following advice is from a lawyer friend. I do not know anything about the legal facts, so please correct if there are any mistakes.

( Right of private defense is given under s.96 to s.106 of the Indian penal code.

It stipulates that every person has a right to private defense, but three conditions must be fulfilled:

1. Imminent danger
2. No recourse or option to reach police station or police help
3. The defense must be proportionate to danger (e.g if someone coming to slap you, you cannot take out a pistol and kill him. It will be disproportionate.
Carrying pepper spray is legal in India and nothing in law classifies pepper spray as an illegal substance. But while using pepper spray, just remember the above three conditions.

One cannot randomly use pepper spray. The use of pepper spray is not immune to legal prosecution. Anyone upon whom the pepper spray is used can proceed against anyone who uses it upon him/her. However, its use for self-defense and defense against imminent danger is allowed ( any reasonable action is allowed for defense). One, however, if by mistake is subjected to pepper spray, they can proceed for civil damages. Responsible use must be ensured since the possibilities of misuse should be considered )