In Search Of Lost Time.-.-.-

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(‘Silent Night‘-  Acrylic painting, done four years back on canvas, of the temple pond and ‘paalamaram’)

This one is an acrylic painting done by me four years back. I painted it from my memory, from the indelible scorches and scalds left behind from years back. Thus, it is a story, a fine thread parsed from the mesh of memories, a revisit to the past, as much as a painting I cherish. I love the somber, dull hues, the darks, Greys, pewters, and earth tones than the bright, visual flamboyance in paintings. At that time, almost all the paintings that I did were somber ones that I liked to hoard. I remember my husband and my foremost art critic, disapproving of my aloofness and choice of somber shades. Still, he is well aware of the narrative details of this painting just as my mother does. And she was prompting me to write down the experience. When I reflect back now, I wonder how events and stories impact the minds of children and how ignorant adults are about what is brewing inside the mind of a child.

Some of the elements of the anecdote, I could relate to young Marcel anxious of sleeping alone in Proust’s ‘Swans Way‘, the first volume of ‘ In Search of Lost Times‘. Proust’s masterpiece rings a bell when I try to read it, a challenging read given the profoundness and immensity of the volumes. I own the first one of the seven volumes, ‘Swans Way’  a dog-eared paperback that I had surprisingly found in a used-book store at LMS junction during one of my routines, visiting new and used book stores with my mother during the vacation time. When at his low ebb he feels that time and past has been lost forever, he starts out searching for the lost time, racing against death, writing seven volumes of his own life, exposing them to the reader and proving the eternity and beauty of the past.- ‘Swans way’ was inspired by the memories that flooded him as he dipped Madeleine in hot tea. He describes his fear of going to bed at night and his nervousness of sleeping alone at night.

We don’t need to be anyone like the great Proust for trying to tread the path back into the past. For us, the ordinary conflicted creatures, letting go of the mists and steams of the past serve to release the gratuitous, vicious, and the obscene, thus balancing the pressure within, a sort of studied revisit coupled with blissful ignorance of past. Yet, some are more conflicted than others, with the mist imprinting joyful colors and heat of the steam scalding the insides leaving lasting immutable shades and scars.

I am a ‘creature of the past‘, as my son addresses me, boring to the hilt, morose and taciturn, nose buried in books and paintings, moody like a dark sepia painting with gloomy pewter-grey clouds hanging overhead, about to pelt down and strike and soak everything on its path. Revisiting the past, to me, is in one way letting go of somethings that incline to cling on tenaciously, at the same time taking in the fragrance of a forgotten and lost spring. It is the same sort of fond, poignant or vague remembrance, seeing the tranquil Bosphorus, Blue Mosque or the labyrinth of colored, covered markets in Istanbul or the specters of innocent lives taken by the Grim Reaper in the concentration camps,  things that had flashed clearly through the fine prints years back. Thus this painting is a remembrance, restoration, and reclaim of the past.

Our present links itself to the past through the conduit of the senses. Of all, the olfactory one is potent. We follow our nose down the memory lane and stumble upon the deep-rooted stumps strewn on the path. For me, the long walk back in time, where I had met the ethereal and terrestrial, heard the truths as well as myths, whiffed the angels and fiends, is ushered by the sweet-smelling devil, ‘palamaram‘, or the Indian Devil Tree. Call it science, the brain chemistry of olfaction which opens up the floodgates to the past or the mystery that reminds us of the origin of our identity guiding us back in time through the bygone path or sheer happenstance, the tangy, heady, celestial aroma takes me along the drifts of wan childhood memories.

Palamaram‘ had been part and parcel of the storybooks of fantasy and mythological tales in Malayalam that my mother would bring home in heaps. As much as the storybooks, our lives were entwined in the atmosphere of the ancient temple nearby, one where my mother’s family had been worshipping, with its consecrated idols of peaceful ‘Devi‘ and irate ‘Bhadrakaali‘, a historical place in the city. My mother had been a devout believer, so we children used to take part in all the religious festivities and activities of the temple without fail.

And anyone who had been lucky enough to spend time in the company of grandparents would never forget the rich and vivid experience in their lifetime. My maternal grandmother was a cache of mythological tales about ‘Yakshi‘, ‘Maadan‘, ‘Gandharvan and so forth. As in many Hindu homes with such an atmosphere, all these experiences played their own roles in molding and finessing the obscure inside me. Every child is different, so the way such things impact each other is different too. Both I and my brother grew up in the same environment, still, I don’t think he had any kind of bleak effect from any of these, as opposed to me. He was into science and sports like all the other boys of his age. But, it was an altogether different one for me.

My first ever encounter with Yakshi had been a mix of awe, dread, and allure, in a children’s version of ‘Aithihyamala’( Garland Of Legends) by the Malayalam author, Kottarathil Shankunni, that had one story which went by the name ‘ Yakshiyum Namboodiriyum‘(The Yakshi and the Namboodiri). The book, which I still recollect vividly, a hardbound one with a white cover, the front-cover picture of a super-pretty, voluptuous ‘Yakshi’ in an iridescent white flowy saree, her sable hair flowing like waves on the ground, jet black kohled eyes sparkling in fury, petaline lips like scarlet berries and a ‘namboodiri’ in a dhoti, a tuft of ‘kuduma’ on his pate, a sacred thread across his chest, eyeballs ballooned up in fear, and the chill of a shiver visible along his somewhat bent spine, in a broad backdrop of heavily bloomed ‘paalamaram’. That was one of my first picks among the Malayalam and English books, which my parents used to select for us.

Coming to the story of ‘Yakshiyum Namboodiriyum‘, what bits and pieces I can recall now is not much more than a generalization of an encounter between evil and good, the vile intents of the evil Yakshi being forestalled by the sagacious ‘namboodiri’, who gets the better of the evil spirit by literally nailing her into the ‘paalamaram’, where she languished for decades and centuries. The storyteller might only have had the intention to imbue this moral into a child’s mind. But, as a kid,  rote learning and pushed to buy into the variety store of moral story ragbag, from CBSE moral science textbooks since the time I had set foot in the kindergarten premises, the moral side of the ‘namboodiri’ story was relegated to the back burner of my mind. And I was obsessed with the fantasy of the bedazzling Yakshi, her magnetic individuality that draws in everyone to her, unobtrusive existence, the ability for intricate polymorphism and camouflage, but above all the dexterity to inhabit the branches of ‘paalamaram’ without incident. I painted her, dreamed about her, felt her presence. I believed to the core that she did exist.

There were many ‘Yakshi Paalas’ near the ‘Sarpa Kaavu . My visits there increased in frequency to catch a glimpse of the ‘paala’  bloom and the live Yakshi emerging from the ‘paala’ tree. Months of waiting to catch sight of that VIP in my life turned out to be futile, but all the same, she appeared as a diaphanous apparition in my dreams. That was when I had learned that these nocturnal citizens of the world existed in two forms, a venerated benevolent one and a dreaded malevolent fiendish one.

The most macabre elements of my memories, that I would wish to stow away in the hidden repositories deep inside the attic of mind and brain are those resurrecting from the temple pond, down our house built on the same site where my maternal ancestral home had stood. The pond is basically, a step tank system with stairs of stone all around and four ghats on the four sides of the structure, it is not unlike the other sacred tanks, on the face of it. A circular pathway surrounding it led on one side, directly to our house through a flight of ancient stairs carved from huge monolithic stones.

The distinct advantage of the perch offered an uninterrupted view of the pond that appeared placid except for the local people bathing or swimming and the annual festivities of the diety conducted on a special ghat. But, that was just one brighter side of a bucolic abode, atop a pond with its own mind and heart. Legend had it that the pond never dried up even during the harshest of droughts that had struck the area. It also had an ambiguous nature, at the same time offering the elixir of life and luring the oblivious, unwitting souls to the death trap in its bosom. Swimming away from its edges towards the middle was a sure path into death well, so a large circumscribed area around the center was off-limits even to adroit swimmers and divers.

Nevertheless, nothing could have stopped the daredevils and the reckless from calling into question the laws of nature and dousing the flame of life in its waters, before it was even kindled. There was another group, that was dead set on snuffing it, overburdened by worries, who came from even far away places, offering self and sometimes their little ones to the pond with a ravenous craving for souls. Such was the grisly truth that we were not allowed to step inside the bounds of the pond even once, in the decades that we had spent in that perch.

I had been a mute witness untold times, to the pond’s morbid craving for life that had been sucked into its abyss, leaving the fallen angels to rise up to the surface after one whole day. As a six or seven-year-old, the death knell sounded by the pond never registered in my heart or reverberated in my head. I was oblivious to the form and substance of the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper. Again, as young children, we were forbidden by our parents from watching the happenings around, who kept us inside closed doors during that period, under their aegis, until everything had cleared outside. This exercise of household quarantine had only served to accentuate my curiosity.

I am not sure exactly when I had caught a fleeting glimpse of a floating body, belly up like a veined, dry autumnal leaf. Throngs of spectators were elbowing each other and nudging their way through the assorted congregation around the low walls of the pond, to have a look at the lifeless body. Once again, the edge offered by the perch enabled me to have an unhindered view ( I still remember it vividly).  According to the oral lore and the stories from my grandmother, the pond had a discreet path underneath that bore down to the other end of the earth, a mystical maelstrom carried anything that came on its way, down through the obscure path to the inferno( as it were, another realm). And the malevolent ‘Yakshis‘ were supposed to be the ones taking the soul underneath.

My unwitting Angel might not have meant to scare the hell out of me, but that was exactly what happened ultimately. I had a cold fever with scary chills that same night and I missed school for a few consecutive days. From then on, every time I peeked into the pond at night I would conjure up the ferocious, blood-thirsty fiends hovering over, like a pall of suspended white cloud and ample nightly adrenaline shots was prescribed by the wary brain, the dose increasing gradually on a daily basis.

There was no other option, but to shiver under the bedspread, wide awake till wee morning hours watching over the silent, dreary, wakeful nights, on my bed, worrying about the ill-fated soul that was about to be dragged into the pond and enduring the yawningly indifferent mornings in the classroom that delivered incalculable dose of arithmetics. With the same religious fervor that I had exhibited in invoking the benevolent ones previously, I went all out to shrug off the vicious ones that manifested ever readily without any need at all of invoking them. It didn’t take me that much time to come out of that transient dread.

I did come out of that, by a regular rational infusion. I still remember the many medical exhibitions at Trivandrum Medical College, where I had been taken by my father, since the sixth or seventh grade. There, for the first time, I made acquaintance with lifeless cadavers, just a stone’s throw from me, that reinforced my discriminating power by dispelling the spectral mirages. Those educational trips transpired as covert desensitization therapies for my credulous self, like, see for yourself, hear for yourself, feel for yourself training sessions.

Months and years into the medical course reinforced an empirical, evidence-based approach to life. Clinical postings, apart from case studies and an obligatory shock therapy of having to watch postmortem in Forensics, were rigged-up theaters where the spectral enactment of birth to death could be closely watched. Lives reaped by the scythe and those brought back from the brink were studied up close. And the omnipresent devil tree was nowhere to be seen in medical college premises or the premises where we took up residences later on.

My parents sold the property and bought an apartment in another part of the city, later. To this day, I make sure to take the tour through my past, the temple, the pond, the site where our old house had been,  the used-book stores, the place where she had worked, holding my mother’s hand, every time I visit my parents during vacation. The way I would feel at the time of the trip is hard to describe. I watch the springs and winters of the past roll by before me.  And I wouldn’t trade this trip with my mother for anything else in the whole world.

I love to watch the ghost movies in all languages, something that my husband and son dismisses as a stupid waste of time. I tell them, I don’t believe in ghosts anymore, but these phantasms were a part of my past, a sort of lived experience of a fantasy I could never erase. In the place where I stay now in the suburbs of Mangalore, on a forested hillside on the banks of the silent Netravathy, guarded by the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, the people rever trees considered sacred. There are ancient temples and dilapidated palaces, dotting the area. Almost a year back, during one of our walks, I and my son wandered inside a somewhat thickly-forested part of the hillside to find a sacred grove with plenty of ‘paala’ trees. During the October- November months, the air here effuses with the musky, heady aroma of the ‘paala’ bloom, felt from our apartment surrounded by the trees, the roadside blanketed by its buttery flowers. I always feel, whoever had associated the tree to the devil must experience the peaceful, relaxed ambiance underneath it.

Even now, myths never fail to amaze me, but they stay just as reminders of the many childhood folktales I had come across in the storybooks and by word of mouth, the sweet and sour experiences that I have had as a child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misogynism and the not-so-subtle art of browbeating

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Each and every one of us has unique backgrounds and experiences that play a major part in molding the person we are. Some of them cling on to our inner psyche, build up like the mould on a damp, receptive surface and remind you again and again that you are sometimes inferior in an uncanny way that lacks a sound explanation. And almost always they are the negative experiences that you have had as a child.

To give the perfect example, I should be going back to my own girlhood experiences that had the most formative influence and impact on me, which made me shrink into the tiny world that I had created with books, a set of watercolor and fantasies.  What egged me on to write this piece is a somewhat similar adulthood experience recently.

Not many know how I used to be back then, other than my parents, brother, and some of our closest friends and relatives. I was a reclusive, tongue-tied, edgy girl who burst into tears the moment I smelled any sort of encounter. It was so effortless to make my eyes well up with tears that my father used to call me a ‘touch-me-not’, someone that waits for the sight of touch to explode. And he used to advise me day in and day out to stop nurturing the sense of victimhood and to react bravely. He was a junior engineer working for the telecom department of India at that time and my parents cultivated the habit of reading, not just books but articles in newspapers and magazines about whatever was happening in the world. They were well-read too.

He used to get diaries as a compliment from his department and he would give them to us to write short reviews about the books or the newspaper articles that I had read. The reviews teemed with grammar mistakes and blunders, that I was reluctant to give the diary back to him for correction, fearing that the slightest smile from the corner of his mouth would be perceived as a mockery in disguise. But, he not only patiently corrected the mistakes but discussed and explained as if I were an adult, though I did not at first understand the political terms or hard English words. Then, he would give me another diary to write the meaning of the words and definitions of the political/ history/ whatever indigestible terms there were in the books and newspapers, by myself. He instructed me to learn a few things daily in this manner, apart from the school exercises. Naturally, apart from the fairy tale stories and fantasies, my interest in humanities-related topics was piqued. When I grew up I started reading history, art, and politics related books, travelogues, and biographies apart from the classics. He was a strict disciplinarian, though. I used to resent at those times, that I was being made to do this kind of unfair reading and writing exercises, while my friends were going on vacation trips and enjoying their free time and not having to touch the books especially during school vacation.

I used to ask him why I should do this, was it not enough to learn the school books only and pass the exams? And the answer that he had given me still stays fresh in my mind. ‘Studying is not meant to pass the exam only, studying is learning new things, exposing our mind to the outside world, imbibing knowledge by the process of osmosis when you discuss what you have learned or read with someone. The person at the opposite end, no matter who that is, they might not even be properly educated, might be an expert or not even one, but you will get to know more and more things unknown to you from them by the mere process of an open discussion and it ought to be a two-way process. You might be blundering, but you gain the wealthiest asset in the universe- knowledge’.

I was lucky to be around the most celebrated and revered literary men and women during the 80’s and early90^s.. My mother’s family is related to one of the literary giants of Indian literature, the critic, journalist, and orator, Professor M Krishnan Nair. Most of them were members of a literary society, ‘Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham’ which has book shops throughout Kerala by the name National Book Stall. My mother worked there and later managed the one in Statue junction, opposite the Secretariat building, for a long time until she retired. Her duty there extended to 8.30 PM, so I and my brother alighted from the school bus after school to the bookstall, since there was no one at home( my father used to work in another district and so arrived late by train). The evenings at the bookstall are the sweetest memories that I hoard of my childhood and teen years. By evening, some of the eminent people in the literary and cultural world including Professor Krishnan Nair, UA Khader,  Vettoor Raman Nair, ONV Kurup, Sreekumaran Thampi, Chemmanom Chacko, TN Gopinathan Nair, Narendra Prasad(actor), Sugathakumari,  Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, Dr. George Onakkoor, Professor Madhusoodhanan Nair, Bichu Thirumala, Sarah Thomas, PR Shyamala, GN Panicker, Professor M Achuthan ( there were many more from the time, some from Trivandrum and some on their visit to Trivandrum ) would confer there shortly during most of the days over tea and snacks from the nearby vegetarian hotel and would discuss serious and casual matters. The groups changed from time to time, sometimes only two or three people, sometimes they would come alone, buy a bundle of books, sit for some time reflectively staring onto the street and just leave after that. Some of them, I had only seen once or twice from a distance during the literary events by the SPCS or during book exhibitions. But, our routine evenings in the bookstall after the school hours which extended for many years made it possible to interact with many of those who frequented the stall. My mother, though only a reader and not a writer or some giant of any sort would also be included in their casual talks sometimes, however small, by some of the down-to-earth souls.

The little me would, after finishing my homework, try to hear what they were talking from a distance.  They would call me sometimes whenever I balked at the perceived intrusion. Not to mention that I did not understand their literary language then. I remember, once they were discussing about something. In the midst, I heard a familiar word that my father had said in one of his discussions with me. The usually silent me impulsively uttered that I had heard this word( I was in the seventh or eighth grade. I forgot what word it was, it was some English word). Chemmanom Chacko sir( he was a gem of a man and so down-to-earth, also my school headmistress Baby teacher’s husband) stopped in the midst and asked me the meaning of the word. I proudly remembered it from my diary that my father had always encouraged me to keep, and the people around were impressed, I shone like a pole star from their verbal applause, a small moment though it was, it happened to be such a motivating act of kindness and encouragement. What I had noticed during their discussions, was the respect and acceptance they were giving to the views and voices of their female peers. My mother is still close to most of them, and many of them had come to bless me during my marriage, some have passed away since.

Some of these people have given me, as a gift, or suggested reading books to me, English and Malayalam. I have still with me the dictionary from them, an English-Malayalam one(the picture above). I have cherished it as a treasure. The first gift that I had got when I got through the medical entrance was the huge tome of Grey’s Anatomy from the novelist K Surendran sir. One thing I had noticed back then was the way each of them talked, smiled, laughed or stood watching the street. I would draw them with ink or pencil in their respective postures quickly before they changed the posture( My mother still talks about the way they used to laugh seeing themselves on paper). Some of them encouraged me to draw, paint, speak out, and read. Stars from the universe they were, still I wonder now, how easily they talked to and treated common people like me.

Because of the cultivation of reading and most importantly the writing habits, one of the things which I used to excel in was essay writing, and I used to participate in school competitions. Sometimes I won the first place, sometimes second or third or sometimes none at all. Once, my father prompted me to participate in an elocution competition. He was very specific that it was not meant to win anything, but to ward off my anxiety and fear of facing people. So did I. The school was a mixed one and as in any school, bullying was very common, especially by the boys towards the girls. I was heckled and told off to go do some girl-thing like the classical dance. The bullying remained a fixture until I shifted to a girls-only school later on. Already hurt beyond repair, I never participated in any public competitions that needed one to face an audience and I became more and more a recluse. I remained an introvert in my medical school too, later and learned to avoid bullies.

With social media, nowadays open discussions could be done virtually without having to face the opponent and I still love to read a lot and discuss what I have read. I keep my father’s advice in my mind, the osmosis that would happen from the other end when you discuss. But instead, what I sometimes find is one-upmanships, condescensions, patronizing behaviour, misogynistic rants, and schoolyard bullying. I am not a member of any Whatsup groups since I do not want to relive my school experience, I would rather be a recluse. I very rarely talk to people (by nature and not by design), only to those with whom I feel comfortable, and that too thinking about the osmosis that is imminent when something sober is being talked about. But, I stop the moment I get the air of having made to feel trodden down and get on with silent ‘likes’ only.

Almost all these gentlemen are proud fathers of daughters who need to tread the unfriendly, alpha male-dominated, rocky terrains and sail through the shark-infested  stormy seas in the future. Be sure and make no mistake, children watch the people sorrounding them carefully and learn from their parents. Boys would normalize the misogynistic behaviour in the schools and colleges in the future. Girls would try to be silent sufferers or go on combating and they would incur the wrath of the men for the sin of speaking their minds. I have only a son. But I make sure every single moment, that he learn to respectfully talk to a woman and to hear what she has to say and respect her opinions, however different from his. I  do not have a daughter. But, I am a daughter and I know well, how fathers behave will have a deep impact on how the girl expects a man to normally behave to them. That would normalize the art of browbeating and misogynism from men in the minds of at least some of those girls with their fathers practicing this not-so-subtle act. And the rest of those brave souls would have to fight their own unique battles in little-known waters. As for me, I am lucky to have married a man who, like my father, encourages me to read, write, paint and speak out.

Book review and analysis- ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf

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Author– Virginia Woolf

Genre and subgenre– Nonfiction/ Essay/ Feminist literary criticism/ Modernism

Themes– Position of women in fiction and real-life/ Sexist attitude in or towards literature/ Effect of the gender of the writer on their characters or theme or style/ Critical analysis of patriarchal society/ Women’s rights/ Materialistic approach to intellectual freedom and hence literary freedom/ Freedom for creativity in the form of private space as opposed to confinement in a common environment vis-a-vis Edwardian, Elizabethan, and Victorian women.

Introduction

Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room Of One’s Own‘ is one of the earliest and iconic texts of feminist literary criticism. It is an extended essay based on two lectures that she delivered on the topic of ‘Women and Fiction’ at Newnham College and Girton College( two women’s colleges at Cambridge University) in 1928.

It is interesting to note that the essay begins with a ‘But’- emphasizing the contrarianism in the topic of women and fiction. She explores her famous argument/ opinion, ‘ A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction‘, and develops and amends it freely through her ‘train of thought‘ method similar to the modernist ‘stream of consciousness‘ method used by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and William Faulkner and utilized by Woolf in her novel,’To The Lighthouse‘. While developing her argument, she cautions the audience to be wary of lies that might flow from her lips amidst truths and facts and to parse the prejudices, idiosyncrasies, and limitations of her argument before drawing one’s own conclusion. And she indicates that fiction might have more truth than fact. The methodology used is historical and sociological analyses, fictional hypotheses, philosophy utilizing symbolism, and motifs. ( Enjoy the brilliant symbolisms as in the other Woolf works)

Woolf invents a fictional narrator, Mary, to serve this purpose ( Woolf tells us that her name does not matter), and a fictional University of Oxbridge. It is the character, Mary who takes the arguments forward on the course of visiting the fictional colleges and The British Museum while scouring documents for asserting her arguments.

Review and analysis

The essay starts with Mary sitting on the banks of a river near the college, lost in serious thought about women and fiction. Woolf compares the thought as ‘letting its line into the stream‘, and idea as ‘ a small fish tugging at the end of one’s line, a sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating‘.

Mary, intent on developing the thought, slowly walks over the grass turf of the college, while she is being intercepted by the Beadle with horror and indignation. He literally (and figuratively) shows her path as the gravel and not the turf and stresses that only Fellows and Scholars( all men) are allowed to use the turf. Though the turf is better than gravel for walking, it has been protected as an all-men privilege that has been rolled out in succession for the past 300 years and the interruption sends her little fish( idea) into hiding. She thinks of literary geniuses like Charles Lamb and Thakeray who had set their feet on that ground hundreds of years ago. She opens the library door and is again being intercepted by a gentleman who tells her that ladies were not allowed, but with a Fellow of the college or with a letter of introduction. Mary vows never to enter there again- ‘ let it sleep forever. Never will I wake those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again.’

She passes a chapel watching a congregation flow inside and hesitates to enter, lest she might be denied entry again.  Reflecting on the amount of money, gold, and silver that might have flowed into the basements of these buildings from the coffers of kings, queens, and nobles during yesteryears, nowadays donated by wealthy civilian men ‘when the age of faith was over and the age of reason had come’, who endows chairs, lectureships, and fellowships. She goes to lunch, describing the gourmet food on display that she compares with the minimal dishes for dinner in a women’s college. Suddenly she sees a tailless Manx cat walking across the quadrangle and feels something is lacking. The tailless cat is symbolic of the post-war period that changes the music of pre-war England to meaningless regular conversations. It might also be symbolic of women as second-class citizens, lacking the qualities of men and so unwelcome on the grassy lawn. The luxurious lunch is symbolic of the wealth possessed by aristocratic men whose thoughts and conversations are unimpeded unlike the dinner at the women’s college which is striking and representative of the inequalities endured by women for centuries from a patriarchal society.

The narrator searches for answers in the British Museum, London by scouring the section on women and fiction, hoping to consult the learned and the unprejudiced, thereby straining off personal, accidental, prejudiced impressions and so to reach the pure fluid, ‘the essential oil of truth’. Here, she finds institutionalized sexism, the books about women were written by men and never in the other order. Instead of answers, she starts thinking more questions, primarily why women were poorer than men. She evokes the famed authors belittling women, citing Samuel Butler (‘ Wise men never say what they think of women’), and Alexander Pope (‘ Most women have no character at all’). Napoleon thought them incapable, Mussolini despised them. Yet, some like Dr. Johnson and Goethe honored them.

Figuring the truth running through her fingers, it seems a pure waste of time to consult those gentlemen who specialize in women. ‘One might as well leave their books unopened’. She draws a figure of Professor X engaged in writing ‘ The Mental, Moral and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex‘ as if he were killing a noxious insect, looking very angry and irritated. The figure itself was a reflection of the narrator’s anger upon seeing the title of his creation. She wonders how anger had snatched her pencil while she dreamt-‘Had anger, the black snake been lurking among the other emotions?‘. She wonders if the book had been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth.

She reads a newspaper at lunch, pervading with misogynist, patriarchal condescension and notices the presence of the professor in it in the guise of the editor, sub-editor, foreign secretary, Judge, shareholder and so forth. It was his money, power and influence talking. But, still, he was angry and this perplexes her. She concludes that one would not have been angry if the professor had written dispassionately in an unbiased manner using indisputable proofs. He might well be concerned with his superiority while insisting emphatically upon the inferiority of women. Had he been objective by not utterly focussing on the inferiority of the other sex, he would have attained the freedom of thought for literary creation. Woolf, in the same manner, remains detached from the essay in an impersonal manner, by creating a fictional narrator, though she gives voice to the narrator, and ultimately could think objectively without personal prejudices.

She uses the ‘looking-glass‘ metaphor here-‘ Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and the delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size’. So, if she begins to criticize men, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks. She emphasizes the power of money/ inheritance on the freedom of thought, something valuable than the right to vote-‘ Remove the protection from the other sex and expose them to the same activities and exertions, make them soldiers and sailors…..’. Woolf stresses money as a means of personal freedom and thus creativity and the aesthetic ideology is conveyed as metaphors of the brilliant light on the sky as ‘ a fiery fabric flashing with red eyes, a tawny monster roaring with hot breath……’

The narrator is perplexed with the perennial puzzle of why no women wrote a word of that extraordinary literature or why the details about the life of women are completely absent from literature during the Elizabethan period. Woolf uses the metaphor of the spider web to describe the imaginative work needed for fiction, its intricacies, attached as it is to the various points of realities of life. Creating fiction is totally unlike the dropping of a pebble as science may be. The narrator finds a book titled ‘History of England’ by one Professor Trevelyan, in which issues like wife-beating, lack of freedom to choose a husband, marriages made out of family avarice and not personal affection are discussed. He mentions a paradox in which fictional women, Shakespeare’s heroines, for example, were never wanting in personality and character. Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Rosalind….. all of them have burnt like beacons in fiction. Thus a queer, composite individual emerges who has the highest importance in imagination, but worthless in reality, ‘ An odd monster that one made up by reading historians first and poets afterward, a worm winged like an eagle.’ One needs to think prosaically and poetically to conjure up this queer creature. She is a passing shadow, whisking away into the background, concealing, a wink, a laugh, sometimes a tear.

Thinking of an old gentleman, a bishop, who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present or future, to have the genius of Shakespeare, she conjures up an imaginative character, Judith, Shakespeare’s sister, with the same genius as himself. The privileges consigned exclusively to the male sex transforms him to the Bard, while she, struggling to surmount the obstacles, is nipped in the bud. Thus she concludes that a genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among laboring, uneducated, servile people except for some rarities sometimes. She mentions Jane Austen, Bronte sisters, Robert Burns as novelists who transcended the many barriers to create fiction. Chastity was something to be guarded, in addition, that anonymity was the preferred mode of escape from slander- Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand….. and many others were victims of this inner strife. With this, the narrator asks a pertinent question- what is the state of mind that is propitious to the state of creation?

Though we do not know what Shakespeare, Carlyle, Flaubert or Keats went through while composing their masterpieces, the narrator presumes from the enormous modern literature of confession and self-analysis that ‘to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty’. Both material circumstances and the physical and psychological environment might have impeded them at their task. “ And mighty poets in their misery dead”- William Wordsworth( Resolution and Independence, stanza 17.

And the obstacles might have been formidable for women writers without a supporting income or a room of her own. The world was indifferent to Keats, Flaubert, but outright hostile to women writers. This presumption and declaration of the intellectual inferiority of the female writers and outright environmental hostility must have ‘lowered her vitality and told profoundly upon her work.’ Nick Greene had said that a woman acting reminded him of a dog dancing. Here, she offers a slice of advice to writers to ignore the criticisms leveled against their works. Still, she maintains that it is the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them and that it is the nature of an artist to do this. ‘ Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others’.

The actual gravestone text of John Keats reads:

This grave contains all that was mortal, of a young English poet, who, on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraved on his tombstone
“HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER.”’

Here, Woolf brings out the light symbolism again. She writes, ‘ the mind of an artist in order to achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is in him must be incandescent like Shakespeare’s mind. There must be no obstacle in it, no foreign matter unconsumed.’ The works of Shakespeare do not reveal any personal grudges compared to those of Ben Jonson or Milton. Hence the unimpeded flow of Shakespeare’s poetry. His mind was incandescent. Woolf is at odds with criticism, which dilutes the incandescence according to her. Contemporary feminist and minority literature theorists disagree. They use protest literature to reclaim their voices.

Discussing the freedom of female writers, the narrator mentions about aristocratic women who would take advantage of their comparative freedom and comfort to publish something without the risk of being stamped as a monster or witch. She mentions Lady Winchilsea who wrote poetry during the 17-th century, who was noble by birth and marriage, childless, all fruitful environs for her writings to flourish, still the indignation was palpable in her poems. Alexander Pope or Gay is said to have satirized her as ‘ a bluestocking with an itch for scribbling’. The incandescence in her is consumed by hatred for the opposite sex.  Woolf equally mentions this point for both male and female writers. Another gifted female writer, Dorothy Osborne, out of sense and modesty, wrote letters instead of books. And the narrator discusses the works of Aphra Behn( Oroonoko,  The Rover), which was a turning point in female literature. She, after the death of her husband, wrote to make a living and raise her children.

Aphra Behn thus changed the landscape of female literature and in the later 18-th century women began talking, meeting, writing based on the solid fact that women could be financially independent by making money by writing. ‘ Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for’. Middle-class women began to write. Here, the narrator turns her attention to the four famed female writers- Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot. Their masterpieces definitely echo the collective voices of the female writers who came before them like Fanny Burney, Eliza Carter, and Aphra Behn.

She saunters to the section of 19-th century literature by women and wonders why all of them were novels but not poetry, with a few exceptions. Nothing seemed congruous about the four writers mentioned above except for the fact that all wrote novels, all four were childless. A middle-class family in the early 19-th century possessed only a single sitting room and amidst the interruptions cutting short their concentration, it would have been easier to write prose than poetry or play.  Jane Austen is said to have hidden her manuscripts while there were visitors to her house. Their only training was in observing the character and analyzing the emotions, naturally, the prose for fiction came easily to them. Still, they might have been capable of other pursuits like poetry, play, history or biography, could they been given a room of their own. Jane Austen and Shakespeare share the qualities of writing without hate, bitterness, protest or without preaching. In fact, they had consumed all their impediments.

Opening chapter twelve of Jane Eyre, the narrator’s eye gets stuck at the sentence ‘Anybody may blame me who likes’. She wonders what they were blaming Charlotte Bronte for. Laying the book beside Pride and Prejudice, the narrator infers that Charlotte Bronte has more genius in her than Jane Austen, still, it is not being expressed whole and entire as a result of her indignation and rage that deforms and twists her characters by infusing herself into the pages. She reflects on the range of freedom of life circumstances offered to men and even they commit sins, never do they need to seclude them from the righteous or else Tolstoy could scarcely have written ‘War and Peace‘. Life conflicts with something that is not life in a novel. What holds the work together among the readers is its integrity. It is the ‘invisible ink that nature traces on one’s mind, a premonition which these great artists confirm’. This is what makes War and Peace a masterpiece, she concludes. On the other hand novels with bright colors and dashing gestures bring to light only a faint scribble on the mind, a blot over there, a failure that comes to grief somewhere.

The narrator wonders how the sex of the writer interferes with the integrity, how the imagination falters under strain, confusing the insight to distinguish between true and false. Anger was clearly impeding the integrity of Charlotte Bronte in ‘Jane Eyre’. She left it in the midst to attend some personal grievance. Anger tugged her imagination, swerved and deflected it from its path. But, there were many more, ignorance for instance. She draws the portrait of ‘Rochester‘ blindly, in the dark, we feel her fear, a ‘buried rancor smoldering beneath her passion, contracting those books, splendid as they are, with a spasm of pain‘.

And next, the narrator links the difference of value among both sexes, transferred from life to fiction, ad how the critic evaluates the significance of the work according to these. For instance, football and sport are ‘important’ while the feeling of women in a drawing-room, what she does, how she feels is not. Woolf thus vindicates writers like Charlotte Bronte, who had to fend off these barbs by aggression or conciliation, docility or diffidence, anger or emphasis depending on what her temperament dictated. The flaw in her work comes from her head, from the center- ‘ Think of all the women’s novels that lie scattered, like small pock-marked apples in an orchard, about the second-hand book shops of London. It was the flaw in the center that had rotted them. She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others’. The kind of genius and integrity to ward off the criticism in the midst of a patriarchal society without withering is a commendable feat. Only Jane Austen and Emily Bronte did that. They wrote as women write and not as men write, a feather in their caps. They were deaf to persistent admonitions, pedagogueries, patronizing speeches. She quotes Egerton Brydges, the English bibliographer, and genealogist- ‘female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex’. This sentence was written not in 1828, but in 1928, the narrator stresses. She calls those defiant women novelists, firebrand, to say to themselves that literature is open t everybody. ‘Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no bolt, no lock that you can set upon the freedom of my mind’.

Now, she comes to another difference between men and women writers- the absence of sufficient precedent for women writers and the mind of the two sexes. The pace/ stride of a man’s mind is too unlike her own to use any of his words or style, ‘The ape is too distant to be sedulous’. There is no common sentence ready for use. Thackeray, Dickens, and Balzac created their sentences with their own tint without ceasing to be common property. A man’s sentence is unsuited for women’s use. Charlotte Bronte, a genius, but she fell with clumsy use of the words. Geroge Eliot committed atrocities with them. It was Jane Austen who with her freedom and fullness of expression, shaped the words into her own squares, circles, arcades, and domes. So, with less genius that Charlotte Bronte, she got said more. She could build sentences and not just write. Thus, all the other forms of literature except the novel were shaped and hardened by her male peers by the time she started to write. Only the novel was pliable, young and soft in her hands to be shaped into one that she desired. Woolf laments that poetry was still denied an outlet from women. She hopes for a future where they would compose epics in verse or prose when she will be free to use her limbs to knock them to shape. Woolf herself provides the example by not just copying the Modernist ‘stream of consciousness’ style, but, modifying it into a free indirect discourse in her novel ‘ To The Lighthouse’. One of the great English stylists, she shaped her works with wit, elegance, and focus into natural cut out sentences.

The narrator finally gets to the shelves of contemporary writers, men, and women, she finds that women no longer write solely novels. There are Jane Harrison‘s books on Greek archaeology, Vernon Lee‘s books on aesthetics, Gertrude Bell‘s books on Persia. There are poems, plays, and criticisms, history, biography, and philosophy. She has begun to take writing as an art, something for a living and not solely as a means of self- expression. Here she creates a fictional author, Mary Carmichael who wrote’Life’s Adventure’, her first book. The narrator starts reading and wonders if the author has a pen or a pickaxe in her hand. The sentences lacked the melody of Jane Austen, to read her was like ‘out at sea in an open boat’. Maybe, she was being too conscious of the flowery prose in female literature and wants to provide a superfluity of thorns instead? The sentences and sequences were broken. Then she stopped at the sentence ‘Chloe liked Olivia’ and the immense change struck her. Sometimes women do like women, she thinks and muses how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered if Cleopatra liked Octavia instead of feeling jealous of her. Excepting a few like Diana of the Crossways, in Racine and the Greek tragedies, almost without exception women were shown in relation to men. Even Proust is hampered and partial in his knowledge of women as a woman in her knowledge of men. Carmichael’s female characters like each other, they share a laboratory and are working mothers. So much has changed in the course of years in female literature. Woolf once again uses the light symbolism, of Carmichael lighting a torch in the half-lights and profound shadows inside serpentine caves. The narrator watches curiously as the author captures ‘the unrecorded gestures, unsaid or half said words, which form no more than the shadows of moths on the ceiling when women are alone, unlit by the capricious and colored light of the other sex’. 

The narrator heedlessly starts to praise women as ‘infinitely intricate’. ‘highly developed’ and so forth, but realizes the absence of yardsticks to measure the qualities of a good mother, devotion of a daughter or fidelity of a sister. Yet, greats like Goethe, Carlyle, Cowper, Sterne, Shelley, Voltaire, and Browning have for one reason or other admired, sought out, lived with, confided in, made love to, written of or trusted in women, and not all could be said as platonic. And from these relationships, it was not just flattery, comfort or pleasure that those men sought, but some stimulus for renewal of creative power which only the opposite sex can bestow. The narrator hopes for Carmichael to be a contemplative novelist rather than a naturalist one as she needs to draw a lot of pictures of characters from the drawing-room to the street. Each gender has a blind spot ‘the size of a shilling on the back of their head‘ but through mutual observations, they can gain full enlightenment. The narrator dares the author to go behind the head of the other sex and point out the black spot. Reading further, the narrator compares Carmichael to other authors and notices that she had no love of nature, the fiery imagination, the wild poetry, the brilliant wit or the brooding wisdom of her predecessors. Nevertheless, she had certain advantages which women of far greater gift lacked— fear and hatred to men had gone, or if present in traces were shown in a slight exaggeration of the joy of freedom, a tendency to be caustic or satirical. She had that capacious sensibility that brought buried things to light and she mastered to write as a woman without conscious of being a woman. The narrator hopes for Carmichael to do her best in the test, to ignore the bishops, deans, professors, patriarchs, and pedagogues warning and shouting at her, to not stop or curse, to not laugh or fumble, imploring her to think of jumping over the fence and she flew like bid over the fence. But, there were many fences beyond the first one, and though her staying power was doubtful, she did her best considering she was no genius, but an unknown girl writing her first novel without a room of her own or five hundred bucks a year income. Give her these and in another hundred years, she will be a poet.

In the final chapter, the narrator discusses  ‘the unity of mind‘, a hypothesis that she puts forth, the mind having both male and female components in both sexes and which need to be united in harmony in order to attain satisfaction and happiness. She refers to Coleridge‘s saying that ‘ a great mind is androgynous‘. She infers that a purely masculine or feminine mind could not create. By the term androgynous Coleridge had meant a resonant, porous mind transmitting emotion without impediment, naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. Shakespeare’s mind could be taken as an example, but, it is difficult to say what he thought of women. She thinks of how much harder it is to attain a state of mind now than before, that does not think specially or separately of sex. The books by the men on women on the shelves is an example of this. She blames the Suffrage campaign for this, one which roused self-assertion in men by challenging them. The response has been excessive since they had never been challenged before.

She reads a novel by a well-respected male writer, written clearly, strongly, using a free mind, but balks at the self- assertive ‘I’ that pervades the novel. This feeling of superiority, that hides the other sex in its shadow impedes the creative energy of the author and he is protesting equality of the other sex by asserting his own superiority, The narrator hints that Elizabethan literature might have been different if the women’s movement had begun in the sixteenth century instead of the nineteenth. Thus, the author writing with only the male side of the brain will never be understood by female readers, the sentences fall plump to the ground. But with Coleridge’s sentences, the mind explodes and gives birth to all kinds of ideas and this sort of writing has the secret of perpetual life. She notices that the works of Kipling and Galsworthy cannot find in them the fountain of perpetual life, they lack the suggestive power and cannot penetrate deep inside the mind.

Woolf stresses the necessity of financial independence in creativity, the symbolic five hundred bucks a year and a lock on the door for the power to contemplate. She quotes the Cornish writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch next. ‘ Poetical genius bloweth where it listeth and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth’. ‘ The poor poet has not in these days nor has had for 400 years, a dog’s chance…..a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom’. Intellectual freedom depends on material things and poetry depends on intellectual freedom.  Of all the great poets of the last few hundred years only Keats, Browning and Rossetti had not attended university. Of these three poets, only Keats was not well- to do and he died young. Women had even less intellectual freedom than sons of Athenian slaves. And women have always been poor.

Thus, Woolf makes her case on stressing on the material aspects of life- a room of one’s own and 500 bucks a year- for intellectual freedom. She urges women to write and read. And she explains that when she asks women to earn money and have a room of one’s own, she means for women to live in reality. She exhorts women to utilize the privileges of education, to bear fewer children, to escape the common sitting room and write what one thinks is right. Judith would come again ‘if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile’.

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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.

                                                                                                                Copyright © deepanairrp

( 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.

                       Though personal space had definite perimeter and bounds, I was happy since there was no need to rely on affected decorousness or artfully delve 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.

                    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.

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