Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Bird Said, 'I'

A student asked a Zen master 'Master, when will the 'craving' ever stop?'

Master replied, 'When the fruit is ripe enough!'

'But, when-oh-when will the fruit be ripe enough?'

'Well, when the craving stops'.

The river of time drifts through. The fish which jumped out froze in space like an inverted U. From there, it looks at the river. It was struck by the monotony of the river and got bewildered seeing its lengths and depths. It saw the river flowing southward. It meditated with the flow and saw the second, third and fourth dimensions of the river. The river was flowing in 4 directions, it realized. All at the same time. But as soon as it saw the fifth dimesion, it jumped back into the river again.


The construction of space-time in one's mind and how one starts to make sense of it is still one of the most pressing question in various fields - from Developmental psychology to Cognitive Neuroscience to Cultural Anthropology. Developmental theorists and Genetic epistemologists like Jean Piaget came up with few theories explaining the 'Ontogeny' of this i.e. how an *individual* organism grows organically and the biological unfolding of events involved in an organism, leading to the ways and means of how one makes sense of 'space' and 'time'. Piaget's famous studies on 'Stages of Cognitive Development' and Margaret Mahler's profound works on 'Theories of Child Development' and on 'how children arrive at the concept of "Self"' gave some brilliant insights.

Jean Gebser explained the 'Phylogeny' of this i.e. sequence of events involved in the evolutionary development of the *species* explaining how the collective consiousness evolved and how it made sense out of space-time in each major passing epoch. The *pre-temporal* 'slumber in subconsiousness' of the 'Archaic' age, wherein there was this material adualism, an absense of distinction between the self and the environment, the inside and the outside evolved into the *proto-temporal* Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man, wherein there is a faint differentiation between self and the environment, with the lack of the concept of 'tomorrow', which was marked by the frequent tribal wars to survive that day, the simple-present. Language evolved during the 50,000 BC, during the late Pleistocene, which led to 'palaeologic thinking' and thus consiousness became *tensed*, with an 'extended time', beyond the just-simple-present. Around 12000 BC, language enabled to think interms of abstract, non-present entities like 'future', which gave rise to a change in how people looked at *space-time*. Hunter Gathers saved food *today* thinking of an non-present entity called *tomorrow*, which was a profound shift in the way space-time was looked at. This evolution went on and on and moved from the classical mythic age to the Era of civilizations to the Age of the Pre- modern to the Age of the enlightnment and to the Modern and the Post-modern and so on leading to varios twists and turns , resulting in egoic consiousness and concepts of 'permenance', 'linear time', 'mind-body dualism' etc.

On the other hand, popular Cognitive Neuroscientists like Steven Pinker, V.S.Ramachandran gave alternate explainations, wherein everything is explained in terms of pure 'biological' evolution and 'neuronal' fireworks. With all due respects to Pinker and Ramachandran(There studies and books and talks are extremely profound and amazing), I find this particular approach extremely reductionist - wherein the 'mind' is reduced to the 'brain'. Though there are definite correlates and corresponding maps between the 'mind' and the 'brain', reducing one to the other is like diluting the depth of the things.

And then, we have the post-modernists and the 'cultural studies' folks. Thanks to their grand hermeneutic tradition (which sure has given some great methodologies for conducting unbiased, all-encompassive qualitative research and proposed an alternative approach to the tyranny of rigid empiricism and logical positivism), now everything is seen as mere socio-cultural constructs, where nothing is pre-given. The mind is no 'tabula rasa' and nothing is just innocently *perceived*. Rather, everything is actively *constructed* and *co-created*. Thus, the reality we see and operate is also a socio-cultural construct. While there is some definite truth to this, taking this to the extreme brings us to the conclusion that, 'Since the reality is in-itself a *mere* socio-cultural construct, then 'no' worldview or opinion or artwork is better than the other'. There are no levels. No hierarchies. No 'better'. While I do agree that levels and hierarchies ultimately end up as 'Power centers', as history has shown up in the past, negating the *natural hierarchy of things* (or 'Holarchy', as coined by Arthur Koestler) altogether might end up in a kind of one-dimensional flatland. Then, it becomes - Gustave Flaubert is no better than Shoba De. 'The Magic Flute' is the same as 'Ashiq Banaya Aapne' and so on. (As a sidenote, there is this increasing tendency among the boomeritis 'buddhists' and Gokarnic 'Tantric Heads' tend to confuse the claims made by extreme post-modernism(Nothing is better than anthing. Reality is a social-construct) and equate them to Vedanta (Everything/Everyone is the same for the all-encompassive Brahman. Reality is a Maya). While the latter is about the *absolute* plane, the former deals with the *relative* plane. The latter is trans-rational, which is an 'experience' (or 'a lack of experience' or an 'awareness of the experience' or 'Shunyata/Emptiness') and once we try to put that into *words*, it ceases to be what it is(as you could clearly see here, I am struggling to explain this through *words*) and thus, we enter into the realm of the *relative* plane of words and images and symbols and meanings. Equating these two is only amusing!)

While all these approaches have some profound significance and truth to it, they do have their lacks. While I personally prefer Piaget's theories and Gebser's 'Cultural Worldviews' over the others, for their *integrative* and *non-reductionist* approach, I think that even they offer only fragmented truths and there are still many unresolved pieces to the puzzle.

While all these approaches are one way to look at the order(and disorder) of everything, literature sails in a totally different path and looks at all of these as a dance of personas through the music of words and imagination.


Giridharan goes to a forest to oversee his uncle's roadway construction business. The serenity and the green of the forest reflects the green which is deep within himself. Green, being the color of life, resonates deeply within him. The wildness of the green mirrors the restlessness of his adolescent self.

Having been a failure at school, due to his almost maniacal interest in 'Sangam Poetry', he sees the tenderness, intensity and the rhythm of all those poems coming alive in the form of the Forest. He sees a thin blue stream of smoke raising up from some part of the forest and he spontaneously remembers a line of poem, which occupies him for the rest of the day. He sees a mad elephant running around the forest in ecstasy and he remembers another line. The rhythm and the imagery of those lines occupy him thoroughly. It keeps playing within himself over and over again. Almost like a neurosis.

On the other hand, he succumbs to the drives and urges of his body, which keeps arising, however hard he tries to suppress them. Infact, the more he tried to suppress them, the more it arose.He vents them out and then, resents with guilt and self-hatred.

Torn between these two ends, he meets several people in the forest. Resalam, an aloof mason. Kuttapan, the lead constuction worker. While Resalam is forever lost within the gloom surrouding his mysterious life, Kuttapan actually spearheads the entire construction work. The entire forest, to him, is his own play field. He makes wonderful black coffee and ginger tea with the limited things available. He tricks and catches wild cats and makes delicious food out of it. The way he does all that - the way he cooks, the way he cuts the wood, the way he mixes cement with sand and wayer, the grip in his walk, the breeziness in the way he talks - all of these makes him so full of life. He knows every nook and corner within the forest. Along with all these, he enjoys casual sex with the women construction workers. The entire episodes of sex among the men and women in the forest is shown as a grand 'Gandharva', a celebration of life without any moral qualms or the nausea surrounding it. He lives the life of a forest and at the end of it, he even gets killed by an elephant, which was his ultimate wish.

Giridharan watches all these and he is fascinated and bewildered looking at the ways of the forest.He has a wild admiration towards the world of Kuttapan. During the evenings, once all the work for the day is done, after the workers leave, he takes a quick dip in the river and watches the thick fog, which suddenly comes out of nowhere and covers the entire forest. While Resalam smokes his ganja stuffed beedis and undecipherably cries out the pains of his life and while Kuttapan tries to pacify him, Giridharan enters into his hut. He lies down and his body speaks to him the language of the forest. He tries to control it, but the more the control, the more the craving.He thinks of the women workers he saw that day and vents out the craving. Immediately after this, immense self-hate and self-pity.

This cycle continues for a few weeks. He wanted to be like Kuttapan. To let go. And just be. But he just couldn't.He roams around the forest and he subconsiously craves for something transcendental, that would take him out of this drudgery, anxiety and insecurity. One day, he sees a tribal girl . He saw in her the wilderness of the forest, the unhindered beauty of Sangam poetry. He falls in love.

During the same period, he meets Iyer - a forest officer cum civil engineer, who is in his late-30's. They both share their love for *Sangam* poetry. Iyer voluntarily chose to live in the forest and visits his family in town once in a while. Giridharan visits his forest bungalow. They talk about Kabilan and other Sangam poets. They listen to M.D.Ramanathan and G.N.Balasubramanian and Madurai Mani Iyer in one old rickety gramophone. They drink unadultered fresh arrack from the forest. They watch a zillion insects feeding on a dead elephant. They go for a walk during the night and they watch the glowing dance of the fireflies and the rhythm of the insects screech, which was like the heartbeat of the forest. They talk about women. Women in the town. Women in the Sangam era. Iyer talks about a women construction worker whom he met in the forest and falls in love with the back of her neck and talks about about the the soft and tiny hair on the back of her neck and the sweat which shimmered on it, as sunlight diffused through the giant trees. Giridharan was amused and wonders what the heck is that man doing here? What on earth is he searching in the forest instead of living comfortable in his town?

One day, he accidentally encounters the tribal girl again and he speaks to her. Though she hardly speaks back, his love intensifies to an insane extent and he starts to see things around him in the light of the girl. He ponders over it and he speaks to Iyer on this and asks him whether he is truly in love or is it just another attraction to a women, whose intensity might tone down after some time? Iyer bluntly asks him whether he masturbates thinking about her. He was a bit shocked at the brusqueness of the question and he says 'no', which is the truth. Iyer then kinda congratulates him and says it is indeed true love and he should be happy about it, since it happens pretty rare in one's lifetime and Iyer confesses that he himself is uncapable of such a thing now.

Events just flow by.

Resalam finds out a 'devangu' (a sloth) and he adopts it as his kid. Despite the efforts of Kuttapan, it gets brutally killed by a tiger and Resalam goes insane. Giridharan drops him home and finds his uncle there at Resalam's place. Suddenly, the gloom surrounding Resalam's life becomes clear to him.

Various people pass by. Giridharan sees the wild dance of the forest in each one of them.

Gay twins who are wildly in love with each other; An old women at town who goes insane and once her unconsious reaches the consious, she starts cussing everyone vehemently. Giridharan was amused at the way she equally cusses the genitals of a 70-year old man and a 2-year old kid - where, for her, every male is nothing more than their genitals ; A middle-aged converted christian and a virgin who scrupulously reads his Bible at a pace of 10 words per hour and who cries at the end, filled with bliss. Initially, the words lose their immediate semantic meaning. Then, the semiotic meaning. And finally, all the meanings dissolve and all the words becomes 'the *word* which was there at the beginning'.

Giri goes to the tribal girl's hut in some interiors of the forest and he meets her again. This time, she mocks him, but atlast, she reciprocates and they often meet near the river. They go in search of the rare 'Kurunji' flower, which they eventually find out. But to Giri's disappointment, the flowers looked very ordinary.

But his self is entirely occupied by her thoughts and there are some intense moments within the book wherein he even proclaims that no human could ever know God without ever falling in love. That love is the prism and only through the prism of love we could the lights and colors and depths of life.

This perpetual ecstasy within which he was drenched for a few days was abruptly stopped by a wild rain in the forest and the floods due to that. Giant trees gets uprooted. Animals go crazy. An elephant gets lost from its tribe and unable to cross the flooded river, it screams its heart out. People fell ill. People die.The grand 'Tandava' of the forest continues for a few days.

He goes in search of the tribal girl but he is unable to find her. He goes home to get some medicines for the missionary hospital in the forest. He returns back to the forest, but finds out that his uncle was stabbed to death by Resalam. He also finds out that the tribal girl dies during the floods. Iyer too, gets chased out of the forest by the locals.

Utterly dejected, he returns home. But soon, he comes back to the forest and has his first freak affair with the new forest officer's wife. He then marries his uncle's daughter, whom he resents.He retroreflects on his unfulfilled love and sexual desires time and again and forever chaces his own shadow, making love to himself and masturbates till his mid-40's.

He becomes a grand failure at business too. The more he tried to hold on to something tight, the more it slipped out. Like holding a vessel with the hands drenched in foam. After he was totally lost and hammered in his business, he goes to a local temple to kill the monotony of the day.He finds many such so-called 'losers' and 'low-lives'. Temples, he realized, are the meeting havens of such people. A 40ish man who comes to temple seeking male partners for oral sex, another chap who sleeps in the temple and goes daily to various marriage halls for his lunch, posing as a guest and many such people.

Soon, he befriends them and he even becomes one of them. One day, when he was about to leave to the temple, his wife calls him a drifter-loser. he gets pissed off and hits her hard. She tries to commit suicide and gets admitted to the hospital. Eventually, she recovers.

With endless self-hate and self-pity, he goes to the forest again. He visits the forest bungalow again, where his friend stays now and rests near the window for couple of days. he feels the forest again, remembers his past romanticism, filled with an endless love towards the forest, towards the Sangam poetry and towards the tribal girl. and he starts to weeps.

What he lacked within was all there out.

He hears that Iyer has moved to the top of the mountain in the forest and the locals even took him as a Godman. He goes there to meet him. Iyer looks old and was not dressed in any orange robe . Iyer smiles at him and tells him that this 'godman' thing is just an excuse for him to stay in the forest.

'I am doing nothing here. just watching the forest, trying to keep quiet', Iyer says.

'But is your mind still?', Giri asks.

'I don't know.I just keep watching the forest. Sometimes..slowly..the mind does still out'

'Do you still get aroused by your desires, which you used to talk about?'

'I do. Desire is like that old goat which keeps licking the empty ground, craving for the litle juice within the unseen grass. But I don't have any guilt or remorse associated with it now. I just let them come and go'

Giridharan recounts his story to Iyer. And asks,

'I started out well.. but..What do you think is the mistake I did? '

'The mistake which everyone does. Ahangkar. thinking about people and things while keeping yourself at the center of gravity. A continuous, ever-present craving that people should look at you and appreciate your thoughts and tastes and intelligence...'

There was dim moonlight. The forest reverberated with stillness. A bird flew from nowhere, sat near them and proclaimed, 'I'.


The novel 'Kaadu' (Forest) by Jeyamohan begins with Giridharan recounting his story. It moves back and forth in time and does not necessarily follow the linear sequence, as told above. The novel is filled with rich imageries of the sounds and textures and hues of the forest.On a very subtle level, it is also a ecological commentary on the rise of the concrete and degradation of the forest.There are also vivid descriptions about the various life forms in the forest. It also tells about the 'Gandharvic' nature of the life of men and women in the forests. Also, the role of the 'Church' and the unsurpassable effort and dedication of various Christian missionaries within the forest is beautifully brought out.

But all these apart, it is about love in its purest manifestation. It is about the life sketch of a die-hard romantic, who gets utterly beaten down by life and becomes a so-called 'low-life'. Infact, it changes our very perspective about 'low-lives'. We could never think of a person who idly chatters and sleeps in the temple all day and who poses as guests and eats secretly in some unknown marriage fest as someone who was an avid reader of 'Sangam' literature, to the extent that he even had a neuro-linguistic disorder and as someone who listened to Madurai Mani Iyer or G.N.Balasubramanium and talked about Kabilan and Freud ?

Kuttapan and Iyer are extremely different personalities and yet, two sides of the same coin. Giridharan is somewhere between the two ends and this becomes his eternal problem, which he chases throughout his life. Neither drenched in ground. Nor defying gravity & levitating in space. Dithering along in time with anxiety and insecurity. Beaten down by life. Chasing his own self image and trying to define and control space-time and ultimately, getting crushed by his own Shadow, his ungratified desire. The life of this forlorn loser..which, when viewed without any judgements, is same as the life of another big loser from Nazareth.


Most of the time, we live our lives with a constant anxiety for something or the other - mostly for a 'place' in the overall scheme of things. a place for our body, a place for our mind.a place for our soul. craving for security. craving for attention. craving for the secretive drive for praise and admiration. That people should look at us, and remember us. a place in the river of time. .

Time, thus, is segmented. Space, thus, is framgmented and meant to be captured and to be in control of. The Self image is illuding. It fills and empties us. Drenches and chokes us.

Will the craving ever stop? Will the mind be still and rest in the *here-now*?

Can't we just drench ourselves with the simple feeling of being? What is it that we are searching and why all the restlessness? Why all the words? Why fill the mind with words? Why try and fill everything with something? I really don't know. Maybe, even this whole damn stuff which I write is just another attempt to seek attention. Crave for praise. I feel like deleting the whole thing, but I know I wouldn't be able to do it. It took me four fuckin hours to write this and the 'I' wouldn't let go of this. It is here to stay. For eternity. And so, 'I' am here to stay. *Time-Space* fucked up. 'I' drenched in misery and suffering, eternally craving for attention.


Krishnan said...

I came to your blog via Jeyamohan's blog. Went through few posts and liked it. I have been waiting for a long time to read Jeyamohan's novels but somehow postponing them - thinking they wille be pretty heavy stuff. Vishnupuram's bulk thwarts me. Suggest me a good novel of him to begin with.

Unknown said...


Thanks for reading!

Most of Jeyamohan's novels are heavy. Ezham Ulagam, though the smallest in size compared to his other works, is pretty heavy - mainly due to the slangs and dialects and also due to the dense content.

However, once you are into his novels, then it would go like a breeze.

You could start with his short stories, if you haven't read them. Then, probably 'Kaadu' would be the easiest novel to start with. Followed by 'Ezham Ulagam', 'Pin Thodarum Nizhalin Kural' and 'Vishnupuram'. I haven't read 'Rubber' and 'Kottravai' yet, so I can't comment on them.

Personally, I started out with his non-fiction work - 'Ninaivin Nathiyil'. My first novel of his was 'Pin thodarum Nizhalin Kural', which looked pretty intense and engrossing to me.

Krishnan said...

Thanks a lot.