Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Dance of Prajna and Karuna

i still wonder whether the 'self' which writes down all this is different from the 'self' which sat down to write few minutes back which again is different from the 'self' which thinks about all these. perhaps there is always this gap between the real self, the thinking self and the writing self. maybe, that is why there is always this gap between self, thoughts and words.

Writers, throughout their lives, keep fighting to minimize this gap. to seamlessly bring out their pure, radiant self as words. but even after they do this, there is still a gap. the 'self' which they so strainfully brought out as words somehow doesn't actually seem to reflect their 'Self'. there is this constant agony, anxiety and dissatification. whenever i read Kazantzakis or Jeyamohan, there are amazing moments of absolute presence, music, silence, clarity and transcendence. however, most of their works end with this huge, giant gasp - an aching, a longing, which they are unable to define. maybe, maybe, they feel that their is a deeper Self, a quiescent Self which Witnesses all these and sleeps beautifully in some unknown depth.


over the past few months, read three extraordinary novels. kaadu, ezham ulagam and vishnupuram. all three by jeyamohan. probably the best of the novels i've read so far. sad part being, the experience the novel gives would be confined to the tamil speaking world, as these are difficult novels to translate, due to the local Nagerkovil dialect(Kaadu, Ezham Ulagam) it uses. Unless we could have someone like a A.E.Asher or an A.K.Ramanujan, these works would remain largely unnoticed by the mainstream.

Even the relatively small Tamil literary world (which, including the readers, is limited to a maximum of 10000 people across the globe, majority of which being the Srilankan Tamils spread across Canada, UK and France) is filled with numerous factions - schools, groups, sects, cults, sub-cultures etc. Where people identify themselves as someone who belongs to the Pudumaipithan/Sundara Ramaswamy school or the Nakulan/Pramil school or the Jayakanthan school. They proclaim themselves as hardcore Marxists, Extreme leftists, Existentialists (which is not-so-cool nowadays), Freudians, Foucaultians, Absurdists, Post-Modernists, Post-Structuralists, Dalit activists, Subversives, Counter-Culture buffs, Pop culture analysts, Sulaltern historians, Mystics and combinations of some of these (Imagine - a pomo Foucalt workshipin subaltern historian belonging to the Jayakanthan school or a Subversive counter-culturist cum pop culture analyst cum mystic belonging to the Pramil school and so on) . Each one caught in Identity politics & politics of identities and proclaiming their own versions of history and trying to reinforce their truths. In the due process, they keep trigerring up ugly mud slingings and verbal warfare against each other, which is comparable to (and in some ways, worse than) the mud slingings happenings in the world of TamilNadu politics. (However, having said all that, it is indeed an undeniable truth that only due to the efforts of these people and due to the amazing movement of 'small magazines' that any kind of meaningful dialogue and discussion still prevails in TN. It is the most profound 'cultural movement' running for the past five decades)

Amidst all these..Rather, inspite of all these, there are numerous extremely beautiful and profound works, which keeps coming out often - mostly due to the vitality in the personalities which creates such works which moves beyond the bleak socio-cultural and economic conditions.

Jeyamohan is one such writer with such an amazing vitality and energy surrounding his personality, which inspires me till this day. Sadly, critics and fellow literary buffs paints his works with orange and he is contantly misintrepreted and linked to the RSS/Hindu Fundamentalists/Petit bourgeoisie variety, largely due to the transpersonal realms and motifs in his works. (Much like how O.V.Vijayan was misintrepreted as a bourgeoisie by a gang of critics in Kerala)

He started writing at a very young age, where he used to write pulp short stories and send them to popular magazines like Vikatan. Most of them got published and with the little money he got, he used to roam around the interiors of Kerala. He used to be one happy-go-lucky person till then, until his close friend died in a freak accident, which broke him apart completely. He ran away from home and spent the next 3 years roaming around various places - from Palani to Thiruvanamalai to Kasi. He returned home after that, and within the next few years, both his dad and mom committed suicide for reasons unknown. He was mentally disturbed and was on the verge of breakdown for the next few months. It was Sundara Ramasamy(SuRa) who rescued him and redirected all the energy and madness he had towards literature. As any true student, he outgrew SuRa and went ahead of SuRa.

It would be rather an incomplete picture of Jeyamohan without mentioning about SuRa. SuRa, who ventured into literature many many years before Jeyamohan, started out with translating Thakazhi Sivashankaran Pillai's 'Thottyin Magan' in Tamil. Like most other people at that time, SuRa was a staunch communist. But after hearing the various speculations of the Stalinist tyranny which happenned at that time, he was disillusioned with the entire movement. As an alternative, he was naturally attracted to 'modernism', which though looks passe now, was the avant-garde movement at that time. he slowly embraced it and attached himself to it. As the flavour of the age goes, logic, rationality and science was looked up with respect and it was reflected in literature as well. Carefully constructed prose. Extreme scrutiny when it comes to uttering facts and politically correct statements. Skepticism towards anything which too idealistic. And more importantly, there is absolutely no room for anything which is not *rational*. the order of the day was to scorn at anything pre-rational as well as trans-rational. Or rather, modernism(and modernists) confused pre-rational thinking with trans-rational awareness, since both of them were *non*-rational.

this, probably, led to a deepening divide between SuRa and Jeyamohan and eventually, leading them to part ways. However, Jeyamohan still aserts that SuRa was one of his major influences of his life. Infact, the very first book I ever read of Jeyamohan was the obituary he wrote for SuRa, which turned out to be a 200 page book. Perhaps, the best ever personality sketch filled which could be ever written.

The years Jeyamohan spent on the footsteps of Palani, amidst numerous invalids and disabled people, was culminated into a novel 'Ezham Ulagam' - a wrenching tale of invalids and disableds and the grand industry of 'begging' coupled with the harrowing effects of institutionalization - be it institutionalization of Palani Murugan or Karl Henirich Marx.

The novel is set near the towns of Nagerkovil and in Palani and it is mostly about a man who (excuse me for using the crude term) 'breeds' invalids and disableds, so that the offspring would invariably turn out to be another 'potential' invalid/disabled and could be put in front of temples for begging and sometimes, when they are old enough, sell them out for organ transplants. He does all these most industriously, with the sole notion of geting his daughters married off. What follows is one extremely profound story told with equanimity.

But the novel is definetly not yet another tale-told-to-expose.It explores the grand narratives beyond the surface of this drama of life. It just moves over and above the wreckless turmoil and suffering experienced by each of those men and women and children and new born who beg for a living and who are mercilessly enslaved and oppressed. with vivid portrayal of the interior landscape of those lives, it shows us the ways they try to be happy inspite of the horrendous conditions and the merciless live shoved up their throat.. on how they have fun, how they make fun of each other, make fun of the pilgrims, of the temples, of the henchmen and even of the good ol' Palani Muruguan himself. On how they secretly share their ' 'beedis' stuffed with 'ganja' leaves. On how they long for love and want to show their love and care to someone. All these, told with sublime beauty embedded in each and every word of the text.

Contrary to this is the life of the 'breeder', the man who owns and sells and makes money out of all these disabled people. Despite the material wealth, how wretched and insecure he was was the other end of the story. Infact, none of the characters were painted in all-black or all-white. There would be a sequence where he would take all his people to the Palani festival to beg and when he returns back, it would strike him that he did not even pay a visit to the temple . Involuntarily, tears gush out of his eyes.

There used to be one unforgetable character in the novel named "Mangadi Saamy', who is yet-another invalid, with disabled legs, extremely fragile body and a small head. But, he is a mystic of sorts, wherein he hardly ever speaks. Whenever he is hungry, he starts to sing some songs of Kunangudi Masthan Sahib, in a stoic, metallic voice. There used to be innumerable sequences which involves Mangadi Saami, which were absolutuly hilarious and deeply profound at the same time. Once in Palani, a saint from North India - who apparently is a well read man- accidentally meets him. Watching 'Mangadi Saamy' poised, glittering eyes and the way he loses himself in one effortless trance, the saint gets jealous and bruises his ego. He shouts 'Being and Nothingness', 'Being and Nothingness' a couple of times. Mangadi opens its eyes and smiles a heart wrenching, embracing smile. The saint gets pissed off and leaves the place. On another occasion, when a Commie businessman from Kerala sees him sing, and he instantly recognizes the marketable value he would possess and buys him out from the 'breeder' paying a hefty sum, with the plan to start a cult ashram in Kerala. He then opens a grand ashram in Kerala, marketing Mangadi saami as a divine messenger child of God. Visitors flock into the ashram, waiting to listen to Mangadi saami sing. Whereas, all they hear from his was - 'Amma thaaye, magarasi, pitchae poduangae!'

Ambitious to the core, all his novels are full of grand questions, which it poises to itself and acts it out till eternity. Is there anything else in life apart from Power, Oppression, Oppressed, Work, Struggle, Lust and Suffering? Are human relations (family, friends, love et al) just an order of convenience or is there anything more that that? Is 'intellect' , 'idealism' and 'thrist to seek & experiment' just power drives which tries to satiate our egos, so that we can feel better off and inturn, tries to differentiate, establish and institutionalize ourselves among others? Is there a deeper Self to our various other fragmented selves? Worse, is there such a thing called 'Self'? Is there any depth at anything at all? Meaning? Life? Love? Passion? How many roads does a man walk down?

Reading the novel is like a purgatory cleansing of one's own self. It relooks at the traditional narratives of good vs evil and the way the West looks at 'self' as one cesspool caught infinitely between the drives of the id and the conformity enforced by the society-at-large. It goes above the concepts of exchange theory and factors of production and the oppression/oppressed dichotomy. It moves beyond the traditional analytical/depth psychology and the Adlerian way of looking at self and enters into the realms of the transpersonal humanism.

Infact, most of his novels, apart from the profound and lively stories and vibrant and distinct characters, are deep studies on Identities and the illusionary dualisms inherent in everything around us. The effort in the novel is to move beyond the dualisms through dualisms - by precisely speaking about it and acting it through its characters over and over and over again and thereby, trying to move beyond it.

Like most of Kazanzakis works, Jeyamohan neither rejects 'this-world' nor it soley identifies with 'the-other-world' . There are umteen number of Zorbaesque characters throughout his various novels, which totally embraces 'this-world' and lives it out with passionate equanimity and thereby, living an extremely fulfilling and spiritual life devoid of any religion or God. 'Kuttapan' is Kaadu is one such example of such a lively life embracing the earth. On the other end, there are richly textured characters who are seekers, intellectuals, activists. Infact, all of his novels progess through the dialectical force between such distinct characters.
On how a so-called 'ordinary', 'this-wordly' person like a Kuttapan could live such a spiritually fulfilling live wherein 'the-other-worldly' seekers, intellectuals and mystics stumble repeatedly and struggle hard to reach there is the constant thread which runs throughout his works.

The relation between knowledge/intellect and ego/pride/ahangkar is one of the other recurring motifs. On how 'ahangkar' follows 'intellect' like a stalking shadow, like a giant burden on the shoulders.

Indeed, like any good writers works, his novels defies categorization. And likewise, this note about his works is just a snapshot and could never ever equal the actual experience of reading it. And the joy of reading his works is that, there is room for everything. It embraces and includes all and thereby, transcends each one of them. Agape and Eros. Ascent and Descent. Samsara and Nirvana. Up and Down. Prajna and Karuna. Heaven and Earth. Making love passionately.


p.s: there are no translations of his novels in English. Few are translated to Malayalam. some of his short stories, including the one which won the 'Katha award' was translated into English. I tried searching them on the net. However, found none. Some of his breezy short stories, which could serve as a good introductory reading..

1 comment:

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