Saturday, September 22, 2007

On The Birthday Eve - Ten Confessions

Two years ago was my 25th birthday and it proved a singular milestone that offered to a lost traveler, a chance to once more feel the joy of living...I don't know what was different with me then and today...maybe I have grown in the knowledge of who I am and what this birth means to me, or maybe not. I remember of being content then with all I had to do to get to that point, and thus wrote that post...I was ready to take my life in my hands, though I knew not what I wanted from it. Today is another story, the past is a distant blur, the present an insignificant blip on the horizon, and the future stands right before my eyes unattainable yet. Every approaching birthday, these last few years has been a time for churn, change and new resolve...2003 i dug my heels in and decided to salvage my MS, 2004 i quit my first job without saving up a single penny, 2005 mustered the wits to give the UPSC a try, last September swallowed my pride and came back to the US. This time I have been lucky to have undertaken the by-now customary bday revolution quite earlier than September, but find myself dealing with the struggle of surviving 200 days before the next attempt to chart yet another course in life begins. I donot know what the intention of this post will it to record for my posterity, my frame of mind at this point of time, or is it to find some clarity, which writing, more often than not, gives me.

I am appalled that several people close to me, expect wonders to happen. I think this blog gave them that idea. I can't think of anything else worthwhile, that I have done, during my time on Earth. Several things that I did, I now see as being done to give meaning to my existence at that point of time. In school, I read books to escape the confines of my introversion and my complexes. Later it was my friendships that defined my existence, and the books lay forgotten. In college, I took up drinking, hoping it would make me a man, hoping it would nullify self-questions of my adolescent manhood - such superficial stuff for me today like unsprouting facial hair, being underweight, and lack of physical courage. During Master's working at the Film School and my growing interest in movies gave the "Jeene Ki Ik Wachah". At work and lost, blogging came to the rescue, at Civil Service coaching travelling saved me, today surprisingly it is the naked need for money to satisfy a lot of my needs over the next few years that is helping me cling on. Of course it is my hope that these experiences/memories help me in future.

Blogging used to be not just about letting my thoughts wander and capturing them in words but also about being part of a blogger community, reading my fellow bloggers, appreciating and imbibing their views and writing styles, leaving comments, etc. Nowadays I hate to wander in blogosphere. I feel a sad guilt at not doing my duty because I know how much a blogger loves to hear from a fellow blogger about his/her latest post. I am reading, M.Mukundan's Haridwaril Manikal Muzhangunnu, a superb novella of hardly 100 pages, but I can't read beyond a page at a time before my concentration wavers. It must be jealousy at play, how such wonderful yet simple writing takes shape, whether in blogging or fiction writing. I worry that with my interest in reading at such a nadir, how my thoughts and ideas and love for writing can grow beyond the frankly adolescent level, that it is now at.

For a lot of my life, I have waited for others to give me a helping hand. More often than not, that hand never came. I have longed for friends or relatives to begin path-breaking companies, so I can go work for them, for friends to break into the entertainment industry, for my dad to push me through into a field I can succeed in...riding on other people's wings was a lazy fantasy that I nurtured stupidly for far too long. Its been some time since I have realized the initiative to better my life had to come from me, and yet I can't help thinking why things are taking so long to change for me. My dad always tells me, "If I had your talent, I wouldn't have wasted it"...and I wryly muse,"Pops, if I had your ambition..."

I remember I used to have a perpetual warm smile, once upon a time. I have caught myself several times with a frown on my face, several times with a weak, laboured and artificial manufacture replacing that once all-powerful beacon, while a deep emptiness resides in that mysterious place somewhere inside, that once powered the lone good thing about me.

What is the idea of home? It cant be just the four walls of my house, my parents, my people, my language, my awareness of culture, tradition and must be something much deeper than all this, that has found an abode in me, that has me going back, every moment these last many years. At a family reunion few weeks back, my uncle the novelist chap, remarked, that "Perhaps Jiby, has not, unlike the rest of us, found himself melting into the American mainstream like the rest of us." My sister's reply confirmed why she will probably know me better than anyone else on earth, "Achacha, it is nothing about America that he finds uncomfortable, it is India that drives him." Those words from her mouth, had to find its place in this post...she has stood like a pillar carrying me along, speaking for me when I lost my voice. No sister of today's times ever lifted a brother from failure like she saved me...I've always wondered how the finest human beings are people who are unassuming and seem ordinary to me.

why cant I approach every day with reinvigorated zest. Why every day begins, continues and ends in intermittent tired yawns. Going to the gym would help, I thought, but the physical energy just doesn't seep into my spirit. The brawn is beginning to show up, the brain remains clouded in a perpetual suspension of all purpose. Wonder if Yoga will help. I tried hypnotism but that's a hilarious story for another day. Took online creative writing and screenwriting courses but gave up on it midway for lack of ideas and inability to stick to class schedules. There was a time in life that I had a spring in every enthusiastic step I took. The summer of my fatigue has bade goodbye, now the winter of my discontent is past the threshold and at home, will an eternal spring with fresh spirits come knocking at my doorsteps soon?

For several months now, I took life as coming, Week by Week, with the weekend resuscitating and rejuvenating me. Until I took the decision on the next career. Now it is becoming harder to plough by each day. Each hour brings thoughts of what will happen ahead, the thousands of hours to be furrowed ahead to get there worries me no end. I used to be the guy who others envied for living life carefree and how I have changed! Will i lose my job and not find another one soon enough, will I meet my financial targets, will I fall sick, will my plans be derailed, a myriad such thorns plague my path ahead, wish I was that witch with the broom who could sweep past all this and fly ahead to meet the next call of life. Or is this life in all its colours?

A week back, I serviced my car, then took it to a carwash and on the way back a feeling of well-being on how smoothly it ran and how good it was looking coursed through me. For some months now, have been urging my weak soul to reconcile with the material losses to be suffered and luxuries to be rejected, if I am ever to shed this moneyed mediocrity that is pinning down my happiness. Unguarded moments of such coziness will surely keep making life difficult. Will having all the accessories and luxuries of life compensate the sadness of living a most sterile, untested, homogeneous existence...I ask myself if I am the most foolish Indian in America.

There was a time I earnestly looked up to this bday as a time for setting aside singledom. I was vainly confident in the knowledge that family, NRI-ship, career and character could win me the right girl, any day i set out for it. As I set about rebuilding my ship caught in choppy waters, I realize its just not the career that is wrong with me, the person that I am today is a demon shrouded deceptively in human garb. If there is a fear in me today, it is one of commitment to another human being...I find myself incapable of any kindness, even to the people who love me most. Ironic that having discovered the girl who had captured for a long long time, my wonderment and unrequited, unspoken inquisitiveness, I scared myself away and realized it best to let things be and stay off it all. Some lives move in a tangent, barely touching, never intersecting...maybe that is the fate with this un-dis-lodge-able pinprick in my heart too.

I don't know what it is. Something tells me all this will change. Something tells me I will find motivation. Something tells me I will persevere. I trust that Something...I agree to play along.

P.S - After the first read, I thought this was quite a silly post and decided to junk it. But the second read prompted me to resolve and I realized it wasn't such a bad exercise of looking inwards after all. Resolutions for this bday include surfing news websites every day without fail, reading two novels a week, blogging once a fortnight, writing one short story a month, and pen down a malayalam film script within a year. I leave you folks with a beautiful song as a birthday treat, my favorite this season, it is a christian devotional, but then doesnt good music transcend all these narrow boundaries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nee Veruthathe Aare???

It is a dilemma that hits me hard every time I sit down to write. English or Malayalam? I have heard people say the language that you think in is the language that you are most comfortable with. English is the language I grew up with - learning, reading and loving but Malayalam was the language I was raised up in, speaking and hearing. I have scarce given attention to the language of my thoughts, but when I began to write them down on this blog, English was the natural language of choice. But as time progressed, the itching to see what little of Malayalam survived in me, had grown to a point, that I have come to curse myself for the step-motherly treatment, I have meted out the mother-tongue all along.

It all began twenty one years ago; that summer vacation in my native place stays ever so fresh in memory. A 6 year old kid sat teary-eyed and shivering before the stern glare of the woman who taught the basics of malayalam to the children in the village. I was getting the alphabets wrong; my mom, ammachi and appachan crowded around the dining table trying to help. But I just kept getting worse and worse. The slide that began then continued year after year. I barely managed to scrape through exam after exam. The malayalam textbook, the malayalam teacher and the malayalam language remained a recurring nightmare of childhood that eluded tiding over.

The 6th Standard, was the first time I came into an oddly tangible, but then-unwanted inheritance - the knowledge that a small part of the malayalam literary corpus ran through my blood too. We had to study a poem, Aethen Thottam (Garden of Eden) written by Mahakavi Kattakayam. Inquired of him to my dad, but the pride which radiated off Pop's face as he recounted the Mahakavi's works and achievements scarce resonated in me. And then it happened. Our Malayalam sir, a literary critic of some renown then, an ancient hoary figure who scared us beyond all mention, was distributing answer papers, he reached mine, looked at my name, then my marks, and asked, "Cheriyan Mappilayude Aarayitte Varum Nee?" I replied and with an expression of pathetic condescension, passed me my paper. If ever I wanted to toss the family name attached to me, it was that moment. Jiby John offered me anonymity. Jiby John Kattakayam was an embarassment in Malayalam classes. Since then, I never used Kattakayam in school and in a gesture befitting my hallowed ancestor, bunked school, the day Aethan Thottam was taught, to skip further shame!

There were brief moments of magic - like when learning SankaraKurup's Mambazham, Malayatoor's Mummy, ONV's Oru Vattom, Lalithambika Antharjanam's Bhoomiyile Malakha, Uroob's Mindapennu and Poonthanam's Jnanappana but those were minor blips in a rigid syllabus that restricted malayalam into an academic subject, rather than a rich language with a good corpus of literature, we just didnt have avenues to know of. The way ICSE and CBSE schools which today are mushrooming throughout Kerala, treat Malayalam, needs to change. I went on to pass Malayalam with "high honours" in the 10th...the second lowest mark in the whole school...I didnt feel shame but blew a sigh of relief that I was done with Malayalam for life, but how wrong I was, how ironic has the turnaround a blog where I extracted maximum mileage and sought self-gratification for the years of anglophilia, I write in loss today about a phobia that grasped me all those years to the cusp of a feverish hatred. Knowing English is good, but trust me, knowing my mother tongue better has been one of the most fervent prayers on my lips, these last few years. I read Basheer, Mukundan, MT and Vijayan today in the hope of reversing my ageing, hoping to make up for the many lost years, in the hope of finding the ability to write in Malayalam too, as freely and with the same youthful abandon, as I can in English. Remains to be seen if I can succeed...

Last year in Delhi, we had a discussion on Khasak, and a dear friend who was part of it, asked me if the english translation by Vijayan himself was anywhere close to the Malayalam original. Embarassed, I told him I had read the english version only and couldnot help on that question. It got me back into reading a malayalam work again and some events from a little later which I have blogged about before, gave me the impetus to atleast try. All said, even this post on Malayalam, I have succumbed to the easiness of writing in English. Maybe its too late, maybe its the overwhelming delusion of my still-strong fascination for English that is preventing me, maybe it is the laziness to master Varamozhi, but it's a restlessness that wont stop devouring me unless I write just once more in malayalam. I guess its true, that old saying - Pettammeyolam Varumo Pottamma.

P.S: I have said somewhere that the books read in the schooldays, the experiences in later life especially the exposure to a new world, have helped in the blogging process...I forgot to add something else to that potent combination. It might seem absurd to you guys but it is a fact...the 5000 strong wordlist I memorized day in and day out for my GRE preps. That took my vocabulary to a new plane all together...and I have rarely needed an english dictionary since then. These days I look at the Shabdatharavali wistfully hoping I knew atleast 1% of the malayalam words it carries, I know I am too old, lazy and busy to slog through its 2000 pages. If only someone has a wordlist of malayalam words prepared and put out there, that I can read, memorize and equip myself with...maybe to talk, maybe to write or maybe just to think in! Forget writing, these days very few people talk good malayalam, colloquial and commonplace words have taken so firm a-firm-hold on us...that I feel the wordlist is a viable option to save both the spoken and the written language.