A Day Well Spent

On Sunday, I walked into my home at around 6.00pm in a haze of self-satisfaction. 

You know that feeling you get when you feel a bit light-headed and warm and just really happy for no obvious reason? You might’ve felt it when you watched a good movie or stumbled upon the perfect dress after a hard day of shopping. Or even when a simple “Good morning” message you sent to your friend was responded to warmly. 

Well, I felt that yesterday. Very intensely.

Let me explain why I felt so – from the very beginning. It all began when the news of the brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old at Delhi went viral. At that time, I was totally immersed in the Arts fest at my college and hadn’t even been home for about 3-4 days. So only when all the dust of the Arts fest and the fight for the Overall Trophy had settled, did I come to know about the incident. Needless to say, I immediately joined the numerous social media users in proclaiming my anger and even posted directions for the judiciary on how to deal with such heinous criminals (in CAPS, no less). The soft copies of the fury, support and pain felt for the brave-heart were duly recorded on a massive scale in FB and Twitter. It was a crazy time. As they say, we Indians are blessed with a sense of righteous indignation and oneness which is usually voiced when there is a cricket match or a war or such high-profile delinquency. So we stood as one, supporting our brothers and sisters holding candle-light vigils & protest marches at Delhi and signing petitions for the strengthening of measures for protection of women. After all, that was all we could do at the moment.

And then, one of my friends invited me to be a part of an initiative to organize a peaceful protest march at Thrissur. I agreed on principle, fully-believing that it’ll remain as a concept on paper. For one, it seemed a little odd to organize a demonstration after the news had cooled. Besides, I didn’t think anybody would actually turn up because it is one thing to verbally spray out your feeling within the safety of 4 walls and another to actually go out and do something (especially in the light of the police intervention at the rallies at Delhi). So when I was told that a demonstration was organised on Sunday at Saturday night, I was initially a bit skeptic. But then I thought “Why not?” and tried to find out if any of my friends were gonna be there. (You know, safety in numbers and all that) But as it was all planned in a jiffy, a lot of genuinely interested people were tied up with errands and couldn’t make it. 

So on Sunday, it was just 10 of us, armed with posters and charts, who turned up at Thekinkkadu Maidanam. Clearly, it was stupid to carry out a rally with just 10 people. So we contented ourselves with hanging up placards and pasting posters all around the Swaraj Round, pushing for speedy implementation of the verdicts in the numerous rape cases all over India. And that in itself was an experience. Everywhere we went the innate curiosity of an average Keralite followed. People paused to look at our posters – some nodded their heads, some giggled, a few looked embarrassed on our behalf and some walked on as if they were blind. Oh and we did get a LOT of “ee penpillerkonm vere joli ille?” kind of looks (even though there were a few guys in the group).  Looking back, I feel a bit astonished at the dignity with which we walked on; our heads (and the placards) held high, regardless of the numerous eyes on us, majority of them filled with scorn or amusement. There were a few moments like when all the sun and the slights seemed worth it. Like the moment when a group of women (masonry workers, from their attires) made us stop, read our slogans and placards and walked on after lauding us for the “good gesture”. Or the beggars on the side walk who blessed us with “kuttikale ningal nannayi varum”. 

But best of all was that glow of self-respect that I felt when we had pasted our last poster and moved on. Make no mistake – I am fully aware of the insignificance of our action when you look at the larger picture. Neither am I under any false sense of accomplishment that this gesture of ours would influence the Thrissurites. But the fact that I was able to do something other than spurn obscenities at the TV or Facebook is undeniable. And that is enough for me at the moment.  

Mistress by Anita Nair

If I were to count the number of times I’ve passed over this book at my college library, my two hands would be barely sufficient. Even though I was told time and again that it was an excellent book, my reluctance stemmed from 2 things – two very flimsy factors. 

First was the image of Kathakali on its front page and the brief description on the back of the book (Yes yes…I know what they say about judging a book by its cover!). I have watched Kathakali. I say “watched” because to say that I’ve enjoyed it would be a lie. The best I can own is that I’ve enjoyed parts of it. Certain other parts I’ve been completely bored with. There is a Malayalam saying “kadha ariyathe aattam kanuka” which means to watch the dance without knowing the story. That was how I used to watch many of the Kathakali recitals I have been to. But I attend every Kathakali and Krishnan-aattam recital I can, mostly just because I’m mesmerized by the costumes and proficiency of the dancers. 

The second factor was the title. And the story line. Extramarital affairs and adultery, I didn’t mind. But here’s the thing. I have observed that when Indian authors write about love and passion and sex, they tend to border on sleaze. I do realise now that my field have been pretty limited and that I haven’t read many of the acclaimed works of Indian authors and that is probably why I had this prejudice. So when I saw that the book revolves around Kathakali and read through the synopsis, I thought “This isn’t my cup of tea.”

By now, you might have inferred that I ended up loving this book. Obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the pains to put up this post. Right from the prologue where the author very considerately assured me that she “realizes that I know very little of this world she is going to take me into” to the very last line of the epilogue. 

What I loved about the book was how beautifully it described Kerala – the beauty of rain, the birds, the seasons… I have grown up my entire life in a city, with just occasional brushes of village life (usually during summer vacations) at my paternal village. But my parents, both of them, have grown up wading through paddy fields to go to school and have spent their free time plucking mangoes of neighbourhood trees or diving into muddy ponds and river for respite from the scorching sun. I’ve heard them recounting their childhood experiences numerous times and have lived their lives through their words. So when Anita Nair set her story at a village in Shornur and narrated the story through the eyes of its inhabitants, I could see it as if it was unfolding in front of me. 

Another highlight was the multiple-person narrative. To see the same story unleash through the eyes of the different characters made it much more real and human. Radha, with her superiority complex about art and her dissatisfaction with life, Shyam with his undying love for his wife Radha and his unapologetic love for money & status, Chris the foreigner, who walks into their life and wreaks havoc. And Koman Aashan, the Kathakali maestro, the silent observer with his unexpectedly beautiful reminisces. The story weaves through the lives of Radha and Shyam and the vulnerability of the marriage of 2 wonderful individuals who have not a thing in common, not even mutual love or respect. And Chris, the Greek God. And how Aashan sees and absorbs the drama unfolding in front of him in the only way he knows – through his Kathakali. To say more would ruin the book for you (if you are planning to read it). 

So let me wind up with this – I enjoyed meeting Shyam, Radha, Aashan, Chris and every other person who popped into their life now and then. I’ve seen them in the people around me. I’ve heard of them in the stories achan used to share. And I’ve enjoyed the journey through the nuances of Kathakali…much MUCH better that I thought I would. I am not sure if I understand Kathakali any better, but I respect it and love it, and lot more that I did before I picked up this book. 

Anita Nair promises her readers in the prologue that “she will transmit at least some of the love for her art to me”. And in that, she has succeeded.