Let Me Tell You A Story

Hello Dear Friends, I hope you all had a nice weekend! I read a novella (a short Novel) this weekend, called Vaadivaasal (Arena), written by CS Chellappa in 1949. The story was so interesting I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Today I felt like telling the story to you all. I have retold the story below concisely in my own language. It’s a story about pride. I hope you too will like it!

****

There is a huge village crowd gathered at the arena. One of the biggest sports of the time is going to start. In the adjoining enclosure, bulls are being brought. They are decorated and a cloth is wound across their sharp horns. This is the sports of Jallikattu, the fight between man and the beast. One by one, bulls will be let lose in the arena and daring men, will jump in and try to subdue the bulls, untangle the cloth from its horn, signifying their victory over the beast and keep the cloth piece as a badge of honour, valor, power and masculinity. But there is no guarantee of life. Blood will be spilt, and if somebody’s luck is covered with dark clouds, there may be deaths too.

Several years ago, a brave man with the name of Ambuli became popular for defeating lots of bulls and claiming several badges of honor. But one particular bull, named Kaari, a magnanimous beast with powers equal to that of an elephant, tramples Ambuli, throws him in air, and with its sharp horns, tears his body. Ambuli is rescued but he only lives for a short duration, before dying he tells his son, “My son..you must.. “ He dies before completing the sentence. This bull becomes the most dreaded bull since then. It’s owner is the landlord himself, the organiser of this sport.

The bull grows even more powerful and its skin becomes tough as leather under landlord’s care, because his servants feed it with nutritious food and trains it in ferocious manoeuvers. Every year when the sport is organized, the bull is brought into the arena at last, with great drumbeats, and all the men are thrown an open challenge, and magnificent rewards are announced. But who can beat the wild beast Kaari! Only blood spills and bones break. People feel scared of the bull. ‘The landlord’s bull is invincible.’ ‘ It had killed the bravest of men Ambuli. How can anyone else stand before it.’ And the landlord’s pride surges and he smiles cunningly at this.

Several years later, today we are at the same arena where the incident of Ambuli getting killed had happened. Two young men are standing near the enclosure. One is called Picchi and the other, Marudan. Picchi has come to participate in the sport and Marudan his friend has come to support him. An old man standing next to them, who has witnessed several of this sports in past, feels inclined to speak about the popular bulls to these yongsters, as the scene is set for the event. The crowd gets excited as the sports begin. Amidst the chaos and excitement and heat of the sun, the bulls are let in one by one and daring men jump in to show their valor. But Picchi jumps in only when the most powerful of the bulls are let in. He subdues them all and instantly becomes a center of attraction for the crowd. ‘Will this valiant youth beat the demon beast Kaari?’ people start talking like this. ‘No No, Kaari is invincible. The landlord has fed it and made it strong and wicked like himself. No one can beat it.’

As time passes, the moment arrives when Kaari has to be let in. Amidst the clarion of drum beats the arrival of Kaari in the arena is announced. It walks in majestically like a king. The landlord’s chest swells with pride. ‘Oh look at the beast! How arrogant! It seems like human more than an animal.’ ‘Poor Picchi will be torn apart’ The old man also becomes sad. He has developed affection for Picchi. He warns him and recalls the fateful day when he had seen the bravest of the men, Ambuli, get killed by Kaari. He gets anxious for Picchi and even suggests that he should not go to fight Kaari. But Picchi says with conviction- ‘I will go! I need to regain my father’s lost pride!’ The old man’s heart skips a beat when he realizes that Picchi is actually Ambuli’s son!

When Kaari enters the arena, Picchi jumps in at once, the crowd goes mad with excitement, fear and beastly instincts. Picchi jumps and catches hold of the bull’s hump with one hand and swiftly catches his one horn with the other hand. The bull tries to shake him away, and roars like a lion. But Picchi holds him tight and tries to twist its horn to one side. The bull gets furious and starts jumping to throw Picchi away. Picchi sways with the bull’s body like a doll. After three powerful jumps, incessant shaking of head and ferocious roars, the bull starts to get tired but Picchi is still holding fast, though the sweat in his palms causes the loosening of his grips.  In one sudden jerk by the bull, Picchi is thrown up in air and the bull makes an attack on the falling body of Picchi. The horn pierces the thigh of Picchi, making him shriek and clench his teeth but at the same instant Picchi rips the cloth piece from its horn and falls on floor with a thud and dust rises up in the air. Picchi has snatched the cloth from its horn! Picchi has got victory! Marudan pulls his body out from the arena just before the bull tries to charge on him and kill him.

While Picchi is saved, the bull gets mad with rage. It charges towards the crowd of people and tramples upon whosoever comes its way. Blood is spilt and a stampede ensues. The bull runs towards the river, its horn soaked in blood and it roars like a lunatic. It goes to the river bank and starts excavating land with its horns.

‘ Kaari is defeated!’ ‘The landlord’s bull is defeated’ ‘Oh the brave man’ ‘Lift him , stop his blood’ ‘He is our hero’ people talk like this in excitement. The old man’s eyes become wet with tears. ‘The son has regained the pride of his father’ he says. Meanwhile the landlord shows no expression on his face. He leaves the scene quietly. And with few of his servants goes to the river side. He sees Kaari and the madness that has come over it. The beast continues to roar and scrape earth with its horns, raising dust all over. The landlord looks around. There is no villager in sight. All are celebrating their new hero there at the arena. He takes out his revolver, aims at the bull and shoots it down. The bull dies with a groan. The landlord gives it a brief cold look, then turns back and starts walking back towards the arena.

***

“If an animal’s pride is hurt, it leads to destruction; it’s the same with a man’s pride too!”

9780198097471

Advertisements

The Strange Case of Billy Biswas (A Novel)

“The most futile cry of man is his wish to be understood”

First thing first- The novel has been very nicely written. The language is simple and the articulation is neat. I admired the vocabulary and sentence forms the author used in his narration.

Synopsis

The narrator meets a person called Billy and becomes friends with him instantly. Both of them were students in America when they first meet. Billy is an affable guy with an aura of charm, delighting every one with his quick wits and engaging conversations. Soon, destiny brings them back to India, and Billy slowly begins to lose his glamour as he starts brooding upon his identity in a philosophical sense. He feels dejected by the excessive materialism he sees around him-people hankering for money, unnecessary showoffs and extravagant lifestyles. I can explain his dismay in the words of Dave Ramsey — ‘We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.’

He decides to marry and expects life to become cheerful again but it does not help.(I agree with this fact) He only becomes more irritable and quarrelsome. Being an anthropologist, he often goes to expeditions to remote villages to study the lifestyle of tribal people. During one such visit, to a village in central India something remarkable happens and he disappears.

The Author

When I was reading the reviews of this book, I found many reviewers pointing out that the author has unjustly remained an obscure figure despite being such a fine writer. His caliber can be appreciated from the fact that he has already been honoured with India’s one of the most notable literary awards (Sahitya Academy Award) in 1982 for his novel The Last Labyrinth. He earned his MS degree from MIT, USA and hence his novels always carry some reminiscence from those days. His family lived in the holy city of Varanasi, which influenced his philosophical cravings.

In Quest for a Meaningful Life

What I loved in the novel was this theme, where a smart, educated guy is driven by his longing to find a meaningful life. I believe in simplicity and find verbose lifestyle quite obnoxious.Therefore, I was quite compassionate towards the character, Billy , who held a strong determination to go against the crowd, the conventional life, because he knew his inner being, his soul will not be satisfied unless he followed his heart. In course, he commits mistakes, learns his lessons when it is too late and conducts acts which only aggrandizes his perils, but it is all these imperfections which gives a more human touch to his character. The portrayal of the fact that the society suppresses such people is also an important part of the theme.

The strange case of Billy Biswal had at last been disposed of. It had been disposed of in the only manner that a human society knows of disposing its rebels, its seers, its true lovers.

I liked the mystical touch the author has given to the whole episode. Billy’s encounter with the tribe rituals, the ancient ruins and the folklores the tribal people live by, makes an intriguing read. You will like the character of the narrator, who tries his best to do everything for his friend Billy, but just one little mistake by him jeopardizes Billy’s extraordinary endeavour. The only element I felt missing was the final conclusion. There is no conclusive idea in the novel, just a narration of the state of affairs which anyways is, thought provoking.

Conclusion

This book is a quick read (240 pages). I finished it in two days in 3 sessions. I will recommend it to anyone who likes such topics as following one’s heart and also who likes philosophical themed stories.The novel is rich in imparting a feeling of adventure, suspense and curiosity. It will surely make an interesting read under the cozy winter sun.

“This is where I belong. This is what I have always dreamt of”

the-strange-case-of-billy-biswal

Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Easter Island (A Novel)

Easter Island

I read about this mysterious island in a book titled ‘World Famous Unsolved Mysteries’ several years ago. Since then it has always arrested my interest even at the slightest mention of it. Therefore, when I stumbled upon this book titled “Easter Island: A Novel” at the old book store, I bought it instantly. The highlight on the back cover suggested a tale of mystery where two stories, belonging to two different eras begin to unfold in this mystical island and finds an interesting conclusion as the stories intersect each other.

Synopsis

There are two stories which we get to hear in this book. The first is the story of Elsa Beazely ,her troubled sister Alice, and her second husband Edward, whom she has recently married. This story is set in 1913, when they visit Easter Island for a scientific expedition. Elsa feels that such a trip would help her move on with her past despondencies and also make her sister feel good with a change of atmosphere. The second story, set in 1970s, is that of Greer Farraday, an American botanist who recently lost her husband (her husband was alleged to have stolen her research works to attain fame for himself.) She too has come to Easter island to get rid from her past and complete her research work on flowering plants, for which the secluded ecosystem of Easter Island provides a perfect research ground.

Both these stories progress at a slow pace. Nothing surprising happens. A reader only relishes the experience of staying in a remote, mystery laden Easter Island, with its sparse population, simple lifestyle and unexplained historical folklores. The claim made that the two stories intersect each other in interesting way is misleading. They don’t connect in any significant manner. Perhaps there is no thrill in both the stories; the only delight of the novel is the experience of living in the quiet and esoteric Easter Island.

The Author

Jennifer Vanderbes has been quite earnestly lauded for this debut novel of hers. It also won her Washington Post Book World and Christian Science Monitor Best Book of 2003. I gathered she has written quite a lot of non-fiction on the subject of botany. Undoubtedly it reflects in this novel too. The character Greer, the botanist, goes at length to explain about her research on angiosperms (seed-bearing vascular plants) The whole of the second last chapter in this novel is the research paper published by the character Greer at the end of her research. This chapter was quite obtrusive as it broke the flow of what I was reading.

Experiencing the Isolation

The only good thing about this book, as I have stated, was to get a feeling of life in Easter Island. The population is sparse and in the novel it is depicted that everyone knows each other. There are no big factories or industry. Every such good is transported from Chile, once in a month. People place their orders and after a month the supplies arrive on ships. People line up to collect their orders.

The island’s past is shrouded in mystery and people don’t seem to have a clear account of its history. The gigantic statues, called moai, have many versions of folklores as to why and how they were created, although the scientists are unable to agree on any of those theories. Explorers and Voyagers have been bumping upon this island and writing accounts, expressing perplexity over its variety of flora and fauna despite being cut-off from any landmass by thousands of miles. The author invokes commentary from such famous explorers like Captain James Cook, Charles Darwin etc. Additionally she introduces us to rongorongo, an unsolved mystery of Easter Island. Rongorongo is a system of glyphs which appears to be writing or proto-writing and it has not been deciphered yet.

With such a mystical backdrop, the endeavor of Greer, to try to move on with her past seems a fair plot. I liked few lines where the sense of isolation and peace is evoked.

“She became aware of the silence all around her, broken only by the slight slap of water against her boots. Here I am, she thought. In the middle of a crater on the most remote island in the world. Reeds rising all around me; all I can see is sky. Not a voice, not a rustle to be heard.”

“On the rocks, about twenty yards from her, she spotted a plate covered with a metal lid, a halo of steam curling from its edges. It was odd, this abandoned meal, but then again, the island seemed governed by its own rules and rituals”

“She takes a deep breath. There is a moment of silence between them as they watch the port chandlers pack up their goods for the evening, as these last signs of familiar civilization rumble their carts into the distance.”

Conclusion

This story is interesting only if you like Easter Island and a little bit of reading about plants(since we have a botanist character here). The story, in itself is not quite gripping. The pace of story is slow and it is only the mystical feeling of the islands that is appealing. It makes for a fine reading on a sluggish rainy day.

screenshot_2016-12-01-11-42-05_com-android-chrome

(I am glad to post my review for the Recycled Book Reading Challenge, an interesting initiative by a curios reader and explorer, Mliae! Do visit her blog and learn lots about her life experiemnts! PS- Its snowing on her blog these days! 😀 )

 

Longest Time Span to Write a Composition

Yesterday I was researching about some south Indian Literatures. Ever since I read Yayati, I51vujhtlpl-_sx323_bo1204203200_ got curious to discover more such novels from the South Indian Library. I came across a book called Khasakkinte Itihasam(The Legend of Khasak) a Malayalam(language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala) Novel by OV Vijayan. What caught my attention was to discover the fact that it took the author 12 years to complete the novel. It seemed extraordinary as the book had just around 200 pages. Why would it take 12 years to write 200 pages? Couldn’t it have been written in one year? I could feel  that the author must have put in lots of thoughts and so would have developed the novel slowly slowly over time.

I wondered about the longest time span I have taken to write a composition. I only write small articles, blog posts, poems and the longest span I could remember of holding back before publishing my composition was 2 days. Oftentimes, I am too eager to publish my post and try to finish it as soon as possible. I don’t even proofread it properly. Something keeps nagging me at the back of mind- ‘Oh it’s alright, Just publish it’ And I do publish it. And serenity dawns in my mind. Only then I read my composition most attentively on the live page and then panic to correct the errors.

It always enchants me to hear of people who take a long period of time to publish something. I am yet ignorant of the experience of devotedly working on a composition, holding back the temptation to share, and publishing it only after taking it to perfection. But I do aspire to do it sometime. Have you ever worked devotedly for any composition, that took you a very long time to finish it?

ec13c36cd139a922b728e78c2dd84892

(Image Source: Link)

Sweeney Todd- The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

So, it turns out that 221 B Baker Street is not the only fabled address that has acquired a cult status, today I discovered another- Todd’s barber shop at 186 Fleet Street, London.

Today, while at a Library, I was looking forward to some light casual reading and so was drawn towards the shelf containing graphic novels. I flipped through some Batman, some Shakespeare, and some World War themed graphic novels but at last got hypnotized with the cover of this book.

barber2

I think the memories of my college days came back which prompted me to  pause at it. In those days, I had some friends who were great fans of manga and through them I had got to watch some interesting animated series like Hellsing, which I had found strangely amusing. This book cover with such a vicious guy,  having tainted fonts below him and the label of ‘classic’  at the top made me believe this would be an interesting read.

And it was! I was engrossed throughout! I was so eager to know the ending of this tantalizing suspense story that I didn’t take a break the whole time.

After finishing I started doing my research. It turned out the story was written as a serial and published in a London periodical between 1846-47 with the title ‘Strings of Pearls’ Now that I had read the tale, I could relate why it had such a title. The mysterious barber in the story is a wicked and greedy man and it so happens that some people who visit him disappear in strange ways, never to appear again. It is only when a particular person goes missing , who is carrying a  ‘String of Pearls’ to be delivered to a young lady as a token of remembrance from her  past lover, that a series of events get triggered leading to the uncovering of mystery.

Wikipedia told me that this story belongs to the category of ‘penny dreadful’

Penny dreadfuls were often written carelessly and contained themes of gore and violence. The ‘String of Pearls’ is no different. Its style of writing makes it a perfect example of a penny dreadful, having a sensational, violent subject matter that plays off of the public’s real fears.

I remembered James Hadley Chase whose stories too, somewhat felt like this. Anyways, I think it was a graphic novel so such a theme appealed to me. I couldn’t have read it if it was a normal novel. Since it was in a comics form, my expectations were well aligned to what is expected from a comic book- a sensational story with thrill and suspense. I was amused to know that this story was hugely popular even before its last chapters were published. Subsequently, over the years it got adapted into novels, plays, Broadway musical, and movie.

The tale became a staple of Victorian melodrama and London urban legend, and has been retold many times since

I was glad I got to know about this urban legend, and as I stated earlier, this vicious barber’s place of dwelling, 186 Fleet Street (which was the center of suspense in the graphic novel) made me consider it with as much curiosity as I consider 221B Baker Street.

 

Should Wizard Hit Mommy?

Today, during the concluding hours of the soothing weekend, I happened to go through  my cupboard for arranging books.In the process, I found my old English coursebook of high school. I always saved my English books because I loved the stories in them. While I flipped the pages of this paticular book titled ‘Vistas: Supplementary Reader in English’, I stopped at one particular story. ‘Should Wizard Hit Mommy’ by John Updike.

I began to read it with interest, while also reviving some school days memory with it. As I finished reading it, I felt touched by the story. I had never felt like that when I had read it in school. Maybe something has changed  in these 7 years.I felt like sharing this story with everyone. Ask everyone I knew, to read it and talk about it. Do they find it as nice as I found it now? This prompted me to write about it today on my blog.

‘Should Wizard Hit Mommy’ is a beautiful story of a father who tells fanciful bedtime stories to his daughter. But on this particular day, he decides that he will tell her a more realistic story. His daughter must learn the realities of life and should no longer live in the illusory world of rosy tales. He tells her an old story but changes its ending which makes the little girl get restless and revolting. She protests that  his dad should change its ending to what it had been when he had told her on an earlier day, but he refuses. He feels convinced that this may irritate his daughter but what he is conveying is the reality of life, and she must acknowledge it.

wizard

John Updike, known for writing on subjects concerning middle-class people has weaved this interesting short story involving a father, worn out with handling responsibilities of family and a little girl who is young, naive and imagines of an ideal world.

I invite you to read this wonderful tale..You too may like it. Please tell me how you feel about it. I am sure you will find it very nicely narrated.

wizard

In the evenings and for Saturday naps like today’s, Jack told his daughter Jo a story out of his head. This custom, begun when she was two, was itself now nearly two years old, and his head felt empty. Each new story was a slight variation of a basic tale: a small creature, usually named Roger (Roger Fish, Roger Squirrel, Roger Chipmunk), had some problem and went with it to the wise old owl. The owl told him to go to the wizard, and the wizard performed a magic spell that solved the problem, demanding in payment a number of
pennies greater than the number that Roger Creature had, but in the same breath directing the animal to a place where the extra pennies could be found. Then Roger was
so happy he played many games with other creatures, and went home to his mother just in time to hear the train whistle that brought his daddy home from Boston. Jack described their supper, and the story was over. Working his way through this scheme was especially fatiguing on Saturday, because Jo never fell asleep in naps any more, and knowing this made the rite seem futile.
The little girl (not so little any more; the bumps her feet made under the covers were halfway down the bed, their big double bed that they let her be in for naps and when she was sick) had at last arranged herself, and from the way her fat face deep in the pillow shone in the sunlight sifting through the drawn shades, it did not seem fantastic that some magic would occur, and she would take her nap like an infant of two. Her brother, Bobby, was two, and already asleep with his bottle. Jack asked, “Who shall the
story be about today?”
“Roger…” Jo squeezed her eyes shut and smiled to be thinking she was thinking. Her eyes opened, her mother’s blue. “Skunk,” she said firmly. A new animal; they must talk about skunks at nursery school. Having a fresh hero momentarily stirred Jack to creative enthusiasm. “All right,” he said. “Once upon a time, in the deep dark woods, there was a tiny little creature by the name of Roger Skunk. And he smelled very bad.”
“Yes,” Jo said.
“He smelled so bad that none of the other little woodland creatures would play with him.” Jo looked at him solemnly; she hadn’t foreseen this. “Whenever he would go out to play,” Jack continued with zest, remembering certain humiliations of his own childhood, “all of the other tiny animals would cry, “Uh-oh, here comes Roger Stinky Skunk,” and they would run away, and Roger Skunk would stand there all alone, and two little round tears would fall from his eyes.” The corners of Jo’s mouth drooped down and her lower lip bent forward as he traced with a forefinger along the side of her nose the course of
one of Roger Skunk’s tears.
“Won’t he see the owl?” she asked in a high and faintly roughened voice. Sitting on the bed beside her, Jack felt the covers tug as her legs switched tensely. He was pleased with this moment — he was telling her something true, something she must know — and had no wish to hurry on. But downstairs a chair scraped, and he realised he must get
down to help Clare paint the living-room woodwork.
“Well, he walked along very sadly and came to a very big tree, and in the tiptop of the tree was an enormous wise old owl.”
“Good.”
“Mr Owl,” Roger Skunk said, “all the other little animals run away from me because I smell so bad.”

“So you do,” the owl said.

“Very, very bad.”

“What can I do?” Roger Skunk said, and he cried very hard.
“The wizard, the wizard,” Jo shouted, and sat right up, and a Little Golden Book spilled from the bed.
“Now, Jo. Daddy’s telling the story. Do you want to tell Daddy the story?”
“No. You me.”
“Then lie down and be sleepy.”
Her head relapsed onto the pillow and she said, “Out of your head.”
“Well. The owl thought and thought. At last he said, “Why don’t you go see the wizard?”
“Daddy?”
“What?”
“Are magic spells real?” This was a new phase, just this last month, a reality phase. When he told her spiders eat bugs, she turned to her mother and asked, “Do they really?” and when Clare told her God was in the sky and all around them, she turned to her father and insisted, with a sly yet eager smile, “Is He really?”
“They’re real in stories,” Jack answered curtly. She had made him miss a beat in the narrative. “The owl said, “Go through the dark woods, under the apple trees, into the swamp, over the crick —”
“What’s a crick?”
wizardA little river. “Over the crick, and there will be the wizard’s house.” And that’s the way Roger Skunk went, and pretty soon he came to a little white house, and he rapped on the door.”

Jack rapped on the window sill, and under the covers Jo’s tall figure clenched in an infantile thrill.

“And then a tiny little old man came out, with a long white beard and a pointed blue hat, and said, “Eh? Whatzis? Whatcher want? You smell awful.” The wizard’s voice was one of Jack’s own favourite effects; he did it by scrunching up his face and somehow whining through his eyes, which felt for the interval rheumy. He felt being an old man suited him.“I know it,” Roger Skunk said, “and all the little animals run away from me. The enormous wise owl said you could help me.”
“Eh? Well, maybe. Come on in. Don’t get too close.” Now, inside, Jo, there were all these magic things, all jumbled together in a big dusty heap, because the wizard did not have any cleaning lady.”
“Why?”
“Why? Because he was a wizard, and a very old man.”
“Will he die?”
“No. Wizards don’t die. Well, he rummaged around and found an old stick called a magic wand and asked Roger Skunk what he wanted to smell like. Roger thought and thought and said, “Roses.”
“Yes. Good,” Jo said smugly.
Jack fixed her with a trance like gaze and chanted in the wizard’s elderly irritable voice:
“Abracadabry, hocus-poo, Roger Skunk, how do you do, Roses, boses, pull an ear,
Roger Skunk, you never fear: Bingo!”
He paused as a rapt expression widened out from his daughter’s nostrils, forcing her eyebrows up and her lower lip down in a wide noiseless grin, an expression in which
Jack was startled to recognise his wife feigning pleasure at cocktail parties. “And all of a sudden,” he whispered, “the whole inside of the wizard’s house was full of the
smell of — roses! ‘Roses!’ Roger Fish cried. And the wizard said, very cranky, “That’ll be seven pennies.”
“Daddy.”
“What?”
“Roger Skunk. You said Roger Fish.”
“Yes. Skunk.”
“You said Roger Fish. Wasn’t that silly?”
“Very silly of your stupid old daddy. Where was I? Well, you know about the pennies.”
“Say it.”
“O.K. Roger Skunk said, ‘But all I have is four pennies,’ and he began to cry.”

Jo made the crying face again, but this time without a trace of sincerity. This annoyed Jack.
Downstairs some more furniture rumbled. Clare shouldn’t move heavy things; she was six months pregnant. It would be their third.
“So the wizard said, ‘Oh, very well. Go to the end of the lane and turn around three times and look down the magic well and there you will find three pennies. Hurry up.’ So Roger Skunk went to the end of the lane and turned around three times and there in the magic well were three pennies! So he took them back to the wizard and was very happy and ran out into the woods and all the other little animals gathered around him because he smelled so good.And they played tag, baseball, football, basketball, lacrosse, hockey, soccer, and pick-up-sticks.”
“What’s pick-up-sticks?”
“It’s a game you play with sticks.”
“Like the wizard’s magic wand?”
“Kind of. And they played games and laughed all afternoon and then it began to get dark and they all ran home to their mommies.”
Jo was starting to fuss with her hands and look out of the window, at the crack of day that showed under the shade. She thought the story was all over. Jack didn’t like women when they took anything for granted; he liked them apprehensive, hanging on his words. “Now, Jo, are you listening?”
“Yes.”
“Because this is very interesting.
Roger Skunk’s mommy said, ‘What’s that awful smell?’
“Wha-at?”
“And, Roger Skunk said, ‘It’s me, Mommy. I smell like roses.’ And she said, ‘Who made you smell like that?’ And he said, ‘The wizard,’ and she said, ‘Well, of all the nerve. You come with me and we’re going right back to that very awful wizard.”
Jo sat up, her hands dabbling in the air with genuine fright. “But Daddy, then he said about the other little animals run away!” Her hands skittered off, into the underbrush.
“All right. He said, ‘But Mommy, all the other little animals run away,’ and she said, ‘I don’t care. You smelled the way a little skunk should have and I’m going to take you right back to that wizard,’ and she took an umbrella and went back with Roger Skunk and hit that wizard right over the head.”
“No,” Jo said, and put her hand out to touch his lips, yet even in her agitation did not quite dare to stop the source of truth. Inspiration came to her. “Then the wizard
hit her on the head and did not change that little skunk back.”
“No,” he said. “The wizard said ‘O.K.’ and Roger Skunk did not smell of roses any more. He smelled very bad again.”
“But the other little amum — oh! — amum — ”
“Joanne. It’s Daddy’s story. Shall Daddy not tell you any more stories?”

Her broad face looked at him through sifted light, astounded. “This is what happened, then. Roger Skunk and his mommy went home and they heard Woo-oo, woooo-oo and it was the choo-choo train bringing Daddy Skunk home from Boston. And they had lima beans, celery, liver, mashed potatoes, and Pie-Oh-My for dessert. And when Roger Skunk was in bed Mommy Skunk came up and hugged him and said he smelled like her little baby skunk again and she loved him very much. And that’s the end of the story.”
“But Daddy.”
“What?”
“Then did the other little animals run away?”
“No, because eventually they got used to the way he was and did not mind it at all.”
“What’s evenshiladee?”
“In a little while.”
“That was a stupid mommy.”
“It was not,” he said with rare emphasis, and believed, from her expression, that she realised he was defending his own mother to her, or something as odd. “Now I want
you to put your big heavy head in the pillow and have a good long nap.” He adjusted the shade so not even a crack of day showed, and tiptoed to the door, in the pretense that she was already asleep. But when he turned, she was crouching on top of the covers and staring at him. “Hey.Get under the covers and fall faaast asleep. Bobby’s asleep.”
She stood up and bounced gingerly on the springs.
“Daddy.”
“What?”
“Tomorrow, I want you to tell me the story that that wizard took that magic wand and hit that mommy” — her plump arms chopped forcefully — “right over the head.”
“No. That’s not the story. The point is that the little skunk loved his mommy more than he loved all the other little animals and she knew what was right.”
“No. Tomorrow you say he hit that mommy. Do it.” She kicked her legs up and sat down on the bed with a great heave and complaint of springs, as she had done hundreds of times before, except that this time she did not laugh.
“Say it, Daddy.”
“Well, we’ll see. Now at least have a rest. Stay on the bed. You’re a good girl.”
He closed the door and went downstairs. Clare had spread the newspapers and opened the paint can and, wearing an old shirt of his on top of her maternity smock, was stroking the chair rail with a dipped brush. Above him footsteps vibrated and he called, “Joanne! Shall I come up there and scold you?” The footsteps hesitated.
“That was a long story,” Clare said.
“The poor kid,” he answered, and with utter weariness watched his wife labour. The woodwork, a cage of moldings and rails and baseboards all around them, was half old tan
and half new ivory and he felt caught in an ugly middle position, and though he as well felt his wife’s presence in the cage with him, he did not want to speak with her, work
with her, touch her, anything.

(Image Source: xobba eCards )

Yayati: A Fine Classic

A few days back, I read the novel ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham. In that, was a character named Philip, representing a man with unbridled emotions, craving to fathom the meaning of life and in the process succumbing to objects of sense gratification and equating it to be the purpose of life.

Coincidentally the next book I finished today, also dealt with a similar theme. The void I had felt in Maugham’s story seemed to be addressed eloquently in this book.

Synopsis

Yayati is born in a King’s family and since childhood tries to understand what the purpose of life is.

..I was dissatisfied with life and thirsty for something undefined

His mother, afraid that he may leave home to become an ascetic like his elder brother makes him take a vow that he will never accept asceticism. But this intensifies his curiosity even more as he wonders what does a renunciate gain, what pleasure they acquire while sacrificing a life of wealth, comfort, and aristocratic pleasures.

The story becomes dramatic when the characters Devyani and Sharmishtha enter the scene. Both of them are beautiful young women and dream of aristocratic lives. They are friends but Devyani is jealous of Sharmishtha. Devyani by virtue of a coincidence convinces Yayati to marry her and by a clever ploy, traps Sharmistha into a  pact to become her maid servant.The story becomes quite interesting after that as we see the character’s nature unfolding. Yayati seems to succumb to Devyani’s demands just to please her, and she starts drawing full benefit of his infatuation.

Devyani was smiling now. It was not the smile of a lover only, it was obviously tinged with pride. It was the smile of a pretty woman, who in her arrogance thought she could reduce a man to utter subjection

Yayati, who is trying to find happiness through Devyani, soon  realizes she doesn’t love him and so feels drawn towards her servant Sharmishtha. He keeps trying to figure out what will bring him happiness but keeps equating fickle enjoyments as eternal joys. Consequently, he goes on submitting more and more to his carnal impulses and feels perplexed that despite all these he is feeling further deteriorated, dissatisfied.Meanwhile, the drama between Devyani and Sharmishtha intensifies as Devyani begins to see Sharmishtha as a threat between her and Yayati.

Kacha, an enlightened ascetic, and a friend to all these three characters makes appearances at times and his dialogues help a reader feel pacified while contemplating the desperate plight of these three characters. The presence of such a character was what I had found missing in Maugham’s novel. Someone who soothes the reader with some words of wisdom. While in Philip’s case, it had always felt pessimistic, here the presence of Kacha filled that pessimistic void.

..If in the eyes of the world you are a maid, to me you are a gracious queen. The slave is Devyani. She is slave to her splendour, dignity and ego.The man whose soul is prey to selfishness, desire and enjoyment is forever slave in this world.

The Author

The author, V S Khandekar in the preface says that he was inspired to write this tale from Mahabharata(one of  the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India) The story of Yayati forms a subsidiary part of Mahabharata and not its central theme.  Although Khanderkar molded the story somewhat to portray the characters as they ‘appeared to him’ rather than how they had  originally been portrayed. He originally wrote this book in Marathi (the language spoken in the Indian state of Maharashtra) and the book was published in 1959. It won him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award(1960) and the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary award, in 1974.

Creative Narration

One interesting thing about this book was its creative narration. The tale progresses with changing perspectives. In first chapter Yayati is the narrator, in the next Devyani and in the next to that, Sharmishtha.In this way, it keeps changing. The same scene which unfolds from the eyes of Yayati is unfolded with a wholly different perspective from the eyes of Devyani in the next chapter. It renders a fascinating effect in the mind of readers. Every subsequent chapter feels like a revelation as one gets to see the ways different characters are interpreting the same flow of events.

A Classic Tale of Lust

The tagline of this book had made me a bit skeptical in the beginning but I soon realized that this book carries no obscenity of language. Having been inspired from a classical poetry, it uses poetic language in its narration. Furthermore, lust has been addressed here not only in terms of Yayati’s carnal indulgences but also in terms of an individual’s unbridled thirst to satisfy such dark desires as jealousy, hatred  and, sense of superiority. Every character becomes a representative of one of these malignant yearnings which make them slaves of what Maugham had called ‘Human Bondage’ in his book.

Conclusion

All in all, I found the book quite gripping, interesting , thoughtful and enlightening. After a long time, I got hold of a book that was balanced in every aspect- drawing the plot, sketching the characters, and delivering a message while maintaining the standard of language. I would highly recommend this book to any keen reader who likes books with philosophical themes.

“Oh man, desire is never satisfied by indulgence.

Like the sacrificial fire, it ever grows with every offering.”

yayati