Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Police Regaining 'Lost' Confidence


Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh asks police forces to regain the lost public confidence: news.

Bloody rascal, where have you hidden the 'confidence'?

Monday, November 24, 2008

K Jayachandran: Journalist, Cult Figure and a Friend Who Played with his Life



IT IS difficult to believe that K Jayachandran died ten years ago. Time flies, and for those of us in the daily news business time flies with supersonic speed.

Still the fact remains: It was on November 24, 1998 that a few of us took the body of K Jayachandran, leading journalist and television person, from the mortuary of Baby Memorial Hospital at Arayidathupalam in Kozhikode, and accompanied him on his last journey to the Calicut Press Club less than one km away, where he lay motionless unmindful of the grief and distress of his friends and admirers.

He had a large gathering of friends and admirers, in fact even in those days he had emerged as a cult figure with a dedicated band of followers. He was something very close to the godmen and godwomen we see in plenty in Kerala society these days, with lots of followers who look upon their idols as god's incarnation. No questions asked, only veneration there.

But Jayachandran was something more than a cult figure. He was a journalist with fire inside his belly, who relentlessly spoke up for the poor and the dispossessed. He was, surely, the best example of a subaltern class journalist among us. He was a committed journalist, who took a clear and decisive stand on issues, fought for those things which he thought were important for him and was willing to face the consequences.

He had to pay the price for his principles. Ever since 1979 when he became the Wyand correspondent of Mathrubhumi where he had made history with a series of earth-shaking stories, he was one of the very few journalists worth their salt in our state. Still, he lost his job very soon thanks to his unwillingness to play ball with the management baying for the blood of a colleague.

In Wynad, his best known story was about the policemen hurrying to scoop up a wild animal died in the huge land-slip that killed many people. The police were there to rescue people but their eyes were on the buck that was killed and would prove to be an excellent dish for the evening drink party.

Jayachandran got them on camera, published it in the newspaper next day and was promptly picked up by the police, bashed up and was almost dead.

But he was never bothered about it. I had seen him many times during those days but he never complained about the torture he had to face in the police custody.

It was this courage that marked him as a journalist. Vimsey (V M Balachandran) who was news editor of Mathrubhumi recalls an incident with regard to Jayachandran in his memoirs. Those were the days of Emergency and Jayachandran was a local reporter from Kayanna, his home town very close to the Kakkayam police camp which became quite notorious in later days.

One of those days Jayachandran came to his office with a report about a rumour that spread in his village that a young student, named Rajan, had been killed in police torture in a camp in Kakkayam and his body dumped in Urakkuzhi, the deep water-fall nearby in deep forest. It was a rumour but he thought it was important. Hence his story.

Vimsey was in two minds. He knew Emergency was not a a time to play with police; censorship was in place though Mathrubhumi had not been subjected to it much being a nationalist or Congress newspaper. But it was a news item that rankled in his mind and he talked to V M Nair, then managing editor. V M Nair lost no time to seize the copy, tear it up, burn the pieces and then flush it away leaving no trace of it in the newspaper office.

There are so many memories about Jayachandran and the kind of journalism he practised. After leaving Mathrubhumi, he was with Sadvartha for a brief period before joining Asianet, where he soon became a cult figure and a political bigwig. But that part of his story is a different one; and I often felt he was a celebrity though at times he came out with brilliant stories that shook the people from their complacency.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Indira Gandhi, Emergency and a History Book: Memories of Interesting Times

THIS WEEK I wrote a long piece in Mathruhbumi Weekly on my days as a student activist in the seventies and eighties. Those were very interesting times, as the Chinese saying goes and Eric Hobsbawm, my favourite historian says in his memoirs. For the ancient Chinese, living in interesting times meant living in turbulent times. For those of us who lived through the seventies and eighties, it was no different.

I must say I received quite a lot of responses from my readers, including from those people whom I have mentioned in the article to young readers of my children’s generation who look at the seventies and eighties as distant past.

I spoke only about the main events that shaped the student movement in the seventies and eighties when Students Federation of India (SFI) grew into the most important student organization in Kerala, and indeed all over India. In those days, it was led by people like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri who are today some of the most important political leaders in the country.

One of the mails I received after its publication was from K Govindan Kutty, whom I came to know in 1979 during my first trip to Delhi to attend a national conference of students and youths, which was held at Mavlankar Hall, opposite the Vithal Bhai Patel House in Delhi. Govindan Kutty, one of the best political journalists of our time, was with Indian Express those days and later he became the bureau chief of the newspaper in Thiruvananthapuram and then associate editor in Delhi.

I had gone to the VP House to meet Appukkuttan Vallikkunnu, who was Delhi bureau chief of Deshabhimani those days. I knew him from mid-seventies when I used to work as a part-time employee in Deshabhimani’s Kozhikode desk during night time, after my college. So I went to meet him, looking for some help to buy a book on Indian history the Progress Publishers of Moscow had brought out a few months earlier and distributed in India by People’s Publishing House, owned by CPI. But my search for the book turned out to be big news that appeared on the front page of Indian Express. KGK, who like Jerry Yang of Yahoo writes eschewing capital letters, recalls this incident in his mail the other day:

i recall our first meeting in vithalbhai patel house in 79,
perhaps march, when you mentioned a rumour about cpi quietly
withdrawing from the market a book of indian history by two
russian writers who had nice things to say about the emergency.
rajeswara rao and company found it quite irritating to have such
a book in the market when they had changed their views.

and pph withdrew it promptly. i did a quick armchair research and
put out a story in indian express which i had joined only a month or two ago.
i recall pph manager jiten sen denying the story and
offering the withdrawn book. i had taken care to buy
it well in advance.

i do not know if you recall this incident or included it
your memoirs. life, as trotsky famously and tragically said, is beautiful indeed.
so long.

It was a memorable incident in many ways. I had heard that one thing that kept changing in the socialist Soviet Union was its history. When Stalin replaced Lenin, he had his own version of the CPSU (B) history, and when Khrushchev came we got a different version; then Brezhnev and his own…And of course when the Soviet Union came crumbling down we have had new histories like that of Dmitry Volkhogonov.

So what happened was that when I went to Delhi searching for the two-volume history of India, written during the Emergency of 1975-77 and unfortunately came to the market one year later when Indira Gandhi was facing the Shah Commission inquiry for her crimes during Emergency, the Soviet Embassy and the CPI could do nothing but to quietly withdraw the copies from bookshelves.

They did so, and no one noticed. It was then I landed up in Delhi looking for the book and Appukkuttan told me to go and meet Vijayakumar who used work in the PPH there. It was tough reaching the PPH showroom, but a friendly Sardarji driver took me there. When I met Vijayakumar, he told me the book was no longer available; he casually mentioned it was taken away by embassy people and when I asked why, he said it was because of some comments about Emergency in it…

I really do not know whether it was the Soviet Embassy who decided to withdraw the book because they did not want to antagonize the Morarji Desai Government then in power, or C Rajeswara Rao and his CPI who had confessed their mistake in supporting Emergency at Bhatinda a few months earlier. Anyway, it was history in the making…

I read Govindan Kutty’s story in Indian Express about the Book that Vanished, as I returned home in Kozhikode a few days later. But I kept on my search for the book and the next year as I went to Burdwan University in Bengal for a seminar as chairman of the Calicut University Union, I strayed into the College Street in Kolkata and got a copy of the book from another leftist book store there. By then Indira Gandhi was back in power in Delhi.

(The nation celebrated the 91st birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi earlier this week, on November 19.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

White Mughals in South India: The Life and Times of East India Company Officers in Malabar

WILLIAM DALRYMPLE's The White Mughals is a book which describes the fascinating life of the early British officers who came to India in the service of the English East India Company in 18th and early 19th centuries. Many of them fell in love with this exotic land of orient and became a unique society that was a heady mix of the east and the west.

There were so many British officials who came to South India during the same period, as the conquest of India started with the many wars they waged in the south, mainly against Hyderali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

After the second Anglo-Mysore War, Malabar, then under Tipu Sultan, fell to the British control in 1792. One of the fiercest resistances they faced then was from Pazhassi Rajah of Kottayam. It was Thomas Baber, the commander of British forces, who defeated Pazhassi Rajah. One of the natives who helped him was Pulapre Karunakara Menon who identified Pazhassi’s body.

Mr. Nick Balmer is a descendant of Thomas Baber and he was in Kozhikode recently visiting the places where colonial history was made. He has written extensively on this in his blog, Malabar Days. (malabardays.blogspot.com.) He recently wrote a few letters to me about the life of his great ancestors, and other things that came to him through the large collection of private letters he has seen.

I paste an edited version of his letters which are of immense value to an understanding of the life and times of the early British who came to our region a few centuries ago:


Dear Mr Chekkutty,

As an Englishman I feel that I should be very careful about interfering in India's affairs, and I can well understand that many people there must have very mixed feelings about things associated with what must appear to many as a dark period in India's existence.

But I believe that things like that palanquin [donated by EIC to Pulapre Karunakara Menon that was missing from Calicut University for some time] point to another side of those events a long time ago.

K Menon [Pulapre Karunakara Menon, an official with the English East India Company] was obviously a very effective individual, and he would have been an outstanding leader even if the British had never been there. As it was he worked within the British system to protect his community. It is very telling that in all the correspondence (several thousand letters) I have read he is almost the only Indian mentioned apart from criminals, rebels or rajahs.

He was also deeply respected for his abilities and knowledge by people like T Baber, Sir Thomas Munro and Graeme. They turned to him to explain how societies worked in Malabar.

Influenced by Menon they were trying to design systems of governance to enable the laws to be re-written to suit the local conditions. It was very sad that Sir Thomas Munro died of cholera before he could implement many of the reforms. That cholera bug set back India considerably.

Sadly most Brits were never able to get close enough to the local societies to become able to appreciate its good points. The generation of EIC civil servants who went out in the 1790s and early 1800s were quite different from the later 19th century ones.

I am afraid that my 4 x great uncle is responsible for a lot of the Malabar material in the British library, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. His brother, my 3 x great grandfather was Keeper of the Printed Books at the British Library from 1809 until 1835. He was a Vicar and was very interested in religious texts.

Thomas brought home at least 27 Granthams that he presented to the library. I cannot read Malayalam, or date Granthams, but a very kind and erudite lady from Cochin went with me to look at two of these Granthams. She thought they were of 16th century, and of the highest quality.

I don't know if he was given them, or if he acquired them by fair means or foul, but I do know that he was very interested in old Malayalam texts and spent so much time in Tellicherry temples that these temples hold a belief to this day that he became a Hindu.

I think that is one step too far, but he certainly had a great interest in Hindu texts. It would be surprising if he didn't, his father, grandfather, and especially great grandfather all had very big libraries. His great grandfathers took 11 nights to sell [the books] at auction in 1766, and was catalogued as being the largest collection of Spanish and Italian books in England, although it had Latin, Greek, French as well.

Thomas also appears to have collected and preserved many of the best of the weapons his men confiscated from the Pazhassi Rajah’s forces as well as the other insurgents (freedom fighters) he fought against. Many of these survived until 1924 in his house at Tellicherry. I held the last remaining spear when I was there. The rest went into a river to avoid there being used in the revolt.

However in 1832 he presented the best of his collection to the Royal Asiatic Society. I have discovered a list of these weapons with a very detailed description of each weapon. These went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in the 1880s. I am currently trying to find the time to go to the museum to see if I can track them down.

It is very likely that they are in the reserve collection there.

Thomas commissioned portraits of many of the Nambootiris who taught him about Hindu culture.

I really enjoyed my trip to East Hill and the Collectors building. I spent several hours in the building which is very interesting for what it tells me about the mindset of the original builder. I don't know for definite who he was, but it could well have been Mr.Pearson.The bungalow and court appears to be built on a model derived from Classical Roman ideas, possibly to work like a Roman villa. At that time Rome provided the inspiration for many buildings in Britain and indeed across the world being built by these classically educated British.

I have contrasted it with the entrance room at Thomas Baber's house at Pallikunnu. The East Hill building was built 5 to 10 years before Pallikunnu. I believe Thomas Baber had visited East Hill, but I believe he understood that Roman, and indeed British law was not entirely applicable to the Malabar.

I have some very vivid accounts of Connolly’s death. He seems to have been a man with a genuine interest in the welfare of the villagers, and appears to have put great effort into developing teak plantations. I expect these must have affected many villages, and perhaps the villagers didn't like that.

I have a copy of a very interesting account of a trip made from Calicut in the late 1820's by Thomas Baber to Sullivan near Ootty. In it Thomas Baber describes and compares the landscape he is passing with its appearance when he had previously been along the same route in about 1803. It clearly shows that there had been a tall canopy forest over much of the route in 1803, but that forestry had removed most of the canopy trees by the late 1820s. If that was the case, there would only have been low re-growth scrub over much of the area formerly before 1803 covered by tall jungle.

It is odd that we think deforestation is a modern issue, but it exercised many minds as far back as 1820. But of course we never really learn.

Regards

Nick Balmer

Friday, November 14, 2008

Laughing Gas



Kerala Sahitya Akademi president M Mukundan says Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan is old stuff, needs to be replaced by young blood: news.

A literary rag-picker...!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Dangerous Blend of Culture Industry and State Sponsored Religion

THINKING ABOUT public broadcasters,we can't avoid a critical evaluation of how far they have been able to uphold the nation's fundamental principles of secularism, equality of opportunities and respect for all faiths and social groups in our country.

Watching the programmes of Doordarshan and listening to All India Radio over the past many years, I have always felt the secularism they have in mind is an eclectic collection of all religious faiths -- often most decadent, obscurantist practices that are purported to be religious practices. Religions have always been explained as a set of beliefs and practices,which are promoted by the most conservative and most oppressive sections in a community. If one keeps an eye on the various religious programmes that are aired on our pubic and private channels one may come to the safe conclusion that religion as an institution is for the elite, upper class and upper caste sections in our society. It is not only for them, but is by them and of them, as Abraham Lincoln said in a different context.

I cannot complain about private channels airing the most apprehensive, most negative, most retrograde programmes because they are not funded by public exchequer. Their negative campaign need to be challenged and rebuffed, but they need to be rebuffed in the public sphere as part of a larger campaign for a substantially different, people oriented, concept of secularism. Secularism, as our nation-state defined it in its formative years and in its Constitution, need some thorough re-examination because when we say respect for all faiths, no discrimination on the basis of faith, etc, what we mean is the established forms of religion and not the ever changing, ever evolving, people oriented nature of these faiths. Faith, as we know from experience, is not a dead entity. It is constantly evolving and changing, as every new generation tries to locate answers for their deeper existential, human and philosophical questions in them.

That is why Bhagavat Gita becomes a revolutionary text in the hands of Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi,who sought new meanings in the text that would give strength to a new nationalism rising in this country. Similarly, the Christian and Islamic faiths and their books have given rise to a series of profound reinterpretations that have given rise to many new movements, which have challenged the status quoist religious beliefs and practices and establishments from the roots. We cannot say that they are not part of religion; they are indeed part of an ever widening, ever changing ever vibrant organic system called religion.

But our statist understanding of religion and faith cannot accept this most revolutionary aspect of religion. For the state and its establishments, faith means a static system, another establishment, a system of rituals and practices, an oppressive and casteist mechanism that effectively prevents any social change.

When our cultural industry that is promoted and financed by the state exchequer like our Doordarshan dabbles in faith matters developing and airing programmes they often serve a most negative and anti-people platform, even promoting most fundamentalist, communal and obscurantist streams of social consciousness.

I would like you to think about the eighties when Doordarshan was the one and only platform of visual communication when our epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata made a triumphant entry to to our drawing rooms. I have seen many families who, in the most ritualistic manner, getting themselves ready, for the airing of the programme in the early afternoon in a curious blend of faith, entertainment, business and communication which was a unique experience in those days. Nobody noticed the kind of ideology that was slowly emanating out of it, spreading like noxious fumes all over the country, spoiling our social life which later developed into a political turmoil that shook the fundamentals of our nation-state. The transmigration of some of these epic characters like Diipika Chikalia from mini-screen to the political platform is a known fact; also known is the fact that the rath-yatras of the eighties were choreographed in the same way as the epic raths and characters were choreographed, bringing a new kind political idiom to our pubic life. That was dangerous.

I remember a speech made by our former president K R Narayanan in the late eighties in which he spoke about the serious implications of the weekly dose of soft Hindutva to our social psyche. He felt it would spell doom for our future and now watching young female sanyasins turning experts in bomb making to destroy imagined enemies within and without, we do realize that what he predicted has come true. These dress operas had a political schema: An idol of a hero, an epic idol who seeks out his enemy and destroys him, like a Rama destroying a Ravana. The stereotypes they promoted helped evolve a decadent and dangerous political culture in the eighties. We have paid a huge price for this and even our future generations will have to pay an enormous price for our blind and potentially harmful interpretations of our own past and culture.

But let me point out that unlike this statist and puerile interpretation of our epics that we were fed on Doordarshan,there were much more nuanced, more creative and more sensitive treatment of the same subject in our cultural domain. I do not wish to go in detail to this aspect but I would like you to remember a movie like Kancahana Sita by Aravindan which gave us a Rama and a Sita who are fundamentally different from the grand characters Doordarshan gave us. hey were more human, closer to the life and times of our epics when a Sambuka had to lose his head for the sacrilege of sanyasa, and hence more truthful to the real Indian tradition. But who cares?

Here I am not arguing for a particular reading of the history or our epics, though it is possible and necessary to read and reinterpret all these texts that make our national cultural assets from the point of view of sections who had hitherto remained subaltern or sidelined. The nation needs to accept that our national tradition cannot be one-sided or partisan. It has to widen its scope to accept and celebrate the varied strands in our social and political life whether it be the the lives of our tribal people, the women, dalits or the minorities and untouchables, who were denied the rightful place in our history. But when we accept and follow a static historical and cultural model, we are sure to fall prey to more partisan, parochial and inherently counter-productive tendencies in the name of nationalism. Hence I do believe we need to think about a more comprehensive, more accommodative and more tolerant variant of nationalism and national tradition when we think of cultural products in the contemporary Indian context. The pubic broadcasters do have a major role to play here; they have failed to uphold this role in the past. Hope they will not in future.

(A note prepared for the editors conclave held in Thiruvananthapuram as part of Public Broadcasters Day, November12, 2008.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Visit to Al Jazeera and Search for Media Alternatives

AL JAZEERA's studio and office complex in downtown Doha is an imposing structure. It is a sprawling campus, its glass and concrete buildings providing a cool and professional ambience for an international news media organization.

My friend Ajit Sahi of Tehelka and myself were there for a short visit last week, and when I was entering through the guarded gates, I was thinking how different it was from the poorly lit, badly furnished, poor and shabby two-storey building back in Kochi, where we built up the news division of Kairali Channel eight years ago. Still, both belonged to a class of organizations which sought to challenge the western media monopoly in our times. Of course, they won and we lost.

It was Sunday afternoon, a working day in Doha. Dr Jaffer, who works in the major government hospital in the city, was so keen on his excited debates as he drove the car that often I wondered how his swanky Ford car manages to avoid having friendly encounters with the ones moving in front and the sides. The Doha roads in the rush hours looks like any other city: A relentless stream of cars, inside them solitary figures trying to manipulate the heavy traffic.

At Al Jazeera too, it was a busy day for them. It was the day of the state visit of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a tour of West Asia to persuade the rich sheikdoms to part with their money to help the struggling financial sector back home and in Wall Street. For Al Jazeera, it was also the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the channel and they were organizing an international seminar on human rights as part of a new division they were launching on human rights with Sami Al Haj, as its head.

At Hotel Sheraton on West Bay, Ajit and Rasheed Bhai had a brief chance meeting with Sami Al Haj the previous day. Sami is a dark and lean man from Sudan, who had spent six and a half years at the Guantanamo Bay, after being arrested by the US troops in Afghanistan. He was a camera-person with Al Jazeera who went to Afghanistan to report on the lives of the people there but ended up being news himself. Released a few months earlier, he was now back in Al Jazeera, trying to rebuild his life and that of millions of others in every part of the world whose lives have been shattered by the bullies.

Most of the people we met in Doha had some India connection. Among Qatar's expatriate community, Indians are perhaps the largest in numbers and most successful. Sami too has an India connection because he went to college in Pune. Like Doha, Al Jazeera too is an an example of cosmopolitanism at its best. Its staff members are drawn from 40 nationalities, said Sarah Mahmoud Taha, a slim and darkish Arab girl who was our host in the channel.

Sarah, who is the international relations coordinator at Al Jazeera, too was very busy that day, but she took us around and answered all our questions. We first had a look at the Arab channel premises which is now 12 years old. Its Iraq bureau is also functioning from the Doha headquarters as after the US bombing of their bureau in Baghdad, they were not allowed to function in that country. Sarah too has her own India connections. Her father, a scientist, went to college in Mysore. I told her Mysore is close to my home town, Kozhikode, and Jaffer remembered one of their slain staff members in Baghdad bombing too went to college in my home town, at Farook College. She was very pleased with the information.

The premises of the English channel, launched two years ago, are close by but definitely much better and glittering. It is a world of glamour, glitter and technological prowess as the Emir whose rich oil fields finance the channel has not spared any expense to make it world class. Before leaving, we had a meeting with Satnam Matharu, a pleasant young executive who heads the international division. A person of Indian origin, his family migrated to Canada from Punjab.
Al Jazeera, though a representative of the new forces challenging the west, seems not to be very keen on covering India and other developing countries extensively. He said they do not have any office in India right now, except some arrangements for news coverage.

The concerns about media, its lopsided coverage,lack of sympathy for the live issues of the poor, dispossessed and oppressed were the major themes in the the three public functions we addressed in Doha. All of them were well attended and there was a lively exchange of ideas as the audience raised several sharp and very pertinent questions. The point I wanted to drive home was that it was futile to complain about the way mainstream media behaves. They are controlled by their class interests. If you want to raise your voice, then try to develop your own media organizations. Like Al Jazeera, like Tehelka and like our own three-year-old daily newspaper, Thejas, which I represented at these meetings. We have a new challenge here and great opportunities offered by the wonderful tools made available the new technologies, the high levels of public consciousness and the effective way resources could be raised from a vigilant public for a noble cause. What we needed to answer the challenge of monopoly media was determination and faith in our own strength.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change Comes to America...!



Barak Hussein Obama is elected the 44th president of the United States of America.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Narayaneeyam and the Lord of Guruvayur



THE FIFTEENTH century Manipravalam poem, Kokasandesam, is one of the earliest texts that refer to the temple of ‘Kuruvayur’ which later became one of the foremost pilgrim centres in Malabar region. It was the reign of Zamorins, who came to power in 12th century with the port city of Kozhikode as their capital, and Guruvayur was on the outer limits of his kingdom and was a strategic location where his forces often used as a transit point during their raids to the southern kingdoms.

The temple and its deity, Krishna, had become quite famous by the end 15th century and early 16th century. Bhakti poet Poonthanam and scholar-poet Melputhur Bhattathirippad were closely associated with the temple and some of the historical information we have on the early days of Guruvayur come from their writings. Poonthanam’s Jnanappana, one of the early Malayalam texts along with Cherusseri Namboodiri’s Krishnagatha and Ezhuthacchan's Adyatma Ramayanam, give us an insight into the development of the bhakti cult in deep-south which all over India had, by then, been spreading a renaissance culture with focus on the language of the common people, unlike the more Brahmanical Sanskrit which held sway in the classical ages. One of the interesting aspects about all three poets is that they belonged to the northern part of Kerala, Cherusseri hailing from a region under the Kottayam Rajah while Poonthanam and Ezhuthacchan lived in the Zamorin kingdom.

One of the specific mentions of the age and time is seen in Narayaneeyam, the great Sanskrit kavya by Melputhur, who ends his poem with a note on ayurarogyasoukhyam, a reference to a Kalidina number which translates into a date in late 16th century according to the Kollam Era that was popular in this region. Since there are references that both poets were contemporaries, we infer that Poonthanam and Melputhur lived in the kingdom of Zamorin in 16th century.

Narayaneeyam is a text that is more pedantic and scholarly, and according to legends the lord of Guruvayur himself had commented he preferred the bhakti of the poor Malayali Brahmin to the vibhakti of the Sanskrit scholar-poet. Surprisingly, we see that Melputhur always held sway in the temple town despite the deep bhakti that we encounter in Poonthanam.

There have been a few attempts to translate Narayaneeyam into Malayalam, one of the well known works being that of C V Vasudeva Bhattathiri. Recently I came across a new translation done in Dravidian metres, Neythiri, executed by Balendu. This is a commendable effort for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being the difficulty of rendering a popular text into our language without losing its musical and poetic elements. As I went through the text I found it was a beautiful rendering of Narayaneeyam in Malaylam and it deserves a better attention from Malayali reading public.

I had a talk with the poet, who hails from Elanhi in Ernakulam and now lives in Bangalore, on his work:

On the poet’s devotion and inspiration to work:

I am a believer in God as a source of Divine justice. More than any of the famous temples I like Gramadevatha. I like the epics as the best purposeful fiction. Krishna is my favourite character. I don’t consider Rama as very significant. I like Ramayanam. I went inside Guruvayur Temple only after writing Neythiri. I have “read” in few sapthahams just to read Bhagavatham.

On Narayaneeyam:

Till 1994 my only encounter with Narayaneeyam was through P.Leela’s rendering. I don’t know Sanskrit. I tried to read Narayaneeyam, but could not make much headway till I joined a group of devotees in 1999 in chanting sessions.

The musical quality attracted me the most. I loved the literary excellence too. As a spiritual work I think Jnaanappana is better.

Idea of translating:

It struck me like a blitzkrieg (October 2002). It was as a means of understanding Narayaneeyam better. My close relatives have always liked my translations. (I know six languages).

On other translations of Narayaneeyam into Malayalam:

I have seen a few translations. I did not see any that was worth talking about. Those which were in the sankrit vrithams had a lot of handicaps. I had seen only one like Neytthiri, in Dravida vrithams, but not before I had actually started mine. Well, I believe it is a sloppy work.

How long it took to complete the work:

Almost three years, from October 2002 to 25th July 2005. Spasmodic is the proper adjective for the process. Or rather like Punartham njatuvela.

What were the problems faced:

Mainly Pattery’s slesham. It is simply un-translatable.

Even Kumaran Asan had spoken about the limitations of our language:

I disagree. He was talking about language in general. Not about Malayalam specific, when he said, innu bhaashayithapoornnam.

As a translator how did you find these limitations:

My work is not exactly a translation. It is Narayaneeyam retold.

Where do you place Narayaneeyam:

Narayaniyam’s place is very high; should be at par with Bhagavatham and Ramayanam. But, it is in Sanskrit

Do you look at your own translation as a contribution to the rich tradition of devotional literature?

Well! Is it not better that I leave it for the readers to answer that. So far many (well known writers, spiritual gurus, and well read public) appreciated the work. Only three persons have pointed out mistakes. One is my wife, the two others had extremely good intentions.(Such good work should be spotless, they said.)

On Thunchan:

Thunchan is my inspiration. I believe Malayalam as a language has not progressed from where he had left it. His works are also punaraakhyaanams, not paribhasha.

What else did you do by way of original writing:

I have published six books for children. Three are collections of stories, two novels, one kuttikkavithakal. One of my stories is a lesson in 4th standard Malayalam text.

Details on the book:
Neythiri, Sahitya Manjari Publications, Onakkur, Ernakulam. Price: Rs.180.
Contact the poet: kavibalendu@gmail.com
 
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