Archive for November, 2012

The Stair and Ravi: A Short Story by Sarah Joseph

// November 8th, 2012 // No Comments » // Cultural Politics

He wanted to get married by falling in love.   He also wanted to discard the issues of caste, religion, and dowry.  But because of so many reasons everything was in peril.  He loved two women; Sreeja and Mary.  But it was over the question of caste that his family raised a hell.

“If you bring that Nazrani (Christian) girl home, I ‘ll hang myself right here.”   Mother pointed towards the wooden beam that held the roof.

“You shouldn’t  bother, I ‘ll hang myself.”

Ravi startled his mother by retorting.  She looked at him with a gaping mouth that he was not the one to say such shocking things to her.  When the heart is on fire what the hell is this thing called caste!  Love has not begun today or yesterday.  It’s been two long years since the hot pursuit of the two girls has started.  Everybody knows that too.  If they are still poking their nose into it, something should be said.

“Didn’t you get anyone from your own caste to love?”

Elder sister asked over the phone from Gulf.  Actually he loved a real Nair wench!  A lot of money had gone into that!  She would never bring lunch from home.  Daily meals, tea and snacks went to Ravi’s account!  With rice she always took the fried sardine fish that was six rupees a piece!  When people began to murmur canteen manager Unni Nair called Ravi.  The sweeping and cleaning in the ward was not over.  He put the broom and bucket in a corner and went straight to the canteen.  Unni Nair opened the book of love.  “Are you serious?”

When nodded yes, Nair began to tap on the table.

“Ravi you better leave it.”

It’s a real puzzle!  What’s up? Did anyone do the gossipy game?  Unni Nair is a good soul who doesn’t want to harm others.  He never articulates his whims and fancies in public.  He is trustworthy.

“Unni Nair, what is the matter?”

“That girl got some other musings as well; you better leave it!”

What musings? He should have asked him to make it clear.  But a few customers came to pay the bill right then.  Nair was busy with the currencies and coins.  Like a fixed pole he stood there for some time forgetting duty.   Even forgot the fact that it was the time for rounds.  Also forgot that the lashing tongue of matron Santhakumari would be nasty.  When the rush was over, Unni Nair said:  “If you still want her, I won’t say anymore, you can probe it for yourself.”

With whom could such things be asked?  Ravi doesn’t want others to talk ill of a girl (Hasn’t Ravi got two sisters?).  It could be asked straight on her face.  And it was asked amidst lunch.

“Sreeja, what I heard, is it all true?”

“What did you hear?”

“Apart from me do you have affairs with other guys too?”

Sreeja did not lie.  She did not stop eating either.  Two guys before Ravi and two even after Ravi’s coming.

“Then what you have shown to me, was it not love?”

“Who said no?”

Sreeja smiled.  The smile showing the white teeth that snared Ravi earlier!  She washed her hands while still smiling.  She gurgled and rinsed her mouth clean.  With the same smile she entered the door above which it was written that it was the place for examining blood, excreta, urine and phlegm.  Then through the same door Mary came out sobbing.  An innocent love ended at that door and another innocent love began there. 

“Why are you weeping?” Ravi asked Mary.  She turned down her face and flowing tears from the eyes went away without answering.  For what, Ravi doesn’t know even today.  Ravi followed weeping Mary on and on!  Passing the wards, the blocks, the dispensary, the blood bank, the X ray unit, enigmatic rooms and mysterious corridors…  Ravi followed her until she stopped before a closed door near the physiotherapy unit in the underground.  With a bang that is capable of startling the fast asleep, that door opened and closed at once and Mary disappeared!  Sweeping, broom, bucket, doctor, patient and matron came to Ravi’s mind all of a sudden.  While ascending the stairs, Sreeja is descending down! She is smiling as well!

“To where did you run after her like a shot wild boar?”

Sreeja asked, “You got tamed after her show of tears?”  She descended down the stair brushing the body of Ravi in a close encounter.  Bitch! I don’t want to see that thing! Sreeja shouted from a few steps below.

“Ravi you are not going to get her, she got plenty of debts to pay.”

Ravi became furious. Then let her debts be settled first and then the rest!  He wanted to walk a few steps before this bitch with her!

“How much is your debt Mary?”  Ravi asked Mary.  Mary unleashed her tears.  She walked through dark corridors.  Ravi followed her.  They descended the dark steps of the nether world.  The door opened with a bang and closed.  Mary disappeared and Ravi was startled.  Whenever he ascended back Sreeja came down the stairs.  She casted her canine moonlight smile.  His hairs stood still and erect as she brushed past him.  Ravi could not understand a thing.  One weeps.  One smiles.  One descends the stairs and the other ascends it.  Women are such fierce stuff!

They really are a terrible stuff!  Mary walks ahead with a tray in hand, drooping and weeping into it.  At deserted corners she asks Ravi:

“Why do you follow me?”

Before he gets time to gather an appropriate answer she also says something that ruins Ravi.

“I am a sinner.”

“It means?”  Ravi had to approach Unni Nair himself to find the reality of it.  Unni Nair doesn’t differ in his opinion.

“A virtuous girl with discipline and honesty” He said.

“But she says she is a sinner!”

“Never mind it, it is said by all Christians about themselves.  Do you believe her?”

“I believe her.”

“Then why worry?”

“Will she believe me in turn?”

“Then why should she say to you that she is a sinner and all… be bold, go and tell her.”

While Ravi gathered courage Unni Nair began to tap on the table.

“You could have done this from your own caste…”

One’s own caste!  Unni Nair is the right person to say that too!  However human you are you could not pull out this thorn from you.  This was the problem with father too!

“Mary and Carey are not allowed here.” Father expressed his anger.

“It means I need to go elsewhere with her.”

Father cooled down at that.  The monthly salary (excluding the food bills of Sreeja) is submitted to father regularly.

If that practice stops, it is the end.  That is why while he was day dreaming in the verandah father came and poked his belly.

“You could not forget her?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Your mother, me and siblings?”

“Yes.”

Father’s eye’s must have bulged out.  Didn’t he come to say about one’s own caste?  How many times they were told that Ravi has no caste and religion!  Are you my own son Ravi, father looked him in such a manner.  He never said a word.  Mother is so sure that it’s all taught by that nasty Nazrani (Christian)!  Let her have it!  She has never taught anything unwanted to Ravi.

“Man would join his wife abandoning his father and mother.  They become a mind and body.” Mary taught thus.  Isn’t it so?  What is the point if man and wife quarrel like the snake and the mongoose?  Is it a small thing to become a single mind and body?  Ravi is absolutely agreeing on this point.  But the problem is something else.  He could not understand a question often repeated by Mary.  Something confusing is in it.  He could not understand it.

“Will my debts be forgiven?” Mary asks in tears.

“How much is it, we’ll think about it.”

Ravi gave an assurance.  But Mary descended down the steps to the netherworld weeping in vein.  Ravi felt that something severe than the problem of one’s own caste is in it.

Ravi also promised to take the responsibility of her debts in broad day light too.  Mary was frightened.  Ravi felt that the debts are of millions and millions.  He advised:

“You need not fear everything.  My belief is that a woman to whom you are married to must not be frightened. “

“Ravi has not married me yet?”

“May be not but still it is the same, isn’t it?”

Mary sobbed and tears flowed down.  He wanted to tell her that except this anything else could be tolerated.

Mary was descending down the steps leading to the netherworld passing through dark corridors, crammed pathways, blood tasting wards, sighs of the death awaiting people, with feeble steps that resembled her own heart beat.  Ravi was following.  Amidst the hide and seek of light and shadow when Mary’s woman-smell suffocated and entangled him he grabbed her in his arms and kissed.  Mary stood frozen.

“I shall pay Mary’s debts.”

“Ravi, you can’t.”

“Is it such big debt?”

Tears splashed down into the tray that Mary held in her hand like flash floods.  She descended all the steps.  The door was open.  She disappeared.  Darkness and Ravi remained.  Ravi stood in the mud of cries.  Sreeja is on top of the stair.  The moonlight smile with canines appeared.

“Ravi you cannot do it.  We took the debt for compound interest… how much you pay back it is not going to end…”

Sreeja came down the stair.  She brushed past him.  The door was opened. Sreeja disappeared.  The stair and Ravi remained.

 

 

Translated from Malayalam by  Ajay Sekher

Courtesy: This appeared in Indian Literature May/June 2012; journal of Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

Original Malayalam titile: “Koniyum Raviyum”.  From Malayala Manorama Weekly Annual Issue 2011.

A Broken Padmasana: The Fissured Buddha of Pattanam

// November 2nd, 2012 // 18 Comments » // Cultural Politics

Whatever is the essence of the Tathagata,
That is the essence of the world.

The Tathagata has no essence.

The world is without essence.

                        Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamakakarika, XXII:16

Crossed legs and part of the left hand completing a solemn Padmasana. Demolished above the waist in the violent conquest in the middle ages. Now worshiped as Yakshi at Nileeswaram Siva temple, Pattanam. Ernakulam dist, Kerala.

It was Prof P J Cherian the director of KCHR and the Pattanam/Muziris  excavation project who drew my attention to certain broken granite sculptures kept in Pattanam Nileeswaram Siva temple a couple of months ago.  A retired school master told him about the fragments, says Prof Cherian.  These fragments were recovered some 70 to 80 years ago from the temple pond and placed on the raised platform of the Yakshi outside the Nalambalam structure beneath a Pipal by the pond.

The pedestal and half-undone Padmasana idol from the back. It was recovered from the temple pond almost a century ago and placed on the Yakshi platform by the pond under a Pipal tree. Mavelikara, Kayamkulam and Kattanam Buddhas were also recovered by the people from current Savarna temples at the same time.

People still worship these broken idols as Naga Yakshi and Naga Raja.  But in close examination they were found to be of different statues.  A seated figure in Padmasana is the vital fragment.  Yesterday, 26 Oct 2012 I got time to visit Pattanam and had a close and enlightening view of the fragments.  It is placed on a pedestal with a water chute.  The iconographic style, color of the stone, chiseling style and texture of the stone closely resemble the Buddha idols recovered from Mavelikara, Karumady, Bharanikavu and Kayamkulam in the south.

Four fragments are placed together and that is why it was difficult for the people to decipher the mystery of Pattanam Buddha. It again is a hegemonic act of obscurantism and erasure of vital past by the obliterating Savarna Brahmanical forces who still specialize in burying their own past in a repressive and fascist way.

This idol in Padmasana seems to be demolished above the waist and is the only one resembling a Buddha idol reported to be recovered so far from Ernakulam district.  The regions between Edapally and Vadanapally thrive in place names with the common affix Pally, a Pali word signifying a Chamana sacred place.  All other Buddha idols recovered so far are from Alapuzha and Kollam districts.  Plenty of similar Buddha sculptures are also reported from Tyaganur, Ariyalur, Nagapatinam and other parts of Tamil Nadu, especially in Madurai and Tirunelveli districts.

Tyaganur Buddha in the open field for the last one thousand years or more, from Tamil Nadu.
Photo: The Hindu

Any way it is very important to note that the idol fragments were recovered from the temple pond.  It was the same in Mavelikara, Kayamkulam, Pallykal and Karumady.  All the Buddha idols in Kerala were recovered from current Savarna temple ponds or paddy fields in their vicinity.  They were violently attacked uprooted and thrown or buried in ponds and marshes.  The Buddha at Tyaganur is still sitting pretty in the open field exposed to the elements almost a millennium after its creation by skilled sculptors or Chamana sages themselves.

Perfect disguise of the past:  the fragmets placed together in an ambiguous way.  Nileeswaram temple at Pattanam is so close to Cherai the birth place of Sahodaran Ayyappan who initiated the neo buddhist movement in Kerala during the renaissance cultural revolutions in early 20th century. Sahodaran has written extensively on the destruction of buddhist shrines in Kerala by Brahmanic Hindutva forces like Kodungallur and Srimulavasam in particular. Remember his song “O don’t go to the Bharani O brothers…”  Because of his scathing critique of Brahmanism and Savarna elitism,  Sahodaran the greatest organic intellectual that Kerala has ever produced was systematically excluded from the high canon and  textbooks by the Savarna literati, who instead celebrated Asan for his mild Hinduized worldview.

It is not likely to be a Jain Thirthankara image because there is no Mudra or symbols of animals or Chaitya trees associated with each Thirthankara on the base or pedestal.  Moreover the stylization of the figure and its seated posture and orientation of the limbs closely echo the Buddhas at Mavelikara, Karumady and Bharanikavu.  P C Alexander and S N Sadasivan who wrote the history of Buddhism in Kerala  have argued that these south Kerala Buddhas resonate the Anuradhapura style of stone sculpting and chiseling.  The blackness and density of the granite and the exquisite oily suppleness of appearance closely link the Pattanam fragment to its counter parts in Alapuzha and Kollam and in the far south in Srilanka.

Mavelikara Buddha, recovered from the paddy field adjacent to Kandiyur temple and placed at the Buddha Junction, Mavelikara. Note the lotus posture/Padmasana with crossed legs and connected hands. See the tone and texture of the stone and its colour that is recurring in all the Buddha idols including the Pattanam Buddha recovered from Kerala.

It is a mockery of history that these invaluable  fragments of Pattanam went unnoticed and unidentified for the last one century.  It shows the repressive power of the mainstream Savarna Hindu ideology and common sense that becomes hegemonic and annihilating.  Crucial suppression and erasure of collective consciousness, memory, past and integrity under cultural hegemony is a key aspect of Kerala’s elite culture called Savarna supremacism.  Genocidal and symbolic violence and perpetual erasures and mutilations are its chief tenets.  These historic and epistemic violences are legitimized in the name of an omnipotent god and timeless religion.  The pivotal significance of the archetypal phallus or the Linga in the Saivite Hindutva appraisal gains meaning in these contexts.

Pattanam Buddha idol (half demolished, above waist): An early photo by KCHR photographer. Iconography, Chiseling style, Stone type, texture and color closely resembling Buddha idols recovered at Mavelikara, Karumady, Kattanam and Kayamkulam. By courtesy of Prof P J Cherian and KCHR

The broken figure in Padmasana at Pattanam is yet another key-marker of the cultural reality and history of Kerala.  It proves once again that grave and material violence was used to convert and modify the ethical and egalitarian spiritual practices and instructive places in Kerala during the early middle ages by Brahmanic Hinduism and its strategic appropriating tropes like Saivism and Vaishnavism.  The Brahmanic henchmen belonging mostly to the Maravar and Kallar clans, literally demolished and buried all the traces of Buddhism and its non violent culture in Kerala with true Sudra allegiance and slave like fidelity to their caste- sovereigns, the earthly gods or Bhudeva.

Buddha at Bharanikavu Pallykal, Katanam near Kayamkulam. It was also recovered from a pond behind the current Hindu temple in early 20th century. Till then it was used as a washing stone and foot cleaning stone in the temple pond. See the close similarity in chiseling style and lotus posture; with Mavelikara, Karumady and Pattanam idols. Pallykal Buddha is dated to 7th century by experts.  Now protected by Archeological department of Kerala.

Suppression of reality, resistance and speech are still widely practiced by the Savarna power elites who monopolize every public institutions in the country, especially the higher academia and media.  The ideology and praxis of erasure and sanctioned ignorance or silence on the key aspects of collective past are still dominant practices in higher academia and media in Kerala and India at large.  Even the victims conform to this dominant practice out of compulsion from conventions and supervision from the orthodoxy.  Through such hegemonic measures of suppression and silencing the ethical and democratic Chamana culture of Kerala is pushed under the carpet even today in mainstream academic and media discourses.  Mainstream academic historians from the former Savarna social background argue that the idols are some exceptions brought here by some merchants and traders and not part of a people’s culture and tradition!  They are still keeping mum over the extensive presence of Pali words in Malayalam and the cultural symbols and images in the daily life practices of people related to Jain and Buddhist traditions.  Archaeological, cultural and linguistic evidences explode the silence of the self-fashioned academic scholars who make a monopoly of the “academic methodology and practice.”

The pedestal with lying human figures piled on one another on which the Padmasana figure is placed at Pattanam Nileeswaram Siva temple. Ernakulam dist of Kerala.  Note the easy chiseling possibility of modifying such  idols and seats into a Siva Linga.  It was practiced through out south India by Brahmanism and its assimilatory tropes like Saivism and Vaishnavism to convert Chamana Pallys.

The broken granite Buddha sculpture at Pattanam testifies this fascist violence that is still brewing in the present against minor sects, others and out castes in India by the Hindutva and Savarna henchmen.  Pattanam Buddha is a vital fragment of history that teaches us to be vigilant against cultural,  iconographic, architectural and epistemic violence and alterations by the power elite done with coercion and appropriating strategies.  It is striking that Pattanam is so close to Cherai where Sahodaran Ayyappan initiated the most dynamic neo buddhist discourse in Kerala along with C V Kunhiraman and Mitavadi C Krishnan in the early 20th century as part of the  cultural struggles now termed as Kerala renaissance under the visionary leadership of Narayana Guru who symbolically and radically subverted the Brahmanical hegemony through his Aruvipuram installation in 1888.

Sahodaran Ayyappan (1889-1968) wrote extensively on Buddhism in Kerala at the wake of the 20th century. His verses contain a special section “Baudha Kandam.” Instrumental in initiating neo buddhism in Kerala. Also initiated live dialogues with Ambedkarism and Periyor movement in early 20th century Kerala.

In his verse and prose he reintroduced the ethical message of the enlightened one to the people in their mother tongue Malayalam as against the Pali of the Amana monks.  Sahodaran  journal was dedicated to the teaching of ethics to the dalitbahujan people in Kerala.  He used the Pipal leaf as its logo and compared the modern boddhisatva of Kerala, Narayana Guru to the Buddha himself.  The coinage “Sri Narayana-buddha”  is an insightful and futuristic semantic construction by Sahodaran.  He also inaugurated the rationalist and civil/human rights movement in Kerala in early 20th century that culminated in the Kerala model and modernity in a few decades.

Nileeswaram Siva temple at Pattanam. Towards the right background the big Pipal stands and beneath it the Buddha fragment is placed now and worshiped as Yakshi.  Pattanam excavation site is to the left background of this temple.

The shattered buddha of Pattanam is an immortal piece of art as well.  It tells us a lot about South Indian cultural history, iconography,  society and polity during the last few thousand years.  It is an icon of survival, resistance and articulation against invasions and imperialisms, both internal and external.  It is an ethical and spiritual work of art that is political and social as well, with its polyphonic significations and liberating visual cultural possibilities.  This invaluable treasure and heritage of the whole humanity and Kerala in particular must be preserved and protected by the people and their elected governments for future.  As the neo buddha of India has reminded us the people who do not know history, can not make history.

neo buddha of India: Ambedkar merged into the Buddha in the imagination of a dalit artist. Image from the internet.

It is vital to remember that the Padmasana a basic posture  in Indian Yoga traditions has its origin in the Indus valley Dravidian civilization that dates back to BC 3000.  The meditating Yogi in Padmasana amidst wild animals including the tiger and the elephant, recovered from terracotta seals in the Harrappan sites  is identified as one of the earliest artistic expressions of this unique nonviolent culture, ethical aesthetics and cosmological vision.

Indus valley seal of a Yogi in Padmasana: An earliest artistic expression of ascetic and ethical practice in India. Orientalists termed it as Siva as Pasupati. Now linked to the Sramana Yogic tradition of early Dravidian and pre-Jain/buddhist traditions. Image from internet

The orientalist scholars and early Hindutva ideologues instantly  declared it Siva as Pasupati or lord of the beasts.  But radical organic intellectuals from the people recovered this iconic image as the early manifestation of Indus valley Dravidian culture and ethics.  The rudimentary forms of Sramana/Amana/Chamana ascetic-ethical  tradition could be aptly traced back to this Yogi in Padmasana.  The Jain and Buddhist wisdom and philosophy of nonviolence, renunciation and being one with nature could be appropriately  identified with the spiritual tranquility and ethical stability of this human figure amidst animals and the wild forces of nature.

A Boddhisatva from contemporary Kerala who wanted to write on the Padmasana in Indian cultures from the Indus onwards, but could not : O V Vijayan with his life-partner Dr Theresa. Padmasanam was his last projected novel. Photo: thehindu.com

It is again vitally important to remember that O V Vijayan the legend of Malayalam letters was struggling to write his last novel titled Padmasanam as death separated him from us.  He was trying to connect the Indus valley Yogi in Padmasana with the numerous Sramana idols in south India in the same lotus posture, while negotiating with the Parkinson’s disease.  The Pattanam Buddha fragment is there fore the latest addition to this ethical and egalitarian cultural legacy of India that is ever growing and being rediscovered everyday by the people in their various walks of life, struggle and survival.  Preserving it for the world and for the posterity with correct details is going to be a task ahead for the people.

ajay sekher  2 Nov 2012