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The present writing is my understanding and interpretation of one of the central relationship between two characters in Amitav Ghosh’s book The Hungry Tide published by HarperCollins Publishers India in joint venture with The India Today Group. Location: Lusibari a ficticous island, near Canning, the final railhead for the Sundarbans.

 

An evil tide, a cyclone swept across the island and killed Fokir, laying to rest forever the possibility of a love blossoming in full between him and Piya. A cruel tree trunk uprooted by the strong gust of rain, fell on his back delivering the final blow that took his life. In fact moments before this happened he had gathered Piya in his arms, pressing her against him in order to protect her from the wave that lashed like the water from a dam broken on the island….

 

  ” She tried to break free from his grasp, tried to pull him around so that for once, she could be the one who was sheltering him. But his body was unyielding and she could not break free from it, especially now that it had the wind’s weight behind it. Their bodies were so close, so finely merged that she could feel the impact of everything hitting him, she could feel the impact of everything hitting his back. She could feel the bones of his cheeks as if they had been superimposed upon her own; it was as if the storm had given them what life could not; it had fused them together and made them one.” (Pg. 390)

 

No, this was not a love between two humans from the same social status or the same educational background. It was not a love that was socially possible. Yet, in the hearts of both, the reader sensed a connection, so subtle, that it challenged the very essence of love itself. Fokir and Piya. One a boatman, the other a cetologist, in India to draw the path of the Irrawaddy dolphins in the land of The Hungry Tide, a stretch of land, about three hundred kilometres, from the Hoogly River in West Bengal to the shores of Meghana in Bangladesh, forming an archipelago.

 

 

Piyali Roy, Piya, as she is better known, is born to parents of transcontinental origin, Bengal, India and America. She grew up in Seattle and although half Bengali, she could not speak the language. Fokir, born to parents who could best be described as people who came into the Indian territory as refugees, made his living by fishing, thus requiring him to go deep into the waters, the sea. A perfect fellow companion for a cetologist, Fokir knew the waters, their colours and the places where to find the dolphins. Fokir and Piya were juxtaposed next to one another by destiny to spend many hours, even days in the water, away from all human habitation. Even Moyna, Fokir’s wife. For the money he made by helping Piya, Moyna was unable to control the movements of the two together and in her heart she always knew that Piya, had a soft corner for Fokir. She doubted that there was more to it. Although, the reader knows that whatever be the circumstances, neither Piya nor Fokir have ever admitted, even to themselves of any relationship other than a so called ” professional” one. Though many times very physically close, nothing conspired between the two, which can be called erotic in nature. Yet, there is that something that keeps the suspense going, unbearably sometimes. Are they finally going to make love? Is it after all going to happen? And this goes on until he dies in the storm, laying to rest, once and for all the surreal reality of a relationship that calls for an imaginative analysis.


The psychology of non-happening.

The complex mixture of desire and angst arising out of it, the longing, and yet the continuous inability of the mind to find its resting place, the journey that is fated not to end in a predictable conclusion, the pressing need to find a way to cope with the gigantic and hungry tide arising within oneself, to find a shore, a place to rest its overwhelming power, leads the person to finally find a shore in the psychology of “the other“. Call it God, states beyond the psychology of the mind and body, or even something to live for, quite often a Cause.

 


Rocked by the death of Fokir, Piya is quick to send her findings across the world and find the funding to stay in Lusibari, where the entire episodes of their lives happen. This then includes her being able to find additional work for Moyna with her and make up for the loss in income by the death of Fokir.


 Is it guilt that makes Piya do this? Guilt of sharing at least in her mind, no matter how subconscious it may be, a passing thought for a closer encounter between her and Fokir? Afterall, when on one of such an expedition, Fokir had given her, his wife’s sari, to use as a pillow. Piya, got the smell of the Moyna’s body woven into the threads of the sari. In the morning when she returns the sari to Fokir, she had even silently told the woman in her mind, that all was well and nothing had happened that would have jeopardized the Moyna’s relation with Fokir. So at a subconscious level, even at times at a conscious level, she is aware of a certain closeness she felt towards Fokir that transgressed the limits of erotic human relationship, those defining limits that was barred by society to happen. Yet, the body understands its own language and the mind must find a way to cope that which is deemed not happen. She remains close to Moyna, especially now in the absence of Fokir. The zone of doubt and mistrust has died with Fokir. They can now be close to each other, Piya and Moyna. And this is what happens, first to give Moyna moral support and then perhaps at the back of her mind, being close to Moyna, she remains close to Fokir’s presence in her.


Fokir never exposed his feelings openly to his wife Moyna. In fact, he is distant, non communicative and lost in himself. Yet he is devoted to her. He carries her sari whenever he is at sea for days either fishing or on the expedition with Piya. It serves as his pillow, his blanket, even a curtain to keep his body from being visible to an onlooker. Just like a man/woman, in the absence of their lover, spouse or partner, may sleep on that side of the bed, where the partner usually sleeps or a child might hold on to the edge of the mothers’ sari as a security blanket, similarly, Moyna’s sari, carried the “smell” of the beloved when Fokir was away from her. Her name and his son’s name were the last words, breathed into Piya’s ears, as he died in her arms on that island lashed by cyclone and struck by the tree trunk. Yet, in that dying moment, he recognizes the silent words spoken through Piya’s eyes of how richly he is loved by her. It is said, without words. Fokir accepts it, without resistance. They have both known, though none has put it in words, ever.


There are no questions asked. No feelings over expressed. Life and death exist facing each other at every moment on these islands. For Piya, it becomes a quick way to find a solution, a balm, may we think, to her heart, and a Cause to live for. In the larger sense, it gives her a reason to continue her relationship with Fokir, while at the same time, she makes up for the loss of income due to Fokir’s death. Very carefully and intelligently packaged, in a brown paper packet, left for the reader to see the transformation of a love that was doomed not to happen, taking shape in another, larger and lasting manner – Conservation of the dolphins by Enviromental Groups sponsored under the Badabon Trust in Lusibari. Moyna, Fokir’s widow, is pitched to find additional employment here while Piya continues to live and work from Lusibari.

 


What however, is more interesting to me is what happens to a powerful emotion, when love is unrequited, or it cannot happen, due to reasons that are existential. Are we then to die in dejection of what could not happen? Or are we to find another home quickly in another human? Can love be so powerful that it can transform to become a Cause? And if it is love unrequited, rejected, failed, cut short by the evil hand of time, can we find recourse in God? What then is the answer to love that cannot find the desired shore, that must transcend the psychology of the non-happening?

 

“A love gone is in itself death, breathing death every moment, it seems it is better to die than live a breath that has died….yet life beckons him, who prides himself with patience, knowing time heals everything and what we leave behind is again at our doors, that which was a river, is now a flood. Is it not therefore better to give ourselves to time and wait patiently for the hands of the clock to change our destiny? To resign to the Heart of Him who gives us pain?”

 

 

 

 

 

Latest from Ghosh Sea Of Poppies
http://outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20080526&fname=Amitav+Book+%28F%29&sid=1

 

 

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” Dance, Lalla, with nothing on

but air. Sing, Lalla,

wearing the sky

Look at this glowing day! What clothes
Could be so beautiful, or

More sacred?”

Mystic. Drunk with the love of God, Lalla, or Lal Ded , Lal Didi – known by any of these names, Lalla, as we will refer to her here was a mystic born in Kashmir, maybe in 1320 (14th Century). Kashmir of those times was the merging point for, Shaivism, Sufism and Vedantic non-dualism. It is believed that Lalla lived upto 1391 in this valley.It is said that she was born in Srinagar, but really she was like a gypsy roaming around singing her song of God inebriation.

There are no written chronicles on Lalla. The stories are what we know from oral sources. As a young girl, it is said, she was mistreated by her mother-in-law and her husband so much, that the torture became her take-off pad for an extraordinary journey to Self. At twenty-four she left home and became a student of a Hindu teacher called Sed Bayu. Later, she became associated with the Sufi Master as well called, Ali Hamadani.

She roamed around the valley naked – naked meaning either of the two – one, of true nakedness, a body without clothes, the other, nakedness of the soul arising from the nakedness of the mind, a mind free of all boundaries.

According to Coleman Barks, translator of the Book ” Naked Songs” about the songs of Lalla (www.pilgrimbooks.com) ” Reducing shadow cloth to shreds and patches in fine work of poetry. Sometimes abstract and at other times wonderfully imaged, her short-song scissor-bites cut free the conventional veils and solaces, the light-blockers that hide our own soul-nakedness. She leaves us out in the open with nothing on, like the new moon”.

” The soul. Like the moon,
is now, and always new again.”

” My teacher told me one thing,
live in the soul.

When that was so,
I began to go naked,

And dance.”

Clothes, have been symbolic for many who write or speak of spiritual journey or realization. Here the clothes are synonymous with dropping of identities or societal dressings.

In India, we have looked at nakedness with shame and in the same breath we have accepted nakedness among spiritual practitioners with an attitude of shraddha. Thus, on this soil, even to this day, we live with equal tolerance, of both shame and shraddha on the subject of nakedness. We bow before a Digambara Jaina muni walking naked on the streets, or an atmagyani who has shed his/her clothes, even watch with ecstatic joy, the absolute abandon of the Naga Swamis. Our children, our women and our men go with faith and devotion to a realized souls (* See hyperlink below: The presence of a Sufi Mystic in our own land – Kashmir) and seek His/Her blessings with reverence. These naked fakirs are a boon to our lives as human beings.

A wo/man, transcended above all identities of body, has no feeling or shame around the physical body because, shame and identities begin not in the body, but in the mind. A mind free of the temporal/spatial cognates has no use of this body, whether, clothed in diamonds or in rags or nothing at all.

” Don’t be so quick to condemn my nakedness.

A man is one who trembles in the Presence.
There are very few of those.

Why not go naked?

The ram of experience must be fed
And ripened for the sacrifice.

” Then all these customs will disappear
like clothes. There’s only the soul.”

The poems attributed to Lalla express something greater than religion, in fact an awareness of things as they really are, the simple truths that remain unseen by men at large. Lalla’s naked perception is the truth she knows and that is always in motion, as she herself was, wandering and singing these songs in medieval Kashmir.

Last, but not the least –

” Gently I weep for my mind,
caught in its illusion of ownership.

Mind, you’re not who you think you are.
You’re dancing over a pit.

Soon you’ll fall through,
And these things, you’ve valued

And collected will be left behind.”

Coleman Barks who has translated ” Lalla – Naked Song” has also translated and published other esoteric poets like The Sixth Dalai Lama, Rigdzin Tsangyang Gyatso and Jalaluddin Rumi

*The presence of a Sufi Mystic in our own land – Kashmir

http://tehelka.com/story_main22.asp?filename=hub111806With_silence.asp

Title: Naked Song

Publisher: Pilgrim Publishing

Pages:138

Price: Rs 100

Buy from: Pilgrims Book House

Email : mailorder@pilgrims.wlink.com.np

Website: http://www.pilgrimbooks.com

In India:

Varanasi

B 27/98, A-8, Nawabgunj Road
Durga Kund, Varanasi

Email: pilgrims@satyam.net.in

New Delhi

9, Netaji Subhash Marg, SF

Near Neeru Hotel

Daryagunj

Email: pilgrim@del2.vsnl.net.in

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