Sunday, October 16, 2016

Iraivi, the evil in good hearts

Around 8 or 9 years ago, in a cozy home in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, Vaidehi and I had a conversation about her applying for a teacher’s job in Kodaikanal, in the Sholai internation school. We spoke of her working there and me, either working as a teacher with her or just sitting and writing. I don’t recall how the conversation ended, but I think it ended with a laugh about how absurd an idea it was. At least perhaps in my head.
Because, like the director Arul says in Iraivi’s climax, “Aambalai. Nedil. AAN... pen”.
This is not a movie. It is a magic mirror that when held to the face of society, shows all the tiny disgusting warts and pustules that we’ve nurtured in the name of tradition. It doesn’t bother itself with the gross manifestations of sexism and thereby ending up male bashing, which is what happens in most movies, be they “women-centric” or otherwise. We have heroes and heroines who take up cudgels (and in the case of heroes, the cudgels are literal) against rape, trafficking, dowry harassment, female infanticide and so on.
But what about the unwarranted pain that is created in the lives of people who lead seemingly happy normal lives by this demon? What about the harm that good people with good intentions inflict upon each other just because they are expected to act out their gender, their role.
That is the first point that Iraivi scores. Every single man in the movie is a good man, who loves the woman in life and as the ironic and poignant closing remark of Arul goes, “want to be happy”. For the first time since K.Balachander (whose influence is clearly acknowledged even before the title shows up) made movies, someone has made a movie concerning sexism and female oppression showing how it affects men as well. Had Arul been a woman, he wouldn’t have lost his life in the attempt to get his movie released. Had Michael, portrayed subtly by Vijay Sethupathi, been a woman, he would have never tried getting back to his earlier lover or put his loyalty to his employer over his family. Had Jegan been a woman, he would have never tried to ruin another man in an attempt to “rescue” the woman he loved. Men’s lives revolve around themselves and women’s around their bonds. We raise them to think and act like this and Iraivi in a tragedy that mirrors the work of both K.B. and Balu Mahendra shows the disastrous results of such conditioning.
The highlight of the movie as everybody is aware of now is the revelation of S.J.Surya as an actor. Playing a role that K.B.’s Rajnikanth or Kamal would have killed for, he shines in a manner that almost obliterates all the trashy movies he himself has directed. There is a sense of deliberation in all his actions, which aptly contrasts his irrational outbursts.
But there is equal credit due to Bobby Simha as well, who portrays his brother, the apparent voice of women’s rights, who correctly recognizes and empathizes with the travails of the ladies but comes up with the wrong panacea. It is good to see both him and Vijay Sethupathi not get carried away with the “mass” image that is being created for them and turn out solid performances.
Speaking of the ladies themselves, it is interesting that in a “female-centric” movie, they are in the backdrop. Yazhini and Ponni both merely go about their lives, trying to make sense of the chaos that is wreaked upon them by their men. It is possibly the character of Meenakshi, Arul and Jegan’s mother, that actually highlights this aspect of women being tossed about in the maelstrom of male actions - she is bed ridden by and is attended to by her repentant husband, but it is all too late, as it is for the other women too.
That is the other thing that makes Iraivi stand out, very much like the K.B. movies of yore. The movie has a strong plot, wonderfully etched out characters and engaging visuals while still delivering the message it set out to deliver. The sub-plot of idols of female deities being smuggled reinforces the message in a subtle manner - the men give a noble mission to their actions, that of rescuing the deities from languishing in oblivion and raising them to the pedestal where they belong. Karthik Subbaraj, take a bow sir.
The movie excels in editing and dialogues.
We are not spared the violence of Michael’s brutal murders, but when it comes to Michael himself being murdered, we don’t see it.
Malar’s lines when she talks to Michael’s uncle are reminiscent of Kaivtha, played by Sujatha meeting her lover’s mother in Aval Oru Thodarkathai. Did I tell you the movie is heavily inspired by K.B.? :-) The closing lines of the movie will forever be etched in the hearts of every educated man and woman who sees it. The irony of the “Aambalai” dialogue which has so often be used in movies in the past for men to inflict violence upon men...Wow! The camera is at ease whether capturing the idyllic beauty of Ponni’s home town (Thirunelveli?) or the claustrophobic alleys of Madras. The background score aptly compliments the movie, but the songs are not much to write home about.
Go watch Iraivi if you haven’t yet. It is a movie that every man and woman must watch to learn from, to realize how male privilege, patriarchy and sexism destroys lives of men and women alike. It is a movie that every man and woman must watch, as early ass they can so that they can go beyond their roles and gender and try to do what they all actually want - to perhaps eke out a simple life as teachers and poets in kodaikanal...
to be happy...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rama! Rama!

Dawn's eyes tremble on the eastern horizon.
A few early birds stretch their wings and look skywards with expectation.

On the sea shore,
Hanuman towers in Jambavan's eyes,
one brimming with pride, the other with awe.
The monkeys all shout "Ram! Ram!" celebrating victory already.
And Sampati totters about joining them.

In a far off forest,
Lakshman carves a path through the bushes
searching for Sita
thinking of Rama.

Outside Ayodhya,
Baratha forgets his morning ablutions chanting "Ram! Ram!!"
In Ayodhya,
Kousalya's breasts heave in her sleep, "Ram! Ram!"

Across the ocean,
Vibhishana wakes up and looks into his palm "Ram! Ram!".
Ravana stirs in his sleep and sighs in a musical note that resonates with Rama.

Hanuman folds his palms and closes his eyes.
He intones "Ram! Ram! Ram!" as his right foot takes off the ground for the leap.

Below the great Asoka tree, Sita sits in penance.
The leaves in her garden prison gently rustle as Hanuman leaps.
Sita does not waver.
She breathes in and out "Ram! Ram! Ram!"

The name is taken up by the wind and carried to the sea.
All of creation reverberates with Ram!

The sun rises.

Ram opens his eyes and sighs ‘Sita’.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Another moon

I saw another moon she says.

I consider correcting her, telling her that this was the same moon we saw before the bike turned left and headed out of the layout into the clearing.

But then is there really only one moon? The same moon chasing the same sun in her sable chariot night after night in an endless hunt?

Is there not a moon that appears as a dosai and is eaten away really slowly by a distracted god kid?

Is there not a moon which is actually a coin that some kid tossed too high before starting a game of cricket?

Is there not a moon that rains down cool nectar making the thousand petalled lotus bloom in the poet's mind?

Is there not a moon that burns with the fire of a thousand suns even on a winter night because the shoulders of beloved do not meet?

Is there not a moon that drips exquisite poison maddening a nervous heart and filling it with fantastic terrors?

Is there not a moon conspicuous by its absences, telling us tales of what might have been, of a future that is now orphaned with neither a past nor a present?

Is there not a moon that glows with ethereal beauty, whispering all the secrets of the universe that nobody ever sees or hears because our timid little hearts are buried in insignificant troubles?

So yes, my daughter, you are right.

We saw anana moon and we always will.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jackfruit preserve

How do you preserve a jackfruit?

Would you like a recipe?

It doesn't start with the jackfruit.
It starts with you.


Note book open?

Pen on the mark?

Oil your hands. Halve the fruit. Cut along the radial lines. Scoop the fruit out. Deseed, chop, boil, stir.
Sugar, stir. Salt, stir. Lemon juice, stir.
Boil, stir. stir, stir, stir, stir.
Pot in a jar. Serve on toast.

How do you preserve a jackfruit?

How do you recall the sheen of the oil?
How do you remember the symmetry of the radial lines?
How do you store the delightful stench that hits you even before the knife pierces the fruit?
How do you embalm the tenacious hold of the tenuous fibers?
How do you pot the exultation of freeing every last imprisoned fruit?

How do you preserve a jackfruit?

How do you store the tree's penance? The wisdom of the roots? The lucidity of the leaves? The passion of the rain? The love of the soil? The empty buzzing of the bees? The summer sun that pierced the fruit open with sensuous fingers?

How do you preserve a jackfruit?

Would you like a recipe?

It doesn't start with the jackfruit.
It starts with you.

With you forgetting the recipe,
forgetting to preserve;
forgetting yourself.

How do you preserve a jackfruit?

It starts with you forgetting the jackfruit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The vampire's call

Behold! Behold! A pallid moon!
Its limpid light hypnotic swoon.
Afar, afar, some wolf does croon.
Awake! Awake! My bloom of June!
Alive and dead I'm split in twain.
I rest in boon and roam a bane.
I sing, I pray to gods profane.
Come, come to my hunger's refrain.
You pale white flower of winter snow.
You fertile bed left fallow.
My sickle's stalk honeyed meadow,
Take, take this seed that I do bestow.
Your lilting breasts they swing and sway.
Your gauzy robes they spread and splay.
Your eager feet tiptoe ballet.
Hark, hark, my willing reluctant prey.
Behold my eyes of crimson fire!
They light the path to taboo desire!
Your pain, your pleasure they fain inspire!
Kneel, kneel, my slave I am your sire!
Now bare your soul, yes, bare your neck!
That soft and taut and white white neck!
No, don't be scared, t'is but a peck.
Yield, yield, my girl yield to my beck!
O! Writhe and moan as I drain your bloom.
I grunt and growl "Hoom hoom! Hoom hoom!"
Your dreams, your fears forsooth consume.
Feed, feed pristine and endless flume.
Alas! Alas! The deed is wrought!
Another soul to evil brought.
A sweet pure bud that spring begot,
You fade, you fade and come to naught.
Sweet, close your eyes let sleep befall.
Avast! Avast! All life's cabal.
'Twixt tomb and womb languish my thrall.
Die, die, star spark...
until I call.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Abduct my Seetha

Why do you need covert plans and sinister strategms? A golden deer, a mendicant's bowl and a plan to abduct? Do you think she is a bottle of perfume locked in a cupboard to be anointed only a limited number of times? Do you think she is a draught of nectar that can only quench a single thirst, a single time? Have you not heard? She is her father's daughter, a soul of the soil. She is her country's princess, the body-less one. She is a jasmine bloom that shall exude fragrance till she drops to her mother's lap. She is a bubbling cascade that throws up water unmindful of anybody's thirst. Come to our hermitage then. Not at the crack of the dawn, at high noon or at dusk For I shall be lost in penance and she shall be lost in my penance. Come just after the sandhya and partake of our fruit and drink. I shall then go to gather some firewood. Talk to her and know her soul. She loves strumming her vina but is still an amateur. She likes listening to stories, especially those of the magical northern lands. She doesn't like ambition, so do not talk of your battle and wealth. She doesn't like harming animals, so do not talk of your love for meat. If you must indeed abduct her, then do it with your words, your heart and your soul. The flight in your vimana will be all the more pleasant if you are not distracted by her struggling or in battling guardian birds. But bear this in mind. She is not yours, not mine. The bow was not broken to make her mine, but to gain her respect. So, come, sit, talk and gain her respect. Then carry her away if she comes. But before that O wise ten headed one teach me to sing Vasanta, for she craves that in the evenings.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Till life does us apart

Death my queen! My one true love!
I ache, I pine for your caress.
Your kiss, your womb, your earthy cove
Sans thought, sans word, sans distress

My thought, my deed, my destiny
all swirl towards your fatal end.
My song, it swells to an elegy
always always its paths thus wend.

Life, the witch, the faerie queen
She has me in her trance like thrall.
Lust and angst and hope and spleen
like whips they fall in endless squall.

Her spells, her charms, her lifeless art,
they cast me like a leaf in breeze.
I float, I flit, I drift apart;
a sinking boat in shore-less seas.

She keeps me there at the brink of death,
teasing me with transient joy.
I die, I die and yet take breath.
Now a man now just a toy.

But I live, I hope and fain aspire.
For you are there Lethe's,[1] draught.
In all my work and all desire
T'is is you, t'is you, t'is you I sought.

So make my bed, my funeral pyre.
Tarry not, my beating heart.
The end is nigh, o nigh, my sire,
T'is only till life does us apart.

[1] - pronounced lee-the (rhyming with pithy)