Saturday, May 30, 2015

Alohari Anandam

“Remember the Frenchman who asked his grandmother at what age we get free from the temptations of love. The old woman said she didn't know” The Doctor’s Dilemma, GB Shaw.
Sarah Joseph’s Alohari Anandam ( Per Capita Happiness) explores the winds of change that perplexes and confuses a Syrian Christian family in Kerala. Published in 2013, the novel deals with controversial themes such as loveless marriages, marriage of senior citizens and lesbianism. Joseph’s characters liberate themselves once the yoke that they carry become too much for them. 

Emma and John Mathai are the senior citizens who decide to get married with the support of the young generation and Paul. The typical reaction to a couple who decides to get married so late- a widower and a spinster- are jokes laden with obscene humour. However, Joseph treats the theme with much sensitivity and her Emma is a lovely bride who rejects all makeup and finery on her wedding day that her niece Ishana has designed for her. 

Ishana is the designer in the family who runs a funeral parlour and a beauty parlour. Joseph satirises the way in which all church rituals have become focused on clothes, jewellery and the aesthetics involved. On the occasion of a baptism, Ishana’s thoughts are entirely on the stone-vessel that she chose for pouring the water. She represents the new generation who sees marriage as a trap set to limit individual freedom. 

The lovers in the novel Paul and Anu carry the burdens of their marriages. Paul is married to Teresa, a lesbian who is forced to marry him. Anu struggles to bear the weight of her loveless marriage with Cherian. When the idealistic Paul meets the dreamer Anu, they feel a strange comfort and are drawn towards the lovelight that they see in each other’s eyes. As Paul says:

“There are people who become happy with the little that they have...both among men and women. Not just that, the majority is like that. They try to unravel the knots of this world. Small achievements make them happy. Small losses hurt them a lot. Their longings for love are of a shallow nature. But there are people who seek themselves in their mates. They need a life of deep love. For them, marriage is a failure, if the lover doesn’t complement their mind, body, intellect and emotions. It is not necessary to have such a relationship within marriage and that’s when you seek another relationship” (Free Translation). 

Joseph's novel Alohari Anandam, celebrates the joy of living and individualism. Through her beautiful and lyrical evocation of the Song of Songs, she recreates love as a Garden of Eden shared by those who want to experience the happiness of being fully alive, emotionally, spiritually and physically. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015


You have always held me back;  with your words, your written and unwritten rules, your opinions on everything, teaching me to lose again and again rather than win.

You have never given me breathing space; instead choked whatever breath I let out, holding me by the neck so much that in your absence, my words were like a fountain.

On days, when you are away, your voice enquire in subtle tones whether I have missed you day or night; and I answer that I have found my sacred space again.

Even the walls don’t hold me back any longer; the sunrises and sunsets looked splendid in the vantage point that I had, of being a demigod in my solitude.

But these days are past now; it’s again time to relearn your rules, your language and your way of thinking; do nothing except what you say; it’s time to go home.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Of Libraries and Library Books

For me, library visits mean a lot as can be seen from my trademark huge bags that can carry huge tomes and a slight damage to the right shoulder from carrying them around regularly. So are the constant mind-fogs that come from having too many things on the mind such as the home and the heart, the things to buy and the things to get rid of. 

Libraries and I have a long history of events- finding them, losing them, misplacing them and of reading them so much at the cost of eyesight and a sense of reality. When I was doing my M.Phil, I had placed a book on the Automatic Book Return Kiosk in the Central Library, only the find that the machine refused to read the book and it was a kind-looking staff who enlightened me that the book belonged to the College Library and not to the Central Library. 

I had my excuse that I was juggling a baby, a thesis and a household and that it was difficult to keep track of all the library books that I had taken. Those were the days of the late returns and heavy dues and mind-fogs resulting from having too much on my hands. 

It was in the same library that I had a spat with a guy who formed a new parallel queue for a pretty little thing and called my attention to it, when I have been standing in a straight queue for around fifteen minutes. However, I was too embarrassed after my mercurial outburst, that too in English that I had not gone to the library for a few months.  

For someone who spends a good deal of time in the library, it is at times a little disappointing to see a new notice on fresh arrivals: “Writing or marking on books is a punishable offence”. On seeing this notice the first time, I could not help thinking of my college days, when I was more or less an accidental scholar who found the right books at the nick of time, on the eve of the exam and gorged upon them as if there was all the time in the world to read them. 

Studying English literature was no fun as most people believe. I have had so many relatives and friends tell me, “Oh! All you have to do is read novels”. Sadly, it was not true as I discovered during the second and third years of my graduate study. Buying all books needed was out of the question as most of them were unavailable or way too expensive. So, hunting for books in the library was part of the routine and with time, I was familiar with most of the shelves and what they held. 

The city libraries were part of these book-hunting trips though most of what I read was books that were no part of the syllabus. Only at the beginning and the end of a semester did I think of text books; otherwise it was all Agatha Christie and all the readable ones. But at the end of each semester, on my serious visits to the library, I was always fascinated by the comments and notes on the margins made by some previous reader and at times, I even recognised the handwritings of my teachers in some books. 

Yes, I love it when my number is stamped as the first user on fresh arrival. There is certainly a pleasure in handling a new book: the fresh smell of crisp pages and the ideas that look new and inviting but a much-used and well-thumbed library book offers much more for a reader and student. Just like the books that I had seen in those days, the books left traces of the ones who had read them before- markings, numberings, explanations, critical comments and more not phone numbers as feared by present day librarians. The meanings written next to difficult words or the names of poetic devices with explanations, these texts were most probably used by teachers for their classes. 

In the present age and its demand of annotated editions (that say more than the writer), the ordinary library books on English literature could supply easy reading just by the fact that they were read through the minds of good scholars who could chew and digest the work by marking key words and underlining what was important. But I do remember a girl who studied with me, who had seen me underline a sentence in a library book and screamed “That’s a library book!” in the same tone as “That’s my boyfriend!” 

May be I am just a little zany; but as a teacher, I will be honoured if any day, if a student comes across my handwriting in the pages and recognises it as part of a painstaking but rewarding procedure of preparation for classes and feels the same way as I felt when I had seen those writings, numberings and markings against the margins made in a familiar hand. For someone, whose heaven is a library, whose dreams include having a coffee counter inside the library; finding a new book to read is a pleasure but reading a well-thumbed and annotated one is an even more enjoyable experience. 

When I was a teenager, I had read this story named “An Evening in Grand Central”, in which a man falls in love with a woman just from the comments that she had written in a book that he comes across. The book is a second hand copy of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and when they decide to meet she tells him that she will wear a red rose on her lapel. On the day of the meeting, he comes across an old woman wearing a red rose while a beautiful girl in a green dress walks by like “the springtime come alive”. But he decides to talk to the lady only to find that his love is none other than the girl in green dress and that she is waiting for him in a restaurant across the road. May be she was too shy to meet him in person, God knows!

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