Some chairs are never empty
Memories sit on them…
Some chairs are never empty
Memories sit on them…
The black–hooded oriole (Oriolus xanthornus) or manjakkili as we call it in Malayalam is considered a harbinger of Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala. Generally a few of them are spotted in the months of July to September. Since the bird appears close to the festival, it is called Onakkili as well. With their striking bright and golden yellow plumage they are a sign of prosperity! Surprisingly during my visits in November-December in the past few years, I get glimpses of the bird at Anakkara. Times have changed, climate has changed and the migratory birds have changed their times too. Contradictory to the old concept, every day is an Onam, a day of bounty for Keralites. The bird knows it doesn’t have to wait for Onam to remind people that days of plenty are round the corner!
I could click a fairly decent photo of the bird sitting atop our mango tree this August; a satisfying experience compared to many of those failed attempts in the past. I haven’t seen a camera shy bird like the oriole! She is as fast as lightning and a trickster too. She charms you with her distinct call from secret hideouts and flashes her gold to lure you, then vanishes! Just like the golden deer Maricha that enchanted Sita, the golden bird is bewitching. Unlike other winged friends who visit our Kousthubham premises, Manjakkili has no scruples regarding punctuality!
How can I not share Emily Dickinson’s Oriole here! Who can give a more vivid and vibrant picture of the bird! I don’t know if you have to read between the lines or whether there are many different layers of meanings; to me the poet talks about the bird Oriole.
One of the ones that Midas touched,
Who failed to touch us all,
Was that confiding prodigal,
The blissful oriole.
It is no exaggeration that the bird is extravagantly touched by Midas! A proven prodigal, the dazzling bird can easily be mistaken for an alighting mine. And Emily aptly calls the Oriole the meteor of birds. Both the references of Jason and Midas perfectly blend in with the Oriole.
So drunk, he disavows it
With badinage divine;
So dazzling, we mistake him
For an alighting mine.
A pleader, a dissembler,
An epicure, a thief, —
Betimes an oratorio,
An ecstasy in chief;
The bird is called an epicure, a thief and a dissembler! What a trickster he is! He keeps your hopes afire and then hides in thick foliage, giving fiery glimpses only. It bewilders me when Emily blames the bird for cheating of ‘an entire attar’ (Does the bird stand for someone who came into her life like a flash of lightning and then left suddenly?) or is it ‘altar’ instead of ‘attar’ as the church imagery is obvious- ‘Jesuit of orchards’ and ‘oratorio’- Doubtlessly the bird has a divine aura.
He cheats as he enchants
Of an entire attar
For his decamping wants.
Like a regal and pompous court musician, he comes sings and leaves the scene. I am convinced of his decamping wants from my experience too!
The splendor of a Burmah,
The meteor of birds,
Departing like a pageant
Of ballads and of bards.
I never thought that Jason sought
For any golden fleece;
But then I am a rural man,
With thoughts that make for peace.
But if there were a Jason,
Tradition suffer me
Behold his lost emolument
Upon the apple-tree.
I wanted to tell Emily that Jason could look for his golden fleece on our mango tree as well. Somehow I draw parallels between the apple trees of Emily and other American poets with our mango trees. Whether it is ‘when a drop fell on the apple tree’ or Frost’s ‘After Apple-picking’ I tend to make comparisons..
During my recent trip to Wayanad, a hill station in Kerala I met this cousin of the black hooded oriole, sitting on the bamboo plant like an orange torch ablaze! could it be the the Baltimore Oriole? My excitement made the capture out of focus and shaky.
A couple of photos clicked a few years ago. Seen in the second picture is the black-naped oriole that visits Anakkara sometimes.
Concluding with another beautiful Oriole song from Emily which states a larger truth. It is not the music, but the fashion of the ear that attires the music. Whether the music you hear is divine or common is left to your choice. The divine music is not from the tree but it is within you.
To hear an Oriole sing
May be a common thing —
Or only a divine.
It is not of the Bird
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto Crowd —
The Fashion of the Ear
Attireth that it hear
In Dun, or fair —
So whether it be Rune,
Or whether it be none
Is of within.
The “Tune is in the Tree —”
The Skeptic — showeth me —
“No Sir! In Thee!”
Let us look forward to many tuneful and divine melodies as September dawns. May the music change colours from dun to fair as we listen! Unheard music may be sweeter!
This obsession for lotus, ‘the queenliest of flowers’ has been rekindled once I was relocated to the South East Asian region. The abundance of the flower filled me with boundless joy! Lotus was considered divine and not so common in my childhood days, yet through pictures, poems and songs the flower became familiar. My child ego took great pride in sketching elaborate lotus flowers standing erect in the blue waters and it was a joyful task filling the petals with rich pink, and painting the broad leaves bright green and the waters deep blue, from where the flower rises proudly. Very much alike the example of the single story that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche recounts in her Ted Talks, my art was not based on a real experience; the sketches were purely based on imagination and copies of the pictures I have seen. Water lilies were common then, but lotus flower was not so commonly seen. The existence of white or blue lotuses were unimaginable those days! Nevertheless, the famous legendary blue lotus of our village was a fascinating myth.
Blue Lotus has a dreamy aura about it. There is something magical and mystical in the name. The blue lotus that appears in Egyptian culture and Greek mythology could be the blue water lily; Nymphaea caerulea (Egyptian lotus, blue water lily, sacred water lily) or Nymphaea nouchali (Blue star water lily which is the National flower of Sri Lanka) and not Lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera ( Indian lotus, national flower of India and Vietnam). Thus I came to the conclusion that Blue Lotus is scientifically water lily and symbolically blue lotus.
Buddhism has close association with the flower lotus just as Hinduism does. In Buddhism lotus is a symbol of purity and spiritual awakening. The flower rises pure and fragrant above the muddy waters. In Buddhist art and literature lotus motifs are highly symbolic. A fully bloomed flower symbolises enlightenment where as the one in bud form shows a period before enlightenment. Different coloured lotus also has different symbolism. Lotus motifs are present in mandalas and chakras too. My long association with the Cambodian and Vietnamese cultures drew me more towards learning the significance of this flower.
Apart from the spiritual aspect, lotus and water lilies play a major role in the everyday life of the layman. Both are widely used in South Asian kitchens. In Khmer and Vietnamese cuisine water lilies are used in soups and salads. Lotus tea and Blue lotus tea are widely available in Vietnam. Both the flowers are renowned for medicinal properties too.
Blue lotus tea
In Egyptian culture the blue lotus is associated with rebirth. Very much alike the Hindu mythology the Sun and Lotus have close connection in Egyptian mythology too. In Hindu mythology Lotus is Sun’s beloved; Lotus has no existence without the Sun. During the churning of the ocean goddess Lakshmi comes out standing on the lotus where as in Egyptian mythology sun god Ra, the creator, emerged from the primeval waters sitting on a lotus. Like Sun who disappears at night and comes back to life in the morning, the lotus flower re-emerges from water everyday. Per contra, most of the water lilies bloom at night hence called the beloved of the Moon.
A painting inspired by the mystical and mysterious Blue Lotus of my village
Scholars say that the blue lotus is widely depicted on the walls, pillars, thrones, papyrus scrolls and head dresses of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The bloom was known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile. I read an interesting article by Kirsten Cowart where the restorative powers of this sacred flower is mentioned.
An Egyptian lady surrounded and adorned by blue lotuses. The flowers resemble water lilies here.
Egyptian murals and carvings portraying men and women indulging in revels, holding bunches of blue lotuses and smelling them could be a hint on the intoxicating properties of the flower. The god of Healing power and Perfume, Nefertem holds bunches of blue lotus and he offers this to Ra, the sun god to sooth his pain.
It seems the flower has properties to calm the nerves and brain. Homer in his Odyssey mentions about Odysseus’ men who fall into a blissful forgetfulness after munching the lotus flower and fruits. He had to drag his men back to the ship and tie them to the rowing benches to resume their voyage back home. I wonder whether it is the blue lotus that has enchanted and ensnared the Greek heroes.
In Tennyson’s ‘The Lotus Eaters’ he weaves the story around the same isle where Ulysses ( Odysseus) and his mariners had spent time. The enchanted flower the Lotus eaters of the island offered them had the power to change their minds. The mariners wanted to linger on that dreamy island forever. They come to the conclusion that ‘slumber is more sweet than toil.
My Blue Lotus has an entirely different shade of blue. The blue lotus I have heard and wondered about right form my early childhood is one of its kind, a faith or a myth associated with a temple in our village.
The serene temple premises
The story that intrigued us as children is about a sacred bloom called neelathamara (നീലത്താമര) . Those who keep a coin on the steps of the sanctum sanctorum of a nearby temple, with a wish in their heart, would be blessed to see a bloom in the temple pond the next morning. This would be a sign that the wish is going to be fulfilled. The unique flower is known as Neelathamara the malayalam equivalent of Blue Lotus. Neela thamara sounds more royal and desirable than chengazhineer poovu another mediocre name for the bloom.
The practice still continues but with changing times not many venture this divine intervention for personal favours. The flower is exclusively used for certain special auspicious rituals and sacred rites (കലശം,പ്രതിഷ്ഠ) in other temples, such as idol installation or for the glorification of the deity. The divine flower blooms in the morning in one of the deep rock pits on either side of the pond, provided the money is kept on the temple steps the previous evening.
stones that stood the test of time
My visit to the temple was after a long interval of more than ten years. Previous visit was with my father and for no reason I have never been there after he left us to the heavenly abode. The day we went, we were told that neelathamara was abloom that day as a temple in a distant district needed the flower for an auspicious occasion, but we missed the chance to see the sacred flower.
The temple pond
The kokkarni or the deep rock pit at the side of the pond
The 300 year temple in our little hamlet was always referred as Manokkavu, a shortened and colloquial version of Malamalkavu (മലമൽക്കാവ്). The temple sits on a hillock hence the name, the temple on the hill… It is quite interesting when my daughter told me that there is place called Manukau in Auckland!
When there’s too much rains that threaten a function to be held in a household or when there’s a need for rains for the crops to grow, people in my village offer a ‘koottupayasam‘ (കൂട്ടുപായസം) or a sweet rice dish to the temple deity and their woes are taken care of. A koottupayasam or ‘ada’ (അട) was a usual offering that my grandmother used to do then. The devotees are never disappointed as Lord Ayyappa always heard their prayers.
The story of the Neelathamara has remained mysterious and fascinated our minds. Am still curious about the appearance of the flower. The blue lotus like the blue moon has nothing blue about it, I understand. This same Blue lotus has been the theme of a famous Malayalam film, based on the story of the veteran writer M.T Vasudevan Nair from our nearby village. In the early part of this century the film was remade to become a huge hit once again. Even though Malamalkkavu is already well reputed as one of the two major schools of Thayambaka, the Percussion music in Kerala, the temple that is nestled in an unknown corner of Palakkad district earned more fame through M.T’s story, Lal Jose’s and Late Yousafali Kecheri’s films based on the story.
Yours truly and her mother in front of the age-old ootupura
Certain beliefs have no scientific explanations and Neelathamara remains an enigma. The simple and good hearted souls of this small village has deep faith and great pride in their powerful deity and this miraculous flower.
“Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”~ Jane Austen
‘Give a loose to your fancy…’ and I did. With apologies to the immortal Jane Austen whose 241st birthday was celebrated yesterday, here’s an (distorted) adaptation, a pastiche of Chapter Three of Emma, the characters being replaced by my feathered friends. The green paddy fields in front of our home in Anakkara is home for many birds and small creatures like small crabs, frogs, mongoose and so on. Great Egrets, snake birds and Pond herons are permanent residents here. During October November many migratory birds visit these fields. The lapwings, Red and Yellow Wattled are regular visitors every year and so are the Asian open hornbills and Woolly necked storks. All these birds in unison enjoy the green paddy fields.
”Pastiche is a literary piece that imitates another famous literary work of another writer. Unlike parody, its purpose is not to mock but to honor the literary piece it imitates. This literary device is generally employed to imitate a piece of literary work light-heartedly but in a respectful manner. The term pastiche also applies to a literary work that is a wide mixture of items such as themes, concepts and characters imitated from different literary works.
Pastiche may be comic in its content but it does not mock the original works. In pastiche, the writers imitate the style and content of a literary piece to highlight their work as the original piece is accepted by the vast majority of readers and are landmarks of their age. So, imitation in such works celebrates the works of the great writers of the past.” ~Literary Devices
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Mr Great Egret is fond of society in his own way. He likes very much to have his friends come and see him frequently; every year during October-November his friends visit him; and from various united causes, and from his long residence at the Greenfields of Anakkara , and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure, as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle . His beautiful daughter Emma White Egret, who is a well known ballerina in the elite circles, has her own charming ways of entertaining the distinguished guests.
The lord of the Greenfields
Beautiful Ms Egret
Real long standing regard brought the Yellow Wattled Lapwings to the elegancies and society of Mr Egret’s plush green living room of Greenfields. Mr Yellow Wattled is a man of serious disposition almost past everything but soft shell crabs and quadrille. Mrs Yellow Wattled has never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of her husband whom she religiously accompanied on his annual visits to Anakkara. Those who underestimate the silence of this doleful faced woman are startled once they hear her shrill voice and calls and singing at the most unexpected times. Greenfields echoes with her singing even at midnights!
Mrs and Mr Yellow Wattled Lapwings
They wear this ‘world is too much with us’ expression
After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able were Mrs and Mr Red Wattled Lapwings. They are a happy couple whom no one mentioned without a good will. It was their own universal good will and contented temper which worked wonders. Their presence is much appreciated by the offsprings of The Dragonflies next door and the children are all around them cheerfully dancing in their crisp red and black outfits. If you take a close look at the picture, you would see them.
Red Wattled Lapwings
Mr. Woodhouse was fond of society in his own way. He liked very much to have his friends come and see him; and from various united causes, from his long residence at Hartfield, and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure, as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle ….
Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Mr. Knightley; and by Mr. Elton, a young man living alone without liking it, the privilege of exchanging any vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse’s drawing-room and the smiles of his lovely daughter, was in no danger of being thrown away.
After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so often that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.
Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness, quick-sighted to every body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.
Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School— she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands …She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much to Mr. Woodhouse’s kindness, felt his particular claim on her to leave her neat parlour, hung round with fancy-work whenever she could, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside.
These were the ladies whom Emma found herself very frequently able to collect; and happy was she, for her father’s sake, in the power; though, as far as she was herself concerned, it was no remedy for the absence of Mrs. Weston. She was delighted to see her father look comfortable, and very much pleased with herself for contriving things so well;
It is Emily’s birthday today and her poetry has been my source of joy and peace for a few years; she’s become my companion and her poems, part of my everyday life. Each poem mesmerizes me with its simplicity and depth, many poems make me feel that this is exactly what I wanted to say. Sometimes she taught me things unknown to me. I had never seen the house wife in the West or a Well as a mysterious neighbour, nor I knew that ‘the soul should always stand ajar’ or else you may miss heaven visiting you! Any dull day turns bright with a few lines from her. My dose of cheer and positivity. I even wondered at times how could Emily, sitting in Amherst, feel and experience exactly the same way I did feel in a land so remote from hers like Cambodia or Kerala or Vietnam! How could she too see the same Robin that interrupts the morn, overflows the morn sitting among the astonished boughs!! Many a time I have wondered whether she has ever visited and lived in these places!
Though I always felt that I understand Emily too well, some of her lines baffle me. Here’s another WELL poem by Emily Dickinson. Well, this is entirely different from her other poem on well, ‘What mystery pervades a well’. (https://rethyravi.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/well-thats-all-about-a-well/ )
This ‘well’ looks more mysterious to me. What does she have in mind when she talks about ‘the draughtless wells’ that can quench the thirst on Summer days? Are these wells her sources of poetic inspiration and creativity? Or is the well a symbol of love? I am confused. As I read the last lines, the water in her well seems to be representing Love. Hoping to get a clear picture one day.
I know where Wells grow — Droughtless Wells —
Deep dug — for Summer days —
Where Mosses go no more away —
And Pebble — safely plays —
It’s made of Fathoms — and a Belt —
A Belt of jagged Stone —
Inlaid with Emerald — half way down —
And Diamonds — jumbled on —
It has no Bucket — Were I rich
A Bucket I would buy —
I’m often thirsty — but my lips
Are so high up — You see —
I read in an Old fashioned Book
That People “thirst no more” —
The Wells have Buckets to them there —
It must mean that — I’m sure —
Shall We remember Parching — then?
Those Waters sound so grand —
I think a little Well — like Mine —
Dearer to understand —
The plentiful resources are deep down and it is difficult to draw the ‘water’ from the fathoms down without a bucket. Her thirsty lips stand high up yearning for water and she wishes she were rich enough to buy a bucket. She has heard about the the wells that are equipped with buckets and hence ‘waters’ reach the thirstless lips without much effort. So parching is unknown to those people. They will never understand how precious her well is as they have never felt thirst; they never had to stand and wait.
Our well in ‘Kousthubham’ which so well matches Emily’s well; deep dug, where mosses grow with a belt of jagged stones.
Yes, your ‘well’ is a bit too dear for me to understand! I too am standing near the laid stone wall of your well- inlaid with emeralds, diamonds jumbled upon- yearning for those precious pure drops of water to quench my parched lips!
Happy birthday dear Emily!
THE MOON was but a chin of gold
A night or two ago,
And now she turns her perfect face
Upon the world below.
Her forehead is of amplest blond;
Her cheek like beryl stone;
Her eye unto the summer dew
The likest I have known.
The Moon shines so brightly through Emily’s lines. The full moon of this month looked bigger and brighter. The benevolence that a silent moon scatters all around soothes the soul. The Moon can never be harsh like the Sun and nothing can equal the charm and magic of a moonlit night. It was a childhood pastime to sit with our father in the front yard and look up excitedly at the vast night sky to identify some of the stars such as the spoon shaped Saptarshis (the seven sages), the three bright stars in a row that we used to call Trimurtis (the triad of gods)…a playful learning time that we used to enjoy thoroughly. We were too small then to know that these seven stars together is an asterism known as the Big Dipper or the Plough and is the brightest in the Great Bear constellation and the Trimurtis or the Orion’s Belt is an asterism in the Orion constellation. The focus then was on who would first find and locate the stars with names or who would spot a planet, a star that does not twinkle. Such were the simple joys and moments of pride of childhood days.
When did I last see a beautiful starlit sky? I don’t remember. Anakkara sky looks so far away and Saigon sky is too dull now…My childhood sky was so close I could reach up and spot every single star. Now the only star I see is the bright one who watches me from up above. It jogged my memory when I came across a quote that says ‘In the end we’ll all become stories’. Achan always used to say this. He never said someone would become a memory…Memories that are interlaced with so many stories so that everyday you recall one story or another.
That was some mooning over the past, again. But definitely not like the lengthy rambling one on the blue moon and the rest. (https://rethyravi.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/blue-moon-a-broken-toe-some-moon-musings/)
DEAR March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!
Dear March, you bring back all those childhood memories…The onset of Summer in Kerala; of heat and dust, exam fever mixed with the excited and impatient wait for the Summer vacation and family get togethers, meeting cousins, endless playtime, cool dips in the green ponds, little thatched playhouses, crunchy tender mangoes to sweet and juicy ones. Scattered joyful memories on the azure depth of my heart! You were a month of anticipation, March! Do not march in, glide in lady like.
pickle jars, waiting to be filled up with spicy, fiery and tangy pickled mangoes…