Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Kamala Das – Her Life Through Poetry

Kamala Das (1934 – 2009)


The personal life experiences of poets inform their poems, even if the influences are not evident. However, in modern confessional poetry the poet is singularly concerned with episodes and events in his or her own life. Inward emotions and turmoils — marriage, depression, mistreatment, loss, and anger are major themes and it can come out as dark and negative. It is all about the self. Sylvia Plath in American poetry is a good example. In her poem Daddy she recalls her father only to murder him in her memory. Long after his death she resented the male dominance he held over her:
Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe

In English poetry in India there is no better exemplar than Kamala Das. She responds to critics who find fault with her choice of language to write poetry by defending it in the poem Introduction:
… Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, halfIndian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don't
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. 

The poet is fully in control and using language exactly as she wants to, and achieves the purpose she has in mind to express her distinctive voice and assert her independence. In the following poem taken from her first collection Summer in Calcutta she confesses a dark secret without naming names – that she was molested in her own house by a relative:
When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.

However, the poem has a marvellous ending in which she enfolds every reader into herself:
  … I am sinner, 
I am saint. I am the beloved and the 
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no 
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I

Her marriage marked the beginning of an ill-treatment that lasted long, for the man who who groped her was her relative, K. Madhava Das, to whom she was soon given away by her father as a bride, with less due diligence than a man would invest in buying a new car. She writes in a poem:
Father, I ask you now without fear
Did you want me
Did you ever want a daughter
Did I disappoint you much
With my skin as dark as yours
And my brooding ways


It is narrated in a biography that the reason she was married off at age fifteen without finishing her high school was because she did poorly in mathematics! Such an infliction and abandonment was particularly galling to her, who came from a Nair society where women were supposed to have a high standing. In her case the literary antecedents of her mother (Balamani Amma, the poet) and her grand-uncle, Nalapat Narayana Menon, a renowned writer, should have elevated the standards for women’s educational attainment and imposed greater respect for women.  That Kamala Das did not take a stand and turn down the match (it was always within the daughter’s right to refuse the suitor, even if she could not choose on her own) was the beginning of a lifelong burden, and she confesses her lack of courage in a letter to her sister Sulochana in 1958: “I was persuaded to marry, and had no courage to refuse to do what even my father wanted me to do. I have not shown by word or sign that I felt trapped. Let down and disillusioned.”

She says in a talk: “My sons have taken the name of my ancestral house, Nalapat, our family being matriarchal. But I took my husband’s name to make him feel that he belonged, and to make him respectable.”

But there was one in her family whom she truly loved, whose care for her she reciprocated in double measure. “My grandmother was my favourite human being,” she said. She recalls her with longing in the poem My Grandmother’s House:
There is a house now far away where once
I received love. That woman died,
The house withdrew into silence,
You cannot believe, darling
Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved...I who have lost
My way and beg now at stranger‘s doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?

The great tragedy of Kamala Das’ life was that one so hungry for love, so relentless in her search for love, was denied affection from the most reliable of human sources – parents and spouse. In many respects her poetry follows the career of her life; it is the trajectory of a search for love denied. 

She characterised her own wedding night as rape: “Then without warning he fell on me, surprising me by the extreme brutality of the attack. I tried unsuccessfully to climb out of his embrace. Then bathed in perspiration and with my heart palpitating wildly, I begged him to think of God.”

One of the poems which is difficult to reconcile with her reputation as a feminist is the stark one describing marital relations, called the The Looking Glass. In it she advocates that the woman should pander to her man’s self-image as the strong protector, while she should act soft, lovely, and submissive: 
    Gift him all,
Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
Endless female hungers. 

The images in the poem that elevate it to poetry lies in the phrases ‘musk of sweat between the breasts’ and ‘warm shock of menstrual blood’. They are a lusty choice of words, never used before to convey the sexual aura surrounding a woman. The poem is meant as advice to an untutored bride, but one wonders if this can form the basis for the equality sought in modern marriage; is it not rather an acquiescence in the ancient ways of male domination? 


Kamala Das had a lot to put up with in her failed marriage as she makes clear in her poem The Freaks. As the partners are about to copulate she wonders:
Can this man with
Nimble finger-tips unleash
Nothing more alive than the
Skin's lazy hungers? Who can
Help us who have lived so long
And have failed in love? The heart,
An empty cistern, waiting
Through long hours, fills itself
With coiling snakes of silence. .....
I am a freak. It's only
To save my face, I flaunt, at
Times, a grand, flamboyant lust.

So, she was play-acting in her marriage, knowing she was bound by custom to satisfy her partner sexually, regardless of his lack of tenderness, and his callous disregard for her own satisfaction.

The use of enjambment in which the sense of the line continues from one to the next without pause is often present in Das’ poems. However, the device is not used for the usual purposes: to hurry the lines, or to cause a break in the rhythm of the free verse she writes. Often the sense is broken at a peripheral preposition, in this case ‘at’, or in the previous quotation ‘of’; the run-ons are arbitrary.

Her real achievement is in the remarkable images she throws up, for instance – coiling snakes of silence –  and the multitude of similar striking imagery that populate her poems.

Literary pursuits were hers by inheritance from her grand-uncle and her mother. She buried herself as a girl in the library of Narayana Menon and read the classics: Oscar Wilde, translations of Anatole France, Turgenev, Flaubert and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in the original. Whitman’s collection of poems left its mark on her in many ways. She extended her self-taught literary preparation by staging plays in Malayalam of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (which her grand uncle, Narayana Menon, had translated), and Kalidasa’s Sakuntala. Denied much formal education she learned by doing: “From my eighteenth year I have spent half the nights constructing stories that were saleable.” Recall this was already three years into her failed marriage and it was her husband who was egging her on to make money by writing.

Much later she attributed her ability to awaken from the torpor of her marriage captivity to her wide reading: “Ask the books that I read why I changed. Ask the authors dead and alive who communicated with me and gave me the courage to be myself. The books like a mother-cow licked the calf of my thought into shape …” Her grand-uncle also instructed her about the importance of thinking, along with reading, in order to develop one’s individuality. “This philosopher encouraged me to develop a sense of superiority that might have been illusory, but that nourished my spirit.”

Kamala Das and Arundhati Roy

Whitman most especially provided a model and a nourishing spirit. She looked on his lines from Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry as an invitation to participate in his vision. “I went into his poetry as one enters a new continent, with expectation and always a little out of breath … I felt at times that the poet from the far off country was looking down with hypnotic eyes from the sky above our red-tiled house. She is recalling these lines of his great poem, Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry:
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in 
unknown ways be looking upon you;
You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the 
Soul.

She took many things from Whitman: the free verse, the use of repetition, the ubiquitous ‘I’and the discourse with nature. She said: “With him I exult in being alive physically, in being able to see the world as he saw it possessing the good of the earth and sun, exulting in my identity received by my body, exulting in the fact that I do not crave for riches …”

Her marriage, though painful, fertilised her poetry: “All the grief inflicted on me by my husband paid dividends. All the struggles proved useful later. Poetry came oozing out like blood out of injuries.” She further records in a 2006 documentary film: “If I had been a loved person I would not have become a writer. I would have been a happy human being. I would write about calm. I would write about happiness, and a lovely love life and to want to live so that it would be an incentive for life.”

A poem celebrating the birth of Jaisurya, her youngest son is filled with joy. It is one of her brightest poems:
It rained on the day my son 
Was born …
   … And, then, wailing into light
He came, so fair, a streak of light thrust
Into the faded light. They raised him
To me then, proud Jaisurya, my son,
Out of the mire of a moonless night was
He born, Jaisurya, my son, as out of
The wrong is born the right and out of night
The sun-drenched golden day.

A great quality of hers is vouched for by those who knew her personally; it was her ability to reach out to those who attacked her. She said: “Hate is a thorn in the flesh. I would rather prefer to love them, if love is not very difficult to achieve. I try.” Her ability to forgive her husband and be kind to him, especially in the years of ill-health before his death, is the most stirring spiritual accomplishment in her life.

People have seen obscenity in Kamala Das’s writing because she talks of sex and love-making. But is it really so? Her contention is: “When I talk of love making I’m thinking of Radha and Sri Krishna sporting— how Radha’s anklets used to jingle when he was on her … If I visualise Krishna, the God of all Hindus, sporting with his girls, how can I think of sex as something unclean?”

Indeed in the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva we read in the Twelfth Part:
Set your golden anklet on my bed like the sun
Throbbing breasts aching for loving embrace are hard to touch
Rest these vessels on my chest! Quench my love’s burning fire!
Offer your lip’s nectar to revive a dying slave, Radha!
(translation by Barbara Stoler Miller)

Perhaps the most scandalous thing that happened to Kamala Das was to be asked by her husband to “be nice to his boss.” He was pimping his wife in order to gain preference in his career and she timidly acquiesced. She used to go to the Taj Hotel at the Gateway of India to meet a man old enough to be her father, “a true Brahmin of the priestly class” she says, who apparently was gentle with her and never had intercourse, but bought her books, taught her Sanskrit and educated her. She was thirty at the time.  

Morning at the Apollo Pier is a poem that celebrates that affair, a poem she has performed on stage for audiences:
Welcome me, lying down, dear love,
And remain so,
It is morning now at Apollo Pier
There is a choppy sea
And on the pavement like sleek birds freed from cages
Beautiful men inadequately loved walking
To find a fatigue in their limbs
They tell me, all my friends, that I am finished
That I can write no more
They tell me that your love is
A morass where I must sink, if not today,
Tomorrow.  But, hold me, hold me once again
Kiss the words to death in my mouth, plunder
Memories.  I hide my defeat in your
Wearying blood, and all my fears and shame.
Your flawed beauty is my only refuge.
Love me, love me, love me till I die...

This was not the last time she performed the service. Later in his career when he was hankering after a international assignment as a consultant, Madhava Das made her “be nice” to another person who could land him a posting. She dutifully followed instructions and he got the assignment. But she became a celibate with his permission when he came back from one of his trips and showed her a photo of himself with a catamite in his lap. This turned her off for good, and though she kept house dutifully for him there was no more sleeping together.

The Neermathalam tree and its yellow flower (Crateva magna) recreated the nostalgia of the old ancestral home of the Nalapat family for Kamala Das

It was the collection Summer in Calcutta that made her reputation. With the fame she started preaching a new morality, that marriage without love was meaningless, and one could justify the resort to affairs outside of marriage under those circumstances. But when she was propositioned it was not necessarily for love, but for lust, and she would rebuff many:
… all hands
The great brown thieving hands groped, beneath my
Clothes, their fire was that of an arsonist’s,
Warmth was not their aim …

Yet she had numerous affairs, and is not ashamed to counter defiantly: "Why does the mud-lark roll itself in the mud? You have to forgive me. I’m a writer. I have to experiment.”

At one point in her life she was a celibate for twenty years, she says, and hated sex. She derived all her satisfaction from from the emotional and spiritual aspect of a love affair sans sexual intimacy. She had an aversion to sex and ascribed her love affairs not to the attractiveness of the men, but her own idealisation of them as mythical figures. When challenged whether she felt joy in sex she answered in traditional platitudes about Hindu mores and how a woman could never admit she enjoyed it. She pictured marriage as a suffering for women: “The marital bed is a cross. We are not supposed to show lust. You’re just a body, and the lord and master uses that body.”

Writers are always seeking material for their works and taking copious notes to transform whatever happens to them into narratives and psychological insights that later form grist for their novels or poems. This metamorphosis happens even to the lovers, in these words of hers: “… put him under a microscope, dissect him, analyse his thoughts, his words. After a while he is no longer the man you held in your arms at night. You have cut him up into slivers, everything is burst open, he is seeds and pulp and juice all spread out on your writer’s table.”

The most bizarre event in her life took place in 1999 when she was duped by a lover. It was in the seniority of her life, much after she had ceased to feel any burning in her loins. She was 65, Sadiq Ali was 38, and he had two wives already. He charmed her with his sonorous voice, his recital of poems, and his smiles. After a flirtatious visit to her apartment mediated by a cousin of hers, there followed daily phone calls, ending with an invitation to his country house. She accepted, feeling once again the long-forgotten carnal desires of her younger self. She was duly seduced, being reduced by ardour to the state of a quaking artless maiden. Later she described her feelings with poetic imagination: "When he entered me it was the first time I had ever experienced what it was like to feel a man from the inside.” 

He promised marriage if she converted, which she did promptly. But he dithered and and she waited for a wedding that never came, by then herself transmuted into a black burqa-wearing woman and apparently unable to find a way back to her old life. Her Hindu family refused to have her in their fold again for fear of death-threats to them by extremists. 

She tried to live the life of a famous convert to Islam and got invited to the Arab sheikhdoms where Malayalis work in the Gulf and was lionised there; she liked the attention. But afterward she was left forlorn, with a poem to remember the passion by, called This Coming Friday:
Ya Allah!
At least now
punish me.
I did love him more 
than I ever loved you
I found bliss in the scent of his perspiration
This Friday let it happen
my punishment.
Chop off my limbs that curled round him
like creepers around a tree
Remove my lips that kissed him
and went on kissing
this heart that loved
and was exhausted from loving …

It was on Fridays that executions took place in Saudi Arabia. She notes “it is the searching that makes the poet go on writing. If you find someone, the search is over, and the poetry is over.” 
I cannot fold
my wayward limbs to crawl into
coffins of religions.
I shall die, I know,
but only when I tire of love;
tire of life and laughter.
Then fling me into a pit
six feet by two,
do not bother to leave
any epitaph for me.

When she died in 2009 at her son Jaisurya’s place in Pune her body was flown to Thiruvananthapuram and buried with State Honours in Palayam Juma Masjid, according to Muslim rites, as she wished.



References:
1. Kamala Das Selected Poems Edited & Introduced by Devindra Kohli (Penguin Press), 2014
2. The Love Queen of Malabar by Merrily Weisbord (McGill Queen’s University Press), 2011
3. Kamala Das — A Critical Spectrum Edited by Rajeshwar Mittapali and Pier Paolo Piciucco (Atlantic Publishers and Distributors), 2013 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Poetry Session on English Romantic Poets Jun 19, 2018

Ten Famous Poets of the Romanticism Movement: Keats, Hugo, Blake, Wordsworth, Byron, Pushkin, Coleridge, Burns, Shelley, Poe


This is the second year of celebrating the onset of the monsoon with a session on the English Romantic Poets. Ten of us participated, including Pamela who was vacationing with her daughter in USA; she did it via a recording of her selection uploaded to the KRG Dropbox. We commend her enthusiasm and hold it up as an example for those who know beforehand that a scheduling conflict will prevent them from attending in person. Recording is then a good alternative.

Thommo, Priya

The Romantic poets in England began a movement in the arts that paralleled the changes taking place in society. “They were inspired by a desire for liberty, and denounced the exploitation of the poor. There was an emphasis on the importance of the individual; a conviction that people should follow their own ideals rather than conventions and rules imposed from above. The Romantics renounced the rationalism and order associated with the preceding Enlightenment era, stressing the importance of expressing authentic personal feelings. They had a real sense of responsibility to their fellow men: they felt it was their duty to use their poetry to inform and inspire others, and to change society.” This is taken from an excellent article by Stephanie Forward on the key ideas and influences of Romanticism. The article has important documents, manuscripts and illustrations and forms an appropriate introduction to this session at KRG.

Devika

There you will find the passage in the Lyrical Ballads setting out the definition of poetry by William Wordsworth: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow  of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, similar to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually</a>produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.”

Priya

Two of Keats’ six Odes were chosen for the occasion – Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode on Indolence. Psyche and Melancholy are the only ones left to be recited at KRG. Others among the Big Six Romantic Poets featured were Blake, Coleridge and Byron.

KumKum

Devika boldly chose Robert Burns, who is regarded as the National Poet of Scotland, adducing notes to make the Scots dialect plain to those unfamiliar with it. It was her first recital for us at KRG and was much appreciated.

Geetha

The circulation of the text of the poems among readers through a single merged PDF file has found favour for its convenience. It will be used in future, in the expectation that all the selections will be provided in advance by the readers as text in e-mail or by a Web link to it. And of course, they must download the merged PDF file ahead of time to the smartphones, tablets, or computers which they bring to the session for reading online.

Victuals are vital

Reflections on poetry were combined with refections afterwards: cucumber sandwiches by KumKum, Eid sheer khurma by Zakia, and etheka halwa by Joe. A wonderful way to end an evening with the Romantic Poets!

The repast after the event - cucumber sandwiches, etheka halwa, & Eid sheer khurma

Here we are beaming with joy at the end of the event:

Preeti, Geetha, Devika, Shoba, KumKum, Thommo, Priya, Zakia, Joe, Hemjit (seated)

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

R.K. Narayan – The Guide, May 18, 2018

The Guide - first edition cover 1958


Seven readers and a guest, Devika Achuthan, came to read The Guide by R.K. Narayan, a deceptively simple book with much insight into the life a small town in South India, Malgudi.  A quicksilver character called Raju takes shape before the reader’s eyes, growing from boyhood to self-sufficiency under the tutelage of his strict parents. 

Saras, Kavita, Hemjit

What has prepared him in his modest upbringing to make sense of the great art of Bharata Natyam? How did romance enter his life through his fascination for a neglected devadasi, wife to an asexual man who is absorbed in rock inscriptions and cave paintings? 

Saras, Hemjit, Devika

How did Raju counter the prejudices of his mother toward entertaining Rosie in their one-room house? And then stand up to to his formidable uncle who threatened to castrate him if he misbehaved?

Devika, Saras, Kavita

How did Raju become an impresario to the magnificent dancer, Rosie now Nalini, booking her in all the major cities of India, supervising travel arrangements, hiring accompanists and halls, and presiding over her performances?

Devika, Saras, Kavita, Hemjit having parippu vada

And how did he fall from grace by an error of judgement that results in a case of forgery and has him thrown into prison? Raju survives all and comes out a chastened man who would feign live out his life in peace except for a terrible drought that descends on the countryside. The people look upon him as a saint who by fasting will bring on the rains. But the enforced saint is thinking of bondas to eat.

Shoba, Geetha

Here we are at the end, having thoroughly enjoyed the humour and rich humanity of R.K. Narayan’s novel.

Joe, Geetha, Kavita, Saras, Devika, Shoba, KumKum, Hemjit (seated)

Friday, 27 April 2018

All-Shakespeare Session – Apr 23, 2018

Portrait by Martin Droeshout

Four years ago KRG organised a week-long Shakespeare festival in David Hall, Fort Kochi, to commemorate the playwright's 450th birthday. The record of those events has been captured in posts on this blog. On Apr 23 this year KRG held a session of reading from his plays, poems, and songs within the plays, on the occasion of the 454th birthday.



We had the great pleasure of receiving back in our fold KRG's earliest reader still around, Indira.  She used the occasion to celebrate Shakespeare and to remember the founder, Bobby.



So too, Talitha came on a special visit from TVM for the all-Shakespeare event; here she is greeting her old friend, Geetha, who will now become a regular at KRG. Talitha promises to come whenever possible, and Satish may accompany her at a poetry event in future.


Among us Shoba has the distinct honour of enjoying the same birthday as WS. Here Kavita wishes Shoba, holding a Ginger plant bouquet that KumKum presented her.


No birthday is complete without cake. KumKum distributed sandwiches she made, along with home-made cake from Shoba, and chocolate cake brought by Talitha. Coffee was supplied by the Yacht Club.


Having savoured in depth what WS wrote, once again we realised the truth of his forecast that 
   Not marble nor the gilded monuments
   Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme 

Shoba, Geetha, Talitha, Thommo, Indira, KumKum, Kavita, Priya, Joe, Hemjit (seated)

Here we are gathered at the end.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

In Memoriam Bobby Paul George

Bobby, the founder and host of the Kochi Reading Group for many years died by his own hand on Apr 4, 2018. He had been suffering for some time, estranged from his lovely wife Gracy of many years, and taxed by multiple problems, including a mental complication.

When he welcomed KRG readers in the early days (2006) he was a bright and exuberant presence. His enthusiasm for literature and respect for great authors and their thoughts brought life to the discussions. Academics would often read into a poem meanings that are not there, but Bobby would reaffirm the saying of Robert Frost that a poem should not mean but be.

Who else but Bobby with his extended studies in Germany, would introduce KRG readers to Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the great modern poets who died in 1926? He read the poem Lament by Rilke about abandoning ordinary life for the sake of a spiritual quest on Oct 22, 2007 . The central prayer at the heart of this poem is
Ich möchte aus meinem Herzen hinaus 
unter den großen Himmel treten.
Ich möchten beten

That is to say: I would like to step out of my heart / And go walking beneath the enormous sky. / I would like to pray.

Bobby as it happened, also quoted the epitaph Rilke wrote for himself.
Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust,
Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel
Lidern.
Rose, oh pure contradiction, desire 
to be no one's sleep beneath  
your many eyelids.

— a beautiful way of closing one’s eyes to this world.

In a similar vein Bobby never tired of his hero, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, polymath,  and supreme genius of modern German literature. Introducing Goethe’s Faust, Bobby narrated how Mephistopheles (representing the devil) tries to seize Faust's soul when he dies after a moment of happiness, but is frustrated and enraged when the angels intervene owing to God's grace. This grace can only occur because of Faust's unending striving and results from the intercession of his forgiving lover, Gretchen.

One of the earliest recorded discussions of KRG appears in this photo taken on July 17, 2006:


The late Manjoo Menon of blessed memory is in the picture, and they are discussing A House for Mr Biswas by Naipaul; Indira Outcalt, Thomas Chacko (Thommo), Manjoo Menon, Jeena Thomas, KumKum (hidden), Joe and Bobby Paul George with back to the camera.

Here's another early picture when Bobby's wife Grace was also present. It was the poetry session on Aug 9, 2006.

Bobby Paul George, Joe, Grace George, Rajeev, Indira, KumKum, Gopa David, Salim David listen as Joe discusses Seamus Heaney's translation Beowulf

As always at Just Fiction book store, Bobby gave over the walls to artists who wanted to exhibit at no charge. Few photos in the archive do as much justice to his evident pleasure in the company of those who value literature and thinking than this early shot; he is looking directly at the camera:


This was Bobby sitting with Nina Nayar, Jeena Mathew and KumKum during a discussion of the novel Snow by Orhan Pamuk on Feb 16, 2007. In another picture the readers will be thrilled to see themselves nine years ago on June 5, 2009 when we were all younger and wiser:


 This is Priya, Bobby, Indira, KumKum, Talitha, and Amita after the reading of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Later Bobby told us that a poetry Olympiad was held alongside the Olympics in ancient times. In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming bodies covered with olive oil. Accordingly, he read from an ode of Pindar, one of the great lyric poets of Greece:
If ever a man strives
With all his soul's endeavour, sparing himself
Neither expense nor labour to attain
True excellence, then must we give to those
Who have achieved the goal, a proud tribute
Of lordly praise, and shun

All thoughts of envious jealousy.

To a poet's mind the gift is slight, to speak
A kind word for unnumbered toils, and build
For all to share a monument of beauty.

Reading Pindar's Ode

It was appropriate because the poetry reading on July 13, 2012 was two weeks before the London Olympics. However, the athlete's fame is short-lived, Bobby said, quoting Dickinson’s cheery line, which he enjoyed:
Fame is a bee.
It has a song —
It has a sting —
Ah, too, it has a wing.

After we left Just Fiction premises and before we moved to the Yacht Club library, KRG used to meet at DC Books on Chittoor Road. At one such gathering we met to read The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh on Nov 28, 2008 and here are the readers:

Thommo, Indira, Jeena, KumKum, Amita, Talitha, Bobby

On Mar 8, 2010 we read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré and the group picture shows one of our former readers, Pavithra, standing next to Bobby. She left Kochi for a job in Bengaluru. The others are Priya, Amita, Talitha, KumKum, Indira and Joe.



On Oct 8, 2011 we read Animal Farm by George Orwell and Bobby was at the centre of things:


The readers were Thommo, Talitha, Soma, KumKum, Priya, Gopa, Bobby, Samuel, Sunil, Mathew, and Sivaram. It was at this session Bobby exclaimed “The men have taken over now!”, for he had been long discomfited by the customary preponderance of women at KRG. KumKum replied, “At last, the men have become literate!” There was laughter all round at the changed balance, and cheers for the record attendance.

With Bobby around humour was never far. In the context of Animal Farm he merrily started off: “All readers are equal but some readers are more equal than others.” Presumably, he meant himself jokingly, since he was the one to start the group that has now become the KRG. But later in a comment he added: “Joe, Thank you for all the work. By ‘some readers are more equal’, I meant you! It is important to read with passion. thanks again – Bobby Paul George”

At the Poetry session of July 15, 2011 Bobby had an interesting idea about how KRG could gather funds for future ventures. There is a tradition of the Raja of Travancore visiting the Padmanabhaswamy temple every day, and if he does not show up he has to pay a fine of Rs 166; that is the equivalent value of the silver coin by which he paid the fine in the old days. Bobby suggested that no-shows at our KRG should also pay an appropriate fine. There was general laughter at the suggestion.

When we read the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams on Nov 26, 2010 Bobby observed that often “love starts as lust.”Indeed, there is an ambivalence in the word’s meaning in German, for “lust”in German can stand for “fun” as well as “lust.” Now lust is taking over in  Facebook, he said presciently. 

Bobby quoted from an essay, The Catastrophe of Success by Tennessee Williams about art and the artist's role in society:
Then what is good? The obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction, that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that’s dynamic and expressive ... purity of heart is the one success worth having. “In the time of your life—live!” That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

At the reading of the splendid novel The Stranger by Albert Camus, which was chosen by Bobby, we are here ranged to bear witness to our delight in the book:

Talitha, Zakia, Priya, KumKum, Bobby, Joe

Talitha wondered if Meursault, the chief character, was capable of love. Bobby quoted from Camus’ Nobel banquet speech in response:
Truth is mysterious, elusive, always to be conquered. ... artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge.

Bobby quoted another phrase from the novel, ‘this business of dying had to be got through, inevitably.’ Meursault wonders why the chaplain, as a man who is also condemned to death ultimately, cannot sense ‘the dark wind from the future that had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that were to come.’

Bobby remarked that in the end Meursault does not want to be left alone in death. Bobby defined the Meursaultian man “as one who calls a spade a spade. His reluctance to judge and be judged has a Christian echo. Camus is able to portray the man as a man living for the day ... give us this day our daily bread ... The prose is minimalistic and yet searing , full of sarcasm at the bourgeois practices of society ... Meursault has no idea of the "afterlife" and is not interested. He is interested in today.”


Ave atque vale we may say along with Catullus: We salute you ... and goodbye.