Friday, August 08, 2008

Kafka and the task of interpretation

Kafka might be the writer who is the most sensitive about the concept of interpretation. He interprets his own story, allows characters to interpret their destiny, invite readers to interpret his story by being themselves to be part of an interpretation. Consider his story, Before the Law: Kafka sketched the fate of the man from the country side at the gate of law only to invite a different interpretation from the part of the reader. He initiates such an interpretation with his character Josef K. who tells the priest at the cathedral that the ‘Old man deluded the gatekeeper’ – an argument which exists only in an interpretation of the story.

Consider his story The Judgment. Georg Bendemann’s life is subjected to the interpretation of his father who finally pronounces the judgment, ‘death by drowning’ at Georg. The protagonist of The Judgement had never been in conflict with his own self. But when Georg's life was weighed by his father, the former was delivered nothing but the capital punishment. Would the story of Hunger Artist have ever been successful had different interpretations about the art of fasting not been focused upon? Hunger artist was there to perform his art at any cost. But what makes the story more attractive is the way in which different interpretations – of spectators in the story, of we readers and of the author – construct the whole matrix at which the Hunger Artist finally perishes.

In The Castle too, K. faces several interpretations about various incidents in his life – his affair with Frieda, his attempts to meet Klamm at any cost and his befriending of Olga. Frieda has an interpretation about it, Pepi – the new barmaid who substituted Frieda – has another interpretation and the village council chairman has yet another.

More on this topic later.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aram Kalam of Akbar Kakkattil

Read a few Selected Stories by Akbar Kakkattil (Olive Publishers). I started exploring the works of this author after reading “Aaraam Kaalam” (the problem of translating this title to English is discussed elsewhere in this article), which appeared in “100 years, 100 stories” published by DC Books. Like many other Malayalam writers Kakkattil is also a story-teller of country side. But many of his tales grow beyond such boundaries and “Aaraam Kaalam,” is a perfect example.
This story or rather incident sketches a true local setting: a few young friends in a locality hire a “trekker” (a vehicle resembling a jeep) to go to the marriage of one of their common friends whose house is a couple of hours' journey away. Many characters in the story have a local flavor: the ticket clerk in a local cinema talkies, the taxi driver, the local political activist and so on.

Kakkattil gives a narration of an incident. Though the story-teller is careful about maintaining a curiosity in the reader till the end of the story, the reader never knows that it was a story through which he was taken along all the way. When he reads the last sentence, he recalls all what happened till that time. The author goes silent here and the reader begins to realize with astonishment that suddenly everything measured up to become a story. The author might be saying: “You have been reading things like 'I did this, I did that, I went there, He didn't turn up, I waited, Then somebody else turned up, It rained, etc.' But at the end, see how everything became a marvelous story.” And rightly so.

There is more to say about this story. I also need to get acquainted with other famous works of this writers. Shall come back to this topic later.

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Dharmaraja of C.V. Raman Pillai

After a gap of sixteen years, I re-read C.V. Raman Pillai's Dharmaraja and was amazed to see that my mother tongue can be used so successfully to give shape to legendary works like this. I admit that many words in the novel went above my head. It would also have been difficult to follow the work completely without the help of those endnotes provided for each chapter (Many thanks to DC Books to bring out a reprint of this book with a scholarly guide attached to each chapter). Dharmaraja was the text book for Malayalam Second Paper in Class X in the year 1991-92.

On one hand C.V. extensively quotes from the important literary works that laid foundation to Malayalam literature: from Kalidasa's Abhijnana Sakunthalam to Unnayi Warriers' Nalacharitam and Kathakali poems (Attakkatha) written by various Kings of Travancore, the list is really long. Such quotes appear at the beginning of each chapter, giving a glimpse of events narrated in the chapter and setting the mood for the drama that is about to unfold. Even within the text, single line quotes from classic texts perplex a naïve reader if not with the help of a study guide. On the other, C. V. uses cultural and religious concepts and smilies of cultural practices throughout the novel. How many Malayalis know what Pathamudayam is, or what cultural practice was associated with this day? But see how Ummini Pillai uses it to make a false allegation about Kesava Pillai that the latter seduced and brought an unmarried lady to his house showing least respect to the custom.

Shall come back to you later with more on Dharmaraja.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

U.A. Khader - The fame of Thrikkottur

Completed reading UA Khader's “Thrikkottur Peruma” (The fame of Thrikkottur). Thrikkottur, in the work, is a village in northern Kerala. I'm not sure whether the name is imaginary. However, the characters and the events appear real in every sense. With old tales from countryside (Pazhamkathakal in Malayalam) Khader weaves his 'Thrikkottur Peruma', which won the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 1982. In the novelites that collectively make up this book, readers get introduced to characters from different caste and creed. Though the author appears mostly in first person, he would like to consider himself as just one among the onlookers witnessing the incidents narrated in the story. Hence the tag “We, Thrikkottur inhabitants” often appears in the narratives.
The caste surname of each character is significant for a lasting literary experience. Yakshi, often the ghost of a lady who had met an unnatural death, makes an appearance in most of the stories. In fact, the instances when Yakshis are actually seen by the characters are not many. On the other hand, Yakshi lives in the collective memory, tales and myths of the Thrikkottur inhabitants. And the myths are recalled more frequently than the actual appearance of Yakshi.

The slangs, caste surnames, dialogs of characters at decisive moments in the narratives and the raw human life depicted all throughout the stories leave a lasting memory in the reader. Thiyyan, Kurup, Kadungon, Thattan, Musaliyar, Haji, Kurikkal, Vaidyar are some of the characters which appear in the novelites. Rather than a caste or religious divide, it is the lust for life that divides them. Who can overpower whom in the fulfillment of desire, whose ego finally rules etc. have been the questions before men of all ages. The same concerns find another place in this literary work too. No one is found explicitly tormented by caste, religion or identity. Not even by poverty. (Recalling an incident from one of the stories: Kelappa Kurup, a powerful landlord of Thrikkottur, plans to hang a signboard infront of the serpent's temple in Thrikkottur, prohibiting the entry of non-Hindus into the temple compound. Kurup asked his Muslim accomplice to order for the signboard. The naïve Muslim asks Kurup, perplexed: “Who are these non-Hindus? We Muslims can, of course, come and see the festivals there. Can't we?”) They all live their roles in that part of the globe where they are born and brought up.

Hence a surrealistic conclusion: the one who becomes a victim to Yakshi - the one whose blood would be sucked up by her and whose lifeless body would appear in the bushes the next morning – would be equally satisfied as his supernatural killer. For, the victim also finds it gratifying to have played an active role in the incident.

Ayalkkar of P. Kesavadev

“Ayalkkar” (neighbors) is an award-winning novel of P. Kesavadev, one of the prolific writers of 20th century Kerala. In the “introduction” to this book, the author contemplates on the social progress to which Kerala was slowly waking up in the beginning of twentieth century. His analyses of these developments often give birth to his literary works, as what happened in this book too, the author says. Dev, as the writer has been popularly known in Kerala, recalls that there were three main aspects for the social progress witnessed by Kerala in the first half of twentieth century (the introduction written in 1963 takes into account half a century preceding it to make this inference). The destruction of matrilineal system (marumakkathayam), which had a tint of feudal character in it, the social mobility of Ezahvas, who had witnessed backwardness in a caste-ridden society, and the progress of Christian community in the economic and education front were the three aspects.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Rice Pudding and Birthday

Yesterday, I read two stories in Malayalam - "Neyppayasam" (Rice Pudding) of Madhavikkutty (Kamala Das) and "Janmadhinam" (Birthday) of Basheer. While Madhavikkutty was trying to create a plot for her story in which she cautiously found her way till the end, Basheer, on the other hand, was allowing the reader to fill the gap in his narrative (like he says in the story, during the midnight after his birthday he was scouting for a street light under which he can sit tranquilly and put down all that happened on the day). All that happened was that what was important to him, no matter whether his emotions lack sophistication, whether he stutters, whether there is inadequecy in everything around. Madhavikkutty is perfect at her story, but it is a success because of its methodical approach.