The Many Pleasures Of Reading

Last month a dear friend gifted me a book. A physical one. With smells, sounds and good old paper. It has pages that I can dog-ear. And write my notes. Circle. Underline. Etc.  And so, have revisited the pleasures of reading a physical book. It has done wonders to my reading. 

It didn’t quite start that way. When I unwrapped the gift to see books, the first thought was, where do I keep them? Skirmishes at home about my books and the space they occupy have been persistent. Peace has been wrought by sticking to the kindle. Until these books arrived.  

So, I left these books on a side table. I had to figure out how to get back to caressing a book while devouring what it held. Perhaps in the hesitating was a fear of falling in love with the physical book again. 

One of the books seemed to tug at me.  Chandrahas Choudhury’s “My Country Is Literature”.

 The back cover had this.

“A book is only one text, but it is many books. It is a different book for each of its readers. My Anna Kareninais not your Anna Karenina; your A House for Mr Biswas is not the one on my shelf. When we think of a favourite book, we recall not only the shape of the story, the characters who touched our hearts, the rhythm and texture of the sentences. We recall our own circumstances when we read it: where we bought it (and for how much), what kind of joy or solace it provided, how scenes from the story began to intermingle with scenes from our life, how it roused us to anger or indignation or allowed us to make our peace with some great private discord. This is the second life of the book: its life in our life.”

Those lines were enough to shed my romance and dive into experiencing the sensuous pleasures that only a book can kindle. Sorry about the stupid pun.

Anyway, I have read been devouring with great relish. This book is a collection of literary criticisms on the works of an esoteric set of writers. Perumal Murugan. Orhan Pamuk. Sadat Hasan Manto. Nehru. Junichiro Tanizaki. Manu Joseph. And several others.

I have been slow reading. Rereading. Fast reading. Beginning all over again. There is no bar at the bottom of the page that tells me I have finished 43% of the book. The volume of fresh pages on my right palm are inviting by their weight and crisp edges. So I go slow. 

A Library Of Emotions For The Pleasures Of Reading

In the middle of all this, another dear friend sent this message on whatsapp.

“I think Emerson wrote somewhere that a library is a kind of magic cavern which is full of dead men. And those dead men can be reborn, can be brought to life when you open their pages.

Speaking about Bishop Berkeley (who, may I remind you, was a prophet of the greatness of America), I remember he wrote that the taste of the apple is neither in the apple itself—the apple cannot taste it- self—nor in the mouth of the eater. It requires a contact between them.

The same thing happens to a book or to a collection of books, to a library. For what is a book in itself? A book is a physical object in a world of physical objects. It is a set of dead symbols. And then the right reader comes along, and the words—or rather the poetry behind the words, for the words themselves are mere symbols—spring to life, and we have a resurrection of the word.”

Borges, Jorge Luis, from his book This craft of verse

My mind right now is like a meadow sprouting all kinds of green after a luxurious spell of afternoon rain. And as dusk falls, birds and insects chirp away. Strange calls and uncommon sounds seem to festoon the night ahead as I look at the pages ahead. A strange set of emotions that are beyond the stuff in the common library of emotions.

That’s what reading a book does to me. How I love “what have you been reading lately?” to bibliophiles like Manu!

The many pleasures of reading are best left unexplained. For explanation does it more harm than good. I can say that with certainty after writing all this.

Statue !

This is second in the Madurai series. The first one is here.

Ever remember playing a game called ‘Statue’ in school? Well, I do. You didn’t have to do much. Someone had to point to someone else and say ‘statue’. You were required ‘freeze’. Just pretend you are a statue and watch the other chaps lick their lollipops and wallop their chocolates.  And you had to wait till they came around to point in your direction and say ‘statue’ again. If you wanted to be a winner that is. 

In most cases, as soon as the lollipop was unwrapped, people gladly embraced defeat, disgorged themselves from the statues they were forced to become and went after the lollipop like an animal in heat. That story is for another time. 

But there are several statues that adorn roadsides and have watched the world go by and sort of had a ringside view of the change that is happening in the world. Every city has a few. Madurai has them too. 

Those that bear the names, shapes and figures of political leaders, leaders of a sect, a community etc have automatic addition to the following. Like being born in that community. In that sect. Or being sold to a political ideology.  These statues themselves undergo a clean up or two. Regularly. 

But how about literary figures?  People who made a difference to an art scene? To language and therefore to culture and life?  How good are their statues? There are few such statues that I found.  As I slugged the camera around and decided to rediscover ‘home’ as I sought balance on a roller coaster of a trip back home. Pardon me however for the poor quality of my snaps here. Most of them are tilted. Perhaps indicative of the state of my mind then.

These statues have seen me grow from a young boy to a bristling young man and then morphing slowly into the graying balding chap that I am. That is, THEY have seen me. Never before have I paused to give them a second look. Never. Which is surprising considering that I normally am interested in such stuff. I have passed this road as many times as perhaps there are rain drops in a monsoon shower. These are in the Tallakulam area of Madurai. A small area of less than 2-3 Sq KM. 

Here are a few statues that I found and some looking up the web lead me to some people that I didn’t know of that well and lives that made a difference to a different generation of people. 

So here is an invitation for you to dive deep into their lives and see if we can make more meaning. Perhaps you would like to dig more. Or if you already know more, maybe share  here!

If only God came back and waved his magical fingers and brought them alive, I am sure these statues would spout stories that world doesn’t know. How fascinating would that be! And for that reason, and for that reason only, I think we must petition God to walk the roads again. 

Most of these statues are ones erected as part of the World Tamil Conference held in 1981, I have recollections of that conference as a massive event that got talked about for a while. I was too young to understand the nuances of language and the passion in the conversations at home but was old enough to soak into the pomp and pageantry! That these statues have been there from then on is a ‘nice to know’ thing. 

In an area that is earmarked for rain water puddles, marketing campaigns for two wheelers, protest strikes of various political parties and Kabaddi matches sit two piercing statues. 

First off, there is Kavimani Desika Vinayagam Pillai. A tamil poet who translated the work of Omar Khayyam. Wikipedia  doesn’t give me much else. The name is more than merely ‘familiar’ but the thirst for knowing him more stands revived. The tags underneath the post on Wikipedia point to a few things that points in a direction.  They read : “•  People from Kanyakumari district •  Tamil poets •  Indian Tamil people •  1876 births •  1954 deaths •  Indian writer stubs”. Helpful!   

A little distance from there stands U.V.Swaminatha Iyer.  Wikipedia   holds much more on him than Desika Vinayagam Pillai. U.V.Swaminatha Iyer  called ‘Tamil Thaatha” ( The grandfather of Tamil ) is credited with extracting ancient Tamil literature written on palm leaves and publishing them on more readable material.  Wikipedia also tells me Civaka Chintamani was a “Jain classic”. Ignorance is limitless. Mine that is!  

Do give My.Iyer a look up.  Atleast for the sake of his statue that has looked at every single passing vehicle on Alagar Koil Road, Madurai. Come rain or shine!

A little further down the road is the statue of Shankardas Swamigal. A man well regarded as the Everest of Tamil theatre.   To the best of my memory the auditorium at Tamukkam is also named after him. I promptly read more about him here and figured he must have been a pioneer and a fantastic passionate man of his time. The industry could get to new lows with juvenile ‘masala’ movies but there are some film makers who would make him proud.  Where the industry is, is a different matter. His statue sits right at the junction of four roads and what a ringside view he has. This statue has been up since 1967. I wish it could speak. The world can be the stage. Seriously! 

Diagonally opposite to him is this pillar. It sure must have some history but nothing that I could find. I am curious if anyone knows more.

A couple of kilometers  away in what is now called KK.Nagar junction sits this man. Tholkappiar. Right under the KK Nagar Arch. 

A statue again bearing the time stamp of the World Tamil Congress, 1981. For me, KK Nagar is like home! And right under his nose, I have been upto mischief, had run ins, worked studiously, ran campaigns, bought medicines and what not. But never before did I realise that Tholkappiar was looking at it all. 

I recall reading Tholkappiar as one of the foremost grammarians of the world. Around 2000 years ago. Google doesn’t throw up any proper leads on Tholkappiar on the first page of search. There are politicos opening parks in his name but about the man himself, there is little except a mention of his being Agastya’s disciple. Some more diving deeper keeps me glued to the monitor for a good hour. Debates have raged on the net and you may want to look up here  or here

I have no inclination and remarkably shorn of knowledge on this subject to get any close to such a debate. More pertinently, the fact that Tholkappiar’s statue stood right there and I had no idea that it stood there painted a rather dim view of how much I knew of ‘home’! 

As I stood there, camera in hand, the traffic whizzed by. Buses. Cars. Cycles. Bullock Carts. Mopeds. From the corner of my eye, I notice many curious eyes looking at me. I wonder how many people know of Tholkappiar or atleast aware of his statue sitting there!  

I wonder if the general populace of the land care much about its true roots, language and culture. I wonder. But Tholkappiar sits there.  Blissfully peaceful. With a handle bar moustache and huge ears. 

He stares me down as the unkempt undergrowth and random wreck of a landscaped garden dominates my picture frame. Perhaps it indicates the state of the language today. Or maybe it just points in the direction of how much people know of their own backyard while they strive to build their futures in other lands. Whatever. 

More coming.