Essay by : Malayalam Poet Padmasree Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri
Translated by: P.K.N.Panicker
What did you gain from roaming around in the States for about six weeks? My friends asked me. I could answer them only in Vailoppilli Master’s idiom.+1 A few important instances; no, only moments! The master had taught me that they are the richest in the entire life time of a person. I am writing about a moment like that.
In the middle of June 1992 I took part in a friendly get together, as a poet, in the house of brother M.S.T. Majority of those who joined us were Malayalees. They welcomed me with heartful sweet words; but one among the gathering – a white man – was silently observing me. I could sense that. At some point M.S.T. introduced him to me as a poet, Mr. Emerson. Their friendship sprouted from the playground and so on. I do remember that communication between me and that gentleman had some hitch as his American accented English and my Indian English had to strain to find a common ground. That reminded me of what Bernard Shaw once told an American friend of his; ‘We are separated by the same language.’ Indeed it seemed apt between Emerson and me too! He communicated to me in short simple sentences that I could follow without much difficulty. He had occasion to read a short English article that I wrote sometime back on my visit to NASA in Houston. In that I had stated that ‘For mankind more important than winning over the outer space is to win over his inner space.’ It seems that my reference to ‘the inner space’ had touched Emerson. Our talk drifted to spirituality, ancient cultures, Vedanta and covered a host of inter suddenly and asked, ‘Why not you come with me? We shall go out for a little while.’
‘To my home – my cave, that is how I address my home. I shall drop you back soon. It is simply that I would like to show you a few things in my cave that may interest you.’
It was near midnight. After talking to my host M.S.T., I moved out with Emerson. We proceeded in his car. After about 15 minutes’ drive he pulled the brakes and we alighted, truly in the midst of a forest. Chirping of crickets alone welcomed us and we entered Emerson’s cave built of wood planks.
Once inside, I realized that it was an ordinary average house with all modern convenience.
(An average American house is many times better than an average Indian house). His wife and children were away in some distant place where she worked. He used to come and be alone in this house a couple of months every year.
‘What do you do here, alone?’
In answer he led me to each of the rooms, one after the other. Each room was a bit of an excellent library. Gandhiji, Vivekananda, J. Krishnamoorthy and others were there in the shelves, greeting each other.
Pointing out to the specially laid out mats and seats he explained that he is familiar to Meditation, Yoga and Pranayama.
He was of the opinion and belief that the time has arrived when modern man who so far was in search of increasing modern conveniences and luxurious easy life with the aid of advanced modern equipment, materials using innovative technical knowledge and skill and was increasingly making the earth dirty and dirtier turning it into a place non-livable to turn back to the reality – to the truth; if not he will be walking into total destruction. I could appreciate why he like my expression, ‘the inner space’.
Thereafter he invited me to the corridor to show his very special collection of many articles from far and near. I saw many musical instruments similar to Thappu, Thakil, Murichenda+2 and vessels like those used for ceremonial worship in temples, images made out of spun sweet grass similar to our Darbha grass, …………
‘What are these?’
Emerson told me that, they were collections related to his research on the beliefs and practices of worship among the Red Indians, who worshiped the Sun, lived on algae, acquired proficiency in music and dance and above all mastered the maturity to live in tandem with other living things – yes, there lived a people like that, the original inhabitants of this place now reduced to a consumer’s paradise. The white people annihilated them, converted to new beliefs, initiated to liquor and destroyed them. My mind travelled back into the active lifelike images that I came across in books such as ‘Black Elk Speaks’, ‘Bury My Heart at The Wounded Knee’ etc. The white race that destroyed that civilization, culture and lifestyle and spirituality of those black gods today stands trembling at the specter of a nuclear catastrophe and in search of the very essence of what they destroyed – Merely as an instrument to help the very existence! That civilization is totally erased; But it has got to be reinvented and revived through research.
While returning in Emerson’s car I thought, ‘In my dear Bharat (India) is a living civilization that continues for over Ten Thousand years with no break.’ While the most famous civilizations witnessed by the world, like those in Greece, Egypt, Ireland etc. got erased, lives one in India which refuses to die down. Even today there are people in India who continue to sustain the Vedas by word of mouth. As per Indian calendar this is 5093. In this India that is fast progressing according to the western model will a time come when we have to know of our past civilization through research? If that is to happen, then what is the meaning of my humble life? Shall I be content with a few poems, awards and excursions across the world? Or should I dedicate the rest of my life to uphold and help strengthen the civilization that nurtured me – that nurtures me?
When back in M.S.T. ‘s house, I had reached a firm resolve about the rest of my life.
Notes: This essay was written in April 1996.
+1 Refers to another famous Malayalam poet Sri Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon.
+2 Thappu – Small Drum; Thakil – Kettle Drum; Murichenda – One of the different types of percussion instruments generally known as Chenda – popular in South India, particularly so in Kerala.