Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Smorgasbord of Life

Bipanna Nisitha
By Dr Hareram Mohanty
Publisher: Smt Bijoya Mohanty
Pages: 182
Price: Rs 120

Imagine yourself stepping out of the train in the middle of the night to get some drinking water in a platform. When you rush back to your train the train is already on the move and you somehow manage to cling on to the bars. To your utter dismay you find the door locked from inside. You knock, bang and kick the door, yell at the top of your voice and gesticulate frantically just to catch someone’s attention inside the coach. While all this drama of desperation is going on, the train gathers momentum and you feel the chill piercing your bones while helplessly perched on the foot-board in the dark of the night. Chilling, isn't it? And now imagine what would be your reaction if you come to know years later that the person who prevented others from letting you in that night was your wife-to-be.

Some secrets are best kept buried in tight wraps forever, because the blunt truth at times becomes too unpleasant to bear. The wife in the eponymous story ‘Bipanna Nisitha’ (‘Hazardous Midnight’) is clever enough to realise this when she suppresses the temptation to divulge the secret to her husband. Truth is consciously sealed in a chest of secrecy to save the happy conjugal life.

Hareram Mohanty’s collection of short stories has many pieces which revolve around the themes of our attempts to come to terms with the harsh realities of life, naked truths and dark fantasies of the past. ‘Rati o Birati’ (‘Pleasure of Love and Thereafter’) recounts the story of a star-crossed husband who took great pride in his wife’s beauty in his youth. The caring husband went to great lengths to medically revive the good looks of his dearie when years of marital bliss brought an extra layer of fat on the wife’s body. But the doctor who transforms her looks decides to exhibit her around the world as a sample of his magical craft. That suits fine to the refurbished wife but the husband is left lamenting his fate unable to share his embarrassing agony with others. Likewise the stories like ‘Bastabatara Peeda’ (‘Stings of Reality’), ‘Saita Kamana’ (‘Treasured Passion’), ‘Abhula Atita’ (‘Enduring Past’), and ‘Kahani Kalantarara’ (‘Change of Time’) deal with dilemmas of life in which the past throws up strange challenges for the present.

Mohanty's stories are straightforward and simple, with a no-nonsense approach to the craft of storytelling. He builds up the plot till the near-end in one flow, and when the reader is left with nothing much to imagine, he gives a sudden tweak, through an unknown but significant event of the past or with a sudden revelation. That brings in a moment of truth for the story. He minces no words while bringing forth the master stroke of his plots
Mohanty has observed life closely from various vantage points, during his many years of experience as a student, as a college teacher, as a banker and as an intellectual. All the stories reveal his first-hand acquaintance with the characters and events.

The language is formal and sometimes peppered with a pinch of the archaic, which best suit the humorous stories like ‘Utkocha Upakhyana’ (‘On Bribery’) and ‘Banchanabrutanta’ (‘Trickery’).

This smorgasbord of life will definitely give the reader a few chuckles and some points to ponder.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Imagination at its sensuous best

TO imagine the clouds as a befitting messenger for carrying amorous messages to an estranged lover is a highpoint of creativity, especially in an age when literary traditions are not yet established. It takes the genius of a Kalidasa to not only conjure up such an archetype but also use it to create an enchanted universe of love, separation, fealty, and longing that is unique in world literature. In a grand sweep Kalidasa delivers the high points of human passion, the many expressions of nature, and the mosaic of Indian landscape that makes the poem soothing and graceful. The storyline of Meghadutam is simple: a yaksha under curse of estrange-ment from his beloved at Ramagiri hills in Central India is urging a passing cloud to take his message to his lover who is living at Alaka on Mount Kailash. The poem is written in 111 stanzas in two cantos, namely Purba Megha (Advent of the First Cloud) and Uttara Megha (The Cloud Later). The poem was first translated into English by Horace Hayman Wilson in 1813. Since then, it has been translated several times into various languages.

The celebrated poem is presented in coffee table book form by two researchers of classical literature namely Dr Ajit Kumar Tripathy and Sri Purna Chandra Tripathy. Each stanza is presented with an exquisite piece of painting by Chintamani Biswal. The book opens with a foreword by Dr Karan Singh, the connoisseur of ancient literature and philosophy. Dr Singh sets the tone for the lyrical grace that the poem proffers. The brief preface by Dr A.K.Tripathy and Sri P.C. Tripathy discusses the views of many scholars of the past and present starting with the first English translator Mr Wilson, who have brought the beauty of Kalidasa's artistry before the lovers of litera-ture. The editors have made an attempt to chart the course of the poem's geography and present a different perspective as to the locale of the narrative. Basing on the similarity of place names and other logic they are of the view that Ramagiri hills, where the Yaksha lives, belongs to the Koraput district of Odisha.

The translation into English in verse libre is soothing and conveys the meaning and the feeling completely. Here is how Kalidasa's description of river Gambhira is presented in English translation.

"By sucking up the water would you have removed

from the waist of river Gambhira her blue water robe, slipping it down her sloping flanks

exposing her body down to hips with nothing but a row of hanging canes touching the water that she would use as her slender hands
to hold on to the slipping robe

to cover her loins and exposed thighs. Experienced you are
in enjoying such amorous pleasures in the past,
having bent down over her so near and so close difficult it would be my friend
to depart from a mistress

with her charms exposed." (Stanza 44, Purba Megha Canto)

The poem is full of such exquisite descriptions of man and nature in passionate interaction, made more live by love and yearning. Would you ever find a more sensuous description than the following?

" Her waist you find unadorned

by the usually worn waist band of a string of pearls, caste aside by her
at the adverse turn of destiny.

Her lovely thigh which I used to stroke and gently knead with my hands
at the end of love's enjoyment,

and nail marks, you would not find there now. Yellow-white and juicy as a tender banana stalk it would still be
throbbing when you arrive". (Stanza 36, Uttara Megha Canto)