I was very close to Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai when I was working as a reporter for my paper in Alappuzha. Whenever he wanted anything to be written in English, he used to call me to his residence, give me very good food and dictate to me his ideas. I remember taking from him notes for a keynote address he was to present at an international seminar on creativity in New Delhi and also a few articles for magazines including that of the paper for which I work.
He was a very deep person, although, on the surface, he looked just an ordinary Kuttanadan farmer. I believe that is what makes him a great writer, being very light and ordinary. He was not comfortable with English--his English was like the document writer's (just as his Malayalam is, as some critics might say). He will say what he wanted to say in Malayalam and I will come back the next day with the English version of what I thought he wanted to say.
Looking back, I now realise I had done most of these translations without really understanding the full meaning of what he had told me in Malayalam. He was very indulgent. When I bring to him the neatly typed speech or article the next day, he will read it minutely, ask a question or two, add a comma or semicolon here and there and say: "Ithu dharalam mathiyeda (This is more than enough)." I used to even take a little freedom in translating, which I now know I should not have.
Being so close (he was also my father's friend), I took the liberty of asking him once: "Chetta, ethinte guttence entha? What is the secret? How do you go about writing a short story?" (See, I was not overambitious. I wanted to start it in a very small way...and then graduate into big things like novels, perhaps).
I asked him whether his practice was to get up early in the morning and read something like a story or two of Maupassant to fall into the rhythm before starting on a story. Or is it late in the night, after everyone had gone to sleep and one had gazed at the moon for some time, that the writing begins to flow? I have tried both these and many other methods, but somehow I cannot break into the trick of writing a story.
He slowly removed the veins of a betel leaf with his finger nail, added lime and powdered areacacut to it and put the combination into his mouth. He had stopped taking tobacco with pan those days. He sat chewing and thinking for a long time. A dog was ambling slowly across the compound. Thakazhi Chettan lifted his chin so that the betel juice would not spill from his mouth and told me to throw a stone at the dog.
Anything he says, I will do with alacrity. I jumped out and, like Jonty Rhodes flashing in to effect a runout, picked up a stone and flung it flat at the dog, factoring in the dog's movement too. (My subject in college was Physics and, further, I was a cricketer and a very good fielder in my young days).
The throw was spot on, but the dog, when just a whisker's breadth was left for the stone to hit it, leaped to a side in mid-stride to render my effort null and void. Perfectly cool. It even gave me a sidelong glance and a smirk before wriggling its way under the gate out of the compound.
On resuming my seat on his verandah, I found Thakazhi Chettan laughing. "Did you see how he did it? To be creative, you should be like him."
I thought he was making fun of me.
But now I know what he meant was to keep it light and weightless. Some of you are naturally, without your knowing it, in that position. Some others, whatever their talent, will not be able to deliver it, because they cannot touch that zero-gravity orbit.
To know the position of that orbit is important. It is important to know the difference it makes to the quality of your being, your creative existence, when you are in that position of weightless agility.
When we know the difference, it may even become possible for us to navigate through distractions to that orbit, responding to the demands of the world around us with total creativity...as, if I am not mistaken, you are doing without your knowing it.