Tuesday, 7 September 2010

letter to a friend (3)

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.



Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

Good one. How was it to know a writer like Thakazhi's stature at such close quarters?

P. Venugopal said...

He is full of affection. Like a grandfather figure. Those meeting him for the first time will never imagine he is a writer. He is just an ordinary villager, very old during the time I mention in the piece. A little hard of hearing too. So you have to speak out loud. The fun of it is that I was having a patronising kind of affection for him those days, not fully understanding his greatness.

Balachandran V said...

Beautiful. That was one superb illustration of creative writing.

The last line in your post is the most important line: 'you are doing without your knowing it'. Once one knows,once he becomes aware, the spontaneity is lost and he becomes self-conscious and pretentious too.

P. Venugopal said...

Exactly, Balan, take a look at Sorcy's blog: http://www.evilsfury.blogspot.com/

I wrote this mail to him with total respect for what he is doing. The fact is he is even aware!!!

Young boys and girls are of a different calbire nowadays.

Sorcerer said...

That was a wonderful mail that I received today morning.
You are right on the spot with every point about creative writing and the thinking process behind it.

And yee..knowing such a great personality, getting close guidance is a blessing!

Corresponding with you, is one of the moments I cherish a lot:)

P. Venugopal said...

Thank you, Sorcy. I could write five or six pieces about what I had seen in Thakazhi Chettan. I have also had encounters with Basheer and Vyloppalli. I propose to change the complexion of my blog and spread out.

suresh said...

Venu, that was a wonderful piece on Thakazhi, shall I say one of your very best?!
Do enlighten us with your intimacies with Basheer and others...but no hurry!

Suresh Elamon

P. Venugopal said...

Thank you Suresh! With Thakazhi Chettan I have many experiences that will show him from different angles. Basheer and Vyloppalli encounters are hilarious ones, so also a meeting with Madhavikutty. I shall write them one by one..but no hurry, as you said.

Rohit said...

Venu Sir.
I was reading blogs and wasnt expecting anyone visiting my blog and commenting.
Just saw your comments on my blog and i am speechless.
May be you are right about the cynical look.
Now i can have another look on what i was writing.
Thanks for visiting sir.

Rohit said...

I am in the situation these days, accompanying a lot of great artist in their respective fields but unable to understand their work COMPLETELY.
But i am having a great time with these writers, musicians, actors. A lot of creative people around and i am here too following you.
May be one day..

P. Venugopal said...

"may me one day" is a distict possibility with all of us, Rohit. being around with really creative people will help you if you listen and watch and also awaken your intelligence.
i have seen that the genuinely creative people i have met in my life are uniformly relaxed. they are in a certain orbit. creativity, the new, can come only from total peace, Shanti. they are all in one way or the other in that state, at least at the moment when creativity happens.
from disquiet too we have seen art and literature emerge. but there is a difference in quality there. it is a re-creation of disquiet, of conflict, and not a thing of creativity.
as i noted in my post, i feel that when we know the subtle difference, know what makes the difference, we can perhaps steer ourselves to the orbit where it actually happens.
best of luck to both of us!

Lakshminarasimhan said...

Venu, Onnu mathram nischayam the old adage fits you fine " poovodu chearndhu naarum manakkum" and has defenitely helped you to be zero orbit gravity.

best regards


P. Venugopal said...

Does the adage fit me, Lakshmi? A faint suspicion of the fragrance, may be. Picked up from several flowers, including friends like you...We don't know the stuff these really creative people are made of.

Charu said...

Wow... have no words to describe how beautiful it is...

P. Venugopal said...

Thanks, Charu!

Prabhakar said...

Part of the creative process is not deliberate. When things fall into place the writer, I guess, must feel like a medium or something.

P. Venugopal said...

You are right, Prabhakar. You have put it peacefully in perspective.