Monday, May 23, 2016

A. V. Koshy writes

An Epic Poem on Childhood - 3 - The Diary of Leaving

Leaving is not leavings.
The landscape of childhood with its plantain trees,
yams and creeping bitttergourd vines
is the richest source for one's future;
discovered much later.
The language unlearned is a loss.
Living in books, printed pages and far away realms of the imagination is not enough, dear Breath.
Looking at the 'kaduvas' from a distance,
not knowing what the others were up to
not being sunk in native soil
as if they were oddments;
all of it something that added up to and increased my loss.
Not that I don't hate the culture terrorists
or the moral police, the religious fanatics and the insane identity  

but the broadening, widening canvas of colours
also loses much specificity.
Search for essence makes one lose all sense of belonging.
The child I was now floats forever in an empty sky like those 

         winged seeds,
tiny parachutes in which unseen fairies still cuddle
my 'appooppan's thaadi' with its silvery gossamer filaments
so ethereally beautiful, searching desperately for crannies,
places to lodge, safe catchment areas, sheer and mere good ground
to call "my Home" and flourish;
but all that's left is the nature of the 'udumbu,' a frown emoticon
Won't you love me?
We are different and most of what you are or what I am
will never be known by each other,
separated by languages, customs, rituals and rites
and a million other things; of strangeness, differences, 

       (d)e(f)ficiencies -
Yet love me, please - sex is not a construct
and touch, taste and smell can create memories - a new his and 

that can overlay, if assiduously pursued, an eternity of palimpsests
and give us for a while or ever, if so be it is destined, a feeling of 

But even that is not real anymore in these new whorls
where the voice I hear is once removed from reality
as are the moving images I see,
The words are not material;
Your hands made no paper want to make you blush
and the writing is deflected by the lack of calligraphy
that might have charmingly hid more than it revealed.
So, as in under the water experiments for seismic disturbance,
from a great distance I hear the earthquake faults being plumbed
and if everything collapses like the new video games
that thirst more for destruction than alleviation or value,
brownling, my dearest Breath, let us close our eyes and return to our childhood gardens,
a little kanthari will spice up our poor man's meal of kanji vellam 

        and salt,
some mango and/or lime pickle and a few button onions crushed to 

        balance it all off nicely,
while the swing awaits;
your ribboned pleats fly in the air already
in anticipation of my hands that will push you up
up, up, up, unreachable into the infinity of the blue sky
and the spinning green up there and the white clouds and the 

dazzling in the summer with crow pheasant calls and kuyil songs
the leaves falling down occasionally under the mango tree, on your 

      hair and blouse and skirt.
The brook, miles away, unheard, keeps gushing like our veins.
Still the heart beats with restless questions.
Who am I? Why born? When to die? What is life?
Like the pulse and breath and heartbeat; like air, water and food
and the other unanswered because unasked questions:
Do you love me? Did you ever really love me? Will you, forever? 

Village girl, can't you see
it was that rusticity in you that I loved and that imaginary, imagined 

      child that usurped my heart
leaving me and you helpless, bleeding silently?
Mutual, this our suffering but endless now my wandering leaving, leaving, leaving...
walking endless roads alone.
Are these leavings like leaving?
Then I refuse to acknowledge it.


  1. “We are different and most of what you are or what I am
    will never be known by each other,
    separated by languages, customs, rituals and rites
    and a million other things; of strangeness, differences….”

    A.V. Koshy subtly uses Malayalam references to make the point, along with the flora, fauna, and cuisine of Kerala. The "Land of Spices" has been a prominent spice exporter since ca. 3000 BCE.

    A plantains is often confused with a banana, and it is a member of the banana family that is native to India, but it is used as a vegetable rather than a fruit. It is starchy and low in sugar but must be cooked (usually fried or baked). As the peel changes from green to brown or black, it gets a sweeter flavor and more of a banana aroma, but keeps a firm shape when cooked. At every stage of its development it tastes different.

    Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms (flowering plants), they are not botanically related. Yams are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) from the Dioscoreaceae family and closely related to lilies and grasses; sweet potatoes, though varieties that become soft and moist when cooked are often called “yams,” are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) from the Convolvulacea (morning glory) family. Yams are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes. In the US, “firm” varieties, which stay firm when cooked, were produced before soft varieties; when the latter were introduced commercially, they were labeled as yams to differentiate between them (slaves from Africa were already calling them “yams” because of their similar appearance. In addition, the oca tuber (from the Quecha “uqa’) is known as a yam in New Zealand. Grown in the Andes for centuries, it was introduced to New Zealand by 1860.

    The bitter gourd is also called the bitter melon, bitter squash, balsam-pear, goya, and karela. Though bitter, it is widely cultivatede as an edible fruit. It originated in India and was introduced to China in the 14th century. Sometimes it is confused with the bitter wooly melon.

    A kaduva is a tiger.

  2. Appooppan thaadi (“old man’s beard”) is Indian milkweed. Their seeds grow in pods that contain soft filaments, known as silk or floss, that are attached to individual seeds. When the seed pod ripens, the seeds are blown by the wind, each carried by several filaments.

    In Malayalam, monitor lizards are known as “udumbu.” Due to confusion with the large American lizards of the Iguanidae family, the monitor lizards are called "goannas" in Australia, just as in South Africa they are “leguaan” or “likkewaan” from the Dutch for iguana. Some species of varanid lizards can distinguish numbers up to six.

    A palimpsest is a manuscript page, from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been scraped or washed off so it can be reused for another document. Parchment, which rose in popularity in western Europe after the 6th century, was prepared from animal hides, so it is far more durable than paper or papyrus, Papyrus was cheaper and more expendable than parchment, so its reuse was less common; but sometimes writing was washed from it (or vellum) with milk and oat bran, but over time the faint remains of the former writing would reappear. In the late Middle Ages the surface of the vellum was usually scraped away with powdered pumice, making the original irretrievable. In Egyptology the word is used for texts and pictures inscribed in stone that have been scraped away, then often filled with plaster, on which a new inscription was carved. Recovery techniques have disclosed many valuable documents, including the Sana'a palimpsest, which was composed within 15 years before the death of Muhammad and reveals that the Qur’an has had variant texts. Cicero’s “De republica” and Seneca’s “On the Maintenance of Friendship” survived only in palimpsest form. A work by Archimedes was copied onto parchment in the 10th century and overwritten by a liturgical text in the 12th century. In antiquarianism, a palimpsest is a plaque that has been turned around and engraved on what was originally the back. Architects, archaeologists and design historians use the word to describe the accumulated iterations of a design or a site, whether in literal layers of archaeological remains or by the figurative accumulation and reinforcement of design ideas over time; in landscape archaeology the concept is used to describe the way different generations have altered a landscape. In forensic science or forensic engineering, the term is used to describe objects placed over one another in order to establish the sequence of events at an accident or crime scene. Glaciologists describe contradicting glacial flow indicators, usually consisting of smaller indicators overprinted on larger features, as palimpsests. Astronomers call the ancient craters on icy moons of the outer planets, whose relief has mostly disappeared leaving behind only an albedo feature or a trace of a rim, “palimpsests” or “ghost craters.” In medicine it describes an episode of acute anterograde amnesia without loss of consciousness, brought on by the ingestion of alcohol or other substances. "Palimpsest" is a disk utility, part of the gnome-systems-monitor that looks at the details of the different storage devices, in particular the hard disks (in GNU/linux operating systems). Some historians use the term to describe how people experience different times as a layering of present experience over faded pasts; similarly, among literary and art critics, a palimpsest is a metaphor for an object, place, or area that reflects its history in which otherwise unrelated texts are interwoven, preserving their individual distinctness while mutually infiltrating each other (As an aside, when Thomas De Quincy introduced the concept in 1845, he rhetorically asked, "What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain?").

  3. A kanthari is a small but very spicy chili that grows wild in any Kerala backyard that is often eaten with kanjivellam, the Malayalam word for the water (vellam) drained from boiled rice (kanji). Rice water is the suspension of starch obtained by draining boiled rice, or by boiling rice until it completely dissolves, and is used as a weak gruel for invalids, especially effective in the treatment of diarrhea, as well as treating skin and hair. It has been used as a natural shampoo in some places.

    The crow pheasant (greater coucal) is a large non-brood parasitic member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes. They have a familiar deep resonant call which is associated with omens, and thus it plays a role in many superstitions and folk beliefs. In British India, it was called Griff's pheasant".because new recruits often mistook it for a pheasant and shot it, only to find it "evil flavoured." It is related to the kuyil, the “Indian cuckoo,” traditionally held in high regard for its song. Its Sanskrit root is “kokila” and is known by that word’s variants throughout India. It was protected from harm in the “Manusmriti,” a metrical law code from sometime between the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century presented as a discourse between Manu, the first man, and his contemporary, Brigu, the mind-born son of Brahma who compiled the first predictive astrology. Kuyili was a female Dalit (“untouchable”) who served queen Velu Nachiyar of Sivagangai, the first Indian ruler to oppose the British East Asia Company; in 1780, Kuyili covered herself in ghee, set herself on fire, and entered the British armory, blowing it up and thus securing a victory for the rani, enabling her to regain and control her kingdom for a decade.


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