Thattekad Diary

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Sri Lanka Bay Owl

The forest closed in all around us as the sun was infringing the western-ghats in a halo of orange and red. And it was not just another evening for the four of us who treaded softly over the drying cluster of leaves that carpeted the jungle floor: it was so eventful. The guide who led us all the way here was suddenly waving excitedly for us to troop over—he was pointing out something up in a broad leaved tree. I looked and could barely make out the bird’s shape in the evening glow. It was the Sri Lanka Bay Owl. The excitement was visible on all four of us and our guide was just as equally excited. He was gesturing like a magician and practically dancing in his glee. It was a moment to freeze for all eternity. We were on a forest track that branched off Urulan Thanni near the well known Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. Earlier in the day Usha and I had driven up from our home in Trivandrum. This was strangely enough my first visit to this famed part of the world—a haven for all bird lovers.

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Of Kissing and Moral Policing

One should not use the name of God mechanically and superficially without the feeling of devotion.
–Ramana Maharshi

Of late media is rife with information regarding public demonstrations of kissing couples and their multitudinous onlookers. There is also so much in the news about several young men and women (?) who have also taken upon themselves the role of moral policing. As urban centres are the hub of these intense activities there has also been instances of skirmishes and state interventions. As with everything else much might be said on both sides; nevertheless the issue is one that needs to be taken seriously.

There are several factors at work here. To begin with, the visual media is so ubiquitous these days and the young people behind and off the camera are on a rush to feed the dragon always and all times. Thrillers like kissing wars are the right type for these to latch on for hours together. There are also enough and more spectators who switch on their televisions for these sort of sensational news: they are willing to watch and wait for equally long hours. After all ticklers like these make life worth living. There is this other factor of small-time hatchers—people who are otherwise-talented and who might be involved in many other fields like the arts or sports. They find this sort of arenas the right kinds to latch on to and swing on to the bandwagon: automatically the limelight falls on them. Take any issue related to the environment, or violence against women, we are sure to find such barbs and hatchers who latch on for dear life and rise with the tide of popular media hypes. After some days they are hardly there in the field, simply because they have made enough notoriety to get by in their chosen fields of expertise by then.

The most significant factors involved in the kissing wars are of course the demonstrations and demonstrators themselves along with the moral police who oppose them. Public demonstrations are of course intended to raise public awareness with regard to issues of significance. The Mahatma had resorted to soul-force or satyagraha as one genuine mode of resistance and protest. The kissers of the present have by all means a genuine reason to protest: they are demonstrating for raising mass- awareness of what we have as a civil society sidelined and repressed. It is significant that several young men and women have come to the open to protest and demonstrate against the slow closing of the civil mind. We need to wake up and recoup our society and safeguard its health and well-being. This of course needs to be done on a war footing, no doubt. They have resorted to demonstrate by making a public event of kissing. What is there if two willing people get to embrace and kiss in public? Why should it cause offence to the others? And anyway why should the other get involved? Why not learn to turn a blind eye as we often do when we see two animals coupling in public? Is a public kiss that offending? Why this dramatic emergence of a Hanuman Sena all of a sudden? Our social mores are so stilted and ossified that there is hardly any sensitivity when genuine issues crop up. We have been repressed into subhuman beings never to respond to those subtle issues: we have been taught to turn a blind eye to all and everything except ourselves. And now all of a sudden our moral insides are churning when two people embrace and kiss. But then, we need to pause a little here and reconsider the issue a little more in depth.

Anthropology and History tells us that human beings have evolved considerably (or that’s what we are given to think) from the level of mere animals (not meant to demean the animals in any way!) and in this process developed a social system and a civil society (perhaps, several systems and several societies at the same time) which actually has imposed several self-imposed or hegemonial restraints on our behavior with ourselves and in relationship with the other. In many ways we are not simple biological entities existing as mere life forms, growing, breeding and dying. We have constructed innumerable but invisible complex structures all about us which control and manipulate us: sometimes we are conscious of these but mostly we are unconscious of these factors. Making love as we understand in the present in civil terms is a private affair. In sociological terms love and sex are definitely separate factors and could exist as mutually exclusive categories. There are of course innumerable dimensions to sex and love. Nevertheless, sex or its “higher evolved” version of love is something which we as civil and social beings have accepted as a private affair. Violators of girls and women might resort to any level of physical abuse seeking gratification by any and all means: there is hardly any point in theorizing these to such inhuman beings; their acts need to be condemned and such offenders severely punished. But to make what is a private affair as a token of demonstration may not be quite right. What happens when two people kiss is certainly a private affair, but it is often held that kissing is an act of sealing genuine love and relationship. Young people certainly would recognize the thrill attached to a kiss, those furtive glances and that tender touch. To make of that a mere tool for display and protest might be taking things a little too far. As they say, streaking or display of nudity in public also would a little later appear to be a fair play in this direction. Just imagine the simplicity and prowess of a Bahubali or an AkkaMahadevi who shed all clothing in the face of a society that was built on external trappings and seeped in self-delusions. Theirs was a mode of subversion that was self-inflicted in order to inculcate a different set of values. If the kissing demonstrators had wanted they could certainly have chosen a different path or a different mode of public protest rather than resorting to a genuine and intimate affair like kissing and turning it into a public event. They are perhaps doing a gross injustice to the sacred art of loving. Have we suddenly landed in a system where the very meaning of sacred has eroded away? Don’t we hold anything, not even love as sacred? Now, this definitely wasnot the reason why those self-styled protectors of social values took to the streets to harass the demonstrators. They were on the other hand, only mere pawns revealing the larger process at work in our repressive culture—that of sidelining genuine issues and harping ceaselessly on the trivial.

Now how could the self-styled moral police call themselves Hanuman Sena? What has that eternal brahmachari got to do with these issues? In the Ramayana and elsewhere Hanuman is portrayed as a monkey who is extremely chaste and wise. Even at their first meeting Rama remarks on his clear sightedness and the clarity of speech. The Vayu Putra whom every genuine devotee is used to meditate on in his or her hearts is a sacred soul extremely devout and intensely benevolent. After all even his physical prowess needs to be evoked and incited by external agencies before they manifest through him. To invoke such a sacred name in a putrid war of moral impositions is certainly to cast dishonor on that noble soul. Erudite scholars of religion and philosophy have reminded us time and again that the god one worships externally is a projection of one’s own ambition and desire.Bhagavan Ramana has cautioned us that: One should not use the name of God mechanically and superficially without the feeling of devotion.

If those noble souls who parade themselves as self-styled moral protectors of society hold any faith or belief in their insides they have little business to drag the name of a unique soul into the public sphere. To quote Nietzsche, where the rabble also drinks all waters are impure! Do we have any right to such acts of violence against all that we hold as good, true, and beautiful? And anyway who stays long enough in the highways of profound reflection inquiring into the deeper significance of religion and spirituality?

Even if the kissers were simply allowed to show their act of protest everything would have gone fairly unnoticed even, because our present society is fed day to day with new sensational news that we have forfeited our memories. Alas! Our self-styled arch defenders of a public morality have to take arms against such offenders who tickle their sexual energies, and our voyeuristic society thrives on such traumatic sado-masochistic sexuality. The visual media is our new eye and heart. Whither is sped the inner eye?

Dr. Murali Sivaramakrishnanis Professor and former Chair of the Department of English, Pondicherry University. He can be reached at smurals@gmail.com

Mantra Pushpam

Yopam puspam veda
Puspavan prajavan pasuvan bhavati
Candramava Apam puspam
Puspavan, Prajavan pasuman bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanam bhavati.
Agnirva Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Yo gnerayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovagner ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Vayurva Apamaya tanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yova Yorayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati|
Apovai va yorayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Ya Evam veda
Yopamayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Asowvai tapanna pamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo musya tapata Ayatanan Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apova Amusyatapata Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Candrama Vama pamayatnam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yascandra masa Ayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Candra masa Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yo pamayatanam veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Nakshtrani va Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo Nakshtrana mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Nakshtrana mayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye evam Veda
Yopamaya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Parjanyova apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yah parjanyasya syayatinam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai parjanya Syayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye Evam veda
Yopa maya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Samvastaro Va Apamayatanam
Ayatavan bhavati
Yassavatsa rasyaya tanam Veda
Ayatavan bhavati.
Apovai samvasara ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam veda
Yopsu Navam pratistitam veda
Pratyeva tistati
Rajadhi rajaya Prasahya Sahine|
Namo Vayam Vai Sravanaya Kurmahe
Samekaman Kama Kamaya mahyam
Kamesvaro Vai Sravano dadatu
Kuberaya Vai Sravanaya
Maha rajaya Namah.

The world is all made of water and forms the basis of everything and is worthy of our prayers. As water is cool so also is the moon –cool like flower and water. He who understands this gets all prosperity [read with progeny and cattle].

Fire is also a producer of water and air is a producer of fire. Sea water rises as vapor in the skies as clouds and falls as rain to give us warmth and prosperity; Sun is also related to water. As we see the star [through astrological position] which determines rain and prosperity, we see the relation of stars for all this prosperity through water. Each year we get rains, and in order to get our rains the year around, the seasons count as equally important. The world revolves on water like a boat sailing in the ocean and he who understands this gets all the prosperity. [read with progeny and cattle].

This mantra is taken from Taithreeya Aranyakam of Yajur Veda. It is normally sung in a chorus by all the priests together after performing any Yajna or Pooja.

In summary, this stotra explains how water is the basis of this universe.

He who understands the flowers of water,
becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
Moon is the flower of the water,
He who understands this fact,
becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
He who knows the source of water,
Becomes established in himself,

“Why I chose Pondicherry University to pursue a PhD” –By Mark A. Shryock

Choosing a university for Ph.D. Research is a daunting task which is made all the more difficult if you are considering universities outside your own country of origin. Although I am an American, I have been a professor of English at a South Korean university the last four years. I wanted to pursue a PhD in English specializing in the study of literature and the environment from an interdisciplinary point of view or what is called ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is a new a field and there are only a handful of universities in the world that have strong English departments in this area. Most are in the United States with the University of Nevada Reno arguably being at the forefront with its strong ecocriticism faculty and involvement with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE).

Mark A. Shryock

Mark A. Shryock

In the Eastern half of the world there are five universities that are heavily involved with ASLE, located in Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan, and India. Pondicherry University is the intellectual home of Ecocriticism Studies and the ASLE in India. This is largely due to the work of Dr. Murali Sivaramakrishnan who heads the English Department at Pondicherry University and is founder and president of ASLE India. The fact that Pondicherry University is one of five universities in the East associated with ecocriticism and the ASLE is in and of itself a profound and compelling reason for me to choose Pondicherry University for PhD research.

But for me, the main reason for choosing Pondicherry was the strong English Department that has developed and the chance to work directly with Dr. Murali. One of my deep interests is consciousness studies involving the ecology and evolutionary dynamics of whole systems. I was already familiar with a small part of Dr. Murali’s broad and interdisciplinary work when I cited his paper, ‘Involution and Evolution: Some Conceptual Issues in the Contexts of Indian Discourses’ in an earlier paper I did during my MA research. Dr. Murali has written numerous books across several areas, has lectured worldwide, and has created paintings, photographs, sculptures, and poems of world renown. He is well known at University of Nevada, Reno, and the ASLE, having won a Fulbright Postdoctoral Travel Grant to teach and do research there in 2006-2007. I especially love his new book “Learning to Think Like Myself” which left me stunned for a couple of days after reading it because it echoed so closely some of my own thoughts and doubts about the cost to my family for wandering the world in search of wisdom and understanding, and the loss of rootedness and home you trade for this privilege. For me, the opportunity to study under Dr. Murali is the most fortunate opportunity of my lifetime. When people ask me why I am studying at Pondicherry, I know I cannot really explain to them how blessed and fortunate I feel, but I always have the thought “My God, why would I study anywhere else!”

There is an intellectual excellence at Pondicherry I have never seen or felt anywhere else. Recently, at the India National ASLE Conference at Pondicherry I was amazed at the depth of articulation and understanding in the research presented. I had been used to presenting in a much more informal manner. I was outshined by every other paper presented. That Pondicherry has such academic rigor and passionite students and faculty only deepens my belief there is no better place in the world for me to pursue my research than Pondicherry University. Combine this with the warmth of the students and faculty, the beauty and location of the campus, and the low cost of an education that I do not feel I could get anywhere else in the world, why would I go anywhere else?

–Mark A. Shryock — markshryock@yahoo.com