T r e a d Softly... YOU MIGHT TRIP ON TEXT

Thursday, June 18, 2015

this is a piece written for a "little book"
called Serendipity brought out by artist Anuradha Nalapat
a couple of years ago

Writing events to life

we had a guru in the family during my middle school days. His legacy was a sense of preparedness. It left me aware of and open to the fact that everything is possible in life. Armed with the spirituality and wonder of life that he exposed us to I soon realized most of us live as partial human beings. We undermine ourselves. We either ignore or reject our potential. Actually, nothing is impossible. We just have to learn to connect with the universe we’re part of.
Years later, sitting at home with my family during power failures, I entranced my children by making them count to three and, lo! There’d be light. It soon became an accepted fact that I could do this, and
I was wise enough to attempt the feat only when I felt ‘sure,’ rather than make it a habitual display. I had a vague idea that it was this connectedness with the universe that made such things possible. You think of a person and he calls or lands up at your door. You meet someone who’s been out of your life for years, and then keep bumping into him again and again as if by design. A niece of mine dreamed every night for an entire week in vivid detail, and every single one of her dreams came true the following day! A serial dreamer, okay. But projecting your dreams into life? Well...
Sensitivity and a sense of self does strange things to you sometimes. You are aware that you- this being on two legs, seeing the world through two small pin- holes in your face-are living an entire life,
making things happen and impinging on other people’s lives. One day, you’ll close those eyes forever, and life as you know it will end. You look around and see the grand memorials, sky-scrapers, beautiful gardens and massive business empires and admire the sheer guts of people who could envisage and make such things happen during their lifetimes.

Is there a Grand Plan? Are you an invaluable part of that plan?

When I wrote my first novel, Lament of Mohini (Penguin,2000), there was a scene where
a member of a royal family goes into a Namboodiri home (or illam) and makes love to a beautiful married woman there. On the face of it, this is impossible. Namboodiri women (during the times I was talking of) entered a house as a bride and left it as a corpse. If ever they went out, they were
hidden by yards of cloth and an ubiquitous umbrella. So how would my hero meet my heroine? There was no way a stranger could meet a woman in an illam, much less make love to her! I thought about it and hatched a plan. There would be a Kathakali performance in the illam and the royal family members would be invited.

During the performance, my protagonist would have a headache and return to his room in the guest- house. There’d be a storm that night. Our man would fall sleep, get up after some time, venture out into the night to catch the rest of the performance, and lose his way. He’d wander into a bath-house where the woman was enjoying a wild, nocturnal swim. And they meet!

Months after the book was launched, I watched a travel programme on a Malayalam channel and they were talking of a true-life encounter between a woman in an illam and an outsider. The venue was a bath-house! Even the name of the woman was the same as my heroine’s. It left me stunned. I had never entered an illam before I wrote the book. I based my descriptions on a four-volume memoir of my wife’s great-uncle. When I actually visited an illam after the book was in the press, I found that my descriptions were eerily accurate, down to the last detail.

In the same book, there’s a scene of someone break- ing into a temple at night and making away with an idol. A couple of months later, in two separate incidents, temples were broken into and the idols stolen. One was in the temple in my father’s ancestral home, and the other in my wife’s family temple, both models for my fictional landscape!

After Lament of Mohini, I started writing Maria’s Room, though it was published (by Harper Collins) almost a decade later. There’s an incident in the police station in Goa where my protagonist had travelled on a writing holiday. He finds the corpse of his beloved among the grave-stones in an old
cemetery and rushes to the station to convince a sceptical inspector to accompany him there.

Two days later, I found myself sitting in a police station talking to an inspector about the body of my young niece who had drowned in the sea near their house. It was as if a momentary darkness from the book had seeped inexorably into my own life.

My wife says that I get so involved in my writing that I reflect every emotion I write about. She’s wary about my subjects and gets jittery when I write dark events. Invariably, some of it seeps into real life. My third play, Platform, lay waiting for some months before a director picked it up. The play was appreciated and drew some brilliant performances. During the cast party at the director’s house one rainy afternoon, the male lead (who’s now gone on to do feature films) took me aside. He said, “I’ve been wanting to tell you this for some time. It’s amazing, there’s such a marked resemblance between my life and that of the character you wrote for me. No one knows that part of me, but you’ve been so accurate!”

I patiently explained to him that I hadn’t written the character for him. I hadn’t even known who was go- ing to direct the play, much less who was going to act in it!

I have now got used to the fact that my writing may precipitate or reflect events without any help from me. I’ve come across people who’ve lived the lives and moments that I’ve described while sitting in the privacy of my room. I think creativity is a link between ourselves and the universe. What awakens in us might have gone to sleep in some part of the universe, or vice-versa.

Shreekumar Varma
Author, playwright, columnist and poet