Wednesday 17 April 2024

Higginbothams - Where I stumbled upon my childhood

If reading had a huge role to play in my growing up, Higginbothams had a greater role to play in building my reading habit. If I were an artist, I would have sketched a portrait of the man who used to keep the Higginbothams store at the Thrissur Railway Station. He was already an old man when I first met him. He was dark and slightly on the stouter side, with sloping shoulders. Not one strand of hair on his head was black. He had round, curious eyes staring out of an oblong face. He must have been short. Whether he was sitting down on his stool or standing up to cater to his customers, I never saw much of his torso above the counter of the book shop.

The first time when I went to the shop with my grandfather, I was a small kid. I had to rise on the tips of my toes to read through the titles. And then I would look straight into his eyes. (Yes, he was short.) The old man and I used to have a kind of silent communication which hardly needed any verbal expression. He almost always knew which the titles I wanted were. And they were always one too many. But Achhan (as I used to call my grandfather) made me always stop my purchase at one or two. Because we were not taught or allowed to overindulge. And this became a ritual. Every time we came to receive or see off anyone at the station - and that was the norm in those days - I was most eager to do the honours. For I knew I could stop and linger at the bookshop, and return with at least two books.

From Amar Chitra Kathas to Enid Blytons to the classics, romances, suspense thrillers and period fictions to serious nonfictions, Higginbothams silently witnessed my evolution to adulthood. And as I grew up, naturally, my appetite for reading also grew and we couldn't afford to buy enough to satiate my craving anymore, and I slowly migrated to the Townhall Public Library. My visits to the railway station grew fewer, and I lost touch with the shop. However, I had always reserved for the store and the old man a special place in my heart. And then I realized one day that the shop at the station had closed down. That left a kind of void in my mind and a heavy sense of loss. Later on, I found a Higginbothams store at Kochi, which could never hold that special corner in my heart. What's more, it closed down or relocated to I know not where. 

Several days back, I was at the Chennai airport. I was roaming around, looking for a book shop. (Yes, I have lately got back into the habit of hanging around bookshops, and I still do have a membership in one of the best libraries in Kochi.) And to my pleasant surprise, I came upon and happily stumbled into a Higginbothams'. I was swamped by nostalgia and a rush of emotions. I tried to chat up the storekeeper for a few long minutes, all the while an old man's face gradually forming in my mind. I forgot to take a selfie at the store, as I am not a selfie-clicking person, but I wish I had, just this once. And yes, I did buy books. Only two, though.


[Picture Courtesy: Public Domain]

Thursday 11 April 2024

To Paint the Complete Picture

Pick up your thinking brush. Dip it in the skies. Let it soak in the blues. Then sweep it across the mind’s canvas. From end to end. Repeat once, twice or thrice. Or as many times as it takes for the blues to rub off the brush.

If the blues are too intense, dip the spiky bristles in the cloudy whites. Wait until the blues wash away, and then touch up your skies so they light up just a mite.

Now steep your brooding blues in the twilights. Blotch up your canvas with blobs of red, yellow, orange, and blends of all three. Make sure you leave some room for the occasional blues. Draw a few defining strokes so the blobs know their space and don’t spill all over the place.

Splash across the bottom some earthy hues. For all those shades need to bury their roots. Then plant a bed of sprouting greens of the upcoming spring. And there you are! Your canvas is complete.

Some brights and some blues
A picture replete with all hues
Ups and lows, joys and woes.


[Picture: Yarra Valley, Melbourne]

Thursday 7 March 2024

i came upon a lighthouse


Title: i came upon a lighthouse
Author: Shantanu Naidu
Illustrations: Sanjana Desai
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India

“i came upon a lighthouse” is a book about the most unique, unusual, and unlikely friendship between an octogenarian (Ratan Tata) and a twenty-something author (Shantanu Naidu). The book is as charming as I expected it to be. Illustrations by Sanjana Desai add to the charm.

Though the author says – almost like a disclaimer – that “the pages of this book are the result more of heart and story and less of artistic capability”, the story, which is a true one, reads as smoothly, gently and softly as any good fiction. The two friends meet because of a common trait – their compassion for homeless dogs. And the meeting evolves into a rare kind of friendship where the elder of the friends become a guide, a mentor and a companion-on-call for the younger. And a confidante and an anchor when the latter finds himself alone and lost in an alien land. 

“Everyone has their own layered relationship with New York City. It is a relationship with a living being, an actual person. Each visitor has their own version, their own narrative. Everyone is hustling, trying to make it, whether in life or through the day. It is overwhelming to be on the sidewalk with people who are always anxious to be somewhere. When everyone around you has a purpose in the city, it is lonely to be there without one.”

The beauty of this friendship is in the sweet innocence of the friends and their refreshing candour. Their relationship becomes a subtle, non-intrusive influence in the young man’s life, helping him find his feet in his confused world. That he has access to one of the greatest, one of the most brilliant, minds of India makes the relationship even more special, rather, enviable, to the readers. 

“Why don’t you come with me to the World Trade Center office tomorrow. You can see the slums surrounding the campus from the twenty-sixth floor. It is a disturbing difference, a mismatch of classes. But you can also see how organically they are mapped, how there is pattern to the chaos.”

I am grateful to the author for writing this book for, it brings out the unseen, unknown, and unheard-of (at least to the general public) personal side of one of the most admired and respected citizens of the country. And what I find is less of a surprise and more of an affirmation or a reassurance. 

The friendship of this pair – the youth and the youthful – restores your faith in honest, genuine, selfless friendships where almost nothing stands as a barrier between friends. The aura of their friendship lingers long after you have finished reading the book. You are happy to be caught in its spell, and remain so.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Pranayam - Limited Version

Title: Pranayam – Limited Version
Genre: Flipbook of Pictures, Poems in Malayalam with Translation in English
Poet: Jayarsree T.
Translator: Sujatha Warrier
Photographers: Basanth Peringode, Manikantan Mundakkal, Poornima G.,
                             Riya Anes, Sudevan, Zakariya, and Jayasree T.
Publisher: Writers International Edition
Bookstore: Google Books

Excerpt from the Foreword by Shreekumar Varma

Translators usually tread a tightrope. There is a tendency to either stay safe, or push ahead, and often venture away from the original markers. Here, in this encompassing volume, Malayalam words, even when they seem uniquely untranslatable, are rendered into English with an independence, even whimsicality, that startles at times (as in the case of “Thiruvathira”), but always remaining loyal and pristine, always embracing the sensibility of the original. This allows poet and translator to stand up as twin towers, as one voice, and unique at the same time.

Excerpt from the Foreword by Kavitha Balakrishnan

ഇവിടെ ഒരു മനസ്സ്. അത് ഏറ്റവും പരിമിതമായ കരുക്കൾ ഉപയോഗിച്ച് സ്വയം ആവിഷ്‌ക്കരിക്കാൻ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നു. സ്വയം, ഒരു 'ജയശ്രീ' എന്ന മനുഷ്യൻ / കവി അല്ല. അത് പരസ്പരം പടർന്ന് ഇണങ്ങി വ്യാപിച്ചും കലർന്നും കാണാൻ പറ്റാത്തത്രയും സൂക്ഷ്മമായ ഒന്നാകാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുമ്പോലെ തോന്നും ഈ കവിതകളും കാഴ്ചകളും കാണുമ്പോൾ. ഇവിടെ ഒരു പ്രണയം. അത് നശ്വരമാണെങ്കിലും വൈവിധ്യമാർന്നതാണ്. സർവ്വവ്യാപിയും ഭൗമവുമായ ഒരു ജീവജാലപ്രപഞ്ചത്തിൽ അത് സജീവമാണ്.

About the Book

Pranayam, or Love, is such an emotion that cannot be limited. Pranayam – Limited Version gathers Jayasree T.’s reflections on unlimited love expressed through very limited number of words and lines of poetry. The poems are inspired by photographs captured by the poet herself as well as by other nature lovers, some of whom are photographers by profession and some for diversion. Jayasree’s poems in Malayalam have been translated into English by Sujatha Warrier. What began as a light-hearted exercise of creative camaraderie grew into a collection of pictures, poems and their translation.

Readers’ Reviews:

Love as ‘Limited Version’ speaks a lot ironically. The capacious nature and manifestations of love, and its kinship with nature and human nature lends a dimension which is immeasurable, thus rigidly limiting the interpretation of love. The many shades and infinite permutations and combinations of love, the essence of the abstract, remind me of the “melakartha ragas” and their infinite “janyas”…the chromatical brilliance of colours, the chiaroscuro of myriad shades.

Yes, the very idea of translation is a daring “tread on a tightrope” as graphically stated by Shreekumar Varma.

Jayasree has stretched it and Sujatha has covered the stretch.

PRANAYAM – an e-book with a difference…intellectually challenging, visually pleasing.

-      Professor Rangarajan G.

ആദ്യമായാണ് ഇത്തരത്തിൽ ഒരു ഇ ബുക്ക് പണം മുടക്കി വാങ്ങി ‌ വായിക്കുന്നത്. ഒട്ടും മുഷിഞ്ഞില്ലെന്നു മാത്രമല്ല ഏറെ സൗകര്യപ്രദവും... ജയടീച്ചറുടെ 'സാരമില്ല' വാങ്ങി വായിച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്. അതിനും മുൻപേ ടീച്ചറുടെ ചിത്ര കവിതകളെ പിന്തുടരുന്നും ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു. ഇതിലെ കവിതകളും അതിന്റെ വിവർത്തനവും ഒരേ പോലെ ഭംഗിയായി തോന്നി. ഇതിലെ ഒരു കവിതയുടെ വിവർത്തനം ഓഡിയോ ആയി കേട്ടിരുന്നു. ഇതിനോടൊപ്പം തന്നെ മുഴുവൻ കവിതകൾക്കും ആ ഒരു ഓഡിയോ ഭാഗം കൂടി ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നെങ്കിൽ എന്ന് മോഹിച്ചു പോയി ️ അഭിനന്ദനങ്ങൾ സുജാത വാര്യർ 🥰 ജയടീച്ചർ 🥰

-      Sudheer Peringode 

Saturday 10 February 2024

Book Launch at Kochi: Pranayam - Limited Version

Following the initial release of Pranayam (Love) – Limited Version at Mysuru on January 6, the e-book was launched at River Bourne Center, Kochi, by Author and Columnist Rammohan Paliyath on February 4, 2024. The audience  a coterie of bookish people – was looking forward to the "Webinivesam" author’s informal and delightful oratory, and it was as effortlessly engaging as expected. 

Playwright, Author, Poet, and Columnist Shreekumar Varma shared his thoughts on the three-dimensional creative collaboration of poetry and photography, and the individual and collective experiences of the pictures and poems. Poet, Artist, Curator and Researcher Kavitha Balakrishnan, who was expected to but could not make it to the event, made her virtual presence felt. 

An introduction of the photographers and their pictures along with poetry rendition by the poets was well received by the audience. Not to mention the musical rendition of a select few Malayalam poems by Lyricist, Composer and Short Film Director Krishnakumar Varma.

Rangarajan G.
Pranayam – Limited Version (Love – Limited Version) is a flipbook of pictures and poems in Malayalam and English. Jayasree T.’s Malayalam poems are inspired by photographs captured by Basanth Peringode, Manikantan Mundakkal, Poornima G., Riya Anes, Sudevan and Zakariya, and translated by Sujatha Warrier. The e-book, designed by Bharati Varrier, has been published by Writers International Edition. The e-book is available on Google Books. For your copy of the e-book, please click here.

Jayadas. T.
The concluding session, which was an interactive one, turned out to be thoroughly entertaining as well with the participation of Poet, Professor and much-more Rangarajan G. and  Jayadas T., a teacher of math who is full of mirth. The evening ended with amazing twilight waterfront photo opportunities well exploited by the guests and participants.