Category Archives: New Writing

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Gowli Shasthram (Lizard Science)

The Lizard Science of Prediction – a short story based on TSL’s Pandorathon prompt given by Santosh Bakaya May 30th.

A light romp of a story in Indian English.

Part 1

In the Puranas we were considered to be something big. There had once been a time when we ruled the earth as dinosaurs, as you all know, but we had dwindled away to being amongst the smallest creatures on earth more or less, lucky that even a few of us had survived. We were decimated by a meteor. We were given obnoxious names like Freddy in places like the UK but in my house, the humans just called me Gowli. I always had a view from the top as I lived on the ceiling and they lived down there, as the inferior beings they were. They said it belonged to them and I would go “tmirk tmrik tmirk” and the foolish things would think I was seconding them, and go “sathyam, sathyam, sathyam” (truth, truth, truth), when I was actually laughing at them.

There were only two occupants there – a Lizzie (yes, laugh) and her husband whose name was Peter or John or some such equally funny name. Lizzie was horribly attractive, I was probably her lover in her past life or mine; but the problem was in this one she was terribly afraid of lizards. Here was I madly in love with her and peeking down her blouse every chance I got, from above, and there was she going Eek and Screech, and making other ungainly sounds, and doing strange calisthenics with her body every time she saw me, especially in the bathroom, which only made her more attractive to me.

They had a whole lot of beliefs about us which was helpful to me. They believed if I fell on her right cheek she would be widowed. So I did that one day. Apart from almost getting me killed, by A Hefty Swipe from her to free herself of me, that threw me twelve feet across the room to the floor with a thud leaving me immobilized for an hour, nothing happened to her Peter, or John. The karmic-bond husband was the one who would get killed, probably. And that was, probably: Poor Me!

Now, fortunately, due to some ill-luck in his office, Peter, wanting an upswing in FORTUNES, turned to gowli shasthram (the lizard science of prediction). Since they considered me a necessary nuisance in their dwelling, they now turned to me for ways to make it good.

“സ്ത്രീയുടെ ശിരസ്സില്‍ ഗൗളി പതിക്കുന്നത് ഐശ്വര്യമാണ്…. “
(If a lizard touches a woman’s body it is auspicious.)

“സ്ത്രീയുടെ വലത് ചെവിയിൽ സ്പർശിച്ചാൽ ദീർഘായുസ്സും ഫലം. ഇടതുചെവിയിൽ സ്വർണ്ണലാഭം, ധനലാഭം,…”
(If it touches her right ear long life for her follows and if the left ear gold profit, wealth profit…)

“രണ്ടു തോളിലും വീണാൽ ഭർത്തൃസുഖം, സുഖാനുഭവങ്ങൾ, …”
(If it falls on both shoulders pleasure from/for husband and other pleasures follow.)

“കൈയുടെ പുറത്ത് വിരലിൽ വീഴുന്നത് ആഭരണലാഭത്തെ സൂചിപ്പിക്കുന്നു.”
(If it falls on the finger it will bring ornaments.)

“കാൽവിരലിൽ ഗൗളി സ്പര്‍ശമുണ്ടായാൽ സന്താനലാഭവും ധനലാഭവും…”
(If it touches the toe of any foot you will get security for your wealth and/or your children’s.)

Excited by reading all this Peter, or John, decided the only way to become well off in life, and lucky, was to make Lizzie and I become fast friends. The only problem was that while I was eager to touch her on all parts of her body, being a white lizard with spots, the kind they considered a Brahmin lizard (!!!!!!!), such fools these mortals be, Lizzie was mortally afraid of me. There was also a matter of the right day, and time, in gowli shastram. It is all fucking complicated and crazy, let me tell you!

Peter got more and more lost in studying these matters and praying to all the gods that I would fall all over Lizzie in all the right places. He was slowly going mad, seeing me run overhead, seeing her move around underneath, and seeing no congress happening immediately, or over several days, to change his luck. Never saw a husband before so eager for infidelity.

Finally, in desperation, he got some sleeping powder and mixed it in her drink. Nowhere was it said that the lizard was meant to fall on her head voluntarily, though it was understood. His plan was to catch me while she slept and make me touch her wherever he wanted.

He called her to the dining table one night and said, “Lizzie, drink this orange juice I made just for you.”
“You? Made Orange Juice? For Me?!!!!!” Lizzie was flabbergasted.
“Tmirk Tmrik Tmirk”, I went, overhead.
“He’s just jealous”, she told Peter, offhand, with no rhyme and reason. Peter looked bemused
“You shut up, you Gowli”, said Lizzie, looking up.
She simpered at Peter and said, “Thanks, darling”. How obnoxious!
Five minutes later she was out cold. He put her on their bed and came looking for me.
Then Peter climbed up on chairs and tables trying to catch me. I gave him a merry chase. A run for his money. Just for the heck of it.

All night long.

Part II

Lizzie woke up with a sudden start. Why was Peter shouting in the morning? She had a headache and could not fathom why but she went to look in the dining room.

“How dare you !!!!” His words rolled out spasmodically, eyes riveted on a tailless lizard hanging from the ceiling. Gowli’s tail was in his hand, and Peter was at his wit’s end. Gowli looked at her, and Lizzie could have sworn it tmirked timrked at her, and winked.


References to Gowli Shasthram taken from here: https://www.manoramaonline.com/astrology/astro-news/2017/04/22/gauli-shastra-astrology-prediction-signs.html

A Story from Aithihyamala translated from Malayalam by Dr. Koshy AV

May 23rd prompt TSL’s Pandorathon: Exorcist/Exorcism – given by Santosh Bakaya

“There is a very ancient church located in Kadamattom near Kolenchery, Moovattupuzha, The church was made famous through the stories on Kadamattathu Kathanar, a priest who was believed to have possessed supernatural powers and was an exorcist. The church is well maintained and very picturesque. You can also see the well associated with the Kathanar stories.” The stories appear in Ithihyamala – which means necklace or garland of stories that are local legends.

This exorcism story is a free translation from Malayalam done by me, a humble attempt.

Once Kadamattathu Kathanar (the priest) and Shemashan (apprentice priest) were about to go the church for the evening service. Then the kapiyar ( priest’s helper, bell ringer etc.,) came running and told them: “the church is full of demons, Father (acho). They are each as tall as coconut trees and broad as the size of several plantain trees tied together and have evil scowling faces as black as thunder. I can’t go in or ring the bell. What will we do?”

“Don’t be afraid, son,” said the Shemashan. “Let us go there anyway and see what we can do.”

When they went they understood that the kapiyar was not lying or hallucinating, the church actually was full of these huge giant-like demons who looked like legendary tribals from the jungles but clearly were something more as they had supernatural powers. They were there to stop the worship of God.

The Shemashan went on calmly, unafraid, while Kathanar and Kapiyar stood rooted to the spot.

“Will you go in peace, leave here and return to where you came from or will you resist?” asked the Shemashan.

“We resist you,” said the leader of the demons.

In front of the fascinated eyes of the Kathanar and kapiyar Shemashan did a magic trick, a vidya, and all the demons fell down as if dead on the floor,

Then the kapiyar went in and rang the bell.

That evening the service was not only full of people but the church overflowed as they came in huge numbers to see the demons lying there unable to move, looking like giants, as well as the Shemashan who had conquered them.

After the service, the Kathanar asked, “what shall we do with these bodies? Are they dead or alive? If they remain here they will trouble us. But how to remove them from here?”

Shemashan replied, “they are not dead, only put in a trance to keep them from doing any harm, if you want I can kill them or wake them up.”

Kathanar said, “no, don’t kill them, they must be made to return to where they come from and promise us not to come here to trouble us again. That is all.”

Shemashan woke the demons up from the deep slumber they had fallen into and asked them ” do you want peace or more imprisonment from me? Will you go back where you came from peacefully and never come back to trouble us again or resist?”

“Ayyo, we will not resist,” the leader said. We will go back and never return.” Then they fled back to where they came from never to return to that place.

“You are a mighty exorcist, sorcerer, and magician,” Kathanar told Shemashan.

“No, no, ” said Shemashan, “it is all God’s grace, power, might, and glory. Which man can do anything by himself or in his own strength? It is all done by God in and through me. Give God the glory.”

“Yes, true, to God be the glory, great things he has done today in our presence,” said Kathanar and the kapiyar in the same breath.

“Amen,” said Poulose, the Shemashan.

Aithihyamala or Ithihyamala (Malayalam: ഐതിഹ്യമാല) (Garland of Legends) is a collection of century-old stories from Kerala that cover a vast spectrum of life, famous persons and events. It is a collection of legends numbering over a hundred, about magicians and yakshis, feudal rulers and conceited poets, kalari or Kalaripayattu experts, practitioners of Ayurveda and courtiers; elephants and their mahouts, tantric experts.

Kottarathil Sankunni (23 March 1855 – 22 July 1937), a Sanskrit-Malayalam scholar who was born in Kottayam in present-day Kerala, started documenting these stories in 1909. They were published in the Malayalam literary magazine, the Bhashaposhini, and were collected in eight volumes and published in the early 20th century.

It includes popular tales such as about the twelve children of Vararuchi and Parayi (a woman of Paraiyar caste), Kayamkulam KochunniKadamattathu Kathanar among many others. The story of 12 children is popularly known as Parayi petta panthirukulam.” (Wikipedia)

The church shown below is the famous St. George church in Kadammattom, Kerala, where these miracles took place. It is still there.

The inside of the church

The Acts of the Apostle St. Thomas in South India

Historical fiction. May 15 TSL Pandorathon Prompt given by Nikhat Mahmood

The Acts of the Apostle St. Thomas.

Around 2000 years back roughly, a man had been washed ashore on a beach in India, after a shipwreck. In Tamil Nadu, to be exact. Or he came there on a ship or in a boat or swimming. His arrival is known but not the exact method. What is important to note is that he came alone. His name was Thomas and he was a carpenter. his second name was Didymus and it meant “twin,” but it was not immediately clear who he was the twin of.

In the morning seven Brahmins came there to worship the sun, do surya namaskar as it was their usual ritual or wont or habit. The man came up to them and asked them, surprisingly making himself understood, having the gift of tongues, who they were worshipping.

“The sun,” one replied, “isn’t it obvious?”
He said, “Don’t worship the sun, but the One who made the sun.”
They laughed.
“Show him to us and we shall,” one said.
“No man has seen him at any time, but I have come to show you his power and declare him unto you,” he said. “Take these drops of water from the ocean and throw them up, and you will see they naturally fall down. But if I throw them up, as I pray to the God of the Universe and actually know him, it will stay up.”
“Show us, then,” another said, still laughing, but also astounded, at his claim.
He said, “you pray and throw up the water first.”
They did it and it fell down, the power that had once dwelt in them of knowing the true God has long since departed into mere ritualistic actions and story, though they still were priests and enjoyed all the privileges and their prayers had no effect.

Then this man, who had long brown hair and a thick beard and a thick mustache and was dressed in a simple brown robe took water in his hands and threw it up to the sun praying:

“Lord, I ask you to hear my humble prayer to prove to these my brothers that they should worship you and not the works of your hands and make these drops of water stay up in the air. Do this simple miracle for me, you for whom all things are possible. In Yeshua’s name, I pray.”

Who is this Yeshua, they wondered.

The drops of water remained in the air, glittering and sending out rainbows as they caught the sun.

The astounded men gathered around him and said: “we will follow you, teach us how to be connected once again to God whom we no longer know, but you still do.”

Seven families were converted that day by St. Thomas the Apostle, who had wandered all the way to India to preach the gospel. The others turned against them and they had to leave their home, but on going away cursed it for persecuting them and even today it is called Chavakad.

Thomas wrote a gospel.

Thomas became the friend of a king ruling in India then called Gondoriferus who saw his honesty and gave him a huge treasure as he was a carpenter to make a huge palace for the king like the ones in the land he had come from. Thomas went around giving away all the money to the poor, healing the sick etc., and the angry king coming to hear of it ordered that he be brought to him and told him that he would be killed for his treachery of using the money in the king’s treasury for something other than what he was asked to do.

Thomas laughed, it is said, and told the king: “But I have indeed made a palace for you with your money.”

The king asked, still angry: “How?”

“You foolish king,” Thomas said, ” your palace is now in the hearts of your people who love you as I have made them love you through these good deeds done to them in your name.”

Then he, it is said, tore open the sky to show Gondoriferus heaven, and there the king saw a magnificent palace made and kept for him for eternity with his name written on it.

As Thomas grew in power, name, and fame, the people grew jealous as the new faith was increasing with more believers and Thomas gained two disciples who were with him all the time.

A king, perhaps the same foolish one, angry with him for all this, and other things, like the report that Thomas had attacked a temple to show idolatry was not the way to God, like Buddha too used to preach, decided to kill him.

Knowing that he prayed in a cave he sent soldiers there, but Thomas came out and said: “don’t you know that you cannot kill me, unless God permits you.”

Twice the soldiers fell to the ground before him, as he was shielded by the power of prayer. Then he said, “now you can kill me, now that you have understood God’s power. But let my two disciples go free.”

They killed him, then. Like all the other apostles, after being conformed to the exact image of Yeshua his master, he too became a martyr for the faith. He, Thomas Judas Didymus, had indeed become the twin of none other than his master Jesus/Yeshua and not, anymore, the doubter of Yeshua. Though separated from all his other disciples and friends and isolated, he had fought the good fight, run the race, and won the crown.

His martyrdom is commemorated in St. Thomas Mount in Chennai. Many pilgrims flock there in memory of the man who came alone to India from Israel to spread the faith of his master Yeshua and it is said that prayers there are still answered miraculously.

The gospel of Thomas is different from the other gospels as it is made up of 114 sayings of Jesus and not of his life. Written away from the mainstream it also seems to take into account the philosophy of the place he had come to, to make it clearer to them. Thomas’s followers were unable to get rid of casteism. Many centuries later when the Bible came the British were surprised to find a form of Christianity already in India stretching back 2000 years as well as having meanwhile already made connections to the churches in Antioch and Syria, and having adopted much of their customs and liturgy.

Here are examples from the gospel of St. Thomas: “(1) His disciples said to him: “The kingdom — on what day will it come?”
(2) “It will not come by watching (and waiting for) it.
(3) They will not say: ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’
(4) Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”

(66) Jesus says:

“Show me the stone that the builders have rejected. It is the cornerstone.”
(67) Jesus says:

“Whoever knows all, if he is lacking one thing, he is (already) lacking everything.”
(68) Jesus says:

(1) “Blessed are you when(ever) they hate you (and) persecute you.
(2) But they (themselves) will find no place there where they have persecuted you.”
(69) Jesus says:

(1) “Blessed are those who have been persecuted in their heart.
They are the ones who have truly come to know the Father.”

(70)(1) “If you bring it into being within you, (then) that which you have will save you.
(2) If you do not have it within you, (then) that which you do not have within you [will] kill you.”

Note: The early Christians may have been from Kerala or Tamil Nadu but Malayalis claim they were the seven and Chavakad is presently in Trishur in Kerala, though the place of Thomas’s martyrdom is, as I have stated, in Tamil Nadu. What is historically relevant and indisputable is that St. Thomas did indeed come to South India and Brahmins were converted first and he was martyred in the South.

Visible (by Jade Thomas)

Visible

And he said it never happened…

However, she still felt a sharp pinch in the pit of her stomach, her pupils widened. The back of her neck began to sweat.Thoughts consumed her entire body and for once, her memories of another women enlarged.

How could she forget? How could she forgive?The love of her life could not cause her any pain. She knew he was dedicated to his work as much as he was to her. He amended his past and gave her anything her heart desired.

So why did he glance more than once that summer’s day and patted the neighbour’s pretty shoulder when she came home claiming she had been fired?

How could she have been so visionless? How could she have been gullible?

Are these thoughts all a coincidence or now has she become more visible?

He made a beautiful vow, her husband caressed her into his arms, the same places she always felt protected. “She is jealous”! He justified.

She stared with her blue eyes at the sparkle in her wedding ring, she felt disconnected.Her hopes and dreams shattered into a million pieces while she felt their first kiss on her lips. Once again the magical power of feeling in love.

She could still hear his voice through the pounding of her heartbeat. His declaration of undying love would always be with her but now would never be enough.

Suddenly, her mind was screaming aloud and nothing in the entire world mattered anymore. Unforgiving images came flooding into her perfect life.

She could not handle the pressure of her soul darkening; she clenched the sharpest kitchen blade that hung down symmetrically to their family portrait.

She was no longer a person with a conscience or even a human being; she was no longer a beloved wife.

With Good Intentions

Tears welled in his eyes as his failing concentration felt respite at last. His breast filled with inexpressible relief with the knowledge of yet another young life saved; A three hours long emergency operation fraught with unimaginable risks had been successful.

He silently gave thanks that his surgical skills were again exonerated despite the excruciating cramp around his fingers and stiffness in his joints;

He reflected momentarily on the ineluctable fact that he was Master Surgeon still; after all these very long thirty years of exemplary service and adherence to duty.

He had initially greeted the move to this provincial town after his inaugural sojourn in the imperial capital-having attended the Kaiser Franz Josef himself on several occasions- as something of a demerit.

And yet, shuffling wearily down the marathon corridor, his gaunt shadow cast almost majestically by the billowing, flickering gaslight made it seem inexplicably brighter still.

Eyes wearied by concentration, he barely recognised the faces of those nurses and his fellow surgeons who congratulated him with undue but welcome muted applause as he proceeded with rising spirits to the waiting room area.

He had saved a very precious young life; one that had he not stilled his recurring and unpredictable hand tremors with a small dose of laudanum beforehand, might so easily have attained an altogether less favourable outcome.

That knowledge aired only in his internal silent monologue that accompanied his footsteps like a silent drumroll of a conscience long since unacquainted with mere frivolous compassion.

Approaching the large waiting room area out into the fading late afternoon light was a great doctor who had fretted and performed near surgical miracles and was about to impart and share welcome news with the anxious parents who had now so many long hours ago rushed their child to this hospital and into the care of this master surgeon.

Face to face with the anxious ,waiting Mother, he of the wizened countenance and pedantic professional demeanour and she a complexion masked with tiredness and etched with a maternal hope beyond hope, something he had witnessed hundreds and hundreds of times for so many years.

She broached the question in a still, small voice that he scarcely heard though he knew what they were.

“Is He..? ”

“He is fine, there are no complications”

“When we brought him in, I thought he might die”

“No worries dear Lady, I’m sure your son will enjoy a long and happy life”

Tears of inestimable gratitude welled momentarily in her kindly eyes,

“Thank you Herr Doktor”

“Good day…Frau Hitler,”

Fleeing the Scene

Heart and lungs ached beyond mortal endurance as he fled, and heard with dread the footsteps behind him,seemingly chasing after him on the dark country lane.He cursed his own folly for having given in to a panic which as a veteran practitioner of the dark arts of espionage and assassination he ought not to have experienced let alone given into so cravenly.

He’d gotten there late in any event,long after the three others had commenced partaking of the sumptuous repast.And natural inquisitiveness,especially from Marlowe, had caused him to recount as plausibly as he was able the reasons.He realised this was more to put the other two, Poley and Skeres at their ease,for they too were more than a little anxious at his, Ingram Frizer’s tardiness.With formal,gentlemanly apologies now aside,he partook of the repast with uncommon relish.

His ride from Walsingham’s residence out here to Eleanor Bull’s reputable lodging house here at Deptford was far too hastily arranged and improvised for Frizer’s own professional liking.Scant planning and the gift of one of Walsingham’s own blades that had seen action across the water in Holland were hardly compensation enough for his disquieted demeanour. What was asked of Poley, Skeres and not least himself would  under more reflective circumstances been rejected as too hasty and open to failure.

But Marlowe the scribbler. the critic nonpareil,the one who shared his outrageous opinions with all and sundry;those who would listen and many more who heard them because of the timbre of his prevailing larynx,proved alluring enough for the three of them to go ahead with the bare bones of Walsingham’s idea

.With the sumptuous repast coming to an end and their bellies and spirits satiated with Mistress Bull’s copious wines and ales;the boisterous exchange of opinions both large and small took an inevitable turn,one that Frizer was alerted to wait for as patiently as need be by Walsingham himself. The turn that came when Marlowe, ever the disputant, could not hold himself or his temper so fused by imbibing,back from the precipice he himself was allowed to carve.

 Afterward,standing in front of their Master Walsingham ,they would all remark how so like one of Marlowe’s or indeed Master Shakespeare’s stage plays with its own cunningly crafted directions for the players it all seemed to unfold at the time.Which of course was a lie,as Ingram Frizer, his heart and lungs fit to burst on this deserted country lane in the pitch black with hell hound footsteps behind him,knew perfectly well.

He had to come out of this mise-en-scene more alive than that poor sod Marlowe whose last look in this passing mortal sphere was one of sublime incomprehension.And as his loping strides brought him ineluctably to the stables at the rear of the tavern by the bridge and his silken tradecraft let him deftly unhitch and ride off on a stolen steed back to Westminster with his report of mission accomplished- his mind conjured one more illusion.

What would Christopher Marlowe write of this night in one of his plays?With the footsteps heard on a dark country lane receding far, far into the background Ingram Frizer let his imagination roam thus:-

 ” Four figures in a room darkly conclaved,hushed breaths escape from the mirrors’ taut embrace.Leaving no trace of having been expelled from any mouth nor orifice so plain that might betray the breather’s fear.
Malice aforethought alone leaving imprints in the air amid this spectral scene. A coven’d place where meaning and word
intertwine where shadow and light danced their furtive Pavane,
Swirling about,word without meaning,meaning without form,form without content into an empty shapeless void.And in the dimness of guttering candles, the trails of reason evaporated and in the morning to come a new naive horizon bearing a false dawn. “

Surveillance

He watches the lives of others through the end of a telephoto lens.

It’s 5:42 a.m. on an ordinary suburban housing estate and he’s been squatting for the past 6 hours in an unmarked delivery van when he catches a fleeting glimpse of a window-framed face. The same face that’s appeared at the same time at the same window on each day that he’s been here.

Parked in the driveway of the house opposite, he’s taken on the role (at least in his own imagination), of ethnographer studying and recording for academic posterity the esoteric habits and rituals of an hithertofore unknown indigenous society.He records in the neatest handwriting the ephemera of the lives of others.Their daily routines timetabled in line-ruled pocket notebooks of which he keeps more than sufficient under his seat.

Outside his ethereal realm as disembodied observer, in the lives of others a telephone rings.

Its receiver is lifted. It’s followed by a rush of silence.He adjusts his earphones and enters a menacing voicelessness.The spools of his tape-recorder engage.”Click , click ” as though a conductor is tapping his baton bringing an orchestra to order.

There is to his mind a haunting absence of noise. When telephones ring and their receivers are lifted, conversations follow. Except when they don’t and he catches another fleeting glimpse of the window-framed face that he saw just a few minutes ago.

Inexplicably, the receiver is replaced,” Click ” .The tape-recorder stops.

It’s 5:52 am and across the city in a sound studio on the fourth floor of an otherwise unremarkable office building the voices he’d captured less than 24 hours ago are on playback. Their rhythms and cadences mimic the lives of others.They hear him listening to them, listening to him listening.

Observed. Recorded. Collated. Analysed.

“Click”

Dustbowl Memories

“Never felt heat like it kid..”; my grandpa would reminisce apropos of nothing. It would always be Summer and we’d be sweltering as a family out on the porch trying to catch our collective breaths and there’d be grandpa reassuring us that this ain’t so much hot today as cool.

Even though the mercury was doing its darndest to top 90. “Man, that ain’t no kind of temperature not leastways till it gets past a hundred and just stays there”. he’d always accompany this utterance with a usual expectoration of chewing tobacco effluent.

And I suppose and we’d all suppose that he was right. well, kind of. Him and his whole extended family upped sticks and trekked there way over here to California all those years ago. Because of The ( capital tee) Heat (capital aitch).The furnace that was the Dust Bowl.

By chance, or maybe as one of my Aunts contended, by some grander design, one of my many distant cousins came by to visit one day. She’d finished her journalism major up at Berkeley and had just gotten a commission to produce a series of radio documentaries on the Dustbowl, and was wondering if grandpa might be interested.

Turned out, none too surprisingly that he was and naturally that put the spring back into his step.

We taped them all, all the episodes and down the years, on big family occasions, we sit around and listen to grandpa’s voice, reminding us all. There’s one or two passages that our Cousin edited as an introduction that kind of sums up Grandpa and ” The Heat “

“Sure I recall, clear as day all the names and their faces, those times and their places,
Down at the rundown rail depot from where the last westbound left in that dry-cracked goodbye summer with me and my closest kin  on board.”
In another passage suffused with his inimitable cadences, he recalled ” Days were so hot and dry that water was our heaven
and  the wells coughed their grinding choking echo. Dust was going to be our future, had we stayed”.


“Some folks never left, they remained In those places and their times. I recall, some years later seeing in the newspaper and county archive records all the shrouded names and their faces who waved me off down by the rail depot in that dry-cracked summer when the westbound whistled its goodbye.”

And when it came to saying our farewells for another year until the next Thanksgiving or Christmas, we’d switch off grandpa’s voice and notice just how hot the tape machine had become.

An Examination of “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” by Bob Dylan.

© Dr Koshy AV

I should be working but feel forced to write on Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

As a point of entry let us take what people call poetry which draws them to it like women draw men, in droves. What people mean by poetry, what women swoon over in reading Neruda is imagery and here we have a few lines that equal Neruda.

“…your flesh like silk…

and…your face like glass…”

But she is a “sad-eyed lady” and “of the lowlands” where no man comes.

Yet, all men are after her.

Who is she?

“With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims,”

Uff!

I hear the women go ‘uff! If only someone’d write about me too like that!’ Uff, uff, uff.

I remember Pater on Mona Lisa.

“The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the mysticism of the middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern philosophy has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.

This extract is taken from Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Oxford: University Press, 2012). Pater referenced 1 Corinthians 10:11

Dylan has created a ‘character’ that rivals Mona Lisa, and Cat Stevens’ Lisa, Lisa, sad Lisa, Lisa… who “hangs her head and cries on (his) shoulder.” A ‘character’ who makes even Dylan, the artist who knew he was great write “my warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums, should I leave them at the gate, O sad-eyed lady, should I wait?”

It is difficult to analyse poetry at its best and explain why it moves us so intensely.
As in here. Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place supposedly to start.
She has “a mercury mouth”. Does the world slide towards mercurial or does one think of mercury rising in the mouth of the meter on the wall to show the heat increasing? In the missionary times? A veiled reference to her being a Playboy model once if this is Sara and to the missionary position or her chastity and purity in the face of the odd paradox that she makes men become like bitches, in/on heat. A mouth too can bring down kingdoms.

Eyes… that smoke and prayers that rhyme, a silver cross on the end of the chain and a voice that is like wind-chimes, she is ethereal like the skylark, whether Shelley’s or Wordsworth’s. Also American or Mexican or Spanish, with smoking hot eyes, and that cross, and those prayers…

No more someone who can be buried. No more poor having met the bard. Worthy of being carried in a palanquin, no longer fit to travel in a streetcar (un-)like Blanche in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, having become revealed as a queen but who fit enough to carry the four ends of that palanquin? None.

No man bold enough to approach her. She comes from the depths. Only the prophet, sad-eyed like her, and the poet but even he may have to set aside his pecuniary fiscal eyes and esoteric music, his gifts or valuables, and have to wait.

A virtuous woman whose bed-sheets are like metal and belt like lace, whose deck of cards – dictating her life or with which she gambles away her life – have the king and the joker but not the jack or the ace, still having traces about her of her genteel previous poverty and its hollowness shown in her face, who is street-smart, she is, this sad-eyed one, or swan. She has gypsy blood in her and her songs are flimsy like matchbooks, but her sunlight dimmed silhouette when the moonlight swims in her eyes is either so much a sight to make one stop, stand and stare or so much one that puts you off that no one will try to impress her. Scared. Irresistible.

Not the kings of Tyre, who wait as do the suitors of Portia, for a “geranium kiss,” and with their lists of their prisoners, who want sex with her and not just a loving real kiss. She was forced to compromise, but the voice who sings this poem asks why. Haunting us. “And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this!”

As a child she had flames on her midnight rug, not of boys, but of arson, and as she grew up she kept curfew, and took the same medicines her mother took as well as had Spanish manners and that mouth that suited cowboys better, than women, being mercurial. Who can resist someone like that?

The rich and the poor – the farmers and the businessmen – wanted her on their side but how did they not understand that she was beyond all ‘sides’, transcendental, with flaws – a phoney false alarm, being the true one – , yet able to fall in love with the child of a hoodlum, having the sea at her feet like woman in Apocalypse/Revelation, and not drawn to or by dead angels hiding in the closets of the rich and the poor. Blameless. Not to be persuaded.

Only one could persuade her. Not her husband. Not her past. No one fit enough to employ her. “And your gentleness now, which you just can’t help but show,” not being the kind of achievement we can put on a CV to get hired.

“Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole
With your holy medallion which your fingertips fold,
And your saint-like face and your ghost-like soul,
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?

We come to the crux of the poem. She is not Pater’s Mona Lisa, she is the Bride, as Dylan envisages her, American, gypsy, Spanish and implicitly Mexican, but also Beatrice, Dantescan and an Italian breeze, virgin Mary and fallen Magdalene, and even the prophet and poet, the singer or bard, the wandering minstrel, the troubadour, the thief – which one of the two on the cross? – and not the joker, who she is ready to share the parole of, the child of the hoodlum, is forced despite his courage and foolhardiness to ask her, therefore:

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

Even he is treading softly, as he does not want to tread on her dreams.

I never saw the lesser poetic vehicles, poetic tropes, of the simile, questions and anaphora (repetition) used redundantly but redeemed so well as in this poem. Call me Ishmael or Queegeeg or even Quinn the Eskimo, but this poem or song is serious, sad, romantic, melancholy and leaves one unable to leave it behind. Makes you search and search desperately for a sad-eyed lady to whom you can ask, should I leave my gifts by your gate, O(r) Sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

The one you know you will never find or if you find you will always lose or have already lost before you met and can never get to keep. Unless you are like Dylan who can write a song on her to keep her forever in it like a leaf pressed in a book, dead or alive.

Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Bob Dylan

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes,
Who do they think could bury you?

With your pockets well protected at last,
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass,
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass,
Who could they get to ever carry you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I put them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace,
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace,
And your basement clothes and your hollow face,
Who among them can think he could outguess you?

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims,
And your match-book songs and your gypsy hymns,
Who among them would try to impress you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I put them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss,
And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this,
But who among them really wants just to kiss you?

With your childhood flames on your midnight rug,
And your Spanish manners and your mother’s drugs,
And your cowboy mouth and your curfew plugs,
Who among them do you think could resist you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

Oh, the farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide
To show you the dead angels that they used to hide.
But why did they pick you to sympathise with their side?
Oh, how could they ever mistake you?

They wished you’d accepted the blame for the farm,
But with the sea at your feet and the phoney false alarm,
And with the child of a hoodlum wrapped up in your arms,
How could they ever, ever persuade you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheet-metal memory of Cannery Row,
And your magazine-husband who one day just had to go,
And your gentleness now, which you just can’t help but show,
Who among them do you think would employ you?

Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole
With your holy medallion which your fingertips fold,
And your saintlike face and your ghost-like soul,
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

Songwriter: Bob Dylan. from Blonde on Blonde.

Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands lyrics © Audiam, Inc

I could write more on this as poem and music, talking of alliteration, rhyme, the keyboards, drums, the acoustic guitar, his signature voice and singing style, the bass, the versions, the covers, the imagery, the references and allusions, and inter-textuality, the frame, the contexts, the significance or importance of the song in the album and its influence on others, the figures of speech and so many other things, but it would make it boring and so leave the rest of the essay for all of you, my dear friends, to create in your minds for yourself…

Why poetry in toxic times?

Why Poetry in Toxic Times?

Poetry can be discovered in most unlikely places.

For example, sitting in the atrium of a big mall, facing a gushing fountain on a hot humid May-end Mumbai evening, you say to your companion, surrounded by all the twinkling fairy lights and fir potted trees placed strategically on the white marble floor, “How poetic!” The crystalline water jet shooting up in a column against a darkening sky in the middle of a soulless glass-n-concrete and sanitized property can be a great diversion for a tired shopper left poorer by few thousands by that sexy and seductive commercial space: The vertical movement of pure drops of H2O can be a big visual relief in a place that registers the maximum footfalls these days in Mumbai or Madrid, Delhi or Peshawar. Malls are the new temples and churches for the post-modern Odysseus hunting for treasures and exotic fare and the urban tribes in Dubai or Kenya find time there to congregate. In such anonymous but identical architectural complexes— in homogenized and standardized settings, amid fake plants and plastic smiles of the overworked and grossly underpaid young poor staff; outside/inside the dazzling shops and their inviting wares, cruising along the well-preserved floors and regularly sanitized loos, gawking at the bald zero-figure mannequins under ark lamps and hunting for mineral water bottle that  costs a fortune for your recession-hit middle-class fake-leather wallet— you get a feeling of derivative power and branded kinship with others  in New York or Berlin. After gleefully splurging more than you have ever planned and secretly planning to go ascetic for a whole year in your personal expenditure, you, the tired Ulysses, decide to sit down on an empty bench and then—suddenly discover the solitary fountain singing merrily on the hot and humid evening. For the other adjacent happy chatterers on the Blueberry, it is a fixture, a prop; for you, it is sheer poetry in a pricey impersonal place, a symbol of purity and eternity. Poetry in slow motion. Water that priceless thing triggers a primeval response in a subterranean crevice of your overtaxed brain and connects you immediately with the first spontaneous priests of raw nature that wandered the earth, at the dawn of the civilization. You feel transported to a dim age when your distant ancestors conversed eagerly with early gods and twinkling stars and swaying trees and murmuring rivers, finding everything in the universe living and sacred. They talked with the gods and gods with them under starry nights and on fresh dawns, near crystalline rivers full of marine life. All this harmony was recorded in delightful and sublime verses, in epic poetry by the all-seeing ancient minds. There were few facilities then but poetry was a presiding deity of their immediate life; to-day, there are facilities galore but poetry, that musicality, that harmony, is sadly absent. Or, almost. The poetic spirit has started disappearing in prosaic times. Begun withdrawing from an age that is high on high-tech but low on basic human emotions. Bonds are brittle—you care more for your China vase or crockery or Swarovski glass than your dear siblings or pals.

Poetry is like the Golden Barrel Cacti— critically endangered, rare species in the Mexican wild, yet surviving the tough conditions. It is like Welwitschia mirabilis, another hardy plant of the Namibian Desert of the South West Africa. Poetry is a surviving link with our heroic past, with our mythological memory, with a unique moment when man and god were not yet cruelly split but were real for the other and having a continual dialogue. Like these two plants, it is endangered and becoming exotic. But it is a great survivor that adapts to most arid conditions and challenging habitats and grows in most inhospitable climes and times. It is vital to a polluting age like an oxygen mask. It can detoxify your body filled with an overdose of pills, caffeine and nicotine and other drugs, and raked with a toxic desire for More (Remember Henderson, the Rain King?).

Poetry is like the first rains over a smoggy town: It washes away all the grime and revives the dormant seedlings and revitalizes the corroded cores of your inner- life. It is a strong anti-dote to a frightening spiral of mad chasing of the deadly deadlines on daily basis, mechanically performing all the time in office and home and suffering indifferent colleagues, public venues and neighbourhoods that define social existence of competing individuals, and dreaming dollars and economic migrations inside/outside the country of your origin. Poetry is like the first rays of dawn that greet a terminal patient in a grim facility and spreads cheer in a solitary life on the threshold of cessation or a burnt-out top executive fighting for more money and promotion and his bad hangover.

Finally, poetry is coming face to face with your spiritual truths that refuse to be commodified and reified by a mass culture. It fulfills you and makes you whole, like the tiny church-bells chiming on a wintry desolate evening in the Chekhovian land.

Yes, we are the

 Warriors

Of poetry

Who

 Uphold the standards

In war zones

And never ever

Make them fall.

@Sunil Sharma

(From: Preface: Mundane, My Muse)