#50. Jyothi Ganesh

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These days, I find myself looking at people. Really looking at them. Picking them out on the streets, noticing them as they drive around, riding their bikes or scooters- the scooter riding men especially fascinate me. They ride with a purpose. Like they have something to prove. There is a silent defiance in their stance on the scooters, they cut corners with a vengeance, their speed conveys their urgent mission to save the world. The politics of these performances bring out the philosopher in me as I unfailingly wonder at the sheer, astounding number of people in the world. I imagine each to be carrying their own brand of anxieties and neuroses as they navigate their ways around this Earth, hurtling towards the only certainty there is- that the sun will set and that there will be night. (Death is correct too…but it is an overused truth). The entire interim seems like a preparation for this inevitability. Is that what Life is all about? Waiting for the night?

The night has its own seductions. One night, I witnessed streetlamps turn my fellow passenger golden. And it is at night that strange hungers roam the land. People behave differently at night. As though the darkness is a cloak they can hide behind. As though the darkness is a curtain they can part and emerge from. And at night, the streets seem so innocent, you could weep for the way the road rollers ironed out their natural ebullience. The night has its own customers- because while light sustains life, night shelters desires- to read on balconies, have a cup of tea by the side of the road, to dress in the gender of your choice, to jaywalk, count stars, die just a little, sweat over tangibility. These and similar crimes.

At the core of it all, what are we and what do we see ourselves as? What are we waking up every day for? Or rather, what are the expectations with which we go to sleep? I sometimes imagine waking up in another dimension. Or timeline. Or as another person. So far, my world has been singularly devoid of such miracles. But it has made me curious as to what other people see, listen and understand. I often ask them what it is that they hear when they hear a totally unfamiliar language. Do they hear words or just noises escaping the throat? What takes shape in their minds when I ask them to imagine a chiaroscuro. Some told me it could be a type of dog. Many people told me it sounds like a fruit. I smile when I hear that because it takes me back a long time.

Nights, days, winds, water — words and worlds are what we make of them. This I learnt from the story of Avvaiyar, one of the greatest saint- poets of Tamizh. To talk about her influence and poetic might will require a treatise, but for now, for those who don’t know her, she is more of a concept than a person. Avvai means wise woman. And throughout Tamizh literary history, there have been many Avvaiyars. It is believed that she was once offered a rare fruit that granted a long life to the person who ate it. This was what the stories of my childhood told me, perhaps, in preparation of my eventually finding out that there have been many Avvaiyars at various periods. I would like to think that the fruit worked. Every now and then, a child needs a bit of magic in her life. It is said that in order to escape the trap of marriage, she had prayed hard and been granted the boon of old age. Avvaiyar is a personal favourite as she was part of the mythology of Murugan, one of the main deities of my native place. While he is known in other parts of the country as Skanda (the politics of which will require another treatise), in Tamil Nadu and its borders, he is called Murugan and his exploits with his brother Pillaiyar (Ganesha) are what children grow up listening to.

There are two stories that are especially popular about Murugan, and both involve fruit. Once sage Narada, that eternal churner of trouble, came to Mount Kailas, the abode of Lord Shiva, and offered him the fruit of knowledge. Interestingly, in many places it is depicted as a mango. When Shiva wanted to divide it among his sons, Narada advised against it. So Shiva summoned Pillaiyar and Murugan and told them that he who circumambulates the earth and returns first shall win the fruit. Murugan leapt on his peacock and set off while Pillaiyar declared that his parents were his entire world and went around them thrice. And predictably won the fruit. For reasons, read King Lear. This problem has been doing the rounds for eons now.

Anyway, Murugan returned to find the Gnanapazham awarded to his brother and left in a huff to the mountains. His distraught parents were said to go coax him by telling him that he was in fact the Gnanapazham through the words, “Pazham nee appa…Gnanapazham nee appa…” leading to the hills on which he stood being called Pazhani or Palani. (This is only one of the versions of why the Palani hills are thus named)

The second story has to do my musings on meaning, fruit and Avvaiyar. Legend has it that one day, Avvaiyar was resting beneath a Jamun tree and a young shepherd boy perched on a branch of the tree asked if she would like some Jamun fruits. She replied in the affirmative to which the boy asked if she would want Sutta Pazham or Sudatha Pazham (Hot fruits or Cold fruits). The arrogance of her knowledge caused her to regard the boy with contempt and she asked for hot fruits. The boy shook the branch and some fruits fell on the ground. Avvaiyar picked one up and blew the sand off of it. Just as she would have if the fruit were hot.  And the boy is said to have teased her asking “Paati, Sutta Pazham thaane?” (Grandmother, the fruits are hot, aren’t they?) Realising she had been taught a lesson in humility, Avvaiyar looks up to see Murugan in all his splendor. Guess he was the Gnanapazham after all.

Avvaiyar thus, learnt to look beyond the obvious, learnt that she was not too great or old to learn. She learnt that the world is after all a word and she saw the world in a fruit. The way Jyothi Ganesh sees all the Universe in her ragas. As lumbering elephants, as frisky deer, as Krishna, as a young girl, as Dharma, as Devi, as poetry and in an Idli.

In her debut collection of poems, aptly titled Samarpana: An Offering of Poems, Jyothi has brought in her formidable knowledge of Indian Carnatic music into play. She speaks a different language, the contours of her verses shaped by the pauses of a taala, the lines coiling themselves around the pivotal Shadjam or the infinite refractions of the Ganam, the ringing clarity of the Anthara Gandharam or the elevating notes of the Chathusruti Daivatam.

The poems are dedications to our primal sensibilities and seek to express the wonder at the magic of Creation and art. She makes us rasikas of her katcheri as she lends wings to the sails of her poems. She then changes tack midstream and lets the music speak in verse.

Panchamam

Prati madhyamam

Gandharam

Suddha rishabham

Shadjam

Draupadi with her

Cascading dark tresses

Provocative in her stance

                                     (Varali)

The shifts in moods, the reactions and reflections all are braided in by the swaras. These poems do not lend themselves to a single reading. Yet, there is something tenderly identifiable about them. The absolute faith, the goodwill, the way it seeks to soothe the soul, points to the sort of affirmative poetry that Jyothi advocates. There are songs of devotion, lines that muse, verses that dance and recipes in metrical arrangement. The book is a universe in itself.

 

I thank Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi of the royal house of Travancore, a celebrated author and poet herself, who introduced us and made time to discuss art and its nuances and the impact this slim volume of poems made on her. A very special word of gratitude to Mr. T. P Srinivasan, (Former Ambassador, administrator extraordinaire, political commentator and so much more) for being the Sutradharan of this entire chain of events. For putting me in touch with these wonderful people.

 

I loved reading Samarpana though my knowledge of music is rather limited. But then, this is how one learns. I found it beautiful that the poet has made her debut at the age of 57, that the Samarpanam is being made primarily to her father. That she had had years of training in music and when she lost her voice, she made the written word sing. That the metrical presences of the notes in her poems are actually the songs that her heart sings when her voice couldn’t. That she is resilient and has regained her voice. I realise, that like Avvaiyar, I too have learnt these valuable lessons. That Gnanapazhams keep coming in different avatars over time.

 

This edition of SamyuktaPoetry is for all those who inhabit a space that is not limited by words. Whose language twirls, sings and expresses anguish in semantics yet unheard of. This edition is also for the many who endured through the ages under the same name and wandered from place to place, singing and falling in love with the glory of the open skies. Whose lives were written in languages not yet invented. 

The water that runs from the well to the rice

Also waters the wayside grass.

    If on our old earth

There walk one upright man, for his sake

Everyone receives rain.

                                    (Avvaiyar- transl. Thomas H. Pruiksma)

Sonya J. Nair

Editor

Garbha Griham

The inner sanctum,

Holding the

Sacred darkness

Likened to the womb

Embodying a form

Holding myriad promises

Twinkling lights betraying a

world within

enticing tantalizingly belying,

beckoning us to an Awakening

and living the Truth.

Thodi

Listening to the lilting

Gamakas

And notes of Hanumathodi

Rising from the mellifluous

Nadaswaram

Gandharam the life note,

In all its multiple myriad

Shades

Simultaneously majestic

And sonorous in the

Mandira sthayee

Like the elephant’s gait

Weighty, purposeful, heavy

Synonymous

With the Guru.

Tara sthayee gandharam

Guiding us

And seeking to open our eyes to its nomenclature

 

Of netra

Urging us to grasp the

Intrinsic, innate beauty

Whilst listening to the

Ganam and Geetham.

Rasikas

Nostalgic

Seeking the

Old world

Genteel,

Civilized ways

Soaking in

Enjoying the strains

Of

A concert,

With total leisure,

Of raga delineation

 

Alapanas where

The notes are

Elongated

Meandering

And stretched

To sublimation

Soaking with bhava

Invisible micronotes

Poised to create a rich

Tapestry

Replete and

Interwoven

Dexterously

Reaching to

Tug at the

Soul,

Profoundly

Inspiring

Acting as

An anchor

In

One’s being

Evoking

True joy

Abundantly

Bounding through the

Tani avarthanam

Keeping to the cycle beat

Through the various korvais

Of the Gati and

Nadai

Form of the tala

Soaking in the silences

And deliberate pauses

Accentuating

The explicit

Beauty

Of the rhythm

Rasika in perfect unison

With the artiste

And the art.

Sauce

Rind of the orange

Stretched

Unfurled

Cut into thin strips

Saut́́eed

In

Hot oil

Spluttering

Along with

Mustard

 

Green chillies

Curry leaves

In a heady

Mixture of a

Thick tamarind extract

Almost cloying

Much like

Smothered love

 

And

Sambar powder

Providing the theatrics

And

Chilli powder

The necessary

Sting

 

Boiling

Thickening gravy with

Salt

Common sense

Making of a piquant

Quaint

Sauce

 

Finally a dash of jaggery

Completing

The exotic

Heady emotions of a life

Spicy

Sour

Bitter

Salty

Astringent

Sweet

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jayashree Iyer

    Beautiful Jyothi, I am so proud of your accomplishment. Thank you Ms. Nair and samyuktapoetry.com for giving a space for different voices and thoughts.

  2. Sriranjini

    What a lovely way to begin my day! I am glad I woke up to see ‘Samarpanam’ and the little nuggets of wisdom and poetry nestled in it! They ring so true!
    Proud of you Jothi!

  3. G Chandrasekhar

    I know Jyothi as an ardent student of Swami Paramarthananda whose Upanishad classes she attended in Sterling Club in Nungambakkam diligently in the late 90s and so did her parents. I also knew that her father was a great carnatic vocalist trained in the tradition by Semmangudi if I remember right. Little did I know that Jyothi herself has such a rich background in carnatic music and her versatility comes to the fore when she delves into poetry as well and that too at age 57! Hats off to her and her lineage:-)

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