കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍

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This is my first attempt at writing Malayalam poetry.

കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍

കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍ ഓരോ പൂവിതളിലും
നിന്‍ നറുപുഞ്ചിരി
പ്രതിധ്വനിക്കുന്നു നിന്‍ കളമൊഴി
ഈ കിളിനാദത്തിലും.

ഇളംകാറ്റത്തുലയുമീ മരച്ചില്ലകളിലൂടെ
കളിയാടിടുന്നെന്മുന്‍പില്‍
നിന്‍ സുന്ദരനൃത്തവിലാസം.

ഈ വിശാലനീലാകാശത്തിങ്കല്‍
മുകില്‍മാലകള്‍ ചാര്‍ത്തുന്നതു
നിന്‍ മുഖത്തിന്‍ ഭാവവൈവിധ്യമോ!
രാവിന്നിരുള്‍ പട്ടില്‍ തിളങ്ങുന്ന
താരങ്ങള്‍ തന്‍ പ്രകാശം നിന്‍
മിഴികളിന്‍ കെടാവെളിച്ചമോ!

ഈ പുഴയോരം കടന്നുവന്നെന്നുടെ
ക്ഷീണിതമാമൊരീ ഗാത്രത്തെ തഴുകിടും
നീറുന്നോരീ മനസ്സില്‍ കുളിരേകിടും
സുരഭിലമാം പൂങ്കാറ്റു നിന്‍
തരളമാം കൈകള്‍ തന്‍ മൃദുസ്പര്‍ശനമോ.

കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍ പ്രിയതമേ നിന്‍മുഖം, എന്‍
മിഴികള്‍ പരതുന്നതെവിടെയാണെങ്കിലും.
പ്രകൃതിതന്നോരോ ചെറുചലനത്തിലും നിന്നെ
തൊട്ടറിയുന്നു ഞാന്‍ നീയിന്നരികിലില്ലെങ്കിലും.

(Edited by: Moulik K B)

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“The Incredible Human Journey”

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New scientific discoveries have often lead to paradigm shifts, wholesale changes in how we look at ourselves and the world. The discovery that the earth was not the centre of the universe and that it went around the sun, was one which had such an impact. Another was Darwin’s theory of evolution.“The Incredible Human Journey”, is about one such discovery.

According to the “Recently Out of Africa” theory, which has been proved through fossil and genetic evidence, modern human beings evolved in Africa alone and spread to all the continents from there. Not only that, but only a single tribe successfully left Africa around 70,000 years ago and the lineage of all non-Africans today can be traced back to that single tribe. This has been verified through genetic tests. Africans actually belong to a more varied family tree, which branched off much earlier.

Daniel Quinn says that historians often relegate what happened before the advent of agriculture and civilization, into something lesser called “pre-history”. We believe that we were made to be civilization builders and what had preceded it was something of the past, a relic, of no use to us now.

But recent research in evolutionary biology and anthropology reveals astonishing stories about our ancestors, the challenges they faced and how they adapted themselves to overcome them. Each episode of the documentary describes how humans could have reached and colonized each continent.

To briefly sum up, a small group of modern humans, people like you and me, left East Africa roughly 70,000 years ago, by crossing the Red Sea, which was much narrower then owing to the Ice Age and sea levels 110 metres lower than today. Their population gradually grew and spread to Persia and from there branched- One to Central Asia and Siberia, India – and another to Europe.

By 40,000 years ago, people were living in Siberia, Europe, Australia. We are usually told that the invention of agriculture and civilization was the greatest event in our history, and that civilization led to progress and improvement in technology. And here we are, 30,000 years before civilization- people crossing a hundred miles of open ocean to Australia. Not only that people survived in the Ice Age Siberia, much colder than today, 40,000 years ago. They made coats from reindeer skin to protect themselves from the cold, which meant that they had invented the needle and sewing, back then.

At the time when the first humans reached Europe, 40,000 years ago, it was not virgin country. There were another human-like species, the Neanderthals- whom you might not even notice if you passed by on the street- which was already settled there for a quarter of a million years. To think that our ancestors and the Neanderthals co-existed for nearly 20,000 years until they finally became extinct around 24,000 years ago, is intriguing to say the least! What would they have thought of each other?! What would we have thought if there were Neanderthals living with us today?!

These are amazing stories, which reveal so many amazing things about the places we inhabit and how we came to occupy them. They are definitely fascinating and have the potential to turn entire world views upside down, make us stop and think about what we really are, and how stupid and short-sighted some of the things we do are, and what it means to be human. And, we are all Africans!

The Colourful World of Children

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I recently read two awesome books centered around children.The first was the Malayalam novel Unnikkuttante Lokam (Unnikkuttan’s world) by Nandanar, about a little village boy of five years. The story is set in a pre-independence Malabar village, and beautifully depicts the village life in those times. Written from the view point of Unnikkuttan, it gives you an idea of how colourful and full of mystery the world of a child is, which a grown-up needs a lot of patience, love and imagination to even begin to understand. Also how the village provides a child with endless opportunities for amusement and a diverse environment that nurtures the child’s sense of wonder.

The second book was a Malayalm translation of the Japanese novel- Tottochan- the Little Girl at the Window written by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi as her childhood memoir. It’s about a small unconventional primary school in pre-war Japan, run by Mr. Kobayashi where she attended for a few years. Totto-chan(as she was affectionately called), a naughty little girl, was expelled from her first school as they couldn’t handle her mischiefs. Her mother then took her to Tomo-gakuen, the school run by Mr. Kobayashi.

There Tottochan finds herself in an exciting and magical new world, and a teacher who understood her and treated her as a friend. The book describes many incidents which happened at Tomo, the friends she had there, lessons she learnt, and her relationship with her teacher. Narrated from Tottochan’s point of view, it reveals many intricate aspects of the world of children. Not only that, it also tells us the role that the headmaster plays in making the children feel secure and happy, and how he “lets them be” instead of constantly telling them what they “should” be (which is what you often experience in schools).

Muthappanpuzha-Olichuchattam

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Ever since my first week at college, I have been captivated by the sight of a majestic mountain range, from the top floor of the main building. Most of the time it’s hidden behind a think shroud of mist, but when it’s visible it is an enchanting sight. The clarity of some of the features suggested that it was not far away, geographically. At first I used to think that it must be the Wayanad range, but after some researching, I learned that it was called Vellarimala, south of Wayand and west of the Nilgiris, separated by the Chaliyar valley. I also learned that the approach to Vellarimala is from a tiny village called Muthappanpuzha, about 25 km from my college. By the way, this range contains some of the tallest peaks of the Ghats (Vellarimala-2240m, Vavulmala-2339m).

The trek to the very top is very difficult (not meant for inexperienced trekkers) and takes more than a day, and it is nearly impossible without a guide, from what I’ve read. But there is a waterfall called Olichuchattam about 4-5 km into the trek, which is quite accessible. The thought of trekking to Olichuchattam has been at the back of my mind for some time now. Our second sessional exams ended on Saturday, and we were wondering what to do on Sunday, when I put forward the idea of going to Olichuchattam.

In the end, five of us, AKP(Arunkumar), Ashley, Nineesh, Nipun and I decided to make the short trip. We had planned to start out early, but being a Sunday, we were a bit late, as expected. We boarded a bus to Thiruvambady at 8.30 in the morning. I had thought that there would be local buses from there to Muthappanpuzha, but was surprised to learn that only KSRTC buses from Kozhikode went to Muthappanpuzha(which gives an idea of how remote it is), and we had to wait till the next one arrived. We had to wait for over half an hour. Our high spirits were also dampened by the premature return of AKP, who had received news that his grandfather had been hospitalized.

After what seemed to be an eternity, the bus left Thiruvambady. The ride was pleasant, albeit a slow one, and soon the road began to run by the banks of the Muthappanpuzha river, frothing its waters over the innumerable rocks in its path. I noticed that there were many churches here, which suggested that the people in this area are predominantly Christian unlike the rest of Kozhikode. Perhaps most of them are descendants of the farmers who immigrated from South Kerala half a century ago.

We got off at Aanakkampoyil and took an auto-rickshaw to the starting point of the trek (you have to take a diversion half a km before Muthappanpuzha). On the way, we got the first glimpses of the lofty peaks, and the driver told us that one of them was named Masthakappara, since it looked like an elephant’s head. We asked him for directions to Olichuchattam. A clear (jeep) track runs for most of the way before it enters the forest. He told us that we’d have no trouble with finding the way. But he warned us that it may not be easy finding the track inside the forest, since the season’s not yet started and not many people have been there this year. He told us to keep close to the river which would be on the left side, and we’d be fine.

Our spirits rekindled by the fresh air and the green all around, we started the trek. It was around 10.30 by then. Vellarimala is not a tourist location and only trekkers going to the Vellarimala or Vavulmala peaks come here. We soon crossed a bridge and found the river to our left, but the track led away from it. We kept following the track, which was steadily climbing. It is worth mentioning that the base of Vellarimala, unlike many other mountain peaks of similar altitude, is quite low-lying, with Muthappanpuzha at only around 400m above MSL. So the climb is indeed very rapid.

The track contined to lead away from the river and soon we heard the sound of another river on our right side. Later I learnt that this was Iruvanjippuzha and the one on the left was Thenpara. The track continued to climb and we took short breaks. The sun was also at its hottest and all of us were sweating profusely. We had been assured that drinking water wouldn’t be a problem as there were many streams running across the path. We were delighted by the sight of little huts nestled on the hillside, with huge mountains in the backdrop. A few cows and goats were grazing here and there, as well.

The track again veered towards the river on the left. We soon reached a fenced area on the left side, but there was no sign of the river. By this time, the track was barely visible, and it was clear from the vegetation that not many people had been there lately. Soon we entered the forest. It happened all too fast. Suddenly the green path gave way to think foliage. We were rather surprised, and initially had some difficulty in finding the path. Then we got used to it and forced ourselves forward, pushing away the plants that stood in our way. Again it was clear that not many had been there lately.

We could hear the river gushing down the slopes on the left side, but it seemed nearly impossible to find a way to it. By this time, all of us had leeches on our feet. We carried on, pushing our wills that extra bit, but we soon wound up at a dead end, a little rocky clearing with a stream. We sat there wondering what to do next, and helped ourselves to some biscuits in the meantime. It was well past noon, and I was not too eager to stay in the forest in the afternoon. When we had rested for a while, we decided to go back, and look more carefully for any paths to the right that would take us to the river. (We remembered the auto driver’s directions to keep to the river)

We had better luck at the second attempt, and Nineesh found a path a few feet from the dead end. On the way up, it didn’t even occur to us that there had been a path there. It was going in the right direction as the sound of the river became nearer. After a few minutes of struggling through the dense vegetation, we reached the river. Water, at last! It looked like a waterfall, but this did not look like the photos of Olichuchattam I had seen on Sandeep Unnimadhavan’s blog. Besides, we had been only about 20 mins into the forest, and I had read that it took more than that.

We climbed a few more feet to get a better view of the fall. By this time, it was past one and I really felt we should get going. Though I wasn’t sure that this was Olichuchattam, I was not confident about going further into the forest as it was, and we decided to return after spending some time on the rocks by the river. The return journey was uneventful, and our eyes feasted on the beautiful landscape. Once we were out of the forest, we stopped for de-leeching. Actually we had to go about twenty more minutes up the river to get to Olichuchattam.

Soon we hit the jeep track and around 2.30 we reached the road. We missed a turn somewhere and ended up about two bus stops away from Muthappanpuzha which meant that we had to drop the plans of visiting the village and the river bank. We decided to relax and wait at the bus stop for the 3’o clock bus back. We were all pleasantly tired and dozed off as soon as we boarded the bus. I stole a last look in the direction of Muthappanpuzha and told myself that I’d like to be back there sometime. It was slightly disappointing that we didn’t get to Olichuchattam (at that time, we were trying to convince ourselves that that itself was Olichuchattam!!), but it was a fantastic day out and we really enjoyed the trek.

See Photos of the trek.

Interesting Times

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“May you live in interesting times”– an ancient Chinese curse.

Undoubtedly, we are living in interesting times. Of course, you may say. After all, we live in an age in which we can communicate with a person on the other side of the globe at the speed of light, travel around the world in a day, we have machines to do all the “dirty” work for us, tourists are venturing into space, we carry gadgets around in our pockets, that people a century ago would have considered magic, we are splitting atoms to produce the energy equivalent to burning thousands of tons of coal- in short- an age in which anything is possible.

Sorry to disappoint you, but that is not the sense in which I said “interesting times”. Perhaps, half a decade ago, I would have revelled in such thoughts- when I still hadn’t begun to see through the general belief that the only relevant world view is that held by the mainstream society. Yes, there was a time when I used to be excited by technology(As a student of technology currently, I’m definitely interested in it, but excited is perhaps far too intense a word). When I used to eagerly observe new models of cars on the roads, when I was fascinated by the things you could do with a computer, when I used to read about astronauts while holding my breath and wonder whether one day I would like to travel into outer space as well.

This popular fascination with technology is not because people truly appreciate technology-in fact, very few people understand it- but is a testimony to the ways in which technical gadgets and increased means of mass production which technology made possible, have supposedly “improved” our lives and rescued us from the alleged misery and filth which our predecessors endured in centuries past.

To come back to my original point, that is not the sense in which I said “interesting times”. I’m referring to the fact that exhaust fumes from our vehicles are heating up the earth and disturbing the climate system, the fact that more than a hundred species are becoming extinct everyday- more than any other time since the dinosaurs, the fact that we are six billion today and our population is still exploding, the fact that a significant portion of us go to bed hungry, the fact that water is becoming undrinkable and air unbreathable. I’m referring to the ecological, cultural and social crisis that we are facing today.

What is there about it that is so “interesting”? Fair question. After all, the crisis I mentioned is not something new to us. In fact, some of these problems have been with us for centuries. Only it has almost never been perceived as a crisis. There has always been an explanation for why these problems persisted in our society. It is the price of civilization and technological advancement. True, we face serious problems, but we have come so far, haven’t we? Surely, we are smart enough to conjure solutions to all of them, sooner rather than later. Surely, technology will help us solve our problems. We can clean up the atmosphere of excess greenhouse gases, and that will be the end of global warming, using genetic engineering and biotechnology we can grow a ton of wheat in a square foot, we can desalinate sea water and use it for drinking… the list is virtually endless.

In fact, this cheerful and blind optimism has brought us to the edge of peril, almost to a point of no return. The biosphere is a web interconnected in unimaginably myriad and complex ways, and not a pyramid with humans at the very top. We have been alienated from the natural world ever since the beginning of large scale agriculture. But driven by the unprecedented power and control which the industrial revolution made possible, we have been meddling with and tweaking the delicate web of life, tuning it to our advantage, in a massive scale that was previously impossible. And we have been unbelievably successful for a while. But the biosphere is not designed for domination by a single species. It thrives on diversity and competition, the very things we are wiping out so successfully, undermining its very ability to support life. No wonder it is starting to show signs of distress, threatening our existence, and that of other higher plants and animals. Hence the use of the word, “crisis”.

“But you still haven’t answered my question!”, I can almost hear you grumbling.”Why is it interesting? All you have succeeded is to paint a picture of gloom and doom in my mind.”

True. I still haven’t come to the interesting part. I’m taking you through the journey that I reluctantly set out on as a sixteen year old, when I first began to feel that there was something wrong with the world. Doom and gloom were the feelings that came to my mind when I used to think about the state of the world and where it was heading. Throw in helplessness, when I realized that this was the world which I was about to step into, and you have the complete set!

Now I come to the interesting part- it doesn’t have to be this way. I mean, there is nothing about human nature which dictates that we live this way, that we alienate ourselves from the natural world. We are brought up to believe that agriculture, civilization, division of labour and advanced technology are inevitable expressions of the human urge to evolve, and represent progress. There is very little evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, advances in anthropology and paleontology in the last few decades positively refute this claim. Science has played an important role in changing the way we think about the world. This, I think, is the true significance of science, and not the utilitarian pseudo-blessing as it is usually perceived.

Human beings have been roaming the earth for a few million years now. According to our beliefs, it was a long, dark, uneventful and stagnant chapter in human history. We were “just another animal”, until we had the brainwave to take matters into our own hands. It was a “difficult”, “savage”, “brutal” life. Having been brought up with this myth, I’m not surprised that until half a century ago, it was unthinkable that technology was anything but beneficial.

But now we know that most of what we generally believe about the lives of our ancient predecessors is nothing more than a myth, we have to embark on the difficult and seemingly impossible task of educating and convincing as many people as we can. For people who are thoughtful, free and flexible enough to accept and acknowledge such a radical change in perspective, are a tiny minority, though encouragingly a growing one(that an ordinary boy like me, brought up in reasonable comfort and good care, can perceive that something is wrong and mostly work it out for himself gives me hope!). A vast majority are blindfolded and trapped in the exploitative global economy of today, dependent on it for their livelihood. Its seeming infallibility is reason for despair, but we know that “seemingly infallible” need not mean infallible(look at communist Russia).

What we are doing today, continuing with buisiness as usual, doesn’t offer much room for hope. But a collapse of this mega-structure in the near future, is definitely a possibility, given its stark dependence on non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. In fact, there is enough reason to believe that we are approaching, and maybe even past, peak oil. Who knows, the current global financial crisis could be something more than just another recession. Such a collapse would be painful, yes- there will be increase in mortality. But it would be just a transition to a better and more sustainable future. I don’t believe even for a second that our planet can sustain billions of us indefinitely. The number has to decrease drastically, it’s got to happen and it will happen when we’ve reached the tipping point. But it’s not for us to decide what would be the ideal number. Natural processes will see to that. Perhaps it need not be a mass die-off as in a calamity. Perhaps it would happen through a lower life expectancy, and we might hardly notice it. We don’t know, really.

Meanwhile, we need to find out as much as we can about how our lives were, before agriculture, before the Great Forgetting, so that we can intelligently choose a sustainable way of living and begin the transition instead of waiting with folded hands for catastrophe to strike. Some people say that there is no “going back to nature” for us. We can’t go “back to being a hunter-gatherer”. This is probably true. We know a lot, and we have developed wonderful disciplines like literature, art, science which have probably become an important part of who we are, but how much of it survives the millenia will be probably decided by how much of it is sustainable and in accord with the laws of the biosphere.

Probably, there is no “going back to nature”. But I firmly believe that we will go “forward to nature”, because that is where we came from, and where we ultimately belong. We will find another way of living, unimaginably more beautiful, and in harmony with nature. This dream is what drives me on, and dispels my despair. This is why I feel that we live in “interesting times”. There is no going back to the drudgery of the inhuman machinery that is the global economy. I have to find my path in the undergrowth. A path that leads me back to the glorious road which our ancient ancestors followed for millions of years, until we lost our way and ended up at a dead end- on the edge of a cliff.

The Sparrow’s Resting Place

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What’s this thing I sit upon
As I wait for my sweetheart Ron?
Surely, I tell you, not a tree-
For leaf nor twig nor bloom I see.

Tall and rigid a mast underneath,
With wires black taut on either side.
Dozens I see in a row such poles,
Linked to the next by wires tied.

Tears flood my eyes as I recall
That chilly tragic night last fall,
When poor old Stevie sat on one-
Little did he know the wire breathed fire.

So he sat there watching the moon
And as he flapped his wings to keep warm
Alas! He touched those perilous wires…
A flash there was and there he was
Charred and dead- was poor old Stevie.

The very same peril over me hangs- I know-
But I’ve got to sit someplace Ron’ll see.
And all I find that’s high enough
Are these poles, while I wait for her.

No leaves to cover me from the hot Sun,
No yummy worms in woody wood,
Not a swing on a branch in the wind,
Just a pole of hard grey stone, and
Wires of fire taut on either side.

Ah! There in the distance I see my love
Flying to me- she’s graceful as ever.
Face full of fear is hers, but why?
On seeing me atop this pole.

“Careful, darling- don’t you know?
These are wires that breathe fireballs.
On a tree you could have sat,
And I’d find you just as well.”

“Yes, I am careful, dear Ron.
I know the peril that over me hangs.
But look around, my dearest Ron-
Tree or hedge or bush you find?”

“Gone are the trees indeed, but where?”

“Cut, of course, by man- to log.”

“Then let’s go find where there are
Trees in plenty that shelter us.”

And we flew away and away
With the golden Sun on our wings.


I wrote this poem back when I was in the Twelfth standard, inspired by the sight of a bird sitting on an electric pole. I recently found an abandoned written copy of it when I was searching for something and thought I’d post it here. The choice of names seems strange and inexplicable, but anyway I don’t think it matters!

Note: The phrase “golden Sun on our wings” is borrowed from the song Raindrops and Roses (“wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings”) in the movie The Sound of Music. I was simply captivated by the beauty of that phrase, and felt that it was a fitting end to the poem.

The Great Forgetting

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Read The Great Forgetting based on The Story of B by Daniel Quinn.

For thousands of years, people of our culture (not in the usual sense of the world, but as Daniel Quinn defines it- “if food is placed under lock and key and people have to work and earn money to buy it back, then the people of that place belong to OUR culture”, in short- modern civilization) believed that humanity, agriculture and civilization all began at roughly the same time, and that they are inseparable from each other. This meant that the general belief was that humanity was only a few thousand years old.

But today we know that it is not so. We know that humanity is about three million years old, and people had led a very different life from ours, obeying the laws of life which applies to all living beings on earth. This had been forgotten in the “Great Forgetting“, when one group of people (or more, we don’t exactly know) decided to take up totalitarian agriculture, convinced that human beings were meant to be the rulers of the world, and that they weren’t meant to live like lions and snakes and butterflies any longer. Man’s destiny was surely something more “glorious” and they broke with their past.

Now, if we call this event the Great Forgetting, something happened in the nineteenth century, which could have been called the Great Remembering. Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution and others followed up his research to tell us that we are much older than a few thousand years, that we evolved from “lower” animals, and did not just appear as “civilized” agriculturalists. This was a bitter pill to swallow as it shook the very foundations of our culture, which was based on the pillar of the alleged specialty and uniqueness of man which vindicated his rule of the world.

But nothing remarkable happened, really. Things went on as before, and the Great Remembering didn’t even happen. No one thought about questioning the assumptions on which our civilization was built. It didn’t even occur to anyone that this new finding could make any difference. After all, that’s pre-history. What did it matter if man evolved from the slime around him? He was always meant to be an agriculturalist, and the ruler of the world.

Nevertheless, a century and a half later, with the world on the brink of catastrophe, at least some people are starting to ask the right questions. It’s still a tiny minority, but importantly it is a growing minority. We can’t blame the Industrial Revolution, we can’t blame cars and factories and missiles. The seeds of disaster have been with us for a long long time- a culture that casts us as conquerors of a world which is hostile and from where we have to forcibly take everything we need. We can save the world only through changed minds.

“If there are still people here in 200 years, they won’t be living the way we do. I can make that prediction with confidence, because if people go on living the way we do, there won’t be any people here in 200 years.” —Daniel Quinn

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