Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Summary and Analysis of the Poem 'In The Country Cottage' by Nissim Ezekiel

 Introduction to the Author

Nissin Ezekiel (1924-2004) is a pioneer in modern Indian English poetry. His role as translator, editor, playwright and reviewer has contributed significantly in shaping modernist poetry in India. The modernist movement of the 1950s and 60s was known for its precise use of language, well crafted images, ironic stance, treatment of sexuality and male-female relationship. Ezekiel is often described as the father of the modernist movement and he writes introspective, ironic and humorous poems of self exploration and self formation. He has brought out seven collections of poetry; they are A Time to Change and Other Poems (1952), Sixty Poems (1953), The Unfinished Man (1960), The Exact Name (1965), Hymns in Darkness (1976), and the Sahitya Akademy award-winning Latter-day Psalms (1982).

Text of the Poem

The night the lizard came

our indolence was great; 

we went to bed before

our eyes were heavy, limbs

prepared to stretch or love.


Immobile, tense and grey,

he taught us patience as 

he waited for the dark.

From time to time we could

not help but glance at him


and learn again that he 

was more alive than us

in silent energy,

though his aim was only 

the death of cockroaches.


When we awoke the next

morning we found as we

expected that the job

was done, clean and complete,

and the stout lizard gone.


Outline of the Poem

The speaker of the poem comments that their idleness was great on the day the lizard came out. They went to bed early even though they were not physically exhausted. A sense of purposelessness keeps them inert and passive. In the second stanza, the speaker offers a detailed description of the lizard. It is described as ’immobile’, ‘tense’ and ‘grey’ and its patient waiting for the dark is highlighted. It seems that it explicitly resembles the humans in the poem as they are also immobile. Later on, the humans in the cottage realise that the lizard is far more alive than them. It possesses silent energy which humans lack, though its aim is only the death of cockroaches. The next day, they wake up to realise that the lizard has eaten up all the cockroaches neatly and disappeared. 

Analysis of the Poem

In the poem, the poet contrasts animal and human worlds. The humans in the poem are idle and purposeless and they seek refuge from the toils of existence. It is common in modernist literature to have characters who fail to identify the meaning of their lives and resort to inactivity. The humans in the poem do not have any noble notions on the greatness of man and also fail to connect with their animal instincts. Cut off from the roots of tradition, modern man is caught between purposelessness of modern life and absence of instincts. These render humans helpless and passive and they resemble the Lotos-Eaters.

Interestingly, the lizard is presented in similar terms in the second stanza. It is described as ‘immobile’ like the humans, ‘tense’, ‘grey’ and ‘patient’. It waits for the prey in the dark and teaches humans patience. Though the lizard resembles the humans in its immobility and patient waiting, the humans gradually realise that its movements are directed by instincts. The ‘silent energy’ refers to the animal instincts the lizard possesses and its actions emerge from the primal forces whereas humans are separated from their instincts. Though the poet acknowledges the limits of instincts to ‘the death of cockroaches’, the humans in the poem grope in the dark and fail to perform any task neatly. The poem underscores the utter lack of convictions human beings are endowed with and the resultant inactivity. This is contrasted with neat and complete actions carried out by the lizard. In short, the poem contrasts  the instinctive and energetic life of the lizard with  that of the inactive lives of the humans.

Nissim Ezekiel has effectively featured many animals and birds such as scorpion, crows, cats, squirrels, monkeys, crocodiles etc.. in his poems. The introduction of Indian flora and fauna has strengthened his articulations of Indian life with an exquisite indian idiom. The comparison of a lizard with a human is also very striking as both the animals can leave their tails and survive!. It is also interesting that lizards are associated with somany superstitious stories in India.


Thursday, 9 September 2021

Calicut University BA/B.Sc/B.Com Common Course English First Semester- LITMOSPHERE: THE WORLD OF LITERATURE prescribed texts

MODULE 1: Literature- Initiation 

1.To Posterity (poem)- Louis MacNeice

To read the text, please click here 

2.The Rocking Horse Winner (Short Story) -D H Lawrence 

To read the text, please click here 

3.”Memoirs of A Mad Man (Prose excerpts from Autobiography)-Gustave


MODULE 2: Creative Thinking and Writing 

1. The Thought Fox (poem)-Ted Hughes 

To read the text, please click here 

2. Poetry (poem)-Marianne Moore 

To read the text, please click here 

3. Excerpt from An Autobiography(Prose)-Agatha Christie 

4. Half a Day (Short story)-Naguib Mahfouz 

To read the text, please click here


MODULE 3: Critical Thinking 

1. To a Reason (Poem)- Arthur Rimbaud 

To read the text, please click here

2. The Adventures of the Retired Colourman-Short Story-Conan Doyle

To read the text, please click here

3. Trifles (One-Act Play)-Susan Glaspe

To read the text, please click here


MODULE 4: Perspectives 

1.Body Without the “d” (Poem)-Justice Ameer 

To read the text, please click here

2. Sleeping Fool (Poem)-Suniti Namjoshi 

To read the text, please click here

3.The Cockroach (Short Story)-Luis Fernando Verissimo; translated by Anna Vilner

To read the text, please click here

4.About Dalit Literature” (Prose)-Sharankumar Limbale 

5. Purl (Short Film)-Kristen Lester

Sunday, 29 August 2021

‘Laburnum For My Head’ as a Feminist Short Story


Temsula Ao has presented striking women characters in her works. Her female characters hail from the North-East region of India and they play a crucial role in anchoring the lives of their men amidst the violence looming large around them. These women challenge the injustice practiced by the patriarchal system and also question the cruelties perpetrated by the rebel forces and the government forces alike. They save men’s lives, pacify their fears and act as the moving force in their struggle to survive.


Lentina, the central character of the story, is a woman of her own choices and the story is a record of her struggles to fulfill her desire to have some Laburnum bushes in her garden. It is interesting to note that she loves laburnum flowers because of their femininity and contrasts them with the brazen orange and dark pink blossoms of gulmohars. In the context of the troubled politics of the North-East, her preference for the yellow mellow beauty of laburnum over the dark pink blossoms of gulmohar is very significant. Traditionally, the colour yellow refers to happiness, optimism, enlightenment and creativity whereas the dark pink is associated with energy, passion etc… This choice of colour itself informs her politics of identifying with the victims of political aggression in Nagaland and her desire for the golden shower definitely evokes a desire for easing down the tensions. She attributes humility to the way the laburnum flowers hung their heads earthward. In short, her love for the flowers spring out of their femininity and humility. 


In the beginning of the story, the writer offers a stunning impression of a laburnum in blossom and describes how the flowers conceal the monuments erected by men of prominence on their graves. It is customary among the wealthy to erect marble/granite or concrete structures on their graves to keep their memories alive and to defy the forgetfulness imposed by death. The feminine flowers of the laburnum help to erase the marks of prominent members of the society and bring out a sense of equality among all humans and declare the victory of nature over everything the patriarchs have created. In another instance, Lentina’s love for the flowers is taken as a fetish and is openly spoken about in close family gatherings. This shows the intolerance practiced by the society on women’s choices and how it forces her to stop planting saplings in her gardens. Though this stops her from talking about the tree in public and planting them in her garden, her love for the golden shower does not cease.


Lentina’s decision to join the funeral party of her husband to takepart in the last rites at the gravesite is a challenging act to the patriarchal tradition which reserves this to man. Though she is not warmly welcomed, no one stops her from carrying out her plan as the gravity of the situation requires them to keep calm. Her strength lies in her sensitivity to the cultural codes of the society. Her struggles to buy a piece of land of her own choice brings out her extraordinary powers of perseverance and make members of her family to acknowledge her strengths and seek her advice on matters running business and family.


In her search for fulfilment, she breaks free of human relationships established by the patriarchal system and redefines them. For example, the nature of her relationship with Babu, the driver, was that of a master-slave and now she considers him as an ‘ever faithful friend’ and a confidant. Her determination to select a plot for herself and negotiations with the Town Committee show her strength as a woman and she erases marks of patriarchy in the process.


Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Summary and Analysis of Laburnum for My Head by Temsula Ao

 

About the Author

Temsula Ao was born in Assam in 1945 and was educated in Nagaland. She is a poet and short story writer. She has nine books to her credit out of which five are collections of poetry and two collections of short stories. She retired as a professor of English from North-Eastern Hill University. In 2013, she received Sahitya Akademi Award for her short story collection. 


Summary of the Text

This is the title story of the collection Laburnum For My Head (2009) which won Sahitya Akademi Award for the best literary work in English in 2013. The story begins with a magnificent description of the laburnum trees in blossom in the cemetery of a sleepy little town. The author captures the stunning beauty of the yellow flowers and narrates how they outshine the tombstones erected by the humans to keep their memories alive. Blessed by nature, the yellow blossoms of the trees conceal the concrete structures, marble and granite headstones erected in the graveyard and declare the permanency of the ever unchanging nature and the futility of human claims to immortality. After offering an impressionistic picture of the laburnum in may, the author presents the central character of the story.

A woman named Lentina  desires to have some laburnum bushes in her garden. She loves laburnum flowers because of their femininity and humility. The yellow splendour of laburnum is associated with femininity and their earthward bending is taken as a gesture of humility. She purchases a few saplings from the nursery and plants them in the corners of her garden. In the first year, the gardener pulls out the small saplings along with the weeds around them. She plants again and this time stray cows enter her garden and eat up plants they find including the laburnum. Undaunted, she plants a few more saplings and takes good care of them. As fate has it, a worker from the health department sprays a deadly DDT concoction on the edges of the garden while she is visiting a friend. Heavy rain makes a flood in the garden and all her flowers except full grown trees wither and die including the laburnum. Devastated, she thinks that her efforts to grow the plant will not be successful yet she yearns more! 

Her husband and children believe that she is developing an unhealthy fetish for laburnum and talk about it openly in close family gatherings. She fails to understand their concern and feels inwardly hurt by their insensitivity to beauty around them. This forces her to keep her desire within herself and she refuses to talk or plant any more laburnum plants.


 In the meanwhile, her husband shows signs of a strange disease and passess away quitely one night in his sleep. As her husband is a prominent member of the society, elaborate funeral services are arranged. When the hearse is about to leave for the cemetery, she surprises everyone by announcing her plan to accompany her husband on his last journey. Usually, it is men who take part in the last rites at the gravesite and her decision is not challenged because of the somber atmosphere. At the graveyard, she ruminates on the human futility of erecting headstones on the graves to defy death and suddenly she gets an epiphanic sensation. She is delighted with the idea of planting a laburnum tree on her grave instead of a silly headstone and this way her desire to have a laburnum tree close to her would be fulfilled. In spite of the somber occasion, she smiles to herself, a relative notices and she leaves for home.


Back at home, she searches for someone who would understand her deep seated longing for the laburnum to plant a tree on her grave. She considers her sons and daughters and feels that they would not carry out designs. Even servants, cooks or the gardener can not be entrusted with the task. Finally, she settles on the driver who has been serving the family for somany years and is a widower. The next day, she asks the driver to take her to the cemetery and she searches for a spot where she can be buried. She informs Babu, the driver, of her plan of reserving a spot in the graveyard for herself. She entrusts the hesitant Babu to arrange a document from the Town Committee to ensure her grave on the spot she prefers and makes him vow to keep the issue confidential. Babu discusses the issue with his son-in-law and the latter informs him of the need to submit a request to the Town Committee. Babu informs Lentina of the requirement which she dismisses as it reveals her identity to the public. She is forced to devise another strategy to fulfill her desire and this time she plans to buy the land adjacent to the cemetery which she hopes would eventually become a part of the graveyard. 

The arrival of Khalong, son of her late husband's friend, in her household to pay his condolences turns out to be a golden chance for Lentina to buy the land adjacent to the cemetery as it belongs to Khalong’s property. He is in financial constraints and is willing to sell the land but there are no takers as it is close to the graveyard. Lentina is excited to hear the news and expresses her willingness to buy the land at the price fixed by him. Her sons come to know of the deal only after she owns it and she pacifies their disapproval. She is tactful to subdue her daughters-in-law.  The Town Committee visits Lentina as the ground near to the cemetery is to be only in the custody of either the church or other religious organizations with due permission from the committee. She acknowledges their concerns and puts forward her demands to hand over the land to the Town Committee. The Committee agrees with her demand not to erect any marble or granite headstones to people who get buried in the land and permits her to choose a gravesite for herself.

Lentina and Babu, the driver, make frequent visits to the gravesite and plant laburnum saplings. He cares for the plant and gradually becomes an ever faithful friend to her. Meanwhile, Lentina grows tired and sick and Babu comes to her aid. He visits the gravesite and informs her of the growth of the laburnum plants. Gradually Lentina recovers from the illness and resumes her role in the family. She befriends daughters-in-laws, gifts them and offers advice to her sons on business and family matters.

Among the two laburnum saplings planted at the gravesite, one has dried up and the other has sprouted tiny flowers. Next year, the tree has blossomed so much that anyone passing by may notice the growth. Lentina requests Babu to take her to the gravesite and they watch the laburnum in blossom. As Babu expected, she considers the blossom as a sign for her to leave earthly life and prepares for the final journey. She confines herself in her room for five days and on the fifth day, asks her maid to help her bathe and to dress in her favourite dress. She orders to bring her dinner early. Her servant enters her room the next day to know that she has passed away in her sleep.

Every May, the laburnum trees blossom and one can not see a single stone monument. So every may, something extraordinary!


Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Calicut University New Common Courses in English (BA/B.Sc/ B.Com) Syllabus 2021 Admission


Dear readers,


Calicut university has yet again revised the syllabus of Common Courses in English for 2021 admission UG programmes! (for BA/B.Sc/ B.Com). I seriously doubt whether these frequent rivisions bring any positive changes to the programmes. Details of the new syllabus is given below. I hope our teachers and students will study and discuss this in detail.


First Semester


Course Code

Title of the Course

No. of hours/

Week

No. of Credit

ENG1A01 


Litmosphere:

The World of Literature

3

ENG1A02

Functional Grammar and

Communication in English

5

3


Second Semester


Course Code

Title of the Course

No. of hours/Week

No. of Credit

ENG2A03

Readings from the Fringes

4

4

ENG2A04

Readings on Kerala

5

4


Third Semester


Course Code

Title of the Course

No. of hours/

Week

No. of Credit

ENG3A05

Readings on Indian Literatures

5

4


Fourth Semester


Course Code

Title of the Course

No. of hours/

Week

No. of Credit

ENG4A06

Songs and Stories of Our World

5

4


Sunday, 4 July 2021

Summary of The Dalit Presence in Malayalam Literature by Sunny M Kapikkad - Part II

This is the second part of the essay. Click here to read Part-I

    Drawing parallels between these two canonical works - Appunni’s desire to restore the power and glory of the tharavadu in modern guise, Paramu Pillai escape from debt-ridden tharavadu to Communist party without any internal change and the binaries of Amminiyedathi-Malu/Sumam-Mala- the writer digs deeper into the psyche of Malayalees and lays bare the deep rooted casteism that prevail in the collective unconscious while they lip serve the cause of revolution and progress. His critical eye catches hold of the subtle forms of casteism in the  literary works of the 1960s which narrated the existential pangs of the modern man. Reviewing the politics of Khasakkinte Itihasam, an epitome of modernist fiction in Malayalam, the author establishes that beyond the enchanting layer of language and landscape, the protagonist Ravi’s musings on upanishad and astrology endorses the Brahminic value system. Ravi’s disengagement with the outside world, extremely passive social mind and pseudo spiritualism spring up from deep rooted caste consciousness.


    The author views that the works of Anand  and Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer bring a blessed break into Malayalam literary tradition. Basheer captures the everyday struggles, agonies and ecstasies  of his characters from the vantage point of a Sufi whose view of the world is not fettered by any systems of discrimination. On a similar line, Anand depicts the dilemmas of human freedom and a deep sense of history informs his works. In Nishadapurana, he portrays the conflicts faced by Ekalavya, an outcast whose mastery in archey is disabled when he gifts his guru with his thumb. Anand breaks free of the inertia modernists delved in with his philosophical vigour.


    In this section of the essay, the author traces the emergence of Dalit literature in Malayalam. Dalit writers like T K C Vaduthala and Paul Chirakkilodu voice the angst of their characters. In his collections of short stories, C Ayyappan has formed an alternative aesthetic with which he interrogates the prevailing socio, religious and ethical values. In ‘Pretabhashanan’, for example, a Pulaya woman questions God on matters of caste and religion and also brings out the pseudo moral standards of the upper castes. His metaphors triples down upper caste constructions of superiority and present them in the social context to which they belong. His stories voice the conflicts inflicted by modernity on the dalit community. Though readers in Malayalam did not acknowledge the mastery of his narrative, novelty of his imagery and the grave social issues they present, they form a significant part of Malayalam Dalit writing.

    An array of Dalit writers have entered the scene of Malayalam poetry in the 1980s. Notable poets like KKS Das, G Sasi Madhuravalli have created  distinct styles of writing. KKS Das’ poetry is remarkable for its aesthetic expression of angst, tribal memory and the negation of upper caste values. He draws metaphors from the collective memory of the oppressed people to create songs of revenge and retaliation. G Madhuravalli rereads the story of Sambuka from the epic Ramayana and contextualise it within the politics of dalit aesthetics. Addressing Shambuka, the poet speaks of the futility of imitating the Brahmins and requests him to revert to kattala as Brahminism refuses salvation to all. He underscores the need of offering salvation to all.


(This is the second part of the essay The Dalit Presnce in Malayalam Literature by Sunny M kapikkad. Click on the link to read Part I of the summary)


 

Summary of The Dalit Presence in Malayalam Literature by Sunny M Kapikkad - Part I


 

Kapikkad starts the essay rising the issue of categorisation in Dalit literature. He identifies two types of approaches to Dalit literature in which the first one is labelling everything written about dalits as Dalit literature and the second is denying the rightful attention due to Dalit literature as a category. Both this approaches are problematic as the first one- anything written about dalits as dalit literature- reproduces the steriotypical representations of dalits in mainstream literature as dalit literature. In the second case, critics assume that the term dalit is a common term for designating the untouchables and refuse to acknowledge socio-political implications of the term especially its transformation to an epitome of India’s dreams of liberation. 


    Quoting Mahatma Phule, the writer hints at the deep rooted casteism of Indian psyche and its inability to appreciate dalit aesthetic experience. He, then, points at the role of social reformers such as E V Ramaswamy Naicker, Ambedkar, Sreenarayana Guru, Ayyankali, and Sahodaran Ayyappan in creating a new understanding and rebuilding the Indian psyche. The author states that Dalit literature is born out of the creative engagement of indian psyche with this historical formation.


    The possibility to form and transform oneself is the backbone of human freedom and the caste system in India limits this to caste norms one is born into; which denies the human potential to be free. We have to understand the organic relationship between anti-caste traditions with human freedom to fully realise the implications of dalit assertions. In India, caste values have been normalised and dalit literature has to contest with existing aesthetic traditions to develop an aesthetics of its own. 


    Dalit literature is a mode of self expression which challenges the class and caste values and aesthetics we have internalised. The anxiety about human liberation is the central concern of Dalit literature and it recurrently enters into the domain of language and value system to open up new vistas of understanding. He proceeds to reread certain canonical works in Malayalam literature which are instrumental in forming the aesthetic sensibility of Malayalees.


    The writer closely analyses the fictional world of NaluKettu, a novel on the disintegration of the matrilineal Nair tharavadu aristocracy in Kerala, and brings out the power politics implied in the text. Appunni, the protagonist, is forced to live away from the privilege and protection of the nalukettu as his mother is expelled from it for choosing a man of her choice as husband. The author notes that his anger and revenge for the house come not out of any concern for people who suffered under the feudal tharavadu but his expulsion from the resources and power of the house. He looks at Appunni’s lust for the fair, slender and physically attractive Amminiyedathi and neglect for the dark skinned Malu and observes that the novel operates on binary oppositions of fair/dark and Appunni’s lust for power and women forms the core of the novel. He is also critical of the wide reception of the novel and inquires into the role of the novel in forming the aesthetics of Malayalee readers. He concludes by commenting on the caste imprints of the rustic language used in the novel and stating how the aesthetics of the novel becomes a liability within the context of Hindu revivalism.


    Ningalenne Cammunistakki is a play by Thoppil Bhasi which dramatises the conflict between a crumbling Nair aristocracy and Communist Party. The author looks through the revolutionary sentiments of the text and drags out the orthodoxic caste consciousness that is at work in the text. He cites the cases of Chathan and Mala and their lack of social agency in the text. Mala’s love for Gopalan is turned down whereas his relation with Sumam is naturalised and Thomas, the party leader, admonishes Mala for crying over lost love when she has to lead the class struggle. The excitement shown by untouchable Chathan when touches Paramu Pillai is exaggerated in the play.


(This is not complete. Second session will be posted after this. Please click on the link to read Part II of the essay)