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Friday, January 28, 2011


You see Watson, You do not Observe.


Have you noticed the conductor collecting fares from passengers in a local bus, where some get off and others get in at every stop. No ticket is ever issued. The conductor goes around asking everyone 'where to' and collecting the fare to that stop. As he collects the fare he glances at your face and moves on. He would not ask you for fare the next time he comes around because your face has been 'seized, caught and registered' in his brain as an already paid passenger. The size of the  crowd in the bus is immaterial. It is practically impossible for anyone to steal a free ride. In 99% of cases, the conductor could recognise an unpaid passenger and also recall the 'stop' from which he boarded. I can't visualise such crowded buses in any of the developed countries nor the 'efficient' white or black guys matching the feat.


".....for Holmlock Shears took a view of him head to foot with an eye at once so all embracing and so piercing that Arsene Lupin felt himself seized, caught, and registered by that glance more exactly and more essentially than he had ever been by any photographic apparatus."  


The above quote is from ‘Exploits of Arsene Lupin’ by the French author Maurice Leblanc who was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The French Man's creation, Arsene Lupin, the Gentleman Thief, enjoyed as much popularity in French speaking territories as Sherlock Holmes, the Consulting Detective, did in English speaking regions.

I had read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels(and some others like Count of Montecristo, Three Musketeers etc) by the time I had finished III Form (8th.Std now). These were available in the Local library at Ottapalam, where the librarian was one Venu. My mother had a membership no.002. (I have to check up whether it still exists, next time I am in Ottapalam). I had already read several Malayalam books based on the works like"കനകാലയത്തിലെ വേട്ട നായ്ക്കള്‍, (Hound of the Baskervilles), രക്തം കുടിച്ചമോതിരം (A study in Scarlet) and several stories where Kumara Menon substitutes for Holmes.

That was when I was told for the first time about the legendary encounters of the fictional detective and the thief. I was told that the first encounter between the two took place near a railway siding when Aresene Lupin felt himself ‘analyzed, classified, docketed and filed’ in one piercing glance of the detective. But the books were not available. During my inspection days I could visit several libraries like Connemara, Asiatic Society etc but the books were not available with any of them, including the National library at Alipore, Kolkatta. 

Deep inside me, I knew that it will be a big letdown if I ever came across the books and were able to read them. For one thing I had lost the child’s wonder and imagination in the almost four decades that had gone past. The job I was in was also not that conducive to any further development of imagination except perhaps utter cynicism and stoic acceptance. A ‘cunning mixture of phosphorous’ used to give a macabre appearance to a hound could at best evoke a mild ‘query’ in my mind about the feasibility and cost. ‘The dog that did not bark’ may have sounded strange among so many of the official dogs surrounding me in my work place that  barked all the time. Still I could not stop searching for the books. One other book which was in my long time search list for my mother was ‘East Lynne’ by Mrs. Henry Wood.

I did finally succeed in getting the books while I was in Chicago. It was not there in Harold Washington Library, Chicago, either but I could get them through ‘halfprice.com’. Alipore library had a copy of East Lynne but that was in their non-issuable section and even photocopying was not permitted. A very knowledgeable old librarian solicitously enquired why anyone wanted to read such a sentimental, mediocre book. I explained to him that my mother read the novel when she was sixteen years old and desired to read it again. He mentioned some saying in Bengali about spoiling someone’s memories.

I realized the full import when I presented the book to my mother. There was a quick sparkle in the eyes followed by some rapid thumping of the leaves and a pious resolution that she would read it again the same day. My next visit to her was a week after. I could see the book lying casually in one of the tables. My mother did not speak a word about the book although earlier she was practically begging everyone to get her the book. I remembered the Bengali librarian and wished that I had not succeeded in getting the book. It must have been the end of a dream and souring of once sweet memories. I never heard my mother mentioning the book again nor recommending it to anyone till her death. The book is still with me and I have not been able to read it so far.

I soon found out that Arsene Lupin could not excite me either. There were two stories where the thief matches his wits with the detective Homlock Shears in one and Herlock Sholmes in the other. I think Maurice Leblanc was in awe of Sherlock Holmes who even today remains readable and saleable. Perhaps, Arsene Lupin still prowls the cities and countryside of France. But to me he has plunged into the Reichenbach falls along with Holmes and Professor Moriarty and only Holmes has come out alive because he was never in it in the first place. Also, Lupin was “seized, caught and registered” and not “analyzed, classified, docketed and filed” in the pigeon hole cupboard of Sherlock Holmes.


P.S.  One other book of my childhood days was 'Shakuntala Devi' in two volumes by Tharavanat or Tharavath  Devaki or Ammalu amma. Both the volumes were huge. I think the author was a relative of K.G.Mukundan. I also remember that the name of the protagonist was Kumardas and another leading character was Mohanan. The novel is interspersed with shlokas from various Sanskrit sources and one shloka quoted in the book which I remember is:


ഉടുരാജ മുഖീ, മൃഗ രാജ കടീ
ഗജരാജ വിരാജിത മന്ദഗതി
യതിസാ യുവതി ഹൃദയേ വസതി
കോ തപ, കോ ജപ, കോ സമാധി വിധി 

Kumardas recites this under his breath which is however overheard by his mother who asks; '

ഉണ്ണി, ഈ ഭര്‍ത്രുഹരിയുടെ ശ്രിന്ഗാര ശ്ലോകങ്ങള്‍ എവിടെ നിന്നാണ് പഠിച്ചത്..

Finding out the source of such mildly erotic shlokas seemed to be a worthwhile pursuit to me later when I was in college.. But there were difficulties. The shops which used to sell Bhartruhari's books were all  religious book stalls. They sold only the 'Neethi shathakas' and ' Vairagya Shathakas". Much, much later I managed to get a book containing the Shringaara shathakas too. But I could not find my 'Uduraaja muki' anywhere there. While writing this post, I made an Internet search. I am informed that it is a song sung by Madhu Balakrishnan with music by Ouseppachan and lyrics by Balachandran Chullikkad. It almost looked like there has been a concerted conspiracy to abduct my 'Chandramukhi'.! An obscure site gave me the information that it was penned by Unnayi variar in Nalacharitham to describe Damayanti.I have not read Nalacharitham. I must check this. If it were not for the fact that Mukundan might not have been born or was very small when the book was written, I would have concluded that the 'chinna payyan' deliberately tampered with the manuscript before it went to the press! More likely, my memory must be playing tricks or the author herself might have erred.

4 comments:

  1. You would be in for a great disappointment if you dropped in at the local library now. Prodded by the quote from Dickens, in your earlier post, I wanted somehow to lay my hands on The Great Expectations and scampered to the local library. Things were in disarray... my old records could not be retrieved and so I took a new membership . But further disappointments awaited me , none of the books I wanted could be located. I found a few books of Marie Corelli in a heap, gathering dust. No catalogue was available. It was then I remembered Venu and the good old days. How, with his stern looks he would discipline some unruly behaviour! Sad state of affairs...but i had already parted with Rs 1000/-

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  2. "The job I was in was also not that conducive to any further development of imagination except perhaps utter cynicism and stoic acceptance."

    Me thinks this is exactly the reason why you can write so effortlessly and imaginatively after all these years in the midst of numbers and reports. The pent up creative energy is finding its way out. No complaints.
    I know of a worthy who was very "creative" during his working(!) days, who found it difficult to 'Sir' his superiors, that he resigned his job. No qualms for him to 'Sir' his present semi literate bosses. Such are the times.

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  3. Kp Nirmalkumar http://raju-swapnalokam.blogspot.com/
    വി.കെ.ന്‍. ' മഞ്ചലില്‍ ' കിടന്നു ദര്‍ശിച്ച 'വാളെടുത്തവന്‍ വാളാലും അല്ലാത്തവന്‍ അല്ലാതെയും ചത്ത്‌ കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്ന ' ഒരു കാലഘട്ടം. രാഹു കാലത്തിന്നും ഗുളിക കാലത്തിന്നു മിടക്കുള്ള ഒരു യമ കണ്ടക കാലം..
    swapnalokam
    raju-swapnalokam.blogspot.com
    9 minutes ago ·LikeUnlike · · View Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2) · ShareKp Nirmalkumar likes this.
    Kp Nirmalkumar Recommended reading
    8 minutes ago · LikeUnlike ·

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  4. udurajamukhi ezhuthiyathu tholan enna peril ariyappedunna oru kavi annennu thonnunnu.

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