Saturday, December 19, 2015

Poetry Reading – Dec 4, 2015

The last reading for the year 2015, a poetry session, was held on December 4.

Though there were only five members who made it to the reading, eight poets were read and discussed. Zakia said that the session was unexpectedly vibrant in spite of the curtailed attendance.

Sunil, Priya, Gopa, Zakia, Thommo

Priya read Afro-American poet Langston Hughes, who has been read before. She read his most famous poem  The Negro Speaks Of Rivers, written when he was just 17. The others poems she read were – You and Your Whole Race, feet O’jesus, The City and Park Bench.

An American poet, novelist, playwright and activist Hughes is credited for introducing the new literary art form  jazz poetry, as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes homosexuality remained an issue amongst the literati of his time.

Sunil, Priya, Gopa, Zakia, Thommo

Priya said she read Hughes after meeting a black artist , with the same name, working at a residence in Vagamon, a hill station located in Kottayam-Idukki border of Idukki district of Kerala. The artist told her that crimes against the Blacks continued in America as before and that there had been no respite as generally believed.

Sunil said that even in Bangalore the African community is treated with suspicion adding that there is some good reason behind that. They have often been found guilty of crimes such as drug peddling and related violence.  Gopa said that the AAP government in New Delhi too had unearthed a drug racket involving Africans.

Sunil said that an African from a small country in Africa who was training in Kochi rued the fact that nobody here spoke with him. He felt lonely and ostracised.

Thommo narrated about an African who he met during his Kolkata days and that the man was a helpful character. But after he returned to Nigeria, which saw violence later, nothing more was heard from him.

Gopa read four poets who have written about sisters. She said that she has two sisters and they are close, but lately she was having some differences with one of her sisters over issues of parenting their children. She felt it was a good time to select poems that deal with relationship between sisters. She read My Sister Laura by Spike Milligan, Brother and Sister By Lewis Caroll, The Sisters by Rainer Maria Rilke and One Sister I have in the House by Emily Dickinson.

The mix of poems and poets read by Gopa were widely discussed, especially Dickinson’s poem about her sister in law and confidante, Sue.

Sunil read G. K. Chesterton whose wit was once again enjoyed by the group. The poems were – The Englishman and A Ballad of Abbreviations. True to Chesterton's ethos, both poems were about true blue Britishness and about their competitors in the English language, the Americans.

St George, the patron saint of England was discussed and Sunil said that the St George Church in Edapally is associated with powerful graces; he has been saved many times by his faith in Saint George.

Zakia read the popular 13th Century Iranian Sufi poet Rumi. Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, Mawlānā/Mevlânâ, Mevlevî/Mawlawī, and more popularly simply as Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi's poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages . He  has been described as the 'most popular poet' in the United States, in fact as a 'best selling poet.'  Rumi's works were written mostly in Persian.

Thommo read D.H. Lawrence’s  A Bad Beginning. The suggestive circumstances in the poem were discussed animatedly. While Sunil wondered if there was a reference to a third person in the poem, Gopa and Priya felt that a husband was giving an ultimatum to his wife who perhaps had a roving eye? Priya felt that the poem was written on the morning of what is referred to as the Morning After. Thommo said that Austria was a landlocked country and hence the sound of the steamer horn in the poem must be a reference to Europe, or else to a boat on one of the many lakes in Austria.

As there were few readers the group felt that there was time for discussing the poem and poet but as all discussions go astray the group digressed into other subjects.

Everyone wished each other Merry Christmas and Happy New Year at the close of the session.

Sunil, Gopa, Zakia, Thommo

Sunil and Zakia have selected The Long Road to the Deep North By Richard Flaganan as their novel for 2016. Thommo and Priya have selected The Gropes by Tom Sharpe, Joe and Kum Kum have selected Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The other groups have to send in their selections.

Edgar Allan Poe — Short Stories, Nov 27, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe -- Master of the Macabre

Five stories by Poe were assigned for reading –
1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue
2. The Mystery of Marie Roget
3. The Balloon Hoax
4. The Oval Portrait
5. MS. Found in a bottle



Poe wrote poetry from the age of thirteen and is famous for his poem The Raven published late in life, but many readers love his poem Annabel Lee even more. He was known for the genre of detective stories he published under the title Murders in the Rue Morgue. He published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a spine-tingling collection including The Fall of the House of Usher. He battled depression and alcoholism, and suffered when his young wife (for whom Annabel Lee was written) died at the age of twenty, after he married her at age thirteen. He was never well off. He died in mysterious circumstances at the early age of forty, after stumbling into a tavern in a delirium.


His murder mystery language is a bit archaic, when you compare it to the straightforward narratives of Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories. Poe had a large vocabulary and used uncommon words and elaborate sentence constructions.


You can read more about Poe at


Here are the readers at the end of the session:

Sunil, Priya, Preeti, Thommo, Pamela, Saras, Talitha

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Poetry Session – Oct 1, 2015

Talitha, Shoba, Pamela

It is rare that two readers select the same poet, and another reader repeats the same poet and same poem, unknowingly. Both unusual events took place as seven readers met to perform their chosen poems.

KumKum, Zakia, Sunil

Two anniversaries were marked by the selection of poets. Dante Alighieri, born 1265, had his 750th birth anniversary celebrated this year in June. In a New Yorker article John Kleiner attempts to explain why he occupies so high a place in Italy, and in world literature:

Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

The other anniversary was the 150th year after publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

You can see the obvious enjoyment on our faces at the end of the session which a few could not attend who had confirmed:

Sunil, Zakia, Pamela, KumKum, Talitha, Shoba, Joe

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Ántonia by Willa Cather – Sep 18, 2015

My Ántonia  First Edition 1918

Six of us met to read from this classic novel of American Literature. H.L. Mencken, the acerbic critic from Baltimore, said: “I know of no novel that makes the remote folk of the western prairies more real . . . and I know of none that makes them seem better worth knowing.” He added, “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.”
Priya, Shoba, Talitha

Nevertheless two of the readers struggled to find a coherent plot until one realised there was not meant to be a plot at all, just a series of sketches by Jim, the adult city-living lawyer, of his early childhood on the prairie in Nebraska. It is a novel of nostalgic remembrance into which enters the enigmatic Ántonia, a girl a few years older, in whom Jim invests all his romantic longing.


KumKum who chose the novel for reading was loyal in defence of its merits, and could answer all the objections others raised. She had studied this novel in one of her lit courses in West Virginia University. A matter unnoticed by other readers was the pervasive class distinctions that separated the children, and was imposed by their parents, or in Jim's case, by his grandparents. There goes egalitarian America!

KumKum listens to Zakia reading

There are astonishing descriptions of the prairie in this novel and many of its best passages are about nature. Of sex there is nothing, zilch (Ántonia has no Oomph! was Priya's verdict). But there is plenty of nostalgia to justify the epigraph of the poem taken from Virgil's Georgics, Book III: Optima dies … prima fugit (the best days are the first to flee).

KumKum, Joe, Priya

Here we are, with the new grandmother, seated in the centre:

back: Joe, Zakia, Priya sitting: KumKum, Talitha, Shoba

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Poetry Session – August 13, 2015

Our second monsoon session of poetry featured no poems about rain, but we welcomed a young visitor in Nikita Cherian, the niece of Talitha, and a new member, Saraswathy Rajendran.

KumKum, Shoba, Priya, Sunil, Kavita, Nikita, Talitha, Pamela, Saraswathy

 We also created a record of sorts for the hard copy size of a handout (10cm x 10 cm) and font size (9pt) so that an A4 page could be arranged to produce 6 copies! This was Priya's feat. She also displayed a degree of loyalty to our reading group worthy of emulation.


A poet whose name rhymes with love came to the rescue of Sunil (see and we have a video of her performing the poem Sunil chose at the White House, introduced by the President of America.

Nikita, Talitha, Pamela, Saraswathy

Since August is the month when we recall the horror of the atom bomb, on this 70th anniversary of Hiroshima we got to hear the poetic voice of a hibakusha (atom bomb survivor).

Cakes for KumKum's Birthday: Gopa, Kavita, Nikita, Talitha, Pamela, KumKum

We also had poems by a major poet in Indian English in the twentieth century, Nissim Ezekiel. The session wound up with a poet of Bengal dear to people on both sides of the border, in a fine translation of two short poems.

Cakes for KumKum's Birthday: Saraswathy & Shoba

Here we stand at the end of the session, which included a brief cake distribution and singing for KumKum on her birthday, two days prior to the meeting.

Joe, Sunil, KumKum, Gopa, Talitha, Pamela, Kavita, Saraswathy, Shoba, Nikita (Priya had to leave early)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tribute to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam – July 27, 2015

Bharat Ratna Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam

The whole of India feels sad learning of the death of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India.

Everyone acknowledges that he was not only a distinguished scientist, but a President who changed the protocol of being President and made ease of access and doffing the vice-regal pomp of the office an essential feature of his tenure. He spent his life with the same frugality into which he was born in Rameswaram in a fishing village. He was the complete Indian who lived and breathed and understood and studied all the streams of life in India. 

If there is a small homage we desire to pay we can read some of the speeches he gave on a variety of occasions. You can see them all at

I choose these four below as representative. I was first led to admire him by reading this talk many years ago in 2007:
Dr Kalam Interacting with the Students of Sree Guru Sarvabhouma Sanskrit Vidyapeetam, Mantralayam

He is addressing students of a Sanskrit school and starts off by reciting a mantra, which he translates into English in the next few lines for the अनपढ (ignorant) like me. Then he remembers his Sanskrit teachers. And launches into something he has taken time to prepare and none could write but him. He shames Presidents who have to depend on what a speechwriter feeds them. In his case the wealth of personal experience and learning gave him unparalleled access to the knowledge out of which he could speak. 

He was ever a child, never grew out of the enthusiasms of a child, or the curiosity, or the energy of a child. Everyone spoke of his simplicity. He narrates an incident in the following address he gave to students of a school in Bhuj (Gujarat) about an occasion when his father thrashed him. It's quite instructive, as it certainly was for him:
Dr Kalam meets the School Children of Bhuj, Kutch District, Gujarat 

A young student from a School in Bhuj, Kutch District, Gujarat who attended

In the next event, a convocation Address he gave at the Women's Christian College, Chennai, Dr Kalam recalls the words of the Founder-Principal, Dr Miss Eleanor McDougall, who said, "We can do no better service to India, than to liberate the energies of wisdom and devotion which are latent in a woman." He goes on to tell the story of a conversation he had about the GDP index with John Nash, the Nobel-winning economist; and talks about his predecessors at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and how Dr Vikram Sarabhai met the Bishop of Trivandrum to get land for what is now called the Vikram Sarabhai Space Research Centre, which began life as the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in 1962:

Dr Kalam at the Annual Convocation of The Women's Christian College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Here is the last one I offer where Dr Kalam ponders on the advice of Lord Buddha to the Sangha and how it felt to be sitting under the same Bodhi tree 2,500 years later:

Dr Kalam at the 2550th Anniversary of Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha

Monks at the 2550th Anniversary of Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha, Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh

It is when you read these talks you come to an understanding of what it really means to live as an Indian. It is not tolerance of differences, it is love of the other. This man embodied it and he was not lazy to apply his mind to whatever came his way that required understanding. 

KumKum and I visited his house in Rameswaram, when we were on a temple tour of S India before going to the ex-IBMers gathering in Kodaikanal in Feb 2014. The house is a kind of museum, with a street-front only about 20 feet wide and you go up a narrow staircase to the first floor and see rooms set out with Dr Kalam's awards, books, plaques and honorary degrees. This house belonged to him and his elder brother and stands on a narrow street. The house is as unpretentious as the man himself was. Some of the garish borders are later add-ons; the original house was a light blue wash.

As it turns out the only occasion when KumKum and I met him was quite similar to the event where he took ill and died in Shillong addressing students at one of the newer Indian Institutes of Management. On Feb 4, 2008 KumKum wanted to hear Abdul Kalam, for he was listed in the Kochi newspaper as speaking at the School of Social Sciences at the 100-acre campus of the Rajagiri School of Management in Kakkanad:

Dr Kalam arriving at Rajagiri Institute of Management to deliver talk on 'Creative Leadership', Feb 4, 2008 

The former President was speaking on 'Creative Leadership.’ Obviously, he cared for his audience and prepared. On the same day he was speaking at three other places! Professionally, he was Mission Director for some of the early Indian satellite launches. He combined enthusiasms in several fields that made him lively and interesting. He was a devout Muslim, but was as familiar with the writings of the Hindu saints of S India as he was with the Koran. Indeed he quoted one of them, Saint Thiruvallavar in Tamil during his leadership talk on that day: “For those who do ill to you, the best punishment is to return good to them."  

So there he was, a vegetarian Muslim, quoting a Hindu saint in Tamil to students in a Catholic institution, with English as the necessary lingua franca to get his message across – although by upbringing he was a fluent speaker in at least three S Indian languages and could have got his message across in shudh Malayalam with the same ease, perhaps.  He emphasised the need for integrity everywhere he went, and sometimes, with graduating students, he would make them recite an oath after him to act with integrity, in whatever they did thereafter with their lives.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – July 22, 2015

First Edition, 1989

This reading had two occasions to celebrate, Eid al-Fitr, and Thommo's impending departure to Istanbul to begin a 40-country drive around the world in his Hyundai i20. We celebrated the breaking of the fast with semia payasam and shammi kabab brought by Zakia. And ordered up namkeen, tea and coffee from the CYC kitchen for Thommo's journey – he'll be leaving on Aug 2.

Zakia, Priya, Thommo

 The novel was all about buttling, and we were regaled with tales of butlers who had survived the most extreme of circumstances without losing their aplomb. Stevens in the present novel is a particularly anal variety of the tribe. When Joe used that word Thommo remarked there was a Bengali babu in his office in Calcutta named অনল, pronounced 'onol', who unfortunately spelled his name in English, Anal.

Preeti & Pamela

Philosophically this novel propounds the tale of one who habitually subordinates his life's ambitions and goals to those of his master. Call it servility in one sense, but it is the kind of supreme sacrifice of the ego through which saints reach their goal by denying the self on the altar of a higher good. The tragedy of Stevens the butler is that his master ultimately fails, but not on account of any lack of effort on Stevens' part.

Thommo, Preeti, Pamela, Joe

There's also an abortive romance that denies Stevens the one chance he had of rounding out the evening of his life, when nothing remains of the day. In the film version it is with Mrs Benn (Emma Thompson) that Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) silently sheds a tear in parting.

Panoramic view of the readers

Here we are enjoying our double feast:

Thommo is Rs 5L short of the Rs 15L funding & Hyundai hasn't chipped in yet ...

Celebrating Eid Al-Fitr with Zakia's Semia Payasam & Shammi Kabab

And here's the group photograph at the end of the reading:

Joe, Zakia, Priya, Thommo, KumKum, Talitha, Shoba, Pamela, Preeti

Monday, June 29, 2015

Poetry Reading – Jun 26, 2015

We had ten readers, including a new reader Shoba Cherian, for this monsoon session of poetry. Appropriately two readers chose to celebrate with rain poems.

Pamela, Kavita, Shoba, Talitha

We noted some landmarks. June was the 750th birth anniversary of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy and other works. Vikram Seth has come out with a collection, Summer Requiem, of poems he has been writing over the past couple of decades.
Joe, KumKum, Gopa, Ankush, Priya

We are now dues paying members at KRG (annual subscription of Rs 300) since the Cochin Yacht Club has decided to charge us for holding meetings in their Library.

Kavita, Shoba, Talitha

Thommo, our ever-adventurous evergreen member will be setting out in July for a six-month drive across 40 countries. Final arrangements with sponsors and obtaining customs documents (Carnet de Passages en Douane) are afoot.

Thommo, Pamela

Pamela brought a cake to celebrate her birthday on June 27. Along with birthday wishes sung for her, KumKum distributed chocolates as a token of her joyous visit to her children and grandchildren in USA.

KumKum, Gopa, Ankush, Priya

Here are we all at the end of the session:

Joe, Shoba, Kavita, Talitha, KumKum, Thommo, Priya, Gopa, Ankush, Pamela