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Ratheesh KrishnaVadhyar's Journal Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Ratheesh KrishnaVadhyar" journal:

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March 15th, 2024
03:54 pm

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Revolutionaries
When Indian history was taught in my schools, the story of India’s Independence movement was mostly all about Gandhi and Nehru. There were also brief references to Thilak, Gokhale, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh et al, but I learned more about freedom fighters from Amar Chitra Katha comic books than from school text books. Sanjeev Sanyal in his book Revolutionaries writes that the revolutionary freedom fighter Sachindra Nath Sanyal (who was Sanjeev’s grand uncle as well) wrote in his 1920 memoirs Bandi Jeevan about his premonition that the history of the revolutionary movement may be deliberately sidelined in the future.

Revolutionaries presents the story of various revolutionary movements, focusing on the period from early twentieth century. The author mentions that the book is written from the perspective of revolutionaries, but his aim is not to try to make the case that the non-violent stream of freedom struggle was irrelevant. His idea is to “balance the usual one-sided narrative”. Moreover, he wants to describe how the revolutionary movements were not “no more than random acts without coherent objectives” or “acts of individual heroism ... not part of wider movement" as they are often presented in the mainstream narrative, but were having well-built networks all over India. He also makes it a point to contrast between the way the revolutionary movements were ignored or erased from public memory and many of their leaders were forgotten, and the way in which many of the people who had remained loyal to the British and betrayed the revolutionary freedom fighters rose in the system post Independence.

Though the author writes that his intention is not to show the non-violent stream of Independence movement in low light, the book is written entirely written from the perspective of the revolutionaries so naturally there are numerous passages in the book which would obviously create a very poor impression in the reader’s mind about the Indian National Congress and its leaders - In fact, INC itself is described as a “Safety Valve created by the British” in the book, and the early moderate faction of leaders in INC are referred as “Loyalists”. In a few situations in the narrative, the most prominent leaders of INC would appear like petty politicians, who try to override democratic processes within the party and play groupism. The book also contains numerous tidbits of information which I was not aware of - like the way Colonel Dyer, who had ordered the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, was honored by the Akal Takth management shortly after the tragedy! There are also touching references to many of the tragic stories of freedom fighters - the love story of Ullaskar Dutta, for example. I felt that it would have been impactful to include more photographs of the various places and people referred in the book - especially since the author had travelled to many of these places as part of development of this book.

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March 4th, 2024
02:41 pm

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Breaking India
The book Breaking India - Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, co-written by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan, was first published more than a decade back, though I got a chance to read it only last month.

The book discusses about three “civilization powers” that are competing for global expansion and “nurturing the divisive forces of India” -
“Maoists/Marxists aligned with China, Christian evangelists aligned with the West, and Jihadis aligned with Islam”. Though the books touches upon all these three (and also the collaborations between these forces within the Indian context), the main focus in this book is on the second power mentioned above. At great length, the authors write about the various systematic ways in which Christian evangelists and NGOs, with support from Western academia, news media and Governments have been creating various narratives surrounding Hinduism, Indian history, culture and heritage over the years, with a primary motivation to destabilize the state. The end-notes section of the book, listing the references used for the book, runs to 75 pages!

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February 18th, 2024
08:37 pm

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Bramayugam
Bramayugam, Rahul Sadasivan’s brilliant atmospheric horror film, is set in and around an old mana of 15th century Kerala. The film captured my full attention within the first few minutes itself, which shows the protagonist Thevan along with his friend moving around through forests, rays of light trying to find their ways through tall trees, a brief encounter with a yakshi, and then a very exciting cut to the title scene. Shortly, Thevan reaches a dilapidated mana that looks abandoned, with overgrown grasses and shrubs all around it, and the rest of the film shows Thevan’s adventurous experiences over there.

The director creates the experience of horror via his unique narration style - greatly assisted by brilliant art direction, black and white photography (an excellent choice for the film) and haunting music, and of course - the performances. Mammootty delivers one of his career-best performances and I could hardly see any traces of the “star” in this film. Arjun Ashokan and Sidharth Bharathan too give very memorable performances. There are no "jump scare" scenes or frightening appearances in the film (even the "appearance" near the climax creates more of curiosity than fright). Despite this, Horror remains as an overarching tone for the entire length of the film, and we get a feeling of ourselves being in the surroundings of that old mana during the entire length of the film.

The basic story thread of Bramayugam is rather thin, and the way the cunning villain was overpowered looked a bit too quick and simple to me
though it was not a deterrent from enjoying the film. Through a few dialogues, the film also manages to underline an apparent underlying theme of Power and its impact on freedom of common people. The arrival of foreign invaders in the last sequence can perhaps be seen from this perspective too. I felt that Bramayugam had potentials to become an even greater film, with possibly additional layers of richer symbolism.

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February 12th, 2024
10:20 pm

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Anuvarthanam
Anuvarthanam is the Malayalam translation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Bengali novel, Anubartan. Set in pre-independence period, the novel tells the story of a few teachers working in a school in Kolkata.

A Britisher named Clarkwell, strict but straight-forward and kind from inside, is the headmaster of the school. The salary of teachers is meagre, and even that they are not being paid regularly; so their lives are miserable. While some of the teachers like Narayan Babu remain sincere despite this, others like Yadhu Babu have gradually lost interest in teaching, and are always on the lookout for pocketing a few paise from the school expenses, or even trying to manage a snack out of the students midday meal program. The novel takes us through their struggles, minor rebellions, ego-clashes, politics and gossips, and the camaraderie developing between them despite all these.

Like Bibhutibhushan’s other masterpieces, Anuvarthanam too has several poignant and touching passages involving nostalgic descriptions of the past, culminating in the last pages which create a deep sense of loss, both for the characters as well as for a reader like me.

Translation by Leela Sarkar is okay, though I found her choice of words are a bit odd and weird at many places.

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February 8th, 2024
05:43 pm

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Bramayugam Audio Jukebox
I liked the music of the upcoming Malayalam film Bramayugam composed by Christo Xavier. There is a very creative fusion of Kerala instrumental music, drums, and Western instruments. The pulluvan pattu style songs have a nice feel to them.

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February 3rd, 2024
07:52 pm

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IIT Madras
IIT Madras is a Malayalam novel written by KV Manikantan. The brief description of the book said that it is a detective novel set in the background of IIT Madras, which looked intriguing to me, so I read it over the weekend. In his introductory note, the author writes that he had to spend a few months in the IIT Madras campus as part of a professional assignment, and his admiration for the campus prompted him to develop a story set in those premises.

A girl dies in the IIT Madras campus, which is termed as an act of suicide but there appear to be various suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident, as noted by her roommate in the hostel. The novel tells the story of a private detective unraveling the mystery behind the girl's death.

It appeared that the only reason for attaching this story to the IIT Madras campus might have been its forest settings. Apart from that, nothing of the vibrant campus life of the IIT is captured in this novel (nor is it relevant to the story being told). On the contrary, readers may get various misperceptions about the IIT environments and campus life while reading this book. It was almost laughable to read about a mystery of such large proportions that is described in the book lying right in the middle of the campus without arousing the curiosity of the IITians for so many decades. And the “mystery” indeed was so far-fetched and fanciful. Despite all this, the novel has some basic quality of readability, so I could finish it quickly without getting bored.

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January 25th, 2024
07:37 pm

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Njanenna Bharatheeyan
Njanenna Bharatheeyan is the autobiography of archaeologist KK Muhammed, who had served in various positions in the Archaeological Survey of India, in different parts of the country, and had led the restoration works of several monuments during his long career. He was the only Muslim who had participated in the archaeological excavations in Ayodhya under Professor BB Lal in the late 1970s, and he had attested to the presence of an ancient temple below the mosque, as well as the usage of parts of the old temple for the construction of the mosque, and his statement regarding this was published in Indian Express in 1990.

Njanenna Bharatheeyan is not written as a complete personal autobiography; Most of it is related to the author’s career, so it can be called a career story, but even then it is not a chronological narrative, but rather a collection of multiple assorted articles written on various topics.

Muhammed writes about the role of Marxist-Hinduphobic historians and “intellectuals” in creating narratives based on their political agendas, injecting communal hatred among people, and converting the Ayodhya situation into a real mess. He also points to the other side of the story and narrates his clashes with BJP leaders who attempted to encroach into protected monuments and the mining mafia that continues to threaten the recently restored temples in Madhya Pradesh. He also records his disappointment regarding the level of support received from BJP Governments in the restoration works of our historic monuments (including ancient Hindu temples). Overall, the balanced viewpoints of Muhammed and his sincerity and earnestness in protecting India’s heritage (which is evident in his writings) make this book a good read, though I felt that as a work of literature, it should have gone through a bit more polishing and editing.

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January 18th, 2024
12:43 pm

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The Pig Flip
A few months back, I heard about Joshy Benedict’s Malayalam graphic novel Panni Malathu which had received a lot of praise in many reviews. I wanted to read it, but it didn't look like a print of this book was available in general circulation - it appeared like a print-on-demand book. Though I tried to contact the author, I did not get any response. Finally, I could read it this week (albeit a translated one) - the graphic novel is now translated to English as The Pig Flip and published by Harper Collins. KK Muralidharan has translated the script. Since I haven't read the Malayalam original, I can't say if anything has been lost in translation, but I did not feel anything wrong with it.

The Pig Flipis set in a Kerala village and tells the story of Babycha, who is addicted to the card game of “spot flip”. There is a tiny abandoned island covered with stunted coconut trees, cashews, lemongrass, and various shrubs which is the favorite place for the villagers to settle and engage in the game, which is played for money. Babycha mostly ends up losing the money. When he is not playing, he wastes his time idling at home, doing pretty much nothing in life. He meets Paulikutty at a church festival and manages to marry her despite some initial opposition from his parents. Whether Paulikutty will redeem Babycha’s life or not forms the main plot of the book.

Joshy Benedict’s illustrations are absolutely brilliant. The way he captures the Kerala village - especially the colors and patterns of lights was simply amazing, and I noticed that he takes special care to show us how the sunlight falls through the bamboo, coconut trees, and other cascading plantations in different hues and colors, forming so many different patterns on the landscapes. And he shows these images from different perspectives. Another thing I liked was how he depicted the sequence of movements and changes in facial expressions in many of the frames, which made them look so dynamic and throbbing with life.

The Pig Flip is not just all about stylish illustrations. The tale that is told is an engaging one as well, and I could empathize with the dilemmas of the game addict, as well as the plights of Paulikutty and Babycha's mother. I am looking forward to reading other works by Joshy Benedict.

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January 15th, 2024
07:45 pm

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Solo Stories

Since I had liked Venu's travelogue Nagnarum Narabhojikalum, I purchased another travelogue of a similar nature that he had written earlier, titled Solo Stories. This too is an interesting book, though it is a much shorter one. The author's travels in this book are to various places in Karnataka and Maharashtra. I could personally relate to these writeups since I have been to most of these places and there was some sense of familiarity while reading them. The print quality of photographs is much inferior compared to Nagnarum Narabhojikalum.

The creation of political narratives in subtle ways is something that can be seen in this book too.

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January 14th, 2024
11:17 am

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Makante Kurippukal

Makante Kurippukal is a collection of articles about his father by Ananthapadmanabhan, son of veteran writer-director Padmarajan. A mix of deeply personal memoirs, anecdotes told about Padmarajan by his colleagues in various fields and recollections by Padmarajan's close relatives and friends, this book gives a lot of insight about Padmarajan's ways of life and thinking. Many photographs accompany these writeups too.

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