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Abitha – Lalgudi Saptarishi Ramamrutham

by Venky

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Visceral, like a river in full spate, Abitha is an ode to a craftsman who products come alive in his magically dexterous hands. The writings of Lalgudi Saptarishi Ramamrutham, simply known as ‘La Sa Ra’ were introduced to me by my uncle, who also happens to be a voracious reader. While recommending Abitha, he amply warned me about the stumbles in warming up to La Sa Ra as a writer. Boy wasn’t he right! The writings of La Sa Ra are definitely not for the faint hearted. Fierce yet flowing, pungent yet pious and raw in its riveting form, Abitha is a spontaneous exercise in rhapsody.

Ambi, is an inhabitant of Karadi Malai (“Bear Mountain”). The quaint and sparse village takes on its moniker on account of a hillock whose natural contours resemble that of a bear. Similar to the other occupants of the modest hamlet, Ambi can barely afford make ends meet. The one shining light in Ambi’s otherwise uneventful life is Shakuntala, a.k.a. Sakku, the daughter of a lame priest who despite his disability, makes an excruciating trek to discharge his duties to an isolated temple atop a hill. Lord Shiva, although inhabiting such rarified heights literally finds himself in sync with his devotees. Both the worshipper and the worshipped are not immune to the inclement nature of Karadi Malai’s weather. The Shiva Lingam if not cleansed by unannounced downpours, is forced to bear the brunt of the unrelenting radiance of an unforgiving Sun.

An unforeseen altercation with an irritable uncle forces Ambi to abandon his village, by clinging on to a train whose momentary pedestrian speed at a bend in the mountains, acts as a boon for ticketless travelers. Years of an embellished life, diametrically different from the one offered by Karadi Malai follow both time and tide until destiny takes Ambi one more time to the village of his birth.

What awaits Ambi on his return forms the bedrock of La Sa Ra’s blistering work. As an eager yet apprehensive Ambi tentatively makes his way to Karadi Malai, his thoughts are a roiling cauldron of contradictions, conflicts and conundrums. Will the effervescent Sakku be around to receive him even as he as abandoned her with wanton ruthlessness? Will Karadi Malai be a welcome sanctuary or a forbidding quicksand that sucks him into its unfathomable depths?

Ambi’s experiences are captured in a cascade of alliterations, analogies and adjectives. The outrageously bold style of writing juxtaposes the prosaic with the profound as phrases, passages and paragraphs duck, weave and dance leaving the reader gasping for breath. Talking of breath, in a moment of reflective soliloquy, Ambi poses an existential question to himself “if breath is identified as itself and the act of breathing is seen as a chore, wouldn’t the very process of breathing lead to breathlessness?” (Asking for the reader’s apology if the aforementioned attempt at translation truncates the philosophy and takes out the very essence. Lost, in translation, is indeed a pernicious syndrome.)

However, some of the writing is immensely and incredibly dense. So dense as to meet a fusillade of bullets head on! Even repeated references and readings do not allow the reader to pierce through the quagmire of doubt. But then again, what is a tale that does not confuse? What is a story that does not lend itself to alternate interpretations and parallel notions? La Sa Ra may as well be the Erwin Schrödinger of the vernacular!

T.V. Krishnan, a.k.a Chittappa, you were absolutely right in your forewarnings. But I am also indebted to you for introducing me to a gem whose iridescence attracts and repels in equal and extraordinary measures.

“Abitha” – Rapture, thy middle name!

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