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30 May 2008

What is Payyoli?

Payyoli, for the absolutely uninitiated is a small town in Kerala - a state in the southwestern edge of Indian subcontinent. Payyoli, according to Pax Brittanica, is located not far away from Kozhikode. Payyoli is near, it continues, the town where the great Dronacharya O.M.Nambiar was born. Now, who is Nambiar? He is the one who coached and brought glory to the woman Indians of the 80s and a great deal of Keralites even today admire as the Payyoli Express - P.T.Usha - arguably one of India's greatest athletes!

Having set the geographical, historical and social context in perspective, I elaborate. The Payyoli in question (pun intended) is also a part of a novel I am having the rare honour of reading at the draft stage, called The Payyoli Pendant - written by my revered friend Mohan Narayanan, whose most recent play - THE TRUTH according to Demas, Gestas & Others - I had the honour to premiere on March 27 - world theatre day - in Chennai this year. For more info on the play, one can also ping the websites of The Hindu and The New Indian Express and various other local dailies as well as weeklies for reviews or previews.

Mohan Narayanan is also the author of other plays such as Sons (premiered in 80s), The Birds Have Not Come To Vedanthangal (2001), Aswaha (2003). Back to the Pendant matter!

I came across this novel then as a sheaf of papers in its infancy, during the rehearsals of THE TRUTH. I have been reading the work as it grows and the news from Mohan is that he has found a publisher in the US to publish it. At this moment, I felt, a little insight and occasional perspectives into what the work is about would be helpful to future and prospective buyers as well as readers.

It is quite interesting to see how Mohan's mind works. I have known him for quite some time now. I am always surprised at his energy levels. Where do these ideas come from? How do they collide and create such polarised state of ideas that marry each other happily in the end to create a harmonious divide between the oriental and the occidental, the mystic and the mathematic, the tantric and the technologic! I am zapped!! I am distantly familiar with Sons as it is quite far in my knowledge compared to his other works. I worked in the team that produced ASWAHA, I saw and wrote a review of his BIRDS, I bore and delivered as well as mid-wived THE TRUTH as actor (protagonist by name Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi), director and producer and am now reading his work. All his works have this common line running through: the discordant note that is struck, when Indian sentiments and Western matter-of-factness collide, soon giving way to an interesting presentiment in the audience. The feeling lurks uneasily. The end leaves you dazed at the writer's ability to keep going back to the social rootedness of the work in its quintessential Indian psyche. You know it is the end of the play or work, but the story continues outside the pages of the book. Isn't that the hallmark of story-telling. For technical reasons, you reach the end of the tether, but not the end of the line. The characters would continue their lives as if in a karmic cycle, but unseen physically. The plod on with their existence inspite of the joys and sorrows, in the mindscape of the readers.

The characters - be it in BIRDS or ASHWAHA (TRUTH is an exception, I shall discuss it in another post elsewhere) - testify and vindicate the author's belief in this Indian psyche (which merits a separate post for those who wonder about what is so Indian about this psyche am talking about... soon, soon!) that is at once so mystifying, so confusing and yet is not a happenstance. The woman protagonist of BIRDS who satisfies her search for root through the begotten child and unable to compromise her UK materialism, the Oracle in ASHWAHA that knows the battle is lost though not the war, the unfinished game show of THE TRUTH... The little girl who is the protagonist of THE PAYYOLI PENDANT is another in that list.

Shall I stop here for the moment, having revealed the first straw in this assemblage? And there are several more in this one work that keeps moving across a span of centuries. But enough, enough. More later.