Honored Guests on the Dais, My dear Listeners,
I do not quite understand why I have been invited to inaugurate a lecture
on the postmodern body. Those who know me not, should know that though
my name is preceded by the word “doctor”, I am not a medical doctor. I am a
college lecturer who has a doctorate in literary research. Though I claim a little
knowledge in the contours of literary aesthetics I confess to total ignorance on
the subject of the contours of the body beautiful. I should not therefore presume
to speak to such an august gathering of doctors who are experts in this particular
field. You may trace the reason for my talk to the fact that some of the organizers
of this seminar are my close friends and that they are interested in literature.
Perforce I had to yield to their wishes. Often I have had occasion to hear that as
a poet and as a critic I have ruthlessly subjected the body of poetry to anatomy
that is so necessary to achieve the truth. Poetry too has a body and a structure
with necessary vital statistics. It is my duty as a teacher and as a critic to highlight
the inner conflicts and problems of poetry. Often this is possible only by a
ruthless anatomy of poetry. Yet it is impossible to equate the anatomy of the
body and the criticism of poetry. In his book Beyond Modernism, Kim Levin,
the art critic, has declared that post modernism is impure. We should not lose
sight of the fact that in the beliefs of postmodernism, the postmodern body is
very much present. First the body. The mind and the thoughts come only after
that. In the era of postmodernism, the concept of the whole and pure biological
body has no significance at all. Aren’t a lot of non- biological things sewn or
welded to the body to keep it alive? This persuades us to modify Kim Levin’s
statement to include the concept of the postmodern body, as something that is
impure. It would undoubtedly be more interesting to subject the postmodern
body rather than poetry to a close analysis in quest of the truth. I can only
imagine this, for I am not a surgeon well versed in the science of medicine. I hope
you will all have no objection if I chose, the field of medicine and become an
expert on the human body, in my next incarnation, if there is a rebirth. Well, let me
outline some of my funny experiences with postmodernism and conclude my
talk. Some of these experiences are my own and some are experiences that I have
either read or heard about. Let me first talk about the bitter experience of my
friend, Prof. Kesavankutty. His grandmother lived seventy-two years of her life
without the need to consult a doctor. Her routine, which remained unchanged in
winter, summer and even in the monsoons, was an early morning bath in cold
water. She was very healthy. When she was seventy-two, an accident occurred.
She slipped and fell into a fairly deep ditch. A number of her bones were fractured.
An orthopedic surgeon repaired all her fractured bones. But as her health had
deteriorated she survived only for a year and a half.
The cremation was over but the bones required for the sanjayanam had
turned into dust. Kesavankutty said that only some nuts, bolts and iron pieces
were discernable when they searched among the bones. It was only then that
Kesavankutty appreciated the magic that had been wrought by the deft fingers
of the orthopedic surgeon. Imagining the iron pieces as the mortal remains of
his grand mother, he placed them reverently in the urn, tied it up securely in
silk and together with his grand mother’s horoscope that was inscribed in a
palm leaf, inundated everything in Thirunavaya. When you hear this you all
laugh. This is our problem. Even a very serious fact is accepted only as a sort of
mimicry. This is symptomatic also of the postmodern age. Let me tell you the
truth. I’m not on this dais to joke. Last year I had occasion to meet a young man
who had to change his heart valve. (A minor chest pain made me consult a
doctor who found a little variation in the rhythm of my heartbeats. I was referred
to the Bharath- American Hospital and after a week I was discharged. My wife
says that I could not listen to the uneven rhythm of my heart because I was
listening exclusively to the heart-throb of poetry. She has reached the conclusion
that this happens to all critics). Let me come back to the young gentleman we
were discussing. He came from a poor family struggling to make both ends
meet. It was the people of the neighborhood who rushed him to the hospital. He
informed me pathetically that the doctor showed him a number of valves and
asked him to choose one from among them. There are valves made in India,
Taiwan, Singapore and Russia in the market. The doctors did not guarantee the
performance of the valve made in India. Though the quality of the valves made
in Taiwan was good, there were many duplicates in the market. Medical reports
state that since the fall of communism, the Russian valves had an obvious
weakness. The doctors said that the valves made in Singapore were the most
dependable. But they were more expensive. It was his neighbors who had to
decide which valve was to be bought. They had only begun to collect funds.
The inevitable wait until they had returned with the money was intolerable.
“I would like to buy the Singapore valve, sir, but as one who is too poor
to buy his own bread and who is totally dependent on my neighbors, can I lay
down the law? I’ll fit what they buy for me. I just want to escape from here”, he
said. As I left the hospital I gave him some money and told him to buy the
Singapore valve, if it was possible. What else could I do? What happened to my
neighbor Moidukka was even more heart-rending. Moidukka was an excellent
lumberjack. His body was as firm as the hard trunk of a palm. Quite out of the
blue, he collapsed with an unbearable stomach pain. He was at once admitted
to the hospital run by the Mithrananda Ashram. Moidukka had to undergo an
operation. All praised the hospital to the skies as Moidukka slowly recuperated.
Moidukka told me, “Son, that hospital looked after me well. It’s full of some
sophisticated machines, some like radios. Computers are the in thing there. The
doctors and swamis are great. They didn’t accept a single paisa for my operation.
The senior doctor told me that it was a lucky chance to treat a person like me.
Son, I felt like embracing the religion of the kafirs”. Yet this happiness was not
destined to last long. Moidukka was admitted in another hospital following
inflammation of the body due to kidney problem. The doctor in the hospital
subjected him to a specialized test following his diagnosis that Moidukka’s
complaint was due to kidney malfunction. It was then discovered that one of
Moidukka’s kidneys was stolen by the super speciality hospital run by the
Mithrananda Ashram. Instead of his kidney a rubber kidney had been appended.
This was not an artificial kidney. It was only a model of a kidney – a mere form.
I think that medical science has still a long way to go to invent an artificial
kidney. Now do you get the reason for the love shown by the authorities of the
Mithrananda hospital to Moidukka? How long can a man with damaged kidneys
survive? Moidukka’s last days were tragic. When some organs are replaced
man is in danger of retrogradation.
Look at the state of Isaac Thomas Kaatukaran, linguist and lecturer in
the university. Because of cancer of the sound box, he had to undergo an
operation in America where the sound box of a goat was transplanted in him.
This was a groundbreaking operation-an experiment that became a resounding
success. There was one hitch. The face and the sound soon began to cohere.
Nowadays he is interested in post modernism that spans epistemology and
ontology. He waxes eloquent on philosophy. You are laughing again. I reiterate
my earlier statement that it is not my intention to laugh at anyone. This is an age
that makes people laugh at the fall of others. You must know that philosophers
were able to counter ridicule calmly. It is no accident that sanyasins of ancient
India were philosophers. They foresaw that the postmodern philosophy was
quite in tune with the postmodern age. It seems that it is possible to reach sexual
satisfaction with bodies made of rubber. This practice is prevalent in many
countries. A friend in the Middle East told me that many unmarried people
depend on this method. They are a kind of balloon people. They can be inflated
when there is need for them. They would then attain the size of a human being.
Balloon men and women are available in the market. After inflating them, they
would be taken to bed and made love to. My friend said that in his experience
it was possible to attain the same kind of pleasure that could be derived from
sex with human beings. Very soon such balloon people will become popular in
our country too. It will become a great blessing in our bachelor quarters. There
need no longer be fear of AIDS. I can see your frowns. Do you know that in
India there are both cannibals and necrophiles? Having sex with balloon people
is definitely not as bad as that. I hear that virtual reality parlors are fast replacing
balloon people. This is the experiencing of the unreal as the real. In these parlors
it is possible to reach an orgasm with the three dimensional computer generated
figures. We live in an age in which one cannot decide if the truth lies in the
sense of touch or the ambience of feelings.
Let me conclude my talk by mentioning the Japanese man who lived
long with rubber organs. I happened to read the tale of a man called Fujiwara in
a science digest that was published in Tokyo. This man existed without blood.
Finally he committed Hara-kiri – the ceremonial suicide. Hara-kiri is a
particularly Japanese way of suicide in the presence of spectators and requires
the person who wants to die to rip his stomach open in the presence of people.
Fujwara became such a performer. When he ripped open his stomach, what
issued forth were rubber tubes instead of intestines. But it is very difficult to die
by slashing the rubber intestines. Hence he poured some liquid that was
inflammable and could thus burn up the intestines. It seemed that he laughed
while his entire body was slowly swamped by fire. You too may have a lot of
such experiences to recount. The august doctors in this gathering may be able
to explain all these things in the scientific parlance. If the papers presented in
this seminar are collected and published it will undoubtedly become the most
authoritative statement on the postmodern body. I therefore request the
organizers to bring out such a book. I thank the office bearers of the I.M.A who
gave me the opportunity to inaugurate this seminar. I thank every one of you
who gave me a patient hearing.
(This is the complete and unexpurgated version of the inaugural address
of Dr. Krishna Prasad in the seminar on The Post Modern Body organized by
the Trichur chapter of the I.M.A)
Translated from Malayalam by Hema Nair R.
Sri P. Surendran is a teacher, story teller and novelist, whose themes
are eclectic. He chooses to write on painting, sculpture, architecture, ecology
and ancient customs and cultures of South India. His stories have been translated
into English and published in The Sunday Herald, Indian Literature, N.B.T.
Anthology and The Malayalam Literary Survey. P.Surendran’s short story
collections include Piriyan Govani (The Spiral Staircase), Bhoomiyude
Nilavili( The Scream of the Earth) Haritha Vidhyalayam( The School of
Greenery) Karutha Prarthanakal (The Black Prayers) Bermuda, Aazhathinte
Niram( The Colour of the Deep) and Arupathinaalu Cheriya Kathakal( Sixty
Four Short Tales). P Surendran’s novels include Mahayanam, Samuhya Padom,
Mayapuranam and Kaveriyude Purushan. He has also translated the rasaleela
of Geetha Govindam. The colors that figure in the titles of his various works
bear testimony to the fact that Surendran is a painter with a passion for the right
In his collection entitled Arupathinaalu Cheria Kathakal, Surendran
perfects the lyrical dimension of the short story. The collection, which begins
with the difference of perception of dress of the Buddhist monk Ananda and
King Udhayanan in Buddha Vasthram (The Robes of Buddha) ends with
Pranaya Vasthram (The Raiment of Love) which describes the cloth woven by
the stream, the warp and woof of which was provided by the rays of the sun.
Between the beginning and the end, Surendran deals with inner and outer spaces.
Many tales are architecture based and like memory is rooted in convolutions of
space and are manifestations of the landscape of the mind. Apart from the
metaphors of raiment and architectural spaces, the metaphor of the journey, of
prayer, of borders and of crossing of borders, of the universe and of the process
of teaching and learning are explored in various tales.
Surendran’s Kaveriyude Purushan (Kaveri’s Man) is in the form of a
novelette or a long short story which centers around the experience(s) of the
male protagonist called Devan or Unni. Though written from the male
perspective, Surendran’s tales are sensitive explorations of the female mind.
The tale of Devan is also the tale of the rivers in their manifestations as the holy,
the profane, the destroyer of sins, the maternal, the spouse of the Sea God; the
female principle and the celestial beauties who had descended from the heavens
because of the curse of Brahma. But their bounty and their glory are fast running
out as they are dying slowly and surely. The fate of the rivers is shared by the
women in Devan’s life – his mother, his childhood friends, Kunji and Chirutha;
his woman Kaveri. The guilt and the fear that no river or rain could wash away
made him long to embark on an endless quest. What makes Kaveriyude Purushan
unique is the lyrical language that suits the essential concerns of eco feminism.
Eco-feminism is also the theme of Bhoomiyude Nilavili (The Scream
of the Earth) the title story of the collection of the same name. The luxuriance of
Sitamma’s hair and Bangarappa’s fear of his ability to control it, his suspicion
and his failure to accept his wife’s crowning glory result in a ruthless shearing
that finds an echo in the uncaring deforestation that the earth is subject to. The
cry of Sitamma is echoed by the wilderness which was also being despoiled. In
Sitamma’s final escape to the mother in the form of a white crow, the subtext of
the Ramayana is evident.
The limits of withdrawal is the theme of Mazhakappuram (Beyond
the Rain), one of the most significant tales of Haritha Vidhyalayam. In diversity
and in sensitivity, Surendran’s tales are unrivalled. The narrative tone blends
so perfectly with the theme that story telling becomes a fine craft in Surendran’s
Surendran’s writings are marked by lyrical simplicity and sincerity. His
style is often laconic but in brevity the soul of wit is often evident. Some of his
tales are poems in prose, which is not surprising since he had always wanted to
be a poet. He says that it is the short stories that paradoxically taught him the
holistic nature of creativity. Reading Surendran’s tales is like seeing the lightning
that splits the cloudy canopy of the sky – it both illumines and transforms the
known universe. Some tales have floated into the writer’s unconscious through
the device of dreams while others have blossomed through meditation. The
tales also include those which have descended on him from the firmament and
from the stars. They have been collected from the wayside but they have also,
like the rarest of gems been plucked from the depths of slow, languorous country
streams. The tales have become one with the art of the writer as the grace of the
sun and the rain are integral to the very earth.
The tale that I have chosen to translate, Utharadhunika Shareeram
(The Postmodern Body) which appeared in Bhashaposhini is a tale that is one
of the most distinctive in Surendran’s oeuvre. It is different from his other tales
on account of its implicit satire. The tale in the form of a speech, made at a
medical seminar by a man of letters, is an exploration of the most important
issues of postmodernism in terms of human experience and is quite divorced
from theory. Yet theory forms the ironic subtext that comments silently on the
direct discourse of the narrator. The tone of the story, an ironic tongue in the
cheek narration, emphasizes the art of the narrator. The tale invites comparison
with a tale entitled Utharadhunikam (Post Modernism) that appears in Sixty
Four Short Tales which deals with the same issue from a different perspective.
The difference in tone has in fact created a new perspective on postmodernism
that denies a closure and which is essentially a dialogue.
HEMA NAIR. R.. Teaches English at the N.S.S. College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. Her doctoral work was on Doris Lessing. Is a regular contributor to research journals. She is an experienced translator and is involved actively in the field of translation. Interested in Women’s Studies. She is the Assistant Editor of Samyukta – A Journal of Women’s Studies.