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23 November, 2009

The Letters: a celebration of writing

January 2010 is still six weeks away. A magazine, the Letters, the first issue of which bears that date, was formally released at a function at Thiruvananthapuram on Saturday, November 21, 2009..

I had the privilege of releasing the magazine by giving the first copy to renowned architect G. Sankar.

Inordinately early release is only one of the unique aspects of the Letters. It claims to be “a celebration of writing”. It is profusely illustrated but there is no trace of colour. The quality of the paper and the printing is not such as can yield the best results, and yet, as Sankar pointed out, the sharp contrast of the black-and-white pictures makes a deep impression.

Writing under the heading “Apocalypse now,” the Editor, Dr Babu Gopalakrishnan says, “It is sheer madness! We do agree it is. For, only mad people can start a periodical in this age of idiot box, when round the world the sway of the words is being systematically drowned by the images that rain down from the heavens….

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it, as the Bard once pointed out in Hamlet. A method in our madness, we too have or we claim to. Before such endorsement of sanity leads you to spectacles of Xanadu, a confession. We are not Odysseus, and the Letters is no Trojan horse, to exterminate Troy and reclaim Helen. Epic battles are masterminded by epic heroes.

“No chivalrous blueprints for saving the planet, or heralding a new era of egalitarianism are trumpeted by us. No earth shattering agenda to be implemented. Petit pen pushers, chroniclers of our times are all that we are. Pied pipers play on, though our music is bereft of its charms, through the streets of Hamelin as the maddening crowd continues with its ignoble strife.

“But even pied pipers have their principles. And so does the Letters. Principles that sustain our humanity. Principles on which our moorings are strong. Nothing, no storm nor Nostradamus can slash those tethers away.

“The ideals on which this great nation was founded is the rock on which the Letters is to be built brick by brick…”

The variety of the contents is another striking feature of the Letters. The contributions include:

What we will be shall be: a look at posthumanism: by K. Gopalakrishnan, who teaches English at University College, Thiruvananthapuram (“Posthumanism is actually an umbrella term not only for a spectrum of prospects ranging from general emancipation of mankind to simulating human consciousness but also a climate of thought of the postmodernist period characterized by disbelief and faith is life as a cosmic joke.”

Tears in the streets of Geneva: by Dr S. S. Lal, a WHO official, who narrates in this piece his first encounter in a foreign city. (“Time as a commodity is cheapest in India. But here it is so dear that it is measured in seconds”.)

D.K.Pattammal -- a life in music: by S. Vinaya Kumar, head of the English department, Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram. (“To connoisseurs of Karnatik music she embodied the very essence of classicism – proportion and balance and restraint”)

Marxist historiography as a travesty of science: by George Varghese, who is engaged in research in the philosophy of social sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. (“It has become clear that history is a vision and craft which is essentially plurivocal and dialogic. Any attempt to tie it down to monotonous tracks and exclusive ideological programmes in the name of fact and final truths would be self-defeating.”

The cassock and the casserole: by Geedha, a writer and social activist. (“Babu died of utter poverty and illness….The three sons of Babu, wife Karutha and mother Kumbalathi live a life of destitution and seclusion. The state has won its game against the tribes.”)

Manmohan the redeemer: by Shaji Shankar, a public sector official. (“Dr Singh, who in his person exemplified India’s atonement for November 1984 riot in the wake of Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, is a true hero. He is an embodiment of middle-class celebration of social mobility and self-actualization.”)

The report of the fact-finding team from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, which visited violence-hit Lalgarh in West Bengal is also reproduced in this issue.

Lines of Octavio Paz and T. S. Eliot, with illustrations, lend an ethereal quality to the inside cover pages.

Single Copy price: Rs 10.

The Letters,
TRRA 170,
Nadakkavu Lane,
Peroorkada PO,
Thiruvananthapuram 695005
Editor: Dr Babu Gopalakrishnan (