Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Yet Another Delaware River Trip

I went on a day-trip on the Delaware River from Upper Black Eddy to Lumberville. There is a trip report up on the Curd-Rice Kayakers' Webpage.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A Delaware River Trip

This Memorial Day weekend, I went on a kayak camping trip on the Delaware River. Here's a pretty decent trip report by Mudra Rakshasa.

I am the guy referred to as Sambar :-)

It was pretty cool prepping for the trip. The trip to EMS was most enlightening. I found that you could get sleeping bags that fit in a cylinder about 8 inches by 4 inches and indeed I did get one. My kayak is not a rec or expedition type kayak, so the smaller I can get things, the better. I found a waterproof flashlight with an LED in the place of a conventional bulb. It actually works completely immersed (I checked :-) ). It also is supposed to provide 800 hrs of light. One can get it in Walmart.

As the trip report suggests, I was pretty keen on making it to the Delaware Water Gap proper. The four mile stretch before the Smithfield beach take-out (which is about 8 miles upriver of the Water Gap take-out) killed all interest. The water was flat and the wind was against us. The sun was hight. These 'dead' conditions tend to sap the paddler's strength and enthu. Oh well. Next time :-)

Another interesting aspect of the trip was that the temperature plummetted in the night. It was 75-80 degrees in the day. After sunset, the temperature quickly dropped to the high thirties. This cold nixed Mudra Rakhsasa's plans of a midnight swim. He had done it last year, with just the moonlight and my flashlight for illumination. This year, well, we just couldnt wait to hit the bed. This cold probably contributed to the generally unsettled sleep that everyone had.

In all, the trip and its aftermath (which involved having pizzas for dinner on the shoulder of the freeway, another story entirely) was thoroughly appreciated by all concerned, especially the two who had never been camping before (my cousin and his friend).

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Daughters' Lament, A poem from the Purananooru

The Purananooru is a set of four hundred Tamil Poems dating from the Sangam Age (300 BC to 300 AD). Puram means external and nanooru four hundred. These poems are devoted to life in general. Agam(internal) poetry deals with love, relationships, family and the such-like.

As general reference points, in 380 BC, Plato was writing his Republic and the future Roman Empire was still a small republic in Southern Italy. The Mauryan Empire was established 324 BC. Alexander fought Porus at Jhelum in 326 BC. The inhabitants of what would later be known as the British isles were probably holding meetings to decide whether it was time to come down from the trees :-)

In this time, South India was ruled by chieftains and kings. The three main ruling dynasties, the Cheras, the Chozhas and the Pandyas had already been established. These kings spent a lot of time fighting each other and on occasion going North to fight someone else(atleast one king was known as Imayavaramban : he whose boundary is the Himalayas). A perusal of recent history will show that little has changed in modern Tamil Nadu :-)

The Tamil Sangams were meetings (similar to conventions of today) for the poets of that age. The Sangam era refers to the third Sangam which was hosted by the Pandyas.

The first one was supposedly held 10000 BC and the sage Agastya is supposed to have been the person presiding over it. Agastya also is popularly held to be the first one to codify the Tamil language. This might be more legend than history.

I have not been able to figure out when the second Tamil sangam was held. The book Tolkappiyam, which is a book of grammar dates from this era. Incidentally, this is supposed to be the earliest grammar book.

Purananooru is only one of the books to come out of the third Sangam**. It is a collection of poems by different poets. The poems cover a broad swath of topics.

Most of the poems are dedications to different kings and chieftains. The poets would sing praises of the king and the king would reward them suitably. The kings got their names and deeds immortalised in song and the poets got food and gifts.

Other poems deal with the courage of warriors in battle, the sorrow of grieving mothers or wives and general thoughts of poets on life, the Universe and Everything.

In all, the poems give us a glimpse into the lives of the people. Courage was highly respected (mothers ask to hear if their sons died with a wound in the back or in the chest). High moral values were stressed (A poem says, 'Regardless of the land, Where men are good, life will be good.'). As was charity (Another poem says 'They that give food, give life'). There are poems that celebrate nature and agriculture.

Other poems are a more general reflection on life. There is a poem saying words to the effect that the poet would love to live free like the deer, but unfortunately, his relations are tying him down to a family life. The famous line Yaathum Oore, Yavarum Kelir (All cities are our own, All people are our relatives) by the poet Kanian Poonguntranaar is also in this collection*.

Paari was a king who lived in the sangam age. He was the king of Parambu country. I dont know where that area is in present-day Tamil Nadu. He was considered one of the seven great 'vallal's. I am not sure what the exact translation for vallal is. Basically, any one who gives away a lot in charity is considered a vallal. I suppose one might say 'philanthropist' or 'charitable person', but it still loses something in the translation.

Paari is the subject of many poems written by the poet Kapilar (who also seems to have been his friend) who praises him and his bountiful land. Paari was destroyed by his rival kings, an occupational hazard in those days. This poem was written by his daughters lamenting his death.

Attrai Thingal Avvennilavil
Enthaium KondOm, Nam kundrum pirar koLaar

Ittrai thingal Ivvenilavil
Vendru eri murasin Venthar em
Kundrum Kondaar; yaam enthayum ilame

Last Full Moon
We had our father, we had our hill
This Full Moon
Kings play the drums of victory
They have our hill, We have lost our father.**

This poem conveys a deep sense of loss with haiku-like brevity.

The daughters seem to have accepted that defeat and death are as much a part of a kingly life as victory. They don't express hatred towards the victorious kings. They are just lamenting the loss of their father and their home.

PS. The attentive reader will notice that the phrase attrai thingal, avvennilavil is used in the song Narumugaiye Narumugaiye (from the Tamil movie Iruvar) written by the poet Vairamuthu.

* Yaathum Oore's claim to fame is that it is the first line in a song in the movie Ninaithale Inikkum, with Kamal and Rajini playing members of a disco band touring Malaysia. Incidentally, there is a song called Ennadi Meenakshi which also starts with a couple of lines from a Bharathiyar poem (Vaarthai Thavarivittai, Kannama). It's kind of sad that one must get introduced to Tamil poetry like this, but, I digress.

**Translation, as close as I can make it.
Attrai Thingal - last month(thingal=month)
Av ven nilavil - in the full moon (ven nilavu=full moon),
enthaium kondOm - We had our father (enthai=our father) kondOm (we had)
Nam Kundrum pirar kolaar - Others didnt have our hill

Ittrai Thingal - this month
Iv Ven nilavil - in this full moon

Vendru eri murasin venthar - The kings whose victorius drums sound
Vendru eri murasu (Drums(murasu) of victory(vendru eri)
kundrum kondaar - they have our hill
yaam enthaiyum ilame - We have lost our father (ilame = dont have/lost).

*** The others are Nattrinai, Kurunthogai, Ainkurunooru, Pathitrupathu, Paripaadal, Kalitthogai and Aganaanooru.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Ulysess, by Alfred Lord Tennyson(1809-1892)

This has become one of my favorite poems. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
Here's a link.

Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson(1809-1892)

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

In this first stanza, we can see that this is not the young Ulysses but a much older one, who is not very happy with his lot. He feels that his subjects take him for granted.

Ulysses was gone from his country (Ithaca) for twenty years. While his fellow warriors might see him as a brave, resourceful leader, the people who stayed home might not see him that way. This is reinforced in the next few lines.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

Ulysses looks back on his life. He was a man amongst men. A trusted, cunning warrior and a beloved leader of men. In the plains of Troy, he lived and walked with the greatest Greeks of his age. What a feeling that must have been! To know that you are in the presence and indeed are one of the greatest of your time. He has travelled a lot and has seen much. All this has left a mark on him, as can be expected.
For such a man to have to rule people that 'hoard and sleep and know not me' must have been trying.

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

This is a most eloquent description of Wanderlust.

As tho' to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

The last three lines are really beautiful. Here, the purpose of the poem is finally revealed. Ulysses wishes to leave his kingdom and to travel again. Travel, for its own sake.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

Ulysses abdicates in favor of his son. And, soon, we see what his plans for the future are.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads-

Ulysses' love and pride for his men shows through clearly here. He has assembled those that remain of his old crew to go on a final voyage, and apparently, all his buddies are here. These men are clearly not among those that are referred to in the first stance as 'That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.' That description of his subjects is contrasted with the description of his mariners 'that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me'. Now we know why he prefers his mariners to his subjects.

you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

Ulysses acknowledges that his fellow adventurers are old and weak, but is determined to do something worthy of their past 'Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods'!

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Ulysses and his men know that they might never return. Indeed the tone of the poem suggests that they don't wish to return. They want an end worthy of their lives. Not for them a death on the sick-bed.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

These lines are so moving. A fitting finish to a beautiful poem.

I love the fact that Ulysses is not crying about the times past. He looks back, not with longing, but with pride. He knows that he (and his men) have accomplished great deed that will live on forever, long after they themselves are gone. He has fulfiled his duty as a king and his successor is ready.

All that he wishes to do now is to go forth again with his friends. He does not seek to recapture his youth, but to accomplish something worthy of his greatness. 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world'!

Ulysses wants to travel. He is tired of the repetetiveness of his life. He wants to feed his wanderlust, knowing full well that it can never be slaked. He seeks adventure, purely for its own sake, not for any other motive. 'To follow Knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought'.