For a stranger who wanders into this fairytale land the lush green countryside would seem like an abode of peace and tranquility. It lies under the canopy raised by coconut trees, languorous in the sweaty heat of the summer, playful and inviting when the heat abates and the landscape turns into a riot of colors, and voluptuous and desirable like a bathing nymph when the rains wash and seed the land.
It would seem in this land people have no right to be discontent, no reason for being poor or hungry, no justification for being afraid. A minister from the north (I think Yogendra Makwana) once caused a huge controversy with his casual remark on seeing coastal Kerala that people here had no right to be unhappy or poor when there were an abundance of beautiful women to be wooed and plenty of coconuts to be plucked. Laurie Baker, a true Malayalee if ever there was one, once said this was the only place in the world where people preferred to build their homes under the trees (though it is not true any more). A contented people living in peace with the nature. That is the picture.
But this land is just like the nymph of the lore, full of beauty, passion and caprice. Terror is an inseparable part of anything so unfathomable. If you had lived and belonged here, you will know this: the land broods. Fear of the unknown, of the dark forces, of the lurking menaces of netherworld, is an inseparable part of the lives of its people. The fear lives on in its lore, its legends, and its interpretations of reality itself.
In a village in the interior of costal Kerala, one grows up imbibing the beauty and grace of its nature. It is all around you. The breeze that plays in the groves, the coconut trees swaying in the wind, the tranquil waters of the lagoons caressing the land in gentle waves, the network of canals and waterways that quicken the vegetation and sustain the greenery, the paddy fields snuggling close to the white motherly hills, the sunsets that turn the blue into gold. Peace pervades the mind. But peace is hardly a catalyst for creativity. Mind wanders beyond the beauty of this reality and invents dark fears.
Objects of beauty and grace become ominous symbols of fearful supernatural elements. There is a manic frenzy in the growth of the vegetation. Weeds and grass overrun the land and it turns a dark green. Tangle of weeds and bushes overgrow village paths. Dangers lurk underneath. The narrow paths turn into corridors of shade when the trees from both sides grow and meet above, shutting out the sun. One is afraid to walk there. There is uncertainty there.
After the sunset the lagoons present an eerie vista. The steely gray of the backwaters has a menacing look. An evil spirit broods there under the dirty sky. As you sit there longer, what at first seemed like only melancholy becomes an apprehension of something malignant. It is in the air. The last crow hurried home. The sky is empty. The trees lean close to the water. Their reflections have vanished. Now there is only a glittering darkness in the water where earlier those reflections moved with the breeze. Evil spirits are awakened from their slumber. They are moving in. The trees are their abode. It is dangerous to sit under those trees at that time. The oppressive atmosphere paralyses the soul.
With the rains come the thunder and the lightning, like malevolent warriors traveling across the sky flaunting their multi-pronged weapons. The gentle swaying of the coconut trees becomes an ominous dance macabre, and the medusa-like heads of the trees swing madly in the wind. The wind howls and screeches through the trees like a banshee, slashing at everything in sight. When darkness falls there is no let up, the dance macabre continues. The rain pounds on the window panes. Something crashes to the ground and there is the cry of an animal, almost inaudible in the howl of the wind. A bolt of lightning throws the fury of the elements outside into stark relief. Silvery ropes are tied across the tops of the trees and some invisible hand pulls at the tangled ropes. There is fear outside the windows.
But the most terrible, heart-constricting fear is in the moonlight. Especially if you are a lonely wayfarer in the night. The distances look unconquerably long. Like a leprous patina the moonlight lies on the hills. Those white hills are special to Pallippuram. They are made up of ‘silica sand’ and are probably the whitest natural objects in the world. In the daylight they looked like heaps of milk powder. Now they are heaps of crushed bones, bleached to their whitest. In the moonlight they look a bluish white though, an eerie bluish white. They sit there in the moonlight, there is one of them every hundred meters or so. The moon is bright, but these hills have no shadow. That itself is frightening. They loom huge as you approach them. And once you pass them, you are afraid to look back. There is a scraggly looking tree just on the side of the large hill, and a pale shadow of the tree lies on the hill. The silence! the cursed silence is like a heavy burden laid across your heart. And when you look ahead you see that shadowy wavering form approaching from the distance. It cannot be human. Your legs feel like they were cast in iron, and your heart pounds. There is uncertainty and fear.
Given Beauty, human mind will invent the opposite, Fear. Fear is the primal element of human psyche, and it is not hope but fear that enables men and women to conduct their lives. Apprehension, fear, uncertainty. These are the three emotions that lie at the roots of creativity. Human life is a continuous effort to make the future safe, and creativity is its tool. Safe for what? Safe for human life! This seems like incestuous logic, a paradox. True, but life is a paradox too.