This is a wonderful collection of essays in a regional language Tamil, which is the main language of the State of Tamilnadu, India. The essays are all experiences of the author, who is an avid traveller and keen observer. Though the incidents and events described are very common, which can occur in any of our lives, they very beautifully depict how a poet or a writer can look beyond what is apparent and feel the emotions hidden behind. These essays appeared in a weekly magazine and people looked forward to read the next essay after reading one. One cannot put the book down after starting to read it.
Let us take for instance, the essay about how the author is touched by seeing just the torso of a doll in a corner of his house and is reminded of death, of a child’s casual attitude, a child’s creative thinking in utilising the torso as a holder or flower vase! So much so, the author is reminded of the Kalinga war, where thousands of torsos of slain soldiers lay on the battlefield and the mothers, wives and daughters looked for the bodies of their dear ones among them. We would have seen such broken dolls many times in our lives but how many of us would have thought on these lines?
Then there is this article about a woman who goes around with her little children thanking each donor who responded to her appeal to help her meet the expenses of a kidney transplantation surgery for her husband, in a daily. The author realises that there are such kind souls as that woman, who can spend hundreds of rupees and travel miles to thank donors as also the poor watchman, who is in the habit of donating whatever little he can in response to each of such appeals that appears in the newspaper, daily. The author feels ashamed that he had never ever responded to such appeals and always ignored them, thinking that ‘they’ or ‘someone’ would respond and move on to the next piece of news. He realises that it is not the economic status that decides our charitable nature but our large hearts.
Another essay is about an unplanned trip that the author and his friend to a place of historical importance. On reaching that spot they realise that they both did not carry enough money. The friend gets jittery and worried as to how they would be able to reach home and is afflicted by acute hunger, which does not let him enjoy the beautiful sculpture in the temple. The author realises how pangs of hunger can take away all our interests and rule over all our other needs. He realises how we take many things for granted in life, as long as we get them without hindrance.
We fail to appreciate the goodies bestowed on us without demand.
There is another marvellous essay about the author’s visit to a holy place on the banks of River Ganga. He meets another man who has brought his mother to show her around various holy places as also places of tourist interest like the Taj Mahal. The mother is quite old and needs support. The author is stunned when the woman suddenly jumps into the river with the intention of dying. She is saved and when asked why she did that says, she is fed up of life as she is just a burden now and wants to end her life in the holy river. The author then finds out that the woman has 4 sons but lives all alone in her village. The author equates the dreams of such women to the smooth cobblestones lying on the river bed. Only some such stones get to come out of the cool waters just as only a few dreams of such women get realised. He feels the son is trying to fulfil one such dream of his mother before she dies, to come out of the guilt of not taking care of her properly!
There is another essay about the author’s visit to his old school after nearly 20 years, as a Chief Guest. The author sees life in each and every nook and corner of the school like the old stained walls, the smell of the chalk piece, the trees, the black board and everything. He is reminded of his school days when he hated school and some teachers. He is reminded of a poor boy whois forced to drop out of school halfway through the seventh grade due to poverty and gets into a small time job. This boy who loved the school begs to join the class for a group photograph, after leaving the school. The author describes his aspirations touchingly and feels that boy never grew out of seventh grade in his memory! The very title ‘The Taste of a Chalk Piece’ is so inspiring.
Like this, each essay is a gem in itself. We can see ourselves in many of the situations described excellently. But not all of us can put our experiences on paper so well.