My Rainbow Bridge: Journal 1
It took sometime for me to put this together, as I come up on the 6th month of the manuscript of my novel, ‘My Rainbow Bridge’. The novel started as a comeuppance, but slowly turned into an epiphany. It was a subject I dreaded, but I decided to face the music.
In this first piece of journal, I gathered all the posts on LinkedIn, to trace the history of my special project. It is a journey like no other and unique to me, and for you, my dear reader.
So my new writing project starts.
The epiphany happened on a train, when I picked two books for my reading.
‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ by Leo Tolstoy
‘God is dead” by Nietzsche
This is a story that explores the burden of death in our lives, how it appears and stays in our lives, and how it coexists in us despite our blissful or spiteful attitude towards it.
The working title is ‘Burden of Death’.
Pictured reading the ‘The Death of…’ by Tolstoy on the train.
The experience of death happens through life; when it actually happens, one has already crossed it. Imagine running a race, the race of life. All the time, our focus — our mind and our eyes, every nerve and sinew, in sleep and waking- is about the finish line.
The finish line is a physical realm, often a rope that separates the race and the after-race. When one runs the race it is always about the finish line, and the moment we cross, there is a feeling of bliss and maybe, a sense of accomplishment. There is no space for physical pain or the memory of crossing the line.
This sense of elation is what makes death surreal, even if it is the physical parting of the life from its body, which afterward is called mortal remains.
-Excerpt from the review of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy.
The Starting Trouble:
I can’t sleep.
My feverish mind is at it.
My first novel is on.
Epiphany 1: The Climax came first.
Epiphany 2: From the Climax was born the title.
Now, it is about just sticking to my lane to bring the story out.
On and onward.
The Starting Point:
This is the pond around which life moved. Temple, cattle, villagers. Even an occasional bus would come along, kicking up dust in the almost still, picture perfect world.
If I were a fish in this pond, I would have believed in eternity and a single universe.
The starting point of ‘My Rainbow Bridge’ 🌈 🌉.
Another POV of the Starting Point:
The street you see has 19 houses on either side. The twentieth house is a temple. This is the street that bore my ancestors.
This street is a tiny village with 20 row houses. At the end of the street is a pond.
This place defies time. The Scorpio is an alien vehicle from another planet. Time is at a standstill and there are no weekdays or weekends. It is part of Palakkad, Kerala, God’s own country.
This village and its vicinity has given so many stalwarts in art, literature, mathematics, music, science, technology and finance, yet to live here, humans have to strip all their aspirations and desires. Timeless peace is what prevails here.
The story of ‘My Rainbow Bridge’ 🌈 🌉 starts here.
The Visualization of the Rainbow Bridge:
This is the first digital artwork of my book My Rainbow Bridge.
It is the journey toward the other side, whatever you call that. I meet the night and the day, the sunset and the rain, the dark grey sky with the stars. It is surreal, yet it is a journey that every one of us takes.
A world that exists just on the other side of life.
‘ON THE BRIDGE’
The Queer Cover:
The Novel is not a queer subject. But the rainbow splash is about death, afterlife, universe and reality.
A Midpoint Rant:
I now understand what Leo Tolstoy went through while writing ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’. As I am writing ‘The Rainbow Bridge’, I realize that I am exploring things that I usually would skip, either because it is in the dark corner of my mind that I dare not shed light on, or some event that I might have not considered significant, but turns out to be so.
That is the challenge in writing. But I hope the plot acts as a balance between life and death, and death is what makes life worthy. I hope the outcome — the book itself — is worthy of this difficult effort.
The Malgudi Mimic:
My Rainbow bridge is a story like no other. One is how death appears in the protagonist’s life, and another is how life appears in his paternal family history. The novel is part fiction, part memoir.
The current one I am writing has an episode of three boys, half brothers of the same age group, spending their teens in a quiet little village in Kerala, India. Slowly, their family situation and time put them on different courses, even while they stay in touch.
The little episodes of ‘small kids town in pre-independence India’ paint a picture like Malgudi days, by the legendary author, RK Narayan. Except, this is a real village and the characters are inspired by real people.
I write on… but thought of sharing a small visual with you.
The Scientist and the Philosopher:
‘I am Vanchi.’ I said in a humble, trembling tone. I was a minion against their gargantuan stature.
‘Call me Albert.’ The scientist said. His face carried a grin-like expression, his thick but well-groomed mustache curving at the corners of his mouth. His eyes were warm, brown, and glassy. He looked funny with that face and his white splayed hair, which kept bouncing at every step he took. ‘Albert’ I repeated after.
‘I am Rabindra.’ The white-bearded bard looked serious and broody, his chin was stiff but his breath was even; he shrunk his eyes to look at me.
I looked at myself, there were still traces of white on me. In contrast, the scientist and the bard adorned plain and simple clothes, there were halos behind them. Albert’s was beige and Rabindra’s halo glowed in mild red.
A moment of silence appeared between us. I felt like an intruder but my humility intervened. All I had to do was to hang in without irritating them.
Rabindra was my guru in my human life. This was one of my secrets. We never met, but I took a path inspired by him. He was a polymath — he composed poems, wrote short stories, and novels of multiple genres, could compose music and draw and could postulate philosophies and thoughts. He transcended both the spiritual and rational sides of human life — which were at constant loggerheads with each other.
Albert, in a sense, was my philosopher. His scientific theories provided me with the platform for my postulates about human life. I tried to postulate a unified theory about human life using science and theology, while Albert had chased an elusive goal of defining a unified law that governed the universe.
Rabindra brought Albert and my attempts together, which was the subject of the conversation I was willing to discuss. Their views about the universe and life encompassed ‘events’ and ‘observations’, which essentially formed the foundation of the laws of the universe and life. Death, and therefore the rainbow bridge itself, were part of those observations.
Manifestation of the Human Mind
After writing what I consider a profound piece of the manuscript of my novel ‘My Rainbow Bridge’, I want to share a few thoughts on New Years’ Eve.
There are certain human qualities that we have the privilege to live with. There is a difference between a poem that we read and the medium/paper it is written on. There is a difference between the music we listen to and the sequence of sounds that make it.
There is a higher value in the human qualities that can allow us to understand and relish poetry, literature, arts, philosophy, and music. These artistic and humanitarian fields have passed generations and endured time. While the medium enables this endurance and passing on, the higher values of human experience are the manifestation of the human mind that no other species can even realize. That is why Beethovan’s piece or Shakespeare’s poetry, or Da Vinci’s masterpiece, is revered after many years.
It is the same privilege that makes us appreciate the white, cool light of the moon, the smell of the roses, the beautiful flutter of the butterflies, the green of the grass, and the blue of the skies.
If we can breathe in, and take this privilege seriously as either producers or consumers of these arts, humanities, science, or sports, let’s make them count. At no point in human history do we have the opportunity and the ability to manifest this realization and cherish the outcome.
Don’t pass on this unique privilege to machines. Don’t ignore this opportunity if you can. Make this count. This is the butterfly effect that humanity needs.
If you see good art or nature, please pause, experience, savor and cherish its beauty.
Tale of two Contemporary Namesakes
Only writing a novel can offer me this privilege.
‘My Rainbow Bridge’ is a novel that looks at death, the afterlife, and life and searches for the meaning of life. It is also semi-autobiographical. The beauty of this plot is that what seems to be the end is indeed the beginning. It is about seeing things from the other side of the door. I understand now why people think ‘Grass is greener on the other side’, and how that is a myth.
A significant portion of this plot evolves from unconventional sources — science, philosophy, and literature. One such source is the contemporaneous lives of two Charleses. Dickens and Darwin. One, a celebrated novelist, probably the best of the Victorian Era, and second, a pathbreaking naturalist and biologist.
Charles Dickens’s greatest work ‘The Tale of Two Cities’ and Charles Darwin’s work ‘Origin of Species’ were published in the same year, 1859. While beyond being contemporaneous namesakes, there may not a relation between their works at first sight.
I stumbled upon this interesting area, which a few have researched in the past. A significant connection connects the concept of evolution with life itself between the two Charles D’s, which throws further questions. This is a researcher’s delight.
And there were seven…
I am looking for a female historical character who had an eminent worldview of death, life, and the afterlife as part of plot development for my novel ‘My Rainbow Bridge’. It is always easier to find a male character in science, philosophy, or literature.
A part of me tells that I should look for this character in India, but the search effort has not yielded satisfactory results. I had zeroed in on a few characters, but they are in England or Germany.
Why does a female character matter? I am not biased that way, as if I am trying to fill in a quota. But it is about a female perspective of this subject. My only challenge is the depth of literature available around the characters — quotes, thoughts, and work, without which it won’t be a level playing field.
I am sure I will figure this out while other parts of the novel are being developed. But sometimes, sharing something like this may enable some quality responses.
The ones who have made it to my shortlist are Emily Dickinson and Simone De Beauvoir.
Corollary: I decided to add seven women in this part.
At a point on ‘My Rainbow Bridge’, I am engulfed with a profundity that is already inside me. The answers are there — like in the Alchemist or the movie ‘Kungfu Panda.’ There is one thing I need to do that we all are supposed to, do but often do not.
I ponder about the word ‘Rumination’, the last act before I head to the end of my rainbow bridge. Rumi-nation. The great poet and philosopher Rumi. A nation, a universe that encapsulates his thoughts would be called Rumi-Nation.
Huh. I am getting weird. Nevertheless, I need to ponder and ruminate, on the profundity of the Universe, Humans, Life, Truth, Reality, Death, and the Afterlife. I need to understand the miracle of the Rainbow Bridge. I ruminate. I am in Rumi-Nation.
Vanchi meets Vanchi
Another part of ‘MY RAINBOW BRIDGE’ is when the protagonist meets his namesake ancestor. VANCHI meets VANCHI.
The tradition of naming in our ancestry is that the second generation repeats the names, for both males and females. My grandfather’s name was Viswanathan, so I am called Viswanathan. This then oscillates, but such naming happens for the first male/ female of every branch. The subsequent children carry the maternal names or new names.
Those days most families had more than half a dozen children. Coitus was a major source of entertainment then. There are times the father won’t remember the name of his kid, but call him or her by number. With the Internet and TV coming up, the progeny is whittled down to one or two, or even stay single.
The character is meeting his third-generation ancestor — the one he has never met in his life. The reason is that in our obeisance to our ancestry, we have a rolling system of tracking three generations. The protagonist is looking at the life and times of that generation — that is when India was under colonial rule and was deeply steeped in the Victorian Era. The protagonist, therefore, is curious about both his ancestry and the impact of the ‘Victorian Era’ on his family.
The understanding that every generation goes through social, cultural, and traditional events and influences of its times is a key to understanding families. This understanding will also how our lives were made.
Photo courtesy Govinda Viswanathan, my ancestral village.
More in Journal 2 …
~Ashok Subramanian, © 2023