On Melancholy and Poetic Prose

Sometimes twitter throws at you something which suddenly makes all the garbage there inconsequential (including garbage one contributes to), even an okay price to pay for sublimity.

Melancholy, the rethinking of the disaster we are in, shares nothing with the desire for death. It is a form of resistance. And this is emphatically so on the level of art, where its function is far from merely reactive or reactionary. When, with a fixed gaze, melancholy again reconsiders just how things could have gone this far, it becomes clear that the dynamics of inconsolability and of knowledge are identical in function. In the description of the disaster lies the possibility of overcoming it.

From W. G. Sebald, Die Beschreibung des Unglucks (1985), trans. Louis Klee.

I found this thanks to a tweet by  (strong recommendation to follow if you are in love with words), and have reread it a few times. Recently, thanks to couple of excellent twitter feeds, I’ve been reunited with poetry — in the sense of reading poetry to be precise. Although I’ve scribbled a few bad to okay poems (most of those posted to this blog), I’ve never been into poetry that much. Read a few urdu shaayari, in the adolescent years, when everyone reads it. Tried to read Wasteland multiple times, always got lost in its labyrinths, and gave up eventually. Read bit of Neruda, a bit of Anna Akhmatova, bit of Wisława Szymborska, bit of this and that, took a few random trails down the Wandering Minstrels (wasn’t there a poetry site with this name — one with random poetry hopping function for a serendipitous meeting with a poem, a tinder for poetry really?). But I’ve never read the classics, nor can I claim to be a good reader of poetry.

And yet, I’ve yearned for the poetic writing, the kind that comes naturally to some writers. It’s more common among the fiction writing, but sometimes even non-fiction surprises you with that fluidity, that poetic flow of prose, that innate rhythm, that poignant dance of thoughts. It blurs the borders between prose and poetry. And what remains is an almost visceral understanding of thoughts. It’s to that aim that I keep on dabbling with writing, despite all the evidence to the contrary. And it’s because of that, that when I see it, I pause and marvel, and cannot help but share it. God knows there is enough there already that even unearthing some of it might be worthy enough use of a lifetime.


PS: Wandering Minstrels is still there, only as a blog now, with all the archives too! You can check it out at : http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com/. Oh, yes, there is still the random hop button, too.

PS2: Melancholy, the subject of the excerpts, is really the rarefied essence of most great art, isn’t it? I mean, to use Tolstoy’s take on happy/unhappy families, in this context, all happy art seems to be same, but there are a thousand shades of the melancholy that make art that dabbles in melancholy so different, almost every time.

No Man’s Land

We’ve shrunk
the no man’s land
now it looks like
a thin red line
and both sides
want you to redraw it
fresh, with your blood
as a token
of your membership,
and there are lines
long, tiring lines
on both sides
of people out to prove
their allegiance
to their one truth,
unquestionable,
timeless, even self-evident,
with a drop of their blood
drawn out with
a sterilized syringe
bravely enduring
the harmless little prick,
and intent to paint
the line red
again, and again
lest we forget
the wrongs,
of the other side,
and the line
doesn’t ever dry out
or change color,
because
on both sides,
the color of blood,
and the color of rage,
is the same red.

We’ve raised
our fences
made them formidable
tall, and strong,
with spikes on them,
electricity flowing
through them,
and menacing reminders —
the skulls,
of erstwhile fence-sitters,
naive idiots,
who couldn’t take sides,
adorning them,
and there are watchers
on both sides, watching
intently, your every step,
weapons ready,
just in case,
you climbed the fence
but they needn’t bother,
because no one,
wants to sit on the fence
anymore.


Featured Image: Church Behind a Fence by Atul Sabnis

Pulp Poetry: In the Fifth …

[Only for Pulp Fiction fans, the rest may OD on it]

In the fifth your ass goes down

In the fifth, your ass goes down
the fifth is just ’round the corner
sometimes, you open the door
and life stands there
with a barrel of a gun
pointed at you
and if you surprise her
she shoots you

In the fifth, your ass goes down
yes, I know you want to choose
mainly because
you want to believe
you can

that’s pride, fucking with you
fuck pride
for, pride — He will tell you —
only hurts
it never helps;
especially not
in the fifth
when your ass
goes down

but then He lies…
what He means
is this:
pride is only for those
who decide
who’s ass
goes down
in the fifth

and if it’s your ass
that’s supposed to go down,
you swallow your pride
or be prepared
to run
to survive,
you’ve to run with your pride

yes, Zed is dead, babe
Zed did not realize
that you don’t
mess with those
who decide
who’s ass
goes down
in the fifth

Zed was a character
but that doesn’t mean
he had character
in fact
he was
a filthy animal

What you don’t like this?
English, motherfucker
do you speak it?
say what again?
I dare ya
I double dare ya

Anyways,
I don’t even have
an opinion;
I’m sorry
did I break your concentration?
But you see
we have a Bonnie situation
and the fifth,
it’s just round the corner

In the fifth,
your ass goes down.

Unbearable Lightness of Silence

I

These awkward silences
don’t feel sorry about them
they’re just a reminder
that we need to tune better;
that awkwardness
is just a discordant note
a note misplaced.

if at all
we should be awkward
about forced conversations
something
we’ve been trained
to feel natural,
comfortable about

the two of us
we need to practise
our timing
of silence,
that is all

II

Who are these people
who leave a thank you note
on your doorstep?

are they “your people”?
are they us or them?
do we even know?

they’re not trying
to be kind
because why would they?
it’s not like they know you
or you them
they just stopped
at your closed door
and left a bunch of flowers
because they cared
about something
you said, or did, or made
something that touched them

not because you are
their brother, sister,
friend, teacher,
whatever;
so I ask again,
are they,
“your people”?

III

The unbearable lightness
of silence
of power failures
of no network access
of a book forgotten at home,
it weighs on us
because in that moment
when it happens,
we’re there,
in the moment

but
what really is weighing
us down —
the information noise
the constant agitation
petty debates
allegiances to party lines
substance free addictions
warning sounds of distractions
need to belong
need to be seen liberated
the dogmas and the isms
tyrannies of loves and hates —
isn’t unbearable
because we’re never
in the moment
to feel it

Stardust Memories

Yes we’re all made
of stardust
but it’s the stardust
that is tired
after traveling forbidding
cosmic distances;
stardust
that’s long since cooled off,
robbed on the way
of the last bit of energy

stardust
that’s a forgotten legacy
of an exploding sun;
the residue of a failure
glorious in death,
but glory does not survive
the cold inter-space travels
on dull, semi-dead comets
and uninhabited planets
a game of pass the parcel,
changing form
without will
without ambition
without a plan

Instinctively,
we aspire to be stars
but we’re afraid to burn
the stardust that made us
only remembers
that a star is as ephemeral
as a flower
when one looks back
with hindsight
of a cosmic scale;
that star-ity
is a humble reminder
of near-permanence
of failure

Yes we’re all
made of stardust
but we’re not stars
we’re cold, calculating,
and immensely lucky
arrangements of stardust
on improbable islands
of cold starstuff,
who need someone else
to burn
to shine
to explode spectacularly
just for us to be born

 


Title is lift-off of Woody Allen film that I’ve yet to watch, strangely.

Photo Credits: Atul Sabnis.

 

Between the World and You

Son,
they will tell you never to lie
that’s the biggest lie
but you’ll learn that soon
you’ll learn
that the most important thing
in a grown up world
is to learn when to lie
and how to lie
without being called out
because the only thing
that civil society does not like
is someone caught lying
because that requires us all
to repeat the lie
about never lying

Son,
you’ll learn soon
that one choice
you’ll have to make
again and again
is between
the others hating you
and you hating yourself
and how you make that choice
will make you.
no, I will not
influence it one way
or another
because I’m already made
by those choices
or unmade
the way you look at it

Son,
you’ll learn soon
that personality ethics
trumps character ethics
more often, than not
and hollow victories
seem sweeter
than honorable defeats
that we humans
are addicted
to hollow victories
and that all the books
you read
history and fiction
will try to tell you
otherwise
because we need
those myths
to endure
honorable defeats

Son,
you’ll learn soon
that that
which you thought
you couldn’t live without
is probably something
you’ll not even miss
in years, months, weeks
yes
people, things,
even ideas …
especially ideas …
but that does not mean
you should live
as if
there is nothing
you cannot live without

or maybe you should
who knows
what will work
for you

Son,
you’ll learn soon,
that the world is not
what it tells you it is
and that it’s a good thing
maybe
just don’t let it
hurt you a lot
maybe a little
for if you never
shed a tear
over such things
you’ll never know
what it is
that you really want
what you lost
or found


[1] Title inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s poignant book “Between World and Me”, that I blogged about recently.

[2] Character vs Personality ethics: From Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

We, the people

 

Our religions are tolerant, we're intolerant
Our religions are spiritual, we're materialistic
Our religions are forgiving, we're vengeful
Our religions are dynamic, we're stuck
Our religions are unbounded, we're parochial
Our religions are open, we're closed
Our religions are liberal, we're conservative
Our religions are giving, we're hoarders
Our religions are magnanimous, we're small minded
Our religions are frugal, we're ostentatious
Our religions are humanitarian, we're fundamentalists
Our religions are egalitarian, we're hierarchical
Our religions are about living, we're about words
Our religions are the best we wanted 
To be, and could never be
And then, 
We are proud of religions
We hate religions
We love religions
We blame religions
We thank religions
When we should be
Looking
At what we are
And what we should be






A Wound from a Dream

[From Prem Gilhari Dil Akhrot प्रेम गिलहरी दिल अखरोट by Babusha Kohli बाबुषा कोहली]

स्वप्न में लगी चोट का उपचार
नींद के बाहर खोजना
चूक है

होना तो ये था
की तुम अपनी दिल की एक नस निकालते
और बांध देते मेरी लहूलुहान उँगलिओपर
मेरी हँसली पर जमा पानी उलीचते
और रख देते वहाँ धूप मुठ्ठीभर

हुआ ये
की जीन परबतों पर मैंने तुम्हारा नाम उकेरा
वहांसे बह निकली कल कल करती नदियाँ
और मेरी गर्दन से जा चिपकी कागज़ की एक नांव

It’s futile to try and heal
a wound from a dream
when one is awake

What if
You had plucked a nerve from your heart,
tied it over my bleeding finger,
wiped dry the tears from my collarbone
and sprinkled fistful of sunlight there …

But,
from those mountains —
where I had carved out your name —
came rippling down the rivulets,
and left behind a crumpled paper boat,
on the nape of my neck.


Found this gem thanks to a lovely rendition by Rasika Duggal on a charming Youtube channel: Hindi Kavita

Special thanks to Atul Sabnis of Gaizabonts for assisting with “उलीचते”. I went to him with what I thought was the word, and what I thought was the meaning, and he went through hindi dictionary to find it out for me. Such is life with friends.

 

To Tale or not to Tale

Is it better
to let a tale
be left untold
if telling it will
leave a scar?

Or is it better
to tell it
to a point
where the pain
of withholding
is no more severe
where it doesn’t exceed
the pain
about to be unleashed
by the tale

But if you kill a tale
before it’s told
to the last dot,
what you killed,
is it even the same tale?

Then again,
isn’t every tale incomplete?
because a complete tale
will never end
branching off infinitely
lingering on,
meandering,
pausing,
in a borgesian eternity

Can a tale be retold?
or is it reborn,
every time someone
attempts to retell?

Do you own the tale
you gave birth to?
or does it own you?
does it see you as a medium
and nothing more?
and when it dictates
do you rebel,
put your foot down,
and make it mend its ways?

Does it play you
as you play it in your mind?
does it try your limits?
or do you, test its?
and when,
the negotiation is over
and you lie down
happy, and tired
does it lose sleep
over its future?

Or does it believe
in its immortality
because unlike you
it knows,
it is created
from the same magical dust
of the remains
of the echoes
from that day
in distant future
when the first tale
was let loose
to enjoy its moment
of eternity?

The Song of Tomorrow

I

We’re ashamed of our imperfect bodies,
but never, of our penurious souls,
our ill-gotten wealth,
or even how, we don’t care, anymore,
about where we’re going,
what we’re doing,
and what we’re not doing,
the thoughts that we think,
the dreams that we dream,
and the dreams that we don’t
anymore,
because someone told us
it’s too late for all that
that
we’re too old
but we’re never too old
to look at our bodies critically
to worry, to argue, to fight
about all that should have ceased
to matter
long ago

II

Age was supposed to be a two way street
of losing some agency, some agility
some enthusiasm, some urgency
but gaining wisdom, patience
weaker eyesight, but better vision
of knowing when to let it go
being immune to the petty
but, lately, the street
seems to have turned one-way
we worry about wrinkles
and grey hair, not grey matter
and slowing metabolism
and lost muscle tone …
accumulated years
as if, they are a liability
not an asset

III

We could just as well
replay the notes
in the back of our minds
our memories, weak as they may be
hold on to those notes, and chords,
and strange rhythms
our memories are darker,
but richer than of those
just starting their journeys;
our notebooks
messy and yellowed,
our maps, personalized
and dated

IV

But, we just want to go back
and re-live the same life
as if maps are enough
to move across space and time;
maps just reassure us
of a possibility of finding
that which could be lost
but lost, it is not, what we are searching
it’s just frozen, irrevocably
and that’s a good thing
for, when we try to thaw it
it always crumbles —
the moment time is turned backwards

V

The best way to preserve maps
is to never use them
and keep them folded
in the glove compartments,
in the old wooden cupboards
or just tucked somewhere
in the attics …
then they become records
of things worth living for, once

VI

We’re ashamed of our imperfect bodies
instead, we should be ashamed
of trying to go back
as if there is nothing
to go forwards, marching
into yet uncharted lands
with a calm acceptance
of disappointments on the way;
for our memories are rich with ‘em
that we still tell the tales excitedly
is the testimony to those maps
which we want to destroy, unwittingly

VII

The young, they need a lot more
to go on
they are building
the wall of memories,
don’t envy them that
you have tasted it all,
and more,
now you need less, and less
because you know the paths
that lead to dead ends
secret paths to sanctuaries,
you’re not worried about
getting lost
about being around
and being relevant
of sanity
of pimples and Ayn Rand

VIII

You know
that, some relationships never last
some people you thought
you cannot live without
never make it with you
meaningfully far,
and you still survive;
you know how to pick up the pieces
to stash the hurt,
to nurse a wound,
to weather the storm
that cliches are underrated
that everyone changes
including you
and that,
it’s a good thing
after all …