And floated away into cerulean skies.
I ran after the dark flecks,
like a child chasing a runaway kite.
Until I remembered what she’d said—
that I was iron. I must fight.
I found a magnet with a burning core.
And my pieces came floating back.
Slowly, buffeted by the wind.
And settled with sorrowful sighs
somewhere around my middle.
But some were lost forever.
Caught on the underside of leaves.
And in the gnarled barks of trees.
On the fleecy backs of grazing goats,
And washed away in creeks.
The surprise is I do not feel maimed.
I’m at peace with my unwholeness.
When I miss me, I walk out into the fields.
And turn my face upwards,
Or crouch down on my knees.
The part of me that’s free
Swoops down joyfully.
And the part of me trapped inside
Flaps about listlessly.
“I don’t want to be tired alone,
I want you to grow tired along with me.”
I stumbled upon Neruda’s poem ‘A certain weariness’ and caught my breath when I read these opening lines. I read the poem over and over and wanted desperately to do something. Write. Awaken my sleeping husband and read it to him. Run out onto the road and stop people, shake the poem in their faces and ask, “Have you read this? Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it the truth we’ve known all along?”
Instead, I did this. Attempted to translate the words and their meanings into Malayalam, my other tongue. Even in my amateur hands, they sound just as beautiful.
ഞാൻ ഇന്ന് ചെരുപ്പ് മാറിയിട്ടു.
അമ്പലമുറ്റത്തല്ല അബദ്ധം പറ്റിയത്. ഇവിടെ. നമ്മുടെ വീട്ടിൽ.
നീ കുളിമുറിക്കു പുറത്തു ഇട്ടിട്ടു പോയ ചെരുപ്പിൽ ഒരെണ്ണം ഞാനിട്ടു. മറ്റേ കാലിൽ എന്റെയും. ഞാനും നീയും തമ്മിലുള്ള വ്യത്യാസം എന്റെ ശരീരം മറന്നിരിക്കുന്നു. ഇന്നൊരു ദിവസം മുഴുവൻ ഇതറിയാതെ ഞാൻ നടന്നു.
നീ തിരിച്ചു വരുന്നില്ല എന്ന് വിളിച്ചു പറഞ്ഞപ്പോൾ ഞാൻ വിശ്വസിച്ചില്ല.
“അപ്പോൾ ചെരുപ്പോ?” ആശ്ചര്യത്തോടെ ഞാൻ ചോദിച്ചു.
“ഓ, ചെരുപ്പ്!” നീ ദേഷ്യത്തിൽ പറഞ്ഞു. “അതവിടെ കിടക്കട്ടെ. ഞാൻ വേറെ വാങ്ങിക്കൊള്ളാം.”
നിനക്ക് പുതിയ ചെരുപ്പുകൾ പറ്റുമായിരിക്കും. പക്ഷെ എന്റെ കാൽ ഇനി പഴയ ചെരുപ്പിനെ സ്വീകരിക്കില്ല. ഇനിയുള്ള വഴികളിൽ ഒരു കാലിൽ നിന്നെയും പേറിയാകും എന്റെ യാത്ര.
- Will you not tell me your pain?
An empty hall. My stroke-stricken grandmother sleeping in the other room, with her home nurse dozing by her bedside. Neelu had come home crying, limping, her leg bandaged from knee to ankle. She’d had a bad fall, and my uncle and aunt had dropped her off here for a while. I didn’t know what to do to cheer her up. So, I sang this song instead, accompanied by a ridiculous dance routine.
“Manikyaveenayumayen manassinte thamara poovilunarnnavale, paadukille, veena meettukille, ninte vedana ennodu chollukille?”
You who took form in the lotus of my heart with your magical veena, will you not sing? Will you not play the veena? Will you not tell me your pain?
Dressed in nothing but a petticoat and with my hair standing on end, I would have presented an absurd little figure. She sat on the window seat, laughing so hard that tears rolled down her cheeks. Every time I sang “Will you not tell me your pain?”, she would take swipes at me from her seat, shouting “Yes, come here, I will tell you!” and I would dance out of her reach…
I can still hear the laughter.
“Ormathan vaasantha nandana thoppil…”
In the garden of memory, only one flower remains.
It was Achan’s cassette. He used to play these songs on Sunday mornings on our old, fat two-in-one that sat on the bench in the terrace outside our bedroom, while he shaved, and Amma oiled our hair. Daisy sounded like a happy song to me. I used to sing along, shouting “Daisy… Daisy…” along with the chorus.
Years later, Amma, Nandu and I lay in the dark, night after night, listening to this cassette. Somewhere along the way, I stopped wondering who Daisy was and listened to the lyrics instead. It was a song of love and loss. Funny how I’d never noticed.
To this day, I cannot listen to the happiest song in Daisy without feeling disturbed.
3. The fragrance of memory
“Ormakalkkendu sugandham… en atmavin nashta sugandham…”
Oh, the fragrance of memory! The scent of my soul’s loss!
Something was choking up my nose and throat, pricking my eyes, threatening to spill out. Thankfully, I was squatting on the floor with my back turned away from everyone. I stared blindly at the screen, scenes flashing through my head. I wanted to whimper, but I didn’t. I just sat unmoving, my hands clenching my knees…
And then abruptly, the song changed. The jingle of an advertisement for soap or biscuits came on. When I eventually turned around, I saw Amma disappear behind her paper, her cheeks wet too.
4. Gold, not mud
“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla ponnoonjal!”
A naalukettu (house) built of moonbeams, in it a swing of gold with a sandalwood seat…
I was sitting on the Hero Honda, in front of Achan, a trophy clutched in my hand. We were returning triumphantly from a painting competition conducted by Nirmithi Kendra. I had won the third prize.
As a filler during the prize distribution ceremony, they had played this song and it was stuck in Achan’s head. On the way back home, he kept humming it.
“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla mannoonjal!”
I interrupted him, laughing, “Acha, mannoonjal alla, ponnoonjal!” (The swing is made of gold, not mud) He shrugged it off, smiling.
Nearly fifteen years later, SR and I were listening to this song. And as SR hummed “mannoonjal” instead of “ponnoonjal”, I burst into tears.
In one of his recent blogs, Seth Godin has talked about making money and understanding its value. As someone who has recently decided to make more money faster, I took his words to heart. A few days later, I came across an opportunity to write content for websites. It was a work-from-home job that would bring in about twenty thousand rupees a month for a couple of hours of work every day. I felt quite enthusiastic about it – I can write; so why not channel my talents to make some cash on the side?
Then the job poster shared the instructions and the next steps.
I would be given a source article, which I must rewrite in different words, keeping the meaning intact. My language and grammar had to be good. But the content did not have to be great. All the articles would have a common objective – convince people to take loans for various purposes. According to the job description, this was an ‘easy, simple’ writing opportunity. I checked one of the attached sample articles – it urged people to buy a UPS for their homes. Why? Because having power backup is important. And oh, UPS loans are dirt cheap and readily available. There were a few more in the same vein. Buy a washing machine to do your laundry at home. (washing machine loans are dirt cheap and readily available). Buy a second car because you don’t have to depend on your spouse to ferry you around. (car loans are cheap and readily available too).
As I sat at my desk skimming through these articles with growing disbelief, I realized something.
That contrary to my own belief, I am not yet ready to sell my soul.
I didn’t take up the job. But I did mull over it, and realized that I was disturbed by more than just the soul-deadening nature of the work. There is an ethical side to it too.
We all rely greatly on the internet to give us relevant and useful information. We all know how frustrating it is when we come upon crappy web pages and pointless articles. So don’t we also have a moral obligation to contribute something back to this open source? Something valuable and helpful to other netizens. Even if we don’t edit Wikipedia pages or write reviews of products and services we have used, we can at least be responsible and refrain from adding to the mess.
I think that is something web content writers and webpage owners should think about. This will also make business sense in the long run – if you are sharing great content, more people will come to your website on their own. You don’t have to hoodwink them into doing so.
As Google says – Don’t Be Evil.
“No one can make the same album they made 10 years ago with a straight face: one is you change as a person. To be a true artist, I have to be true to who I am now and write that way. And the second is, these are different times.” – Brad Paisley.
There are two kinds of artists: the kind that breathe and thrive on the response they get from their readers, audience or listeners, and the kind that find peace and soul satisfaction just in the process of creation. To me, the question of which of these is right, is very confusing!
I suspect that much of what I write – or think of writing – would have no appeal to a reader. So should I even write it? It will only become another unread, unliked, uncommented post on my blog. But if I have a topic, or a deadline, or readers, I am more motivated to write. There are plenty of helpful books and resources available for those who want to expand their blog readership base. From what I can see, the underlying principle seems to be ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!” So there are people who regularly read others’ blogs and comment on them, and the authors of these return the favour. At some point, this stops being a favour and becomes a pleasure in itself. You decide which blogs you want to follow – and since most writers are also readers, this does not feel like a task.
I still remember those days in 2006, when a bunch of us would blog everyday and read and comment on each other’s blogs. I was much more regular with writing then, and looked forward to getting ‘feedback’ for my works. Unfortunately, like all social fads, this too died a natural death. I dare say that the quality of my writing has improved since then; but it was the praise and encouragement I got in those days that motivated me to improve my mediocre writing; today, my style and creativity seem to be stagnant. Like an actor who keeps playing the same role week after week. He is doing it well, but keeps hoping for inspiration, for a different role.
I feel a little ashamed about this vulgar craving for an audience – isn’t this ignoble? Perhaps I do not have the soul of a true writer. Or perhaps I am that pathetic tragedy: a cue-giver with the soul of a prima donna.