Gained in translation

About a month ago, my teacher mentioned a Marathi poem that I might want to look up if I could understand the language. I do follow the script and can get by in conversation but not so much in terms of literature. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go and looked up the poem. I read it aloud and while some of the words made sense, a large part of it was lost in unfamiliar words. So, I attempted a translation, reminding me of school days when that would be one of the questions in the Hindi and Marathi examination papers.

It took me a while to complete it and I’m not too sure if it captures what the poet was trying to say but in some of the reflections, there is a lot of quietness, a quality that is timeless. Attempting the translation, I may not have got it right but I did gain a renewed appreciation for the way language can provide the very soil for reflection with all the gravity of its geography, history and culture. It is a new experience, this immersion into another language, a familiar one and yet so different. Entering into this exercise began as a way to make sense for myself but it does feel like there is probably a new way to study language.

I’ve mostly glided on sounds and let the meaning seep from it even as someone would translate it for me. Kannada was almost exclusively absorbed in this manner and there is complete comprehension of the colloquial version. Sanskrit too has been an endeavour by soaking in sounds while Tamil has been a piggybacking on Malayalam and translations in English but then my exposure to it has been limited. Hindi and Marathi are tongues that are around me and also used in everyday transactions. So, the poorly learnt two that I use almost daily have not quite got the attention the others did. Part of it was also a mental block from school days when the general expectation of the teachers was that one had to replicate answers verbatim. Decades later, the freedom to dabble in language for pleasure has been an interesting journey.

Here’s the poem and a first attempt of a translation. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who might be able to help with editing or correcting it.

आधार

जोवर फुलांच्या बागा फुलताहेत,
पहाडामागे वारा अडत नाही.
शब्दांपोटी सूर्योदयासारखा अर्थआहे,
फळे नित्यनेमाने पिकत आहेत,
माणसाला उपकार आणि आणि त्याची
निर्व्याज परतफेड करता येत आहे,
एखाद्याची महायात्रा पाहून एखादा
सहजच नमस्कार करतो आहे
तोवर आम्हाला एकमेकांबरोबर
अबोला धरण्याचा अधिकार नाही.
आम्ही आमच्या पडजिभेइतकेच
सर्वार्थांनी एकमेकांचे आहोत.
कालच प्रत्येक क्षण उष्टावतो
तरी काल ताजा टवटवीत आहे.

ईश्वराने दिलेले हे अंग प्रत्येकजण
बारा दिवसाच्या अर्भकाइतक्याच
हळुवारपणे सर्व तर्‍हांनी धूत राहतो,
आपापल्या मापाचे पापपुण्य बेतून
सगळे आयुष्य कारणी लावतो.
म्हणून कधीतरीची प्रसन्नताही
मनाची उन्हे करते आणि सारा ताप
उन्हातला पाऊस होऊन टपटपतो.
धरेच्या पोटात पाणी आहे,
घशाखाली त्याची तहान आहे,
माणसाच्या पोटात आनंद आहे
म्हणूनच नेहमी भूक लागते,
इंद्रियांची वेल पसरत पसरत
झोपेचा गारेगार मोगरा फुलतो.

शेतकरी पिकाला जपत असतो
पहिलटकरणीसारखा, रात्रंदिवस
कायावाचामनाचा पावसाळा करुन
मातीच्या कणाकणातून झिरपतो,
अशा वेळी आकाशाच्या कोनन कोनाचा
स्पर्श त्याला झुळकाझुळकातून होतो,
हवेचेही कोनेकोपरे प्रत्यक्ष चाचपतो.
दाण्यादाण्यातील धारोष्ण दुधाची जाग
पाखरांच्या पिसापिसातून जाते,
थव्याथव्यांनी आनंद उतरतो,
शेतमळा डुलतो, वारा डुलतो,
शेताचा पिका पिका दरवळ
झुळझुळत्या झर्‍यासारखा
शेतकर्‍याच्या मनातून वाहतो,
सुईणीच्या मुखावरील कष्टासारखी
रसरसून लखाखते कोयतीची धार.

जीवनावर प्रेम करणारे सगळे जण
एकमेकांना नमस्कार करीत करीत
सुखदुःख वाटतात जिवाभावाने.
सर्वांना पोटाशी धरुन सर्वांवर
स्वत:च्या आयुष्याची सावली धरतात,
एखादा अनवाणी चालणारा विरक्‍त पाहून
सांगतात : सर्वांच्या पायतळी जमीन आहे.
एखाद्या मेलेल्या मित्राच्या स्मृतीवर
हलकेच कधीतरी अमोल क्षणांचा
एखादा ताटवा वाहून रात्रभर जागतात,
आणि मग कधीतरी झोपेतून उठून
स्वत:वरच आनंदाश्रू ढाळतात,
स्वत:लाच नमस्कार करतात.

सखीने सजणाल्या दिलेल्या गुलाबाच्या
गेंदाप्रमाणे, वचनाप्रमाणे प्रत्येकानेच
कधीतरी मन दिले – घेतलेले असतो;
सखी-सजणाच्या संकेतस्थलासारखेच
हे आयुष्यही एकमेकांचेच आहे.

या जगण्यात खोल बुडी मारुन आलेला
एखादा कोणी सर्वांना पोटाशी धरणारा
आणि ते पोटाशी धरले गेलेले सगळे –
दोघांनाही एकमेकांचाच आधार आहेआरती प्रभू

– आरती प्रभू

Support

As long as gardens blossom
the wind behind the hills does not get entangled
The essence of words illumines like the sunrise
fruits ripen in the rhythm of their cycle
They bestow a benediction on man
They give back without interest
Seeing someone’s great journey(inwards?)
One naturally acknowledges
that which is but one’s own
Until then we have no right
to be separate from another
In every sense we are like the uvula to ourselves,
in relation to one another
even though each moment of yesterday is tasted yet it is still fresh

This God given embodiment of each one of us
is bathed completely by the grace
of a gentle wind (existence) as much as that of a 12 day old infant.
We each grow into our lives as dictated
by the measure of our acts- auspicious and inauspicious. We are planted. Our lives are realized
basis the measure of all our karma – good and bad
That’s why some peaceful joys fire up/ enliven the mind
and all the feverishness comes down as summer showers
The belly of the earth has water, its thirst lies below the crust
The belly of man has joy, therefore the hunger, always
As the vines of the senses spread and spread, so also the pleasant jasmine fragrance of sleep

The farmer tends to his ripening crop
as though a first time mother.
Raining body and thought into the earth,
day and night, that it seeps through each pore.
At such times the touch of the corners of space
makes him blink with each graze of air
Streams of grain like milk froth,
madden the birds, delighting them.
The fields dance, the wind dances,
The crops yield the farm’s bounty
like a gushing stream flows from a farmer’s mind
The sharp edge of the scythe draws the rasa
like the pain on a midwife’s face

All those who love life greet each other
as they experience the joys and sorrows of this life
Holding everyone dear,
the shadows of one’s own life blankets each.
Seeing a barefooted man without a care,
it is said the ground exists under every sole
Sometimes the memory of a dear departed friend lightly touches
in a precious moment- a length of a long night of wakefulness.
And then waking from sleep,
weep tears of joy on their existence, they greet themselves.

Like roses gathered into a ball given by a friend to adorn,
like promises, everyone gives or takes the mind (thoughts)
Just like the friend’s nudge to adorn, this life too is one another’s

Immersed in this world, someone is holding every stomach
and all that is contained in it. Both have the other’s support.

– Arati Prabhu

Note:
Chintamani Tryambak Khanolkar wrote his poetry under the name of Arati Prabhu.

Time and the Tree

If the tree trunk were a clock, your human day would be the circumambulation of daylight waking and night time slumber

If you’re patient, it could be the circumambulation of a waxing moon and a dark fortnight

If you’re still willing to watch, it could be the circumambulation of a summer solstice and an autumn one

If you’ve stayed so long, perhaps, you could see the circumambulation of your entire life, an offering?



To see further, you have to be the tree
the lines of your life merging into its rings,
no longer an exchange
of an inhale and an exhale
just one breath, each an eternity



The day gets slotted into hour long blocks on a calendar, a quick drag and drop of exchanges blocking time between people on a screen.

Sometimes, the blocks get rearranged and I snatch an hour from work to soak in the green. So walks don’t fall into fixed timings and I get to see life around me at different hours.

This morning, I stood in a lush green space, under giant trees listening to parakeets and hornbills, kites and babblers. Watching the orchids grow around this tree trunk, it made me think of a dial. We live our days around a clock, marking time and wondered how might time be perceived from the lens of a tree’s being?

And so these words spilled, a tree’s whisperings.

A year

And somewhere along the week, another year passed and slipped into the next.

 

A prime number year.

A brutal year as also a gift.

A year of long walks in silence.

A year of much healing and many words.

A year of becoming, on a mat and in the woods.

A year of teachers under open skies and a blue mat.

 

A year of thanks.

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by the resident artist

 

 

Abandoned houses

Sundays have been restful days since the last couple of months. A complete day off. Sometimes, the youngling and I take off either for a long walk or a drive. Yesterday, we quickly finished stocking up a bit of fresh produce and a few essentials before heading out to the other end of town. We got a takeaway breakfast, listened to music of her choice and drove past the cantonment in our neighbourhood to the one further away in Khadki. Khadki or Kirkee as it used to be known is an old cantonment, approximately 200 odd years old. It is home to some beautiful old trees, quaint churches as well as old houses, some of them abandoned and in various stages of disrepair.

Kirkee War Cemetery

The light was really pretty around this house.

This one had a bovine squatter!

While a strict lock-down is imminent, it doesn’t feel restrictive personally since the lock-down lifestyle continues save for the restriction on walks and drives. I guess this lock and open game will continue as surges become unmanageable and hospitals run out of beds. In the hour or two that I am out, I see many screeching ambulance hurrying through red lights. The pandemic has lost its ability to shock. Now, it’s simply a part and parcel of everyday living. I suppose when the loss hits closer home, it will bring its own sorrow but else there seems to be a desensitization to its virulence.

Methodist Church

Over the centuries, we have developed some control over some diseases and have come up with tools and techniques to predict natural calamities but largely control is illusory. The planet and her natural laws are boss, we’d be smart to acknowledge that and learn to co-exist with her other creatures and the natural world at large. It seems doubtful though that we will really change if the current is any indication, not just in terms of the environment, hygiene and the likes but also in the way we live amongst our own kind.

I’ve often dwelled on death and dying to understand what it might mean to live and be alive. In yoga practice, one often ends with savasana or the corpse pose. It seems deceptively easy. How difficult can lying down with your eyes shut be but to really inhabit that pose, one has to be prepared to experience being dead. That sense of surrender is a difficult one, making it quite a challenging asana to stay in. Much of what passes for savasana is often guided relaxation and not really resting in the space of not being.

The daughter made an interesting observation that we spent more time outdoors in these months than pre lock-down. She’s gone cycling for at least an hour or two most days while I’ve gone on long walks. It’s been an immersion into the local flora and fauna and there has been a curiosity to understand more about the mini forest that is just around the corner. The woods facing my balcony have also been a rich experience ever since I moved here in December. Seeing it as a green headed space to stark browns to a verdant green again has been a meditation on the march of seasons. The balcony is a restful space and an old pair of binoculars has allowed me to enjoy watching birds and butterflies. The lushness is camouflage now and one has to sit simply for a while to notice the avian activity. I still can’t identify many of the birds, especially the smaller ones but it is interesting to find out. There are many enthusiasts who share freely of their knowledge and then good old books.

Balcony birding

The butterflies are in full form now. In fact, yesterday at one of the old ruins of a house I counted around 10 different species in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes. That compound was a large one and I suspect that the property has a well or another water source. I saw a man, presumably a wandering mendicant in an orange lungi who was putting on a shirt. In another corner of the property, a man sat on a tree with a bag next to him. Homeless people also need their makeshift homes to sit out the vagaries of the weather or people. That particular place had a section of the outer wall still standing and wooden window frames. The brickwork on the house seemed to be from a later period compared to the other ruins I’ve seen. Those bricks are much slimmer.

This property had a riot of butterflies

I found myself looking at the top left window and imagined a woman looking out from a century ago. What would her world be like? What might have she seen from behind the curtains? Did a family live there? Was it a large one or a small one, a happy one or a tormented one? Whose were the ghosts that roamed within its walls? How did the house come to be derelict? Abandoned homes and the stories they can tell. So many reasons, why they are left without pulsating bodies. But that is perhaps something best left undisturbed.

It reminds me of a few lines I wrote a couple of years back.

Abandoned Adeniums

The garden lies untended

No wild overgrowth

Just desolate dust

The Buddha, silent

The house, still

The windows, blank

The doors, unopened

No baby cries

No kitchen smells

No music of life

No singing birds

No blinking lights

Just a mute house

and abandoned adeniums

that bloom

I used to know a house like that…

Of friendships and flowers

A couple of evenings ago, a friend came over. We met after a few weeks. I love it when she calls to say, “I’m coming over, will have coffee.” While I prefer a strong shot of black, she prefers filter coffee and I enjoy the slow process of making it happen. The smell of coffee as boiling water is poured into the filter, the clang of tongs and the vessel as they are set down, the sound of milk coming to a boil and the whoosh as it settles down. Finally, the long pouring of coffee into two cups. It’s an incredible sensory experience.

S was the first friend I made in this city and as our tentative acquaintance found common ground, she and her family became mine too. Slowly, the pieces of our lives grew like a comfortable patchwork quilt.

She is an amazing culinary artist, we met over food on a now defunct food platform. It was an idea just a little before its time. I did a feature on her and in the course of our conversations, discovered that we shared a common love for flowers. There’s something about fresh stems which makes any living space light up. The last lot she got had yellow snapdragons, uncommon in the Pune market. Usually, it’s a mix of tuberoses, gladioli, liliums, chrysanthemums and whatever wild flowers are in season. Sometimes, we would toss it up with roses, carnations, orchids etc.

Once a week or fortnight, we’d head out to the market and lose our heads over the gorgeous blooms, always returning with more than we needed. Eventually, we got our quantities down to a pat and still later, we became even more efficient with one person shopping for the two of us. But that efficiency killed the slow mornings and unfolding of our selves. The couple of hours shopping, coming back and sorting the stems over coffee stretched to make space for sharing the travails of raising our kids, relationship challenges and work related issues. It took a backseat in the busyness of our work and chores. I suppose it is the case for almost all relationships, a ticking off check boxes in order to maintain them or appear to do so. Conversations can quickly settle into the nature of updates. People still meet for a meal or coffee but the spending of time doing an activity together has a different flavour.

Those unhurried times helped to strike roots in this city, perhaps not very deep but still strong enough to not have a sense of being in transit. Although there is a lack of attachment to the place, there’s an easy familiarity and love for its flowering trees, quiet stretches and laid back feel although it is a lot noisier and crowded now. Flowers make my heart smile, there’s something so full about them, especially those on trees and plants that have but one day of living but what a glorious day it is!

The most beautiful things in the world are at once simple and profound, like the heart of a flower. Most of my pleasures remain simple and freely available- flowers, birds, bugs, stones, trees, animals, water bodies, clouds and all things in the open. They gladden my heart and senses. Since lockdown, I’ve enjoyed their colours and scents in my little garden as well as the riotous burst on the streets. Summer is always a good time in Pune, the colours rising almost like a Mexican wave- purples, yellows, oranges, reds, whites.

From the garden today and a few lines from a while ago…

in a world without flowers
the world would know no colours
rainbows would grow pale and die

and dreams …
why dreams would be
shades of grey!

It’s been months since we bought flowers.

Lilies in the rain

lilies strain to taste the showers

slanting lines of rain- ambrosia

soon, they’ll yawn flower blushes

pink, yellow, white

it is their season after all

of rain kissed lightness

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meanwhile unblinking people stare

into blue screens

scrolling, rolling, roiling, toiling

until their eyes stray to

growls of thunder

and a burst of lilies in the rain

Cave of forgotten dreams

Saw a brilliant documentary today on the Chauvet Caves in France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Discovered in 1994, these are over 32,000 years old and in pristine condition, as fresh as though they were drawn yesterday. They are the oldest known paintings in the world! And all that history lay undisturbed for so long. I was reminded of the time the youngling picked up burnt charcoal pieces from the ashes of the holi fire and sat down to sketch as a 10 year old. The need to create is a primal one, even the Gods are not spared according to myth.

The cave paintings are beautiful, firm of hand, steady, sure. The subject matter is mostly animal life, fauna that would have abounded in the region in that period. I wonder where did they practise to have such steadiness? Proportion, light and shadow, perspective, contours, motion – that takes keen observation, practice. Where did they hone their skill? The pictures are incredibly beautiful. How old or young were the artists? Did they learn from someone or was it spontaneous? What were the thoughts that led to the creation? Did they have a concept of a future far ahead? Did they/he/she think of it as something to be left behind? How did they experience the seeing and the recall of the animals that came to be sketched on the wall with charcoal and red ochre? How would it have been to create in that space? Would the dark and silence have heightened their senses? There are more questions than there can be answers.

Language is beautiful, powerful and elaborate. Yet when it comes to sheer awe, perhaps aural and visual art score a little more. Their eloquence is in their capacity to reach the senses where the immediate responses are less cerebral. Words seem extraneous to the experience of that state of being. And I wonder, what other art did those people indulge in? Did the artist/artists make music, hum in languages we will never know as they painted in those dark spaces? How much time did they spend looking at the walls before the images emerged? How much time did it take to complete? Did they identify themselves as creators of the art in some fashion?

And it makes me question what would our art tell someone 32,000 years from now? Would it inspire the same awe? Would there be a coherence like the ones these paintings seem to exude? In 2020, we are a Babel of art, leaping over a multiplicity of themes, crisscrossing boundaries.

The documentary has men and women from different disciplines, trained in the ways of science but they too sense something beyond the realm of pure science, something at a more primal level. Julien Monney, one of the team present during the movie talks about “A feeling of powerful things, deep things. A way to understand things which is not a direct way.” Clottes speaks about fluidity and permeability and brings in the ideas of transformation, transmigration and the communion between the spirit and the material world. Did those anonymous artists use art as an end or as a means?

There’s the recollection of an Aborigine’s point of view that comes towards the end. The man touches up a decaying painting and a western archaeologist asks him why is he painting over it? And he tells him that he is not painting. It is the hand spirit who is actually painting. And that thought there feels like an echo of what I experience when I write whatever I write. A sense that the words come through me but are not of me.

There are a couple of disjointed scenes like the random introduction of a perfumer and crocodiles which don’t add anything much. It almost feels like the trick question in class that a teacher poses just to see who is paying attention. Post the movie, I spent some time looking at the stunning images. You can find them here 

And couldn’t resist a few lines…

When the ice melts, who

hears its silence as it swells

in a water drop?

 

words

I want to gather all the words from all the beautiful sentences and read them, with their curves and slashes, printed or handwritten. I want to let my eyes wander over their structure and form, balance and asymmetry, reach out and trace their shapes as though they are alive. I want to do all this before the light dims and my eyes go silent.

But then there are too many to gather, my heart and head can hold only so much. So, I watch them go by, some on a blinking screen, others in the smells of pages I will never turn. Some linger and yet others grow into words that will escape from my fingers. They hold memories of words tasted and shared, hidden and abandoned.

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Some of them roam in moonlit dawns and alight on blank pages

the moon on my floor_
reluctant lover of mine
denying always…

Others will fall into time

time yawns, swallowing
days, words, thoughts, dreams, silences
unending chasm…

Most | restrained |