Of words and tongues, silence and knowing

Words find you.

A re-reading of a book on yoga pointed me to Ananda Coomaraswamy and from then on it was a cascading into Indian culture and regional literature. I picked up books I had with me for a while and proceeded to get hold of a few more until I was swept away in the sheer volume and brilliance of thought and language. And these are translations in English. It made me want to listen to them in their original, so I found myself listening and watching related works in Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Hindi. It’s something we take for granted in this country, being conversant in multiple languages. I had never really stopped to consider a proficiency in multiple tongues but that’s something I’ve started to rectify by including more of their flavours in my consumption.

There’s something about regional languages, at once a particular lineage of a family/community tongue as well as a transmission of collective memory of spaces, times, events and associations that come down the ages. A continuum of sounds, unbroken as generations of their vibrations spill from womb to womb until they reach the present individual. I’m reminded of a line from a movie I recently watched, “From the first human hand print on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous”. And as the species evolves, memories associated with words begin to fade away keeping time with the experience of living changes from one that used to be deeply rooted in the rhythm of the natural world to one where we rearrange time and space. Sangam literature, for example, is rich with descriptions of the landscapes of their action but many of the scenes that come alive in their verses are no longer quite the reference for our expressions of emotions and thoughts.

The need for information is greater than knowledge and so we tend to approach meaning directly when an oblique reaching out and patient receiving would perhaps reveal its meaning in a different, multi-dimensional way. I suppose darsanam that is spoken about is probably a result of something similar. It is something I have observed during time on the mat as I settle into shapes of the body and breath and let the mind expand without resisting. Things express themselves, connections make themselves apparent. The meditations on conjunctions in one of the Upanishads provide a valuable clue in how one might approach this way of knowing, a subjective, experiential one as opposed to an objective one. Over time, much of these intuitive sensations and experiences are validated through an objective exploration.

I’ve often wondered how it might be if we lived in a world without language. Our first expression is sound, the wailing as we enter a world of senses. The same Upanishad begins with a reminder about phonetics and progresses from there on. That’s how language begins for all of us- varna, swara, matraa, balam, saam, santaanah. It is through being washed in sound that we learn language. And silence is probably the most eloquent of all languages. It is in silence that we begin to hear, life pulsating within the body, the songs of the breeze as it moves through trees, bird sounds, the music of waves or the stunning quietude of mountains.

Perhaps, I have broken a magical spell by writing here but it felt like a moment to emerge from a cocoon and fly, if only for a day.

A smattering of current reads that decided to come along for a ride.

Converge

A few days ago, I ended up reading bits and pieces from different books at various points during the day and there were three themes that sprang up. Dying, Forgiving and Love. I found the three again soon after in an endearing movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.

A cynical, jaded journalist who is known for ripping people apart is disarmed by the kindness and love of a stranger. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers brings the gift of his complete presence to his interactions and invites people into his mindscapes of difficult emotions. He does this through the weathered puppets who have accompanied him on his journey as a host for a children’s show. The movie revolves around difficult parent-child relationships through the lens of death and abandonment. A dying father finds it necessary to make peace with his estranged son. Ultimately, an autumn funeral is one of love that finds redemption in the character of Mathew Rhys wanting to be a better dad.

Dying

About 8-9 years ago, I became interested in Indian philosophy and since then dying has had fascination as a thought for reflection. B.K.S. Iyengar’s words probably express it best, “Live Happily, Die Majestically”. It is considered inauspicious to talk about death and dying but that’s what we are heading towards the minute we are born. I’ve found being aware of mortality, my own and that of loved ones has been a way to live more intensely and joyously in the present. Now more than ever it seems urgent to reflect on what it means to die and therefore how one should live. In the context of yogasana, I remember Geeta Iyengar asking if one is willing to die in the pose? Change happens in that moment and space of a breaking point. Stick around, walk into the pain and you cross over into an unimaginable freedom.

Forgiving

Forgiving has always been a contentious word for me. Who am I to forgive anyone? But while sitting with the thought, it automatically split into ‘for’ and ‘giving’ and that made sense. Service. Giving like the flower gives, giving like the bird sings, giving like the sun shines. Giving wholly of oneself is its own reward. Often, it means just sharing our stories as they are. At the end of a life, the holding back of their ability to connect and heal don’t matter and just make for a dead weight kind of living in isolation. Vulnerability is like having the shell ripped off a soft body and the fear of being crushed is very real but it is also a taking one’s place under the sun in one’s fullness. That’s a brilliance which touches everything around it.

Yehudi Menuhin’s foreword in Light on Yoga is one of my favourite passages and a sentence in there expresses it best. “Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created- unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation- in the garden of Eden.” I’ve experienced this sense of innocence in my yoga teachers too. It’s a clarity of a clear stream in which they allow all to enter, the good, the bad and the ugly without any discrimination and with compassionate detachment. So, the stream remains unsullied even while allowing all who enter it to wash away the accumulated dust of tendencies.

Love

Love was the first theme I had encountered during the course of that reading day but while reflecting on all three, it made sense to see it as the last and encompassing the other two. My reading was from The Prophet and one of my favourite lines from that prose poem is, ‘All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart’. Recently, I got a lovely note from my daughter where she spoke of a state of flow, desire, abundance, detachment all aligning themselves with one’s destiny. She ended with I love you. Three simple words and I was grateful to be the recipient of those beautiful words while also keenly aware that I haven’t been able to say it to my parents.

There’s one point in the movie where Tom Hanks asks Rhys to hold a moment for those who loved us into being. It’s a moment where the other patrons in the restaurant also pause and I found myself pausing. But, that was a hard minute. One that also flowed into thinking about who do we really know as our parents. My mother reminisces about her childhood and youth and I listen. I also listen to my daughter about her young life impressions and switch between the roles of child and parent even as the individual me relates to my family members as individuals. As I listen to my mother, it is easier to understand how a young person was shaped through life experiences and inherent attitudes to meeting them. And my daughter’s words allow me to see that process as it is unfolding.

Kindness as a mirror

In the movie, Tom Hanks becomes the kind mirror we need to see ourselves and our frailties. The puppets in his bag are a poignant reminder of our lives alluding to the way we are played by the strings of our hurts, anger, fears, victories, loves, losses and a gamut of memories and inabilities. Often, they are patterns so firmly entrenched that it seems nigh impossible to even consider the possibility of another way of expression. Tom Hanks seems too good to be true and when Mathew Rhys likens him to a living saint, his wife points out that that would make what he has seem unattainable for people! She goes on to say, “he works at it all the time, it’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person, he has a temper. He chooses how he responds to that anger. He does things every day that help to ground him… reads scripture, swims laps, prays for people, writes letters, hundreds of them.” Letters really jumped out, I find them almost a meditation that can be shared with another and they have been a constant especially in the last few months.

Lately, I’ve found that all my loves converge and compartmentalizing them into neat little web notebooks is becoming harder. They seem to spill into each other and perhaps it is time to bring them all as a singular offering. Call it the yoga of words perhaps or sound. Writing is really speaking on paper or a screen, a silent sound if you please.And I find yoga in every moment of living, in music, musings and movement. It makes for a rich living even in the bleakest of times, providing an anchor to meet whatever comes or goes with a light heart and steady gaze filled with love.

I wish you love.
I wish you light.
I wish you life.

A stranger life

I’m not a big facebook fan and end up using it mostly in the course of work. So, I saw a message from a stranger almost a month later and it was a curious thing. This person had figured a few of my blogs as well as my name through them and was intrigued about a lack of face on my saree posts enough to want to reach out. Sometimes, I do that too, reach out to people although it’s mostly because of words. It got me thinking of how people connect in this century and also why. But that is for a later post.

In pandemic times, our interactions have changed in their texture. There’s either a frantic need to maintain old socializing in a virtual avatar or a retreating into journals, books, letters and blogging. So much of our lives are about places we go or things we do and so being confined brings very little to conversation as exchange of raw thoughts can be frighteningly intimate.

Yesterday, technology gave way. My internet device went bust and later the phone hung. It refused to shut down or restart. And truth be told, I was relieved to be disconnected. After trying without success to reconnect to the call I was on, I calmly put aside everything and wrote a letter. Then an entry in my journal to mark the day and a book in bed before sleep stole on me. I slept for 12 hours straight.

Today has been reflective, a little despairing, mildly cynical, a tad bit impatient and curious too. I could attribute the shaking of a steadiness to a variety of factors perhaps the last two books I finished? In case you want to know, they were Disgrace and Giovanni’s Room. They were recommendations from another stranger. Sometimes I think it is easier to exchange digital words with people one never needs to know. Days like these make me want to crawl into a cave. But life has a penchant for teasing and torments by denying what one seeks.

The shrieking parakeets this morning reminded me of this khesh saree and so it became the accompaniment to my day…

I sat calmly listening to a an old woman who needed to talk, a young girl who was frustrated about being unable to go cycling. Behind the eyes which were with them, there was impatience to get back to my page where a half written sentence demanded completion. Eventually, time made itself available but the need to finish the line dried up like the ink in my pen.

In the midst of all that, a friend prodded me to do something I wouldn’t ever have considered. But I said yes, spontaneously. It felt right although I didn’t expect it to move at the pace it did. I’ve mostly gone where the river of life has taken me and so far it’s been interesting. I suppose one can liken the river bed across miles to the constancy of one’s personhood and the different features along its course as the various experiences one encounters – enriching, depleting, polluting, reviving. Along the way, it’s song meanders through joyous notes and plaintive ones, furious thundering and quiet whispering. Eventually the waters will spill into the ocean and all those songs will drown into a majestic silence. I find myself with a longing creep in for that soundlessness.

Feast

He read a poem
and she fell in love
with herself
just like the words
promised.
She sat
and feasted
on food
on words
and smiled
at the stranger she met

A Sunday brunch after a philosophy class in the company of a poet’s last work. I was introduced to the poem Love after Love by a friend and since that first reading, I find myself with that same sense of wonder at the discovery of oneself. Inspired by the spirit of the words of Derek Walcott, I took myself out to lunch and feasted on my life.

Sharing the poem below because good things must be shared.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott

A reader’s writing

I’ve been a reader since I was 8 or 9 and discovered that I could lose myself in the written word. There was no need to navigate people and situations with a book, one could live suspended in another’s world. It’s been many years and the act of reading has been a faithful one. Some years, I read fiction, some mythology, still others biographies and for many, I studied ancient texts. It has been an unending love affair with books. The finishing of a few of them have been an aching loss while others have been dipped into again and again.

Now that many years have passed since that first children’s book, I find that there is a maturing of the reader too, a coming of age. I thought the grown up books I read as an adolescent made me adult and worldly but I found that one needs the experience of living, loving and losing to truly taste language in all its multi hued nuances. I just finished an expansive volume on Kama by Gurcharan Das, a modern unpacking of desire and it unleashed many words inside that I didn’t know existed. Words of poetry or philosophy, I know not. Can they be both? Where does one end and the other begin or have they no boundaries? Maybe they’ll surface here, maybe not but I do hope they are found after I am gone.

Leaving with a musing that wrapped many layers from the colour of my saree to the book I read…

Half and Half

Ascetic. Erotic.
Blue Bodies

Half of him is her
Half of her is him

Upward. Downward.
One mind

Half of her is him
Half of him is her

Bound. Unbound.
Forever free

Half of him is him
Half of her is her

Notes on Desire

What is this desire
Will it burn and consume
Will it stoke and feed

Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha are the purusharthas or four goals of human life and living. Each stage of life, roughly estimated at 25 years was meant to be devoted to one of the goals in that order to maintain harmony in the individual and society. Essentially, it was to keep a time and place for all aspects of being human. In the context of our diminished times, they can be split into 20 year blocks and it will still remain true. Go explore.

Desire

2020 woke me up to the sounds of peacocks.

2019 was tumultuous silence.

It’s difficult to make sense of a year that destroyed life as I knew it. Early on in the year, the word relentless got set as a cue and proceeded to unravel the frayed threads that were held together with the grime of inertia. The year stripped me naked with nothing left to hide and nowhere to hide unlike Draupadi’s disrobing which never unclothed her. It left her with smoldering rage while I became a clear stream.

Of all the sarees, this humble Kadappa cotton is probably what desire would look like for me

A year later, I find myself drawn to ‘desire‘ and maybe this will be a year of discovery. What do I desire? We’ll know in 12 months. Serendipity, I don’t know but the first book of the year is Kama The Riddle of Desire and right in the early pages, the author says, “Over the years I have come ro realize that one has to be deserving of desire.” As a theme, it has been a subject matter for my offline writings and I cannot help but draw a parallel between the act of writing and desire. Both seek expression. Can the wild flower refuse to blossom for you?

Desire is that wild bloom, for its own sake.

May the year show you what you truly desire.