The author of Rum, Road n’ Ravings wants you to take a swig of his favourite drink.
Many fear they cannot grow a palate for its queer taste. It is too complicated a thing to be appreciated by uneducated eyes. The sweet strains of it fail to reach them through the impervious ears to tug at their emotions.
Very difficult to understand, sir. Incomprehensible.
We had poetry sessions when I worked in a college in Kollam. I asked my kids to bring candles, no, mancherathu/idinjil (earthen lamps we use to light on Karthika nights) for the meetings. Oh! How we used to sit around in a circle inside the dark seminar hall with lamps burning before each one of my kids. I still feel the tingling at the back of my neck, thinking about those moments.
We read out the lines in turn. The dim light from the earthen lamps swathed us with a golden glow. I saw poems melting in right through the little crevices of their ossified minds in the radiance.
We packed our bags, vanished from the seminar hall to travel through exotic places and times.
That is no wonder.
Like the putty a painter dabs on the walls to cover up those little chinks and gaps on the surface, the observations of a poet seep in to fill out the tiny voids in our life. We only have to empty our cups to receive them.
So we went through the same lines again and again to see how the little bumps the poet had discretely thrown in our way, rouse us to beautiful landscapes grouping and ungrouping on the sidelines, over the wall.
We learned together that it was only difficult to take the first swig of poetry. After which we abandoned ourselves blissfully as drunkards.
Some poems create a vagueness in our hearts, a sweet vagueness that gives us a dull pain.
It leaves an impression so eluding that it won’t catch even if you run your fingers over it; a vague sensation of an aroma which could have suddenly stumbled into our room, apologized and fumbled out an hour ago, a strain of a song intended for the nocturnal birds, but which the ear suspects that it has picked a moment ago.
It is something which appears only when you look elsewhere.
“Today in my heart, I felt a vague tremor of stars,” says the poet, Lorca.
To feel the vague tremor of a star in your heart! To hold a night sky inside you. How can you escape the magnitude of existence when you hold the trembling of a star in your heart?
You too might have felt this oneness with a distant star many times in your life as you lay on the terrace gazing at the twinkling in the sky. The point is, don’t press it hard. Under pressure, our minds are notorious in denying what they have seen or felt just to conform themselves with the general folks.
But at leisure, when nobody is demanding anything, poems give tongue to those feelings which we thought were born mute.
“I am too close for him to dream of me/ I don’t flutter over him, don’t flee him/ Beneath the roots of trees. I am too close.”
This could be what a wife, who wonders at the gradual loss of her husband’s affection, feels long into marriage. She never thought one could disappear from the world of one’s partner by getting too intimate.
Sadly she doesn’t flutter anymore over him, nor flee from him, but is thrust right inside the mind of her husband, peering into the inbox of his mobile, checking his mails, validating his friends thus making him part of the furniture of the house (She knows where a chair is, at a given point of time).
But now when it is too late she realizes what it costs to get too close. There is a sweet distance at which you can appreciate things. Up close love gets pixlated. Here my mind wanders. Khalil Gibran said, “There should be spaces in your togetherness.”
That rings a bell for many of my readers, I know.
But why be sad at the loss of affections, when everything else in the world is slipping away.
Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish poet knows how long she could hold on to things: “Everything’s mine but just on loan / Nothing for the memory to hold,/ Though mine as long as I look.”
Memories also wither away one by one, but one poet knows where to latch her lover on. The safest place to tag the best memories and the dearest ones is our kindergarten days:
“I want to memorize you like that song in the first grade / The one I hold on to /Complete and / With no mistakes / The lisp, the tilt of the head, off key /The small feet pounding the concrete so eagerly / The open palms pounding the benches.”
Ah! How we used to sing “Jingle bells” and “Father we thank you” at school! We didn’t know the meaning, but we still can reproduce the tune, the timbre, that tilt of the head, the feet pounding the concrete… Those days are the only pockets where you can stash away the most precious memories as old age comes in search of them.
Memories eventually have to march one by one like those lemmings into some distant river as you can witness in the poem, ‘Forgetfulness’.
“As if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor / decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain ,/ to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night / to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war. / No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted / out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.”
See, how the worlds of fiction and life become a seamless tapestry at the end. The moon is no longer a moon, a physical entity hanging on the air, but some fictional object drifted out of a poem you have once read.
My grandmother, when she was too old, used to cry a lot at the plight of a character in a novel she last read, two decades ago.
But her heart sank for other reasons also.
Now I understand, ammamma, why you sobbed when you saw me sending down paper boats down the little channels of rainwater formed behind our house during monsoons.
There were no voyagers in them, ammamma.