Saturday, June 28, 2008

Vallamai Tharaayo

My interest in tamil poetry stems primarily out of Bharatiyaar lyrics I learnt as songs that my Sir expained beautifully in trying to make us feel "it" and express the emotion when we sang them.
Hampered greatly by my limited knowledge of the literary style of the language (some will argue that my spoken style isn't great shakes either....though I vehemently disagree!), I find that other stuff takes me forever to comprehend.
Anyway, I am going to rave in this post about one of Bharatiyaar's most famous songs, engraved in the collective conscience of tamil movie audiences by a despodent looking Kamal Hassan singing it in Varumaiyin niram sigappu. Nalladhir Veenai seidhe is a wonderful song that is essentially devotional. Bharathi asks the goddess Sivasakthi to grant him some "things" and what is most striking is not just the "things" he asks for but the tone , which is almost as if he demands that she give him what he is asking for.
nalladhor veenai seidhe - adhai
nalam keda puzhidhiyil erivadhundo ?
solladi sivasakthi - ennai sudarmigum
arivudan padaithuvittai
Having made a beatiful Veena-
would you throw it to dust and let it rot?
Tell me oh Sivasakthi-
Why have you bestowed me with sparkling wisdom?
vallamai thaaraayo - intha
maanilam payanura vaazhvatharke
solladi sivasakthi -
nilachumayena vaazhnthida puriguvayo ?
Give (me) skill so this society
may live a fruitful life
Would you rather, Oh Sivasakthi ,
that they spent it being a burden to the land they tread?
visaiyaru pandhinai pol - ullam
vendiyapadi sellum udal kaettenn
asaiyuru manam ketten - nitham
navamena sudar tharum uyir kaetten
I ask for a body that does the bidding of my soul
much like a ball
I ask for a clean heart and a spirit that is kindled
anew each day
dasayinai thee chudinum
siva sakthiyai paadum nal agam kaeten
asaivaru mathi kaetten - ivai
arulvathil unakkaethum thadaiyullatho ?
I ask to be able to sing your praise
in the most difficult times (when my skin is on fire)
I ask for unshakeable wisdom
Tell me Oh sivasakthi- what stops you from bestowing on me all this?
I love how it starts...ok I love it all. The imagery is so powerful and I think thats what makes most of his poetry so inspirational. Here its almost as if he is chiding the Goddess. He says - Does it make any sense to you that someone would put all that energy into crafting this beautiful Veena and then just throw it in dust? Well if that doesn't make sense to you then all this energy you have put into creating this beatiful Veena that is the human form is a waste if you don't also give me all these other things. Without them , my existence is a burden on this land.
And then after a long list of things he wants, in one sentence he summarises the pride he feels in this human form, the admiration he feels for the almighty that crafted it and his perception of the enormity and omniscient presence of this entity when he says "What stops you from granting me all this?" meaning that while all this will enhance my already beautiful form so that I will also be useful to myself and others....I don't see how you could have missed my creator, you who knows everything and you, for who this new list of demands is not a big deal.
While higher being like Bharathi have more abstract demands, all I am asking for at this point is the will to keep awake and not goof off :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Separation revisited

Among my favorite poems, and indeed the only one I remember fully is this poem that I had written about quite long back in this post.
A conversation with a friend yesterday brought it up again and now two years hence and a little wiser (I would like to think) about such things, I felt the need to revisit it and add to it.
The poem is titled 'Separation' and has been penned by W.S.Merwin.


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

-- W.S. Merwin

It is a fresh perspective on separation....why do all of us have the need for something or someone to be constant in our lives....this is a repetition of what was said in the last post but every relationship/interaction teaches one a lot....but from some we learn a lot more...we see new parts of ourselves that we fall in love with. Here is a poem that says,
just being with you has made me a different different that its as if you changed something at the core (gone through me) . Indeed unless the change is that dramatic, one doesn't think much of the separation.
But then he says, "everything I do is stitched in its color" and to me that seems to mean that I have accepted this separation and I acknowledge that in everything I do henceforth I see a little of you because of the person I have become from knowing you.

Through this conversation I somehow got reminded of one of the verses from the Yaksha Prashnam episode of the Mahabharata. The pandavas while on exile, are looking for water and find a pond to which they go one after the other and don't seem to return. Yudhistira then goes forth to investigate why the other four haven't come back and finds them lying dead by the lake.
He then hears a yaksha speak to him and the yaksha says Yudhishtira can drink the water only if he answers some questions first.

The set of 20 something questions are Hindu philosophy in a nutshell. But the one I particularly got reminded of in the context of the above conversation is this one:

The yaksha asks Yudhishtira : What is the most surprising thing?
To which Yudhishtira answers thus:

Ahanyahani bhootaani gacchanteeh yamaalayam
Sheshaaha sthavaram icchanti kimaashcharyam ataha param

This translates loosely into: Everyday many living being die (go to the abode of Yama) and the rest of us see this and yet the rest of us live and behave as if we are immortal.

I have since been puzzled at the connection that my head seems to have made but I think the connection comes from the fact that in the bigger scheme of things what matters is that you were associated with someone , for however short a time and the separation in itself is necessary perhaps for life to go on.

This last thought , of course, is not very concrete since I am still thinking of the reason for the connection!

Saturday, April 05, 2008


A poem I read on orkut of all places.....but something that seems perfect.
Somewhere along the road
you meet up with yourself.
Recognition is immediate.
If it happens at the proper
time and place, you propose
a toast:

May you remain as my shadow
when I lie down.
May I live on as your ghost.

Then you pass, knowing you'll
never see yourself that way
again: the fires which burn
before you are your penance,
the ashes you leave behind are
your name.
Enough said.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wedding declarations, Love and Sonnet XVII

Yesterday was a very happy day........... two of my favorite people called and we conferenced after what seemed like was like being back in school in one of those pajama parties...ah how sweet nostalgia smells :D

Anyway, I learned that one of them was getting married and so was another person from the favorites list :D A third favorited person told me later in the day that his wedding plans are also concrete! My list of "favoritest" people in the world is not very long...ok maybe it is longer than most people's but then again my argument is that most people have tiny lists because they have never really given it as much thought and so when you ask then they are coming up with it impromptu and of course they are missing some people. Anyway , back to the point, under the Friends section I have 7 names and with these declarations that makes 6 of them married/going to be married in the next year/ know for sure who they are going to marry though wedding has to wait for various other reasons.

and just the thought filled me with happiness such as I had not felt in a long long time. I am a sucker for happy endings and happy beginnings and it of course reminded me of Neruda. :D:D

So this post is going to feature a poem that was popularized by the movie Patch Adams. While the movie uses it beautifully, I am rather miffed by the fact that now people remember the nice lines but no one remembers that Neruda wrote them!!!!! While all his Love sonnets are awesome , if I were to pick a favorite ( I promise I will not use that word again!) it would have to be Sonnet XVII. It talks of the ideal love. I am almost certain true love feels this way and if it doesn't then I don't think I want this illusion to break.

Anyway, on that ultra sentimental note, here it is. Here is to all of you people on my list , to a happy life ahead and lots of good cheer and laughter....always.

(Ok now quickly make babies so I can do my evil laugh.:D )

Love Sonnet XVII

by Pablo Neruda

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving
but this, in which there is no I or you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so close that when you close your eyes, I fall asleep.

Check out Robin Williams in a tear jerking scene reciting the last paragraph from the movie here

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Haq-e-bandagi ham adaa kar chale

Mir Taqi Mir is among the best Urdu poets that ever lived. More prolific than Ghalib, it is often a topic of much debate even as the urdu literary world tries to pitch one against the other and decide who is better.For a neophyte like me ,of course, one infinity is as big as the other :)

What is interesting in this comparison however, is the difference in their styles. Both penned Ghazals but while Ghalib's style seems more reflective and notes-to-self type, Mir's style is more conversational and in many ways resembles that of Neruda ( the man has to be named in every post :) )

Anyhoo, without further ado , here is one of Mir's ghazals with the as-usual-terrible translation by yours truly. This ghazal, in true sufi style, portrays a love that is hurting but a love that has surrendered to that hurt and in that surrender finds it difficult to give the love or the hurt up.

faqiraana aaye sadaa kar chale
miyaa.N Khush raho ham duaa kar chale

I call out like the beggar on the street,
I wish you all happiness oh Master!

jo tujh bin na jiine ko kahate the ham
so is ahd ko ab wafaa kar chale

I had said life is not worth living without you,
I fulfil that promise today.

koii naa-ummiidaana karate nigaah
so tum ham se muu.Nh bhii chhipaa kar chale

Lest your eyes betray your hopelessness,
You hide even your face from me.

dikhaaii diye yuu.N ki beKhud kiyaa
hame.n aap se bhii judaa kar chale

I see you and forget myself,
I lose my senses so, that it separates me from you.

jabii.n sajadaa karate hii karate gaii
haq-e-ba.ndagii ham adaa kar chale

I pay obeisance and can't seem to stop,
I justify my devotion thus.

kahe.n kyaa jo puuchhe koii ham se "Meer"
jahaa.N me.n tum aaye the, kyaa kar chale

What do I say when someone asks me,
What I have done with my time in this world?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Love from the heights of Machu Picchu

In a blog that has been around for over 2 years now it is very very surprising that not a single post is dedicated to Pablo Neruda. Neruda is one of my favorite poets and it is my firm belief that his poetry can inspire those warm fuzzy feelings of love in the most unfeeling brute.

Suffice to say I don't think the readable length of a blog post will ever do any justice to the peans I wish to sing for this man and hence I shall refrain from making any such attempt. Instead, here are four lines from his first compilation of poems "Twenty love poems and a song of despair" , that, incidentally, he wrote when he was 20.

The love poems are earthy and full of passion and express love in a such a direct way that it makes one glow just thinking of a love like that. However, since I am the melancholy-loving kind, my favorite in the collection is the one "song of despair".

Is it weird that I wish someday I am able to love someone so much that the thought of not being with them brings me despair such as the poem describes?

Anyway , moving on. The full poem can be found in a here

The most poignant four lines are these:

In you the wars and the flights accumulated
From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

I am not going to spoil it by interpreting in horrible sounding words of my own :)

God bless Neruda's trabslators

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Five years of college in a popular city college ensured that I marked my attendance more regularly at the cinema multiplex close by. While I could blame this truancy on coursework that neither demanded any effort nor inspired to learn any more than required, I think it is a very usual and widespread college-goer tendency. Anyway, this Thursday afternoon , I found myself outside the multiplex with A, staring at the posters while we decided which movie to watch. We had been there 3 times already since the Friday past and that meant we had already seen every movie that was worth watching. Victims of media sensationalism and prey to the controversy that was created for this very purpose, we decided to watch Mallika Sherawat's "Murder" making sure Mahesh Bhatt recovered at least some of the money he had spent on raking up all the hullabaloo. We bought the tickets and seated ourselves on the parapet wall nearby while we waited for the previous showing to get done so we could go in.

So we sat there, establishing whose idea it really was so that jibes and looks of disbelief from others when we confessed what movie we had seen could be directed to the rightful party. There was a tap on my shoulder and I turned around to see a Murugan, 8 years old as he later informed us, and a beggar. However, a beggar unlike other beggar kids. He was clean and did not have the sing song "Amma" tone that , unfortunately, drives even the most charitable ,away from these people nowadays. Very lucidly he proceeded to tell us that he had not eaten all day and that his little sister also needed food so we should go around to the restaurant nearby and please buy him food.

A and I exchanged glances and instantly knew we were going to help the kid only because we are both curious about people in general and something out of the stereotype, such as this kid , was most interesting. Our conversation with him for the rest of the 20 minutes we did spend with him went something like this:

A: So where is your sister?
M: She is outside the restaurant saar. I left her there so I could find someone to buy us food.
A: How old are you both?
M: I am 8 and she is 6. Our mother died last year because she got sick. I have been trying to get a job since but some days, like today , I can't find anything to do and we have to go hungry.
A: (Opening mouth to say something, even as M continues)
M: Its not safe you know, leaving a young girl like her alone around here all day. I want her to go to school but that also needs some money.

(A and I have grins on our faces by now not knowing how much of this right-out-of-a-movie-story to believe but we liked his spunk.)

M: What movie are you going to watch Sir?
A : Oh we are here for "Murder" that hindi movie.
M: The one with that woman sitting showing her back? ( Promotional posters of Murder had a back shot of Mallika in a backless swimsuit).
We grinned in agreement.
I: Why Madam you are letting Sir take you to such movies? ( MUAHAHAHA! I like stereotypes when they help you establish whose idea the movie could have been!)

We reach the restaurant and sure enough there is a small girl , looking as clean as Murugan standing there. She sees Murugan and flashes a really cute smile and suddenly this little white woman with the halo over the head appears on my right shoulder and chides me for doubting Murugan's story even if for just a minute. We go in and the restaurant owner greets Murugan warmly, like he would, a daily customer. Murugan informs us that the man lets him and his sister wash up in the restaurant everyday so they can look as clean as they do.

Murugan orders the meal and A offers to buy him dinner too, but Murugan declines. The take out parcels arrive , we pay for them, hand them over to Murugan and say our goodbyes. It's time for the movie.

That makes-you-feel-good-on-the-inside feeling that comes out of having done a good deed is very special and adds the proverbial spring to one's step. Urban India, unfortunately, makes one so cynical that 20 paces later, as we entered the movie hall we knew we had been had. The spring giving way to stomping and the kicking oneself for letting an 8 year old take you for a ride. Murugan was probably returning the food parcel and making his money, giving that "sister" of his her share. Fortunately the movie was about to start and the excitement of being in a theatre to watch Murder of all movies took over quickly. The movie was , to put it charitably, a big disappointment in every way but did make us laugh a lot ( least of all when it was trying to be funny) and forget Murugan for 2 hours.

As we walked out toward the bike parked by the parapet, our blame-game now raised to a shout match, two little hands waved at us from the corner and in a picture perfect shot we saw two big smiles on two small but very happy faces.

Friends in Small Places

Summer is a good time to start doing all that you have been procrastinating because you run out of inane excuses relating to coursework and research. Finding myself in that position right now , I start here something I have been meaning to do for over 6 months now.

My admiration for Ruskin Bond stems not only from the fact that I think his prose has an easy style that I would myself like to emulate but also from the often O. Henryesque depiction of very Indian characters. My favorite collection of his writings is a small book called Friends in Small Places. It is a collection of essays of snippets about the various cameos in his other books and in the 2 pages they each claim, they take you along on a very endearing journey of a slice of their lives. Their likeness to a lot of people I have personally known makes it closer to my heart even as all the warm, fuzzy, sometimes not-so-nice but always real feelings I relate with them emerge everytime I pick up the book and read an essay.

That said, with this post I start putting forth my own set of short essays on people I have known..peppered of course with a lot of fiction driven by my constant useless daydreaming of what could have been :) . I am also thrilled with my recently acquired knowledge of adding labels to my posts ( STOP! before you go on about what a primitive art it is and suchlike blah.... ve are like this only!) so posts in this series shall henceforth be under the FISP label.