Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Of Roots

Constants are funny things.

Just when you cynically grin at them, and have wednesday-morning-breakfasted them- jamming them between conversations with your father and the Hindu's supplements [an un-gluing exercise for your eyelids, nothing more]- they hop back at you, armed with the..erm.. Molagga Podi Of Memory, and the Id-lis of self doubt.

A morning discovery, thus.

Ideas are never cliches. Though the words and phrases we use to voice them often are. Love, Kashmir, World peace, abortion, the arms-race- They still matter. Just that thanks to bad news reports, school elocution competitons and other such monsters, they get cereal-boxed in our brain, and become things to pull out on birthdays, so's we can cheerfully pinch their cheeks and exclaim My, how you have grown!

Love, Kashmir, World peace, abortion, the arms-race...


God, how I have desliked that furry little bugger.
All my almost-two decades of living have been filled with him giggling and cartwheeling over the lawn of my conscience, crushing the slim leaf-blades of my..umm...pride?... Sense of completeness? Cheshire-catness.

On some level, I have loved the way I have come from everywhere. I have loved the way I used to come to Madras and thus my grandmother on holiday, and then return, ear-popped and smiling at the amber lights of the airport at Seeb, Oman telling myself "home".

I have loved that I could -gleefully- leave the caste and community boxes empty on all those school forms. I have loved that my lack of a vernacular language has caused professors and "aunties" alike to tie themselves up in knots over trying to entymologize "mother tongue" for me. I have loved that mum and dad never saw it fit to force a language I did not think in down my throat, in the name of culture and- roots. I have loved that my very presence, my very being has caused self-labelled anti-globalizationalists to go into cardiac arrest.

I have loved these things yes. But anomalies can bruise your knuckles... have felt very very lint-ballish too. A lack, I thought.

I respect the concept of the samurai, btw. The thought of walking endlessly, only honor and dignity and skill to call your own- Anyone remember Ronin? Yes, yes.. De Niro *Sighs* That dialogue that contexts the whole film? Yes, things like that.


"Where do you come from?" Damn. Another one of those questions I've never been able to answer. I live in Chennai. I have lived in Muscat.

"Yes, yes, but WHERE ARE YOU FROM??"

Ah, but I refuse to give into post-colonial debate... surely Sir Naipaul sits in that chair picturesquely enough?

And yet... and yet whenever I come across a piece of memory, told with all that clenching heart-break that only comes with the absence of a thing once known, still loved, still held to be one's point of origin... whenever I hear of ancestral homes, traditions passed down through grandmothers, and trees planted by men and women who smile in sepia prints- There's a quiet recognition. A knowledge, that yes, that cannot be my story, but it is that of a thousand people, past thousand years and into a thousand futures of dimly recollected languages and saris that smell of moth balls.

My friend Gul wrote down her story, delving into a memory-bag that... Jesus. I cannot talk to her of the future, of carpe dieming, of carrying forward, of walking different paths, finding new names, threading out from the many lines that have been before us. That is my story, my way.

What I can do, is to tell you that the colours and tastes and smells in this post of hers had me sitting here a long while, seeing in her words a world which has such a throbbing reality for her that it hurt for me to read: that so much could once be, and then float out into time...

...the way bad haircuts, old shoes, and Backstreet Boys posters do, but with a clawing dignity that Casper's ones dreams... through the scars of long-unused petnames...and those of flat lines where family trees used to be...

Come read her post. And tell me...when you have the time... one story or one song that was your grandmother's.... that she either fed you, or put you to sleep with...


Oh, and... This one's for appupa- my grandfather- Who changed his name for love. Whom I have never known. Who read Shakespeare to my grandmother. The man- or so my grandmother claims- who I remind her of.

by Philip Levine

My father stands in the warm evening
on the porch of my first house.
I am four years old and growing tired.
I see his head among the stars,
the glow of his cigarette, redder
than the summer moon riding
low over the old neighborhood. We
are alone, and he asks me if I am happy.
"Are you happy?" I cannot answer
I do not really understand the word,
and the voice, my father's voice, is not
his voice, but somehow thick and choked,
a voice I have not heard before, but
heard often since. He bends and passes
a thumb beneath each of my eyes.
The cigarette is gone, but I can smell
the tiredness that hangs on his breath.
He has found nothing, and he smiles
and holds my head with both his hands.
Then he lifts me to his shoulder,
and now I too am there among the stars,
as tall as he. Are you happy? I say.
He nods in answer, Yes! oh yes! oh yes!
And in that new voice he says nothing,
holding my head tight against his head,
his eyes closed up against the starlight,
as though those tiny blinking eyes
of light might find a tall, gaunt child
holding his child against the promises
of autumn, until the boy slept
never to waken in that world again.


Anonymous said...

Hey, you look like Salman Rushdie, who also happens to be a guru on culture.

oxy_moron said...

Thanks for dropping by and those lovely comments and crisp cookies:)

Shockingly blasphemous as it may sound, but a sad fact is that I discovered the master (PGW) only a couple of months back..the good thing though is that its made me come to peace with myself now that i've discovered the reason for my insignificant existence...the other big questions about life, universe and betting should also be answered as the pages unfold:)

You are obviously someone who is too much in love with writing so it's no wonder that you do such a brilliant job of it..keep it up!


Dreamcatcher said...

Came via Gul's blog and the passion with which u dig up ur feelings is pretty amazing..
And to post ur innermost thoughts on blogspot with such honesty..a lil unnerving, a lil shocking, totally unconventional. I read it thrice.
Take care.