Saturday, January 30, 2021

of english and tamil

I have thought for a great deal of life, from the large powerful voices of common knowledge that language is called the mother tongue, because mother spoke it when you were inside of her, and taught it to you first. After 40 years on Earth and 20 years in TikTok land, I am convinced there's a deeper more atavistic meaning for it. I am (insert weasel words here) sure that mother refers to mother earth more closely than mother mine, and language, its the single largest influencer of a person's psyche. Its simultaneously the most precious thing we never want to forget, from what we have and what we lost. 

And I start by emptying the vessel. I am, I am, a fire demon, born in the land of fire, to a language among the oldest, and im convinced, quite one of the most original. Fire runs in my veins and in my memories, and when I am completely still, it is the roaring in my ears without a pause. 

Tamil is my mother tongue, and of a protective necessity, the numbest to description. But I try, because we are running out of time. I dont know if it is a tongue that will make it to the next 100 years. I desperately want it to, having the years of memory and the indivisible I. Tamil is the language of metal, and you can taste the metal in the waters of Chennai, a constant iron, an endless rust. But metal, you argue, is a nice pali-syno-drone for Tamil, coincidence of a rusty memory, not inevitable. But the sounds of the language are unmistakeably metallic - the clangs, the thrrrumms, the gongs. 

If you lived in Chennai, for many years, you might feel it, an inevitable reaction to the constant endless heat and wet wind, burning and melting, all the time, every minute of every day, for years and years. You become. Metal or Rubber. It congeals in your nose and your brain. To this day, I fondly remember my hometown whenever I have a fever, a cold or a migraine. 

English, is one of my first loves. I learned it at age 5, apparently with no instruction whatsoever, although I do remember my father reading stories to me. My father, who has always been nearly invisible to me, for a very many bloody and imagined reasons, took the helm in two distinct decisions for language. He read English to me when I was a baby, and insisted on pain of over his dead body, that I learn advanced Hindi as a second language in school, NOT Sanskrit, NOT Tamil. 

So English. All Indian kids learn English, usually starting at school. Probably a systemic nod to the British rule, but most likely because science expresses itself so easily in English. We are fanatical about science and math for children in India, something that unites all the squabbling tribes. I think of English as the language of wood and wind. Endlessly morphing, creative and the most powerful connector in the world today. And yet, schizophrenically, also the biggest debtor. When I saw the first Harry Potter movie, it finally clicked for me, that the language, it was, quite impossibly exact. 

Till today, I can feel my forehead rising, my ears jamming, and my tongue sharpening to a scalpel, when I switch from Tamil to English. And Tamil is plenty sharp, as it is. But running the whole world on a few languages, is devastatingly stupid. Its a civilizational duh, anyone born in the damn rainforest knows that. Who has also travelled. And maybe had a pet panda?

If pens were swords, Tamil would be the heat seeking missile, and English would be the gunshot. Neither has any real notion of forgiveness or takesie backsie, and both present endless opportunities for humor, nihilism and cynicism. To me though, Tamil is the language of power. English tends to the deafeningly concrete in its definition and expression, whereas Tamilians express power in the fluent abstract. And English is the language of love, every other linguistic representation of it seems to me banal or overdone.

Monday, October 12, 2020

save the trees

 Repost from 2010
When I was in India, I was a grand paper-waster. One of those sinners who will use an entire box of tissues for a morning of sniffles (I also produce phenomenal quantities of phlegm so its public service really). But in the US, even I am shocked by how much is wasted. In cafeterias, restaurants, kitchens, bathrooms, there is a complete lack of respect for paper. In India though, an earnest movement to save paper exists, purely for cost. Someday if I have my own home, it will be a minimum paper place. There will be big fluffy towels everywhere, there will be murals on the wall made of terry cotton, they will be beautiful but you can use them too. The key to making this concept work is quantity, and style. Also dedicated washing and towel rotation timetables. A big investment in beautiful towels. Egyptian cotton with color, form and imagination. Towels will be placed around all water bodies in the house like oases, they will wrap around skins and peek into ears, they will pour from the walls and whip around top speed inside washers. As a bonus, I can change the decor around the home whenever I get bored, which is thrice a day, it will keep me out of trouble. Of course there will be logistics. The flappy will catch earrings and hooks and handles and sharp anythings. The heavy will need lots of support and get worse with water and fall down walls and whiplash passersby on windy days. The lazy inside will ignore morose towels who need TLC, and result in depression. Depressed towels are hard :(. The hygiene will demand paper in the bathroom at least. With a little design and a lot of planning and labor, them towels can be squeezed to drop a rupee into the earthbank

Thursday, November 21, 2019

the sound garden

somewhere after little bits of solitude started creeping into the narrative, constant and growing, small silences growing into larger, like ink bleeding into water, as all things grow, life grew like a monster into the distance, as a speed blur haemorraging change providing everything a human might ever need in a few more lifetimes, and I became, quite miraculously the slowest creature on the bridge of hot coals, with no way but toward, burning all the time, and quite soon charred and lifeless. and I kept stopping, with my newfound solitude, refusing to let go, as life was screaming, as were my feet. as with all pains, after a few years, the massive damage became a matter of course, of growth even, and that which was lost, quite invisible and unnecessary in the constant immediacy of pain and destruction, on which I added a few years, to take back silence. and what happens after we can no longer feel our feet, when there is no ground left to feel even if we wanted to, I was pretty sure I was done, this was it, the soft light coming on was the rest that was now some predatory dream. but apparently what happens after we discard the mortal shell as being completely totalled, is some kind of preternatural affinity of sound, possibly a return of the slavering animal from a few thousand years ago. a natural regression of sorts. the excess of sound perception was just as beautiful and addictive as the pockets of solitude, and I gained the courage to sit down on the hot coals, and remove more of the mangled motion that became pointless in quite a flood. its quite likely that a cool evening walk for pleasure, is permanently obliterated from my future. at some point of hopefulness, maybe 19, I had a vision of how this would come to pass, but I always assumed with a childs naive optimism that I would sleep on it, and the glass house, would once again, become perfectly feasible. And then again at 28, that I would go to a new country, and ta daa. but really, when my hair drops, and something feral is all I have left, all civilization quite melts away as if it never were. Except perhaps the state of self-preservation. That one is switched off, I dont know how to egg it alive again. The music constantly grows, louder and more nuanced. Not quite frightening, but what is, not quite inspiring, but what is, just sort of there, the knowledge of it, the insistence that no this, not that, a wildly undemocratic preferential, the absolute worst, because the pendulum, its in a corner, and gravity isnt working. as is other natural law, theres no way I should be still around, charred, broken and almost entirely invisible. this phase is personal, amorphous and uncontrolled, free of solid rulebooks, and all mine. It offers some kind of basal rhythm for charting the forward to the final destination, as it always were. now, a few months from now. we, every last one of us, will no longer be, in another 100 years, but im quite content now to hear the occasional musics of the other billions than try to meet every last one alive. turns out, we are boringly repetitive, and unless we can add a tune to it, the circles get frighteningly into dots, and there is nothing left to add, that might, in a 100 years, bring about something new, fresh and hopeful. Im no longer quite as detached as I would like, I have to reach in further to find silence. But at least its not so gaussian any longer.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

muerta mae

we were in the burj tower, catching a plane from the top floor, for what else, where earth touches sky. But I was climbing up the spiral stairs, and you, you were on the ground, in the garden, with a friend, where did you find a friend here, where do you find a friend anywhere. and I have never been there before, and I thought it might be quite unlike a bright spiral car park. I shout out to you, and the elevator is coming down, time to go, time to go, we'll miss our flight. the next time was mumbai, not as much celestial anymore. I was in the dense rainy bus station, its time to go for that interview, so informal, just a quick chat with a recruiter. And I do get the right bus, and I am busy mapping out where we'll meet after, close to his office, but not too, we mustn't mix formal as closely with the casual. And I send you the location, its parallel and to the left, a few streets away, I may take the bus there, you will not recognize Mumbai, the glass, and the buses. And google maps is absolutely a game changer in arcadia, you would have loved it, but otherwise, not much has changed really

Monday, June 17, 2019

the unbearable likeness of being

in a rational sort of way
with love and compassion
for the fellow creature
floating hope with laughter
huggings and beautiful things
comfort and conversation
family and friends
this slow and rapid aging
the lightning flashes
of roofs, paths, plans, people
of walking through a cloud
with a child by the hand
projecting occasional veneers
of success and belonging
with a deadly fear
of perpetual stupidity