Posted in Random

The English Affair



For a writer some strains of thought remain with you for a lifetime, and you tell yourself, ‘I’ll write about this one day.’ This essay is one of those containers in which I have been adding grains of thought for as long as I can remember, and I would tell myself: ‘someday’.

I could try defining love, but I cannot. Sonnet 116 comes to mind and when the revered poet says, “love is not love”, there is so much you could add to that list and even more to the part, “It is..”. One of the reasons I have been moved to write this morning, after sehr during ramadan, is the novel, ‘A Map for Lost Lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam.

I think that has struck a chord somewhere. Although J.R.R. Tolekin says “All those who wander are not lost,” I kind of beg to differ with that statement. I think, at least, all lovers are.

It appears that they seem to be forever in a flux, a fluid ephemeral of part liquid and part solid, and within it they seem to swim, dance, fly. They are lost. They don’t know what they are doing. But the search for the other remains a constant beacon: if I am to stick to Shakespeare’s analogies, I’d use that. And in case the search is over, which might happen for so few of us in one lifetime at least, if we are that lucky, to find the significant other, then most of the remaining life is spent attaining the impossible. And for those few of us for whom, that part is miraculously triumphed, keeping them within the grasp of your flailing fingers could easily become a story for another saga.

Between the mystery of “he loves me, he loves me not”, between the halos wrongfully placed, between the pain of having and being to the not-having and never-being, between the woes of the heart that blames itself often for its weaknesses, between the thrill of the chase, between the journey that has yet to end, for the lover you could not conquer, between the base accusations and the constant heart-breaks, between the life that doesn’t conclude, between the shallow breaths that do not cease, between the times you were made to become weak, between the moments of total relapse and pills, between the time you had it all and nothing at all, between the time air was air and then a wall, between the moments when the distances were many to when there were none, to the time when everything made sense to the period of complete oblivion, between the stretch that seemed like an infinity to the epoch which is the now, between the hurt that never went away to the time bliss was sufferable, between the moments of utmost passion to the moments of utmost destruction, to the lover who always lied to the one who stayed, love is and is not.

Perhaps most of the agony of the world can be taken away by one simple statement, “It doesn’t matter,” for truly it doesn’t. Russell in his The Conquest of Happiness, says that if all our misery and suffering was put into the retrospect of the infinite chasms of the universe, it wouldn’t even cause a ripple. Our existence just like our misery doesn’t add or take away from the grand design of things. When looked this way, nothing does really matter.

But wouldn’t that put context out of all the poets and their heartache? Wouldn’t that take the punch out of the novels we read and the aesthetic pleasure from the movies we watch? If it really didn’t matter would Heer be killed for Ranjah? Was her death pointless? Maybe. Probably. For what did she get out of it other than being brutally murdered by her uncle and left seven foot under to rot? It didn’t do her any good. It never does.

So why did Shamas die? Because Saruya carried his child but married someone else who wanted to keep it when he didn’t? Why were Jugnu’s and Chanda’s bodies chopped up, burned and then buried under the lake? Because they loved or because they defied tradition?* I think most of the time, most of the people can’t accept the fact that some of them got the longer side of the stick. It would make us happier if everyone got the shorter stick, save us. After all, wouldn’t then the world be fair?

The superficiality of the occasion reminds me of all the instances when language, English, seems to be a whole lot of nonsense. Wait, that doesn’t sound right, right? I am a language teacher, surely this is a joke of some kind? Wait, let me try to put this right.

Remember, all the times when we read things, they seem to be saying things backwards or forwards or round-and-round? And sometimes words are used, and they mean nothing at all? Before, you refute me, this is an actual thing. It goes by several names, as I like to tell my baffled students often. I ask a question, and the student raises her hand, and then I motion them to answer. They answer. It doesn’t mean anything.

At least, that is what I tell the daunted student staring wide-eyed, accusingly at me. They used my words from the questions, jumbled it all up, added two of their own and spat it all out. Much to the oblivion of the student in question, I give them words for what they just did: circumlocution, tautology, claptrap, reiteration, redundancy, regurgitation, verbosity, superfluity, pleonasm, the list is long but I think you get my point.

The arguments of lovers or all the love talk, or all the literature on the same, at times, seems to be the same words said over and over again like a man at the park, who makes bubbles out of a tin of solution. He has a wooden stick in his hand, at the tip of which is a wired sphere, which when dipped into the solution and rotated in an arm-length circle, gives a steady stream of bubbles, much to the glee and giddiness of the children who surround him.

The entire bulk of all love stories from time memorial appears to be like those train of bubbles, a repetition, a reiteration, a never-ending verbosity, a redundancy that always has a new pitch, just like this one, a circumlocution, a constant tautology.

The water bubbles that the vendor sells at the park, seem to be swimming, dancing, flying in air. Some fall to the earth and burst just like the sad demise of the sad hopes of most sad lovers. Some seem to be pinched by the eager children who can’t wait to see what happens when it pops like most curious relatives and friends of lovers who like to see it all end with the death of the pair. And some few escape into the bright, blue sky and off they sail across the horizon, no one knows for how long or how far away, but they were the few that got away to, perhaps, a more happier version of The Titanic.

Despite the constant sense of repetition in the theme of love, despite the boredom that never comes, despite the fact that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy forever are an epic story of love in the classics (for those of you who are more into the gothic form of a novel─ then perhaps Heathcliff would suffice making your tea sweeter), despite being verbose at the expense of circumlocution, I hereby rest my case for the English Affair:

“If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.”


*characters from ‘A Map for Lost Lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam


Posted in Questions

Not Frequently Asked Questions

Common knowledge is always taken for granted. It is so common that we don’t bother asking, or finding out what otherwise should be frequently asked questions in this too general a world.

What is a ‘friend’? The dictionary says that a “friend is a person that you know and like, and that you enjoy spending your time with.” I wonder if that statement suffices to define this person, friend. When you were little and at school, a friend was someone who used to accompany you during lunch. In college it was the group you used to hang out with. Looking around now, you don’t see any of these friends. Neither the plaited hair, freckled teeny bopper, nor the bunch of twittering girls with whom you used to share your notes. Then there were those whom you used to party late with and did everything that you were not supposed to do. There were others too, who provided a hanky so you could blow your nose or those who were eager to help when you wanted it the most. Looking around again, you don’t see any of them anymore surrounding you the way they used to.

So I ask again. What is a friend? Is it someone who happens to be just there at the moment we need them because of the cosmos’ grand design, or someone who’ll stay even after their time is up to offer whatever we needed at that time. Not everyone is lucky to have friends like Ron and Hermione, but then again, not everyone faces a troll and ‘live to tell the tale’ about how they took one on with their friends. Hence, with regret, I have to declare that we don’t know what a friend is.

Then there is this other thing everyone just loves to talk about. Love. What, may I ask, is love? Is love what a mother feels for a child? Or is it described when a man pines for woman? Is it love for the Lord that the mystics dance in joy for? Or is it a soldier who is willing to die for his country? The dictionary describes love in three different ways: “you love your family and people who are close to you, or people you admire, if you are fond of them and are concerned about their welfare and happiness”; “you love someone when, as well as being attracted to them sexually and romantically, you have a deep affection for them”; “you love something such as your country if you want to be loyal to it and protect it”.

Although my source is as good as any, in my opinion, these short definitions don’t even come close to the actual thing. Jane Austen has said it best in a way that not only explains the complexity of the idea of love, but also hints that however we might try, we may never be able to get the whole picture. She says, “There are as many forms of love, as there are moments in time.” To wrap up, I would have to say, man can not begin to comprehend the meaning of love.

Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” One wonders, what is ‘beauty’? Is beauty what Pygmalion fashioned in his sculptor of a woman and fell in love with it? Is beauty defined by Helen of Troy? Or is it what it has become now, a warring pageant for the kinky? The dictionary says: “Beauty is the quality of being beautiful”. While, “you describe something as beautiful if you find it very attractive, pleasant or delightful”.  Is the beauty of an English country girl’s “fine eyes” which so smite Mr. Darcy, a criteria for beauty? Or was Pygmalion’s Galatea (meaning, she who is white like milk) the real deal? I am afraid, man might never know what beauty is? But of course, this has never stopped him from imagining what it might be.

Finally, we come to the most controversial of notions in the history of mankind. What is God? Man has had a long history with this idea. Perhaps, longer than those discussed above. In his four thousand years quest for God, man has evolved many beliefs, none of which are explicit. The dictionary offers a rather short definition: “God is the name given to the being who, many people believe, created the universe and guides or controls the lives of all people”. To say that the three monotheistic religions might have an answer, would be untrue.

When Moses had cried out on Mount Sinai, “Who are You?”, the only answer he got from his Lord was, “I am, who I am.” Young Christians are made to learn a catechism answer to the question, “What is God?”: “God is the Supreme Spirit, Who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfections.” I would like to quote Bulleh Shah on this account. He said about God: “God and man are one, Like cloth comes from cotton. Cotton is hidden in cloth, Like God is in man.”

Whatever we might have to say on the truth of  ‘friend’, ‘love’, ‘beauty’, or God’, we need first to understand that each of these notions are quite subjective. They are not what they are, rather what we want them to be. Hence, it is as they say, ‘to each man his own’.