24 October 2011

Time is a coat and blood is made of liberation

The grape is made of wine, someone said someone quoted, I can’t remember now. How true, I thought to myself. Sometimes we have to stand things on their heads to render them readable, because the world as we know it, or have been made to know it, is such a mass of contradiction, deceit and confusion.

This inversion of grape and wine made me think. Are words made of the articulate? Is love made of poetry? Is it also of the universal "her"? Or the "him" as the case may be? Is humour made of Charlie Chaplin? Are the springs from where laughter is manufactured his private property? Did Cinderella make the fairy godmother? Was the shoe made to fit her foot, or was the foot designed to help her walk with royalty?
Omar Khayyam poses the following question and not without reason:

"All this of Pot and Potter - Tell me then,
Who is the potter, pray, and who the pot?"

Yes, the potter is made of clay. This is why an old man in a kumbal village near Galgamuwa once told me, "apiva jeevath karavanne meti" (it is the clay that gives us life). And it is precisely because men and pots are made of clay, that Khayyam wrote thus:

For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d - "Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

In general we refuse to see the illuminating truth produced by simple inversion. Parents rarely acknowledge that they are made of children, for example. Fanta, so the advertiser says, is made of orange. But a creative fruit seller in Kandy once got into a bus just about to leave for Colombo, carrying a basket of oranges, the green coloured dodam, not the straight-from- wherever that abounds today. He had a fantastic pay-off line: "Fanta vage, Fanta vage" (Just like Fanta)! It shook me.

Political rhetoric says that people make politicians. People know very well that this doesn’t translate into any kind of obligation on the part of the politician. But do people realize that they are made of politicians, that they are constituted of the political, that ideology is not something "out there" shooting its relentless conforming arrows in their direction but in fact within and indeed is even nurtured within them?

We are told that people make the news. In reality, news makes the people. Or unmakes them, to be more precise. The revolution makes the people and the readership is the newspaper. I remember how Gammini Haththotuwegama, after a performance at the Sarachchandra "wala" in Peradeniya, went on his knees and worshipped the audience. Yes, it is the audience that makes the play.

It is the "I", we firmly believe, that makes the image that resides in a mirror. It is rarely understood that it is as true to say that the image produces the "I". Too confusing? Just consider the words "fashion" and "chic". What’s "in" is what we embrace and want to become. When the "in" goes out, out goes with it, the new "I" so recently adopted. In short, we become the masks we choose to cover our faces with.

Inversion is heavily laden, by definition, with the pitfalls of binary logic. The grape is made of wine, I agree. But isn’t it also made of labour? And wine, for its part, is it not made of love? Is it not made of a resolve to obliterate reason and all its many traps? Is wine itself not made of obliteration of a kind? Are we just going round in circles or engaging in clever but ultimately meaningless word play? I don’t know.

Let me talk of known things, things that come easy and without complexity. I recently read about a man who goes to see a woman he loves. He knocks on the door and the woman asks, "Who is it?" He responds, "It is I". She does not open the door. A few days later he goes again, knocks on the door and is met with the same query, "Who is it?" This time he answers, "It is you". She opens the door and there results the immemorial and exquisite embrace that is love.

There must be a lesson in all this, this "I" and "you", this "in and out", the "within and without" business. The traveler makes the journey and the journey in turn moulds the explorer. Journeys are made less of roads than of encounters. Age is not a condition wrought of time’s passing, but a product of the nature of engagement. Time is marked by event. The colours and contours of events are obliterated by time. Its many distorting instruments leave skeletal remains of monumental happenings, renders them unrecognizable.

Time is a coat, says the garment worker. Blood is made of liberation, says the insurgent. Death will give life to my idea, says the prophet. Kick truth in its butt and everything becomes exciting says the anarchist. To each his pet dichotomy and her preferred inversion, what else can one say?

As for me, I believe dreams are perfumed, that flavours are coloured, that music has a caressing quality. I believe that sensations rebel against identification but when embraced through metaphor, through the grape that is made of wine and the love that is made of a sunset sky, a crushed rose and an epistle that has gone astray, the heart learns of galaxies previously unimagined, spaces tender and of course life’s tremendous simplicity.

These literary soils are no longer virgin. All words have lost their innocence. A long time ago. And yet, it is in the upturning of the virgin soil, in the reconfiguration of word and metaphor, that innocence is reborn and love has a second chance to be the grape, the song and the tear spilled from a heart that is sensitive to the human condition.

We don’t need prophets, for wisdom speaks to us from all sides. All we need is to listen. We don’t need clowns, for we are all jokers. We don’t need politicians, for we are political. We don’t need flowers for our hearts are made of bouquets. All we need to do is to lift the page in a different way and rearrange the words that spill out, just a little bit differently, even randomly. Would be positively intoxicating, I am convinced. Who knows, we might even be able to come up with a bunch of grapes. Or love.

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