26 February 2016

Letters dropped in the scrambling of worlds

I once posed a question.  ‘Is it when I run out of unanswerable questions that death arrives?  Or is then that life begins?’  That’s two questions, I know, but I asked them as one in Sinhala, ‘පිළිතුරු නොමැති ප්‍රශ්න තව දුරටත් නොමැති වූවිටද මරණය පැමිණෙන්නේ...නැතහොත් එවිටද ජීවිතය ඇරඹෙන්නේ?’
Dupont Circle, Washington DC, where I heard the melody of lies and the truth therein

A friend responded thus:පිළිතුරු නැති ප්‍රශ්න නැත, ප්‍රශ්න නැති පිළිතුරු නැත, මරණය නැති ජීවිත නැත, ජීවය නැති මරණ නැත (there are no questions without answers and no answers that don’t refer to questions; there is no life that will not know death and no death devoid of life)’.  He inserted a qualification: ‘ප්‍රශ්නයට-පිළිතුර, ජීවිතයට-මරණය, කරුමයට-ඉපදීම...නැවතුම නිවනය (an answer to a question, death for life, birth for karma and it all ends with nirvana)’.  The aversion to stark binaries embedded in my initial though persuaded me to respond in the following manner to my friend: ‘ප්‍රශ්නයමද පිළිතුර, ජීවිතයමද මරණය, වැළඳගනීමමද විරහාව, මන්චීමද මැලිබන් (Is answer in fact the query, is death life and life alone, is separation synonymous with embrace, is Munchee actually Maliban?)?’

It’s all word play of course and unabashed philosophical pretension.  This morning, however, just after that light and smile-giving/taking exchange I opened a book I’ve been waiting to read for a long time, ‘Labyrinths’ by Jorge Luis Borges.  Borges was an Argentine writer, essayist and poet, whose work is said to embrace the ‘character of unreality in all literatures’. His fascination with themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, religion, god and fictional writers have persuaded some to describe him as one of the earlier proponents of the genre ‘Magical Realism’. 

I was on the first page of the introduction when a misread word stopped me.  James E. Irby, one of the co-editors of the collection claims that one of the most striking characteristics of Borges’ work is ‘their extreme intellectual reaction against all the disorder and contingency of immediate reality, their radical insistence on breaking with the given world and postulating another’.  I read ‘world’ and ‘word’.  I immediately reverted to the ‘Munchee-Maliban exchange’ referred to above. 

If everything is contained in everything else (following William Blake, my Uncle Issy tell me, viz ‘seeing the world in a grain of sand’, a reformulation of a more ancient articulation by Siddhartha Gauthama in the Satipattana Sutra), then theoretically we can switch things around and not get anything different.  We don’t because there is this inconvenient and limiting thing called ‘convention’ and a ridiculous ‘need’ to be coherent and comprehensible.  I think we don’t give enough credit to the intellect of the recipients of our articulations and forget that given the enormity of our ignorance we don’t say a lot even when we think we are being profound and philosophical.

What’s the difference between ‘world’ and ‘word’?  Just the insertion of the letter ‘l’ in one and its absence in the other.  Word is world, though, isn’t it?  It is all containing.  At some level both are meaningless and acquire relevance only in strictly defined contexts.  It is all true and at the same time such a lie. 

And so I went from question-answer to embrace-departure to Munchee-Maliban and life-death. I went from a facebook exchange to a dead Argentine whose live words I misread (or perhaps read more accurately, who can tell?), to a labyrinth called freedom and a prison called democracy and in this random rush of crazy juxtapositions I went to a day in May 2000 in a place called Dupont Circle in Washington DC where a Turkish girl sang a Turkish song (by Fikrit Kizilok) and translated it all for me thus:

It is a lie, always a lie
the nights are always a lie
two flowers of fear flourish in my eyes
but why is your gaze a lie?

Day turns into night, I am filled with sorrow
drop by drop, smoke by smoke
you become the blossom upon my leaf
if I extend my hand to you, that is also a lie

The night is a cover over me
they don't understand my ways
I become suspicious of my own pillow
that is also a lie, also a lie

Like a thief in my dreams
I fall in love secretly (in hiding)
I hold on to myself.. that is also a lie, also a lie

The only thing I know...is who I love, still
a rooster sings, my heart becomes silent
It is the morning at your place and midnight at mine

The only thing I know, is who I love, still
it is a lie..that I have forgotten
only you and I can know
if I tell others, that is also a lie

In this vacant morning made of world and word, strange biscuits and conversation slips, caught in the swirl of shredded pages that gather in wondrous and tragic ways, only to come apart, dissolve and drip all over me the old ink of lost days and unwritten poetry, I went back to September 21, 2007 and to reflections penned on the above lyrics which came along with those of another Turkish song ‘This morning it is raining in Istanbul’ (ending with ‘Thinking of you in songs, doe not bring you back to me, does not bring you back to me, does not bring you back’).

I wrote then:
Mid-morning heat in late September,
desk top artifacts stare,
the in-tray and out-tray of my mind
play hide and seek,
ink flies from paper, from memory and forgetting,
staplers go mad
trying to pin together the untenable.
It is mid-morning here
late evening for you,
and i am whipped by the lies of time
of location and remembrance.
I am told there's bright sunshine
rising in a stupor from the road
but it is raining here
and drenched in a time-squeeze
I cannot but weep;
so tell me
wisp of dream that scented time,
tell me,
is it all a lie
when you come to me
again and again
through nighttime and daybreak
and dew-laden fields?

And I write today: ‘I have no idea what’s ‘lie’ and what’s not, nor who or what I am looking for, nor who will return or why’.  I might take a bite of a biscuit. It could be Munchee or Maliban.  It could also be a forgotten letter ‘l’ dropped by a hurrying finger from worlds I might never encounter. It doesn’t matter, does it?  ‘L’ after all could be for ‘love’. Or ‘lunacy’. Interchangeable.  Eminently.

This article was first published in the 'Daily News', February 24, 2011.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Article made me to think of what I learnt.

'I' consist of physical body and thoughts. Death has two kinds. physical death and death of thoughts.Thoughts arise and pass in every moment . so uncountable deaths in a particular moment.

World is made of lie. because we have made the world with our six senses. Its quality is arising and passing away.

Budunwahanse taught us how to treat these thoughts in order to touch nirwana.

Beautiful poems with beautiful words. It was Happy reading for me. Thanks ! Malinda