22 November 2018

The language of chairs, pens and kites

Several years ago, I wrote a regular column for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The editor of JEANS, Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna now handles the 'Littlestars' tabloid distributed with 'The Sunday Morning'. This is the sixth article for Littlestars.  Scroll down to find the full series of articles written for JEANS and the those of this new series.

In certain stories and in cartoons birds and other animals speak.  They speak to each other and they speak with us.    And yet, outside of those pages and movies they don’t talk to us do they? We do talk to pets and they seem to know what we are saying. Sometimes they make noises and we know what they are trying to say. It’s not in the same language though, is it?

Think of a time when you had toys, dolls or other soft toys. You talked to them and maybe they talked to you too, correct? By and by they stopped talking. By and by we stopped talking to them. And by and by we forgot all about talking with soft toys. Maybe they keep talking but we don’t hear them.

And it’s not just the teddy bears. Maybe the trains and cars, the building blocks, crayons and pencils, color pens and drawing books also talk.  In different languages or maybe a single language that humans don’t know. 

Now, perhaps, as scientists probably would say, things really can’t talk. Let’s go with that for a bit. Scientists will say that animals do communicate. Dogs know dog-language, cats know meow-language. And dogs know what we say and we can recognize what the dog is feeling or trying to communicate by the differences in the sounds they make: the bark, the whine, the whimper, the grown and the variations in the noise they make. 

But things? Do THEY talk? Ever heard chairs or tables speak? Ever heard of trees that spoke? How about clouds and waves, kites and rivers, mountains and roads? Do they have things to say and if so how do they say it?  Have you thought about such crazy things?  

We wouldn’t know, would we, if we didn’t first listen?  

Sometimes it is a sound that is made, for example, the swish of leaves caught in a breeze. Sometimes it is a visual — think of kites that dance way above the tree line. Sometimes it is a fragrance — think of a recently laid roadway, hot tar in the burning sun. Well, that’s more odor than perfume, but I am sure you get what I mean. Sometimes it is a texture. A mango, for example, can tell us about rawness and about being ripe if we touch it and test whether it’s hard or soft.  Sometimes it is a flavor. That same mango would taste sour if it was raw, less sour and with a dash of sweetness as time goes on, and when it is ripe and juicy it’s as sweet as anything you can imagine. 

Trees have life, so you could say something like this: ‘I get your point about mangoes, but tell me about furniture?’

Yes, that’s a bit different. Furniture does communicate something, just like walls and roofs and even umbrellas, but only if we start using these things. A chair by a table is useful, but in a corner it looks a bit out of place. The same chair by a window would give us a comfortable seat with which to view the world, but if it’s turned over, it tells us about squalor.  

So we could say that it’s only when we touch such things that they start saying things to us. It’s like two people facing each other, not saying a word. That’s like two chairs facing one another. Now imagine one of the two people starts to speak and the other remains silent. That’s not really a conversation unless the other person used other languages, for example his or her fingers or eyes or the muscles on his or her face which can indicate different kinds of feelings and sentiments. Suppose the other person starts to respond? That’s dialog. It’s also nice. Or perhaps both remain silent, like chairs or desks, pens or pencils. Are they saying nothing to each other? Try it.  

We can make others talk. We can make things communicate. That’s what we always do. When we rearrange a living room or bedroom, when we paint a wall in a different color, when we replace one air freshener with another one that has a different fragrance, we make things talk.  

There are languages we don’t know. But there are signs which we can read. If you have nothing to do, try talking to things. Just remember: the clouds may be talking to each other or to the sky or the sun or the earth or to you!  


Articles for THE NATION
A puddle is a canvas
Venus-Serena tied at love-all
Some jokes are not funny
There's an ant story waiting for you
And you can be a rainbow-maker
Trees are noble teachers
On cloudless nights the moon is a hole
Gulp down those hurtful words
A question is a boat, a jet, a space-ship or a heart
Quotes can take you far but they can also stop you
No one is weak
The fisherman in a black shirt
Let's celebrate Nelli and Nelliness
Ready for time travel?
Puddles look back at you, did you know?
What's the view like from your door?
The world is rearranged by silhouettes
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?
Still looking for that secret passage?
Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on
Numbers are beautiful 
There are libraries everywhere 
Collect something crazy
Fragments speak of a thousand stories 
The games you can and cannot play with rice
The magic of the road less-traveled
Have you ever thought of forgiving?
Wallflowers are pretty, aren't they?
What kind of friend do you want to be? 
Noticed the countless butterflies around you?
It's great to chase rainbows
In praise of 'lesser' creatures 
A mango is a book did you know?
Expressions are interesting things
How many pairs of eyes do you need?
So no one likes you?
There is magic in faraway lights
The thambilil-seller of Giriulla
When people won't listen, things will
Lessons of the seven-times table


Unknown said...

Amazing words ❤️
I'm gonna read all these to my 2 kiddos.