19 December 2022

Of love and other intangibles


Sunanda Karunaratne, poet, friend and author of ‘Pehenada Pahan (Brilliant Lamps),’ asked me a question upon reading my recent article ‘Continents of the heart.’ He was referring to a poem by Arseney Tarkovsky (The Word). Aeseney urges would-be poets, among other things, to ‘refrain from prophesy.’ 

Sunanda had a question: ‘Why do you think Tarkovsky advised poets to refrain from prophesy?'

My shorthand answer: ‘Because human relations are fragile.  Too many intangibles. This is why Neruda says love is the most beautiful thing but only at the beginning.’

I know Neruda said something like that, maybe in a poem or perhaps in some comment on love, but I can’t find the source. If I remember right it was in ‘Residence on Earth.’

There is forever love, I am sure. I am not sure, though, if the love of the first dawn, in fragrance and hue, texture and flavour, the in the music of vulnerability and willing submission to the possibility of multiple strikes from the sharpest blade, remains clothed in the purest of dew drops at dusk and during long nights deadened by familiarity and scarred by frailties never imagined possible. I suppose that if friendship and affection remain, if rancour is but an easily avoidable rut along the togetherness path , if forgiving is possible even though forgetting is difficult, there will be something that could legitimately be called love.

A different kind of beauty, then. Crystalline perfection shattered in ignorance and arrogance and the shards put together to produce glance and reflection less breathtaking but still permitting occasional breathlessness. Enough for word-sculpture.  

Sometime in the year 2004, I offered the following observation on love: mohothai, sundarai, epamanai (a moment, sweet and that’s all). Chaaminda Rathnasuriya, lyricist and a fellow copywriter at Phoenix-Ogilvy Advertising (he was legit, I was correctly described by another lyricist-copywriter, Vajira Mahakanumulla, as ‘a part-time, trainee translator') wrote down the same lines and gave this ‘poem’ a different title. He replaced ‘premaya (love) with ‘raagaya (lust)’ and was teased throughout his tenure at Phoenix by Irvin Weerackody about ‘shrungaaraathmaka kavi (sensuous poetry).’

Years later during the course of a conversation, Chaaminda referred to this poetic exercise which is one of the many tender markers of our friendship. A moment, he said, could last an eternity. And I told him that I had yet another take: ‘premaya: mohothai, sundarai, amathakai (love: a moment, sweet, forgotten).  

Partly true, partly a twist to flavour the moment, we were clowns then as now.  

Sometime not too long after we spoke about our poetic game, there was an intense conversation of rare grace between two people 'metaphored' by the colours lime green and turquoise blue. It was a short love story and was titled as such:

A long, long time ago
from a touchstone of poetry
two sparks flew
one was Lime Green
and the other Turquoise Blue
they didn't flare and die
as sparks usually do
but encounter begged
mortality was shelved
and spark became ink.

There are ink stains and their fading will take time. The heart-breath of lovers does not evaporate in time’s dry seasons. It gets turned into memories of petals and songs which inspire multiple covers. It strikes up friendships with threads that get embroidered on hearts so young that they are like ancient manuscripts. It gets forgotten, only to be remembered by others who inevitably come later, determined to water the most unforgiving deserts with the blood of wordless-feet.

Am I prophesying, would Sunanda think, I ask myself. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just an extrapolation of what I’ve experienced. The breath of innumerable and anonymous poets, the stories of loves and lovers who had but a moment and chose to embrace it knowing well that it would condemn each to separate valleys of tears, the half-erased carbon footprint of romance yearning for the lost dust that has taken the terrible truths of love to hearts tender enough to read the languages of separation — I’ve known of their existence and sometimes noted the traces they’ve left.

We are poor copywriters and our training as translators of romance-language will always remain incomplete. All we know is that there are moments beautiful enough to convince ourselves that similar moments could come again, that in fact they are imminent and await recognition and embrace.

We are poor poets, all of us, Chaaminda, Sunanda and I, and I’m sure they won’t take this as an insult. We are faithful if imperfect transcribers of intangibles that tease, love that devastates and yet proves again and again that yes, we are alive, we breathe and therefore can be rendered breathless.



['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series.]

Other articles in this series:

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart 

The allegory of the slow road



Beena Sarwar said...

Beautifully expressed. Especially love the ending 🙏🏽