A Whiff and a Whistle

On December 23, 2016 by admin

keys

HUG Speaks to Monika Kumar on her poem छुट्टियों में पेड़ों को भूल जाओ (During Absences, Abandon the Trees)

 ___________________________

During Absences, Abandon the Trees

Up on the first floor of the building

As soon as I reach my office
Tall trees I begin to touch.

 

No sooner do I touch them, I think
I must keep my brain calm

After all, we have not come to this world

To feel good or bad about what people say

 

Still, every month, a day comes

When I try to open my office door with my house-keys
It entirely depends, how much during those days, I am pinned and pegged

Meshed and merged in the world

 

After a break of three days

Morning, and I enter my office
Looking at the trees

It comes to my mind

During the break
Not for once did I remember these trees

The kadamb trees, one look at them
And one feels there should be a limit to beauty,
Had forgotten me

I do not recall these trees during long absences

Still it comforts me to think that they are,
In changing climate, in deep attachment
Greedy to swing on the edges of a breeze
Frantic so, so rapt
So still, restless so

My trees informed me

It is good to forget beauty
Not to recall them during breaks
Until the edge of untruth

To come back and entreat love
To touch again and again
And say

How could I stay away from you so long?
To do significant things we have come to this world
It is also an important task

To lose oneself in the world
Feel good and bad about what people say

Destroy one’s solitariness
So that one can rue later
And practice imploration with the trees
For their constancy

 

छुट्टियों में पेड़ों को भूल जाओ

ईमारत के प्रथम तल पर बने

अपने दफ्तर में पहुँचते ही

ऊंचे पेड़ों का स्पर्श करती हूँ

 

इन्हें छूते ही विचार आता है

मुझे दिमाग को ठंडा रखना चाहिए

आखिर हम दुनिया में

बातों का अच्छा बुरा मानने नहीं आए हैं

 

फिर भी माहवार ऐसे दिन आते हैं

जब घर की चाभी से दफ्तर का ताला खोलने की कोशिश करती हूँ

निर्भर करता है उन दिनों मैं कितना मिली जुली

कैसे घुली मिली दुनिया में

 

तीन दिन के अवकाश के बाद

मैं सुबह दफ्तर आई

पेड़ों को देखकर ख़याल आया

इन छुट्टियों में

मुझे एक बार भी इन पेड़ों की याद नहीं आई

कदंब के फूल जिन्हें देखकर लगता है

इतना सुन्दर भी न हुआ करे कोई

मुझे भूल गए थे

 

मुझे नहीं आते याद ये पेड़ लंबी छुट्टियों में

फिर भी यहाँ लौट कर तस्सली करती हूँ कि वे हैं

बदलते मौसम के साथ गहरे प्रेम में

हवा के एक झोंके पर झूलने के लिए आतुर

इतने कातर इतने भावुक

जितने स्थिर उतने आकुल

 

मेरे पेड़ों ने कहा मुझसे

अच्छा है सुन्दरता को भूल जाना

छुट्टियों में उसे याद न करना

झूठा लगने की हद तक

लौट कर प्रेम जताना

बार बार छूना

और कहना

कैसे रही मैं इतने दिन तुमसे दूर

 

दुनिया में बहुत काम करने आए हैं हम

उस में यह भी ज़रूरी काम है

दुनिया में खो जाना

लोगो की बातों का अच्छा बुरा मानना

नष्ट करना अपने एकांत को

बाद में पछतावे के लिए

और विनय करना पेड़ों से

इसकी बहाली के लिए

___________________

 black-petals

 

Prasanta: Let me begin by referring to an entangled contrast that the poem builds up, by emphasizing a simultaneous and double hankering on our part—of a need to be part of this world and also practice a peculiar untying and disengagement.  What is unfolding here? Say, at the level of craft itself—this detached entanglement is brought sharply to us by a repetition and a reversal.

 

  1. After all, we have not come to this world

To feel good or bad about what people say

 

आखिर हम दुनिया में

बातों का अच्छा बुरा मानने नहीं आए हैं

 

2.   To do significant things we have come to this world

It is also an important task

To lose oneself in the world

Feel good and bad about what people say

 

दुनिया में बहुत काम करने आए हैं हम

उस में यह भी ज़रूरी काम है

दुनिया में खो जाना

लोगो की बातों का अच्छा बुरा मानना

We are simultaneously left to sense an ambivalent feeling, which is also at the heart of the poem; a certain mood and a thought develop. What should be the ‘self’s’ relationship to our belonging, our worldliness buffeted by its constant inbound turnings?

 

Monika: इसे किसी औपचारिक संवाद का हिस्सा बनाने के लिए नहीं लेकिन आपने कविता से जो एक थीम निकाला है, उस पर मैं कुछ और कहना चाहती हूँ.

सच तो यह है प्रशांत कि न केवल हमारे दुनिया से संबंध कैसा हो, जिंदगी की अधिकतर चीज़ों को निरंतर सर्वेक्षण करते हुए मेरा मन ambivalent हो जाता  है आखिर कार. मुझे पता है इस तरह की अप्रोच से नॉन-क्मिटल की अवस्था भी आती है जो अंतत न्याय और सत्य के प्रश्न को अच्छे से अड्रैस नहीं कर पाती. यह उत्तराधुनिक्वाद की आलोचना भी है.

पिछले दिनों मैं दलित साहित्य पढ़ रही थी, रोना आ रहा था वे कहानियां और कवितायेँ पढ़ कर हालाँकि उस साहित्य में आप मुख्धारा साहित्य की अपेक्षा लेकर रसास्वादन के लिए नहीं जा सकते, लेकिन यही उस साहित्य का ध्येय है की वह आपका उस आसपास घटित हो रहे जीवन से परिचय कराए जिसमें षड्यंत्र से किसी रस की गुंजाईश नहीं छोड़ी गई. पिछले कुछ वर्षों से मैं जातिवादी समाज की बदसूरती को और करीब से देखने की कोशिश कर रही हूँ जबकि दलित चिन्तक शायद ठीक कहते हैं कि इसे मैं केवल एक आउटसाइडर की तरह ही समझ सकती हूँ. मैं इस बारे में इलैक्ट्रोन मात्र भी ambivalent नहीं हूँ कि यह गलत, अन्यायपूर्ण और शर्मनाक है. मैक्रो और मैक्रो किसी भी स्तर से देखने से यह मुझे बेहद शर्मनाक लगता है. अपने घर और क्लास में मैं कोशिश करती हूँ इस गलीज सचाई को उजागर करने में.

पर यही सब कुछ नहीं है, यह सारा जीवन नहीं है मेरा. बहुत एकान्तिक जीवन जीते हुए भी रोजाना जीवन में ऐसे प्रसंग आते है जहाँ मैं अपने आप को ambivalent पाती हूँ. न्याय, अपराध, धोखा, अपमान जैसी स्थिति में जब सत्य और तथ्य की सभी तहें देखती हूँ तो मेरे लिए किसी एक तरफ का होकर दुसरे तथ्य को exclude कर देना संभव नहीं हो पाता. रैडिकल पेशन्स एक बात है और निर्णय लेना हमारा नैतिक धर्म भी है लेकिन मेरे लिए यह यात्रा बहुत लंबी होने लगी है. मैं अंतिम वाक्य जैसा कुछ नहीं सोच पाती हूँ. राणा की किताब पर बोलते हुए मैनें एक यह बात भी कही थी Ambivalence or ambiguity gathered through detailed analysis is deeper and valuable than the judgment and clarity got through reductive reading.

मैं इस अप्रोच की कमियां भी देखती हूँ. इस अप्रोच की अर्थवत्ता जानने के लिए हमें अंत तक यहाँ रहना होगा जो कि हम नहीं रहेंगे. हमारे पास सीमित जीवन और सीमित समय है और हमारे जीवन इस क़दर उलझे है एक दुसरे से, एक पक्ष का जीवन दुसरे पक्ष की सोच और पक्षधरता से सिर्फ जुड़ा  नहीं बल्कि उस पर निर्भर भी है कि निर्णय को एक पल के लिए भी नहीं स्थगित किया जा सकता. मैक्रो लेवल के इशुज़ को तो हम बहुत क्लैरिटी से रिज़ोल्व कर सकते है. लेकिन जीवन का बाकी टेक्सचर इससे हल नहीं होता. मैं ambivalence को जीवन मूल्य या एक value की तरह नहीं प्रोजेक्ट कर रही हूँ बल्कि मैं इसे और समझना चाहती हूँ. जब मैनें स्थितियों घटनायों को देखा, अपने जीवन और दूसरों के जीवन को देखा तो धीरे धीरे मुझे लगा कि बेशक किसी एक स्थिति में हम निर्णय सुना भी देते हैं और दूसरों का सुन भी लेते हैं, स्वीकार भी करते हैं लेकिन फिर भी उस स्थिति के दायें बाएँ आगे पीछे जो जीवन है, उसकी व्याख्या किसी एक बिंदु से नहीं की जा सकती. लेकिन प्यार और घृणा के मुआमले ऐसे ही रिडक्शन से सुलझा दिए जाते हैं. ambivalence भी अनिवार्य तौर पर कोई लग्जरी नहीं है बल्कि इसके अपने दुःख है. यह आपको साइलेंस में भेज देता है, कभी कभी अकेलेपन में भी. इसी से उबरना डूबना लगा रहता है. कभी यह भी लगता है कि यह भी कहीं dysfunctionality तो नहीं कि बंदे को ground से अधिक underground में रूचि हो जाये. कहीं यह सुविधाजनक स्पेस बनाने की कोशिश तो नहीं, असहजता को टालने का प्रयास तो नहीं. I know, the point must be reached, it is painful, however.

 

Prasanta:  Right. This larger point about ground and underground is most relevant to our readers. How far is it justified to prematurely come to a position of righteousness (सुविधाजनक स्पेस) about any notion of the underground or outside or residual—which shifts and readjusts itself all the time anyway?  And this acute, inward judgmental attitude towards all that passes us by—the space of available grounds and groundings— we shall continue to take positions, howsoever contingent, but such taking of positions could be simultaneously corroding and purifying.

Let me quench a more basic curiosity. Though it is banal and irrelevant to inquire about the actual empirical source of a poetic creation, I would still like to take that risk and ask you about the first floor of your building, your office, the keys, the kadamb trees which may or may not be touched, your actual comings and goings. The weaving of this tapestry into a poem, the poetic process so to say, with our daily chores—this is fascinating. I mean before we take a leap to reflection and so on—or perhaps along with reflection, there are events and objects and mundane chores in our lives?
radha-krish

Monika: I am rather happy that you chose the banal and asked me about the empirical source of the poem. I put concrete details in my poems. It is a way for me to record my life and experiences authentically. I am not able to comprehend and retain things and events only for its emotional and intellectual value to my living. I need a periphery, a topology. I rely on the infrastructure around the event, certain landmarks to archive events and experiences clearly. For the complex story of my first school where I studied, I have the image of a narrow and unique staircase of the school as a code. I would remember the clothes someone was wearing when he said the most cruel thing to me or how I had reached that place where someone said the most delightful and a life changing thing, the exact point on the road where an insight coming up had resolved a long conflict in mind or what was I eating while watching a movie that turned out to be unbelievably good. Invoking one thing enunciates the chain and leads me to the point where I want to be in the memory of a thing. It cannot be decided what the image would be but there would be one. I believe if I do not add a concrete image in what I write; it will not turn out to be true.

The first floor, office, keys and kadamb trees together mean that finally I got a work place I could love absolutely without an encumbrance to make a peace with. Having worked at various colleges in rural Punjab (involving 4-5 hour bus travel daily on the ‘roads of Punjab’) and then at another college in Chandigarh in the past five years, I had come to this relatively small but serene Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh last year. By the time I had become good at the art of making things agreeable and workable even if I didn’t like them. And here was a place, a treat for the senses coming as a surprise in some sense. All I needed was readiness and I was ready. The place addressed some deep desire that I had stopped thinking about at the conscious level. For the first few days, I was overwhelmed: thinking, how come this lovely outer, how come such freedom happening to me!

First floor and the office: The first floor is not a simple first floor where one goes to get a few papers photocopied. This first floor has a room of my own where I can sit, read, write and eat, breathe less or more as I like though there is a time table to follow and all other professional commitments. Work was everywhere but this office means I can use it more freely than one can use a faculty room shared by all the members.

Keys: Our relationship with keys is stranger and more beautiful than we generally think. On a day when we are feeling sorted, locking and unlocking an everyday door is a reflex action. The hand gets in the bag, the bunch gives itself to the hand, the right key offers itself smoothly, a final clockwise twitch and we are in. But on a day when we are stressed or conflicted, our simple reflexes go awry. It is exasperating and deceitful to find a perfect key behaving crazy when one is already not feeling fine. The first fault is to be found with the key only to realize it a little later that it will not be fair to ask for such an understating and support from a wrong key though the two keys in the bunch may look similar in size. I had found myself trying to open a lock with the wrong key when I was not fully present, brooding over something or too affected by an event. The image appeared in the poem when I wanted to write about how our relationship and harmony with simple things alter with our changing states of mind.

Kadamb Trees: The tree is ancient with particular value in Vaishnav Bhakti  as Krishna is believed to use its stout branch to put a swing around it  and then cupping its leaf to eat maakhan in it. Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote a beautiful lyric around this tree. However, I had first noticed this tree only two years back and I was awed to see such different modes of flowering the tree arrives at. It was a public park I had reached randomly so didn’t get to see much of this tree later. And discovering them at the new work place was like Aww! Nature is being abundantly kind. I wanted to connect to the trees in a tangible way so I started touching its leaves every day. The office has two doors, one opens to the corridor where students and other people keep coming and going for work and the back door opening to the backyard. One does not have to take a special time out to be with the trees because the leafy branches are reaching out to the rooms already. While reading, writing or marking the term papers of my students, I felt these leafy branches were fanning me. It was healing. Of course the world opening through the front door is not bad. I had always loved being in the business of the world but now I have one more door (most importantly, provided by the office itself; it is official). Such a location gave me a chance to know woodpeckers, sunbirds and parrots a bit more. There grew beautiful mushrooms in the month of humid September under these trees. I could see them from the first floor and seeing them so close brought me closer to Transtromer’s reading of mushrooms.

mushroom

Prasanta: Such vivid demarcations. Indeed this gives us a clear topos. If you allow me to address one of the central metaphors of the poem now: absences. I was wondering what might absences mean to you as a poet and as a person. I mean, as a translator I juggled with a few words in order to convey छुट्टि. Obvious and literal terms like recess or vacation would not so easily convey one felt, what the poem intends to tell us. Especially since there is another word too that we encounter in the poem: अवकाश. Of course, in a limited sense that is ‘break’, but अवकाश also hides a large and encompassing emptiness and ennui within; to me it has a sense of a rhythm of life, which punctures our frenetic movement. It is a time of respite too, some kind of adjournment?

And you know what— this one line:  झूठा लगने की हद तक –returns to me. This line seems to be to be bridge between truth and untruth. Taking us to some sort of affirmation. One acknowledges our limits and finitude, हद—and yet is there a point of return to affirmation and truth? This our entreating love, our touching and indulging in sweet nothings and babbling? But do all these affirm so much that we cannot bear the pain of so much love and love’s pain? And is that the reason we seek break and adjournment?

 

Monika: Yup. It is acknowledging one’s limits and finitude. We are conditioned to think of love as something continuous, eternal and always-on-mind. There is a pressure not to falter, not to let the passion and intensity diminish while we are also aware in the same instant that it is impossible to maintain and survive such a charged state. It terrorizes the whole joy. It is a battle one wants to fight nevertheless; it is a crisis one would bid for repeatedly. I doubt if we get tired of it till the last, though we keep changing our subjects and objects of love thinking this change to be a marker of our growing wisdom.

Allowing oneself absence or taking absence easy is coming to terms with our finitude without stopping to believe in passion and madness. It is also reviewing the song ‘पल भर के लिए हमें कोई प्यार कर ले झूठा ही सही’ and not finding it frivolous anymore. The person seeking false and passing love is also believable and lovable. One can love trees, love them deeply and then trees may not occur in the vacation at all and one can feel an outburst to be able to see them again when one is back at the institute. Same with the world, the world and the trees are not necessarily to be seen antagonistic, they supplement each other – I realized. Like many artificial binaries or dichotomies we have started to get critical about, the world and the trees could be another divide demanding a relationship of love.

And yes, life is very affirming, I too feel it. It is susceptible to the extent of becoming painful. We are usually not ready to deal with such transparency and a relationship of direct proportion. It returns a whiff with a whiff and with a whistle at times. The bridge is not one way as you said. It takes our sweet nothings seriously. I heard ‘sweet nothings’ after a long time. Thanks for bringing it here. It is a lovely clubbing of the words. It gives a new meaning both to ‘sweet’ and ‘nothing’.

I can better understand now why the teachers at school in the second half of the day ask the kids to go for a ‘head down’ for two minutes every hour. One takes a nap (छुट्टी) and seeks adjournment to stay in life and love.

 

Prasanta: Yes, the trees and the flowers too. You have a different relationship to flowers too about which we have discussed. True, the binaries are futile—mere apportions. But you have also said that flowers and such motifs of nature—we have so much internalized and made a part of our lives, that they stand as motifs in bed-covers and curtains and what not! May be so also with trees and rocks and mountains and brooks? I wonder, taking a cue from Georges Bataille, whether trees and flowers are symbols or pure signs—especially when we touch and feel them! We associate plants and flowers with certain qualities—the language of nature yes! Say, dandelion conveys expansion, the narcissus egoism, and the wormwood flower bitterness, rose the emblem of love and so on. Sometimes trees depict sturdiness and flowers their aphrodisiac nature—a certain propagation in and through nature is advanced. Your tree and kadamb flowers too convey something to us in poetry. If these we read as symbols—of what you call कदंब के फूल जिन्हें देखकर लगता है इतना सुन्दर भी न हुआ करे कोई—a parallelism is drawn between what we might see kadamb flowers as, a substitution of our human idea of what constitutes beauty in appearance, which is absolutely vivid, valid and surpassing. The intensity of the line is bursting forth—like laughter and joy. A natural truth in this realization.  And it is here that I would like to quote Bataille:

“Moreover, even the most beautiful flowers are spoiled in their centres by hairy sexual organs. Thus the interior of a rose does not at all correspond to its exterior beauty; if one tears off all of the corolla’s petals, all that remains is a rather sordid tuft. Other flowers, it is true, present very well-developed and undeniably elegant stamens, but appealing again to common sense, it becomes clear on close examination that this elegance is rather satanic: thus certain kinds of fat orchids, plants so shady that one is tempted to attribute to them the most troubling human perversions. But even more than by the filth of its organs, the flower is betrayed by the fragility of its corolla: thus, far from answering the demands of human ideas, it is the sign of their failure. In fact, after a very short period of glory the marvellous corolla rots indecently in the sun, thus becoming, for the plant, a garish withering. Risen from the stench of the manure pile—even though it seemed for a moment to have escaped it in a flight of angelic and lyrical purity the flower seems to relapse abruptly into its original squalor: the most ideal is rapidly reduced to a wisp of aerial manure. For flowers do not age honestly like leaves, which lose nothing of their beauty, even after they have died; flowers wither like old and overly made-up dowagers, and they die ridiculously on stems that seemed to carry them to the clouds…”

flower

See, this tragicomic opposition between botanical facts and human extensions through poetic ruses and devices all seem to be true! This is not to either elevate or downgrade nature and natural objects in poetry. On one hand flowers and trees themselves, lost in bed-covers and curtains, may be reduced to an episodic role, to a diversion (as it is stressed in this poem). But again they can perhaps only contribute, “…by breaking the monotony, to the inevitable seductiveness produced by the general thrust from low to high.” They cannot become sacred mise en scene in poetic creations. This ironical involvement now we have been having with nature, for a long time (Proust’s jostling with temporality and nostalgia is a good watershed of such ironical involvement with life)—I feel, as I read your poem. But then again–in the poem a strong sense of the sacral and the soil–I sense that too.

Monika: Not only a tree can be sturdy or flowers aphrodisiac, we have cruel insectivorous pitcher plants. Rafflesia stinks like a corpse and need not wind, water, bee, beetle or a wasp but an elephant for pollination. A river can drown the only son of the family; sea can claim the whole tribe, and rains can flood. The feet of the people corroded while they stood knee deep in Narmada to assert their right to the river. A tree provoked by windstorm can pulverize an uninsured car brought with years of saving and a loan from the bank. Sun can burn. Trees, just to break the silence of the wild, may like to rub against each other not anticipating what havoc the forest fire can play with the lives of people living nearby.

The quote of Bataille and the above passage are absurd in some sense. However, exploring this absurdity can help us know that we need to work on how to think about nature. The ‘wrong’ or ‘misplaced’ in the semantics of these instances can give us a clue that we cannot culturise and anthromorphise nature in a wayward way. Culturisation, if we decide to do, will not remain selective and sane beyond a point. It can spread thin and we can theoretically impose a moral code, ethos and aesthetic principles on the trees we have developed for ourselves. One can go further to be more irreverential to say that trees have sexuality, sexual perversity, politics, hegemony and a potential to subjugate the smaller trees.

Twentieth century thinkers problematised almost everything we had thought was sacred and sacrosanct. The problematization hurt initially because it disturbed the world view we had held so close. We took time, some people are still taking time to acknowledge the truth in their findings. It requires certain courage to be an optimistic sceptic. After all, problematization is also not the end of the road. If we believe in the periodization of time, people of the current century should evolve their own action plan in order to make the best use of this process of problematization. Ideally, the action plan of the people of this century people should be to rearrange and realign their relationship with religion, science and nature. Ideally and wisely, we should have been working on the first draft of modernity and modernization already left as legacy to us. The demons modernity had produced made a bright career for themselves while the humans lost the track. We should have been rather trying to fill the gaps, do the editing and proof reading of the given draft, than writing more crumbling and weak scripts. How about advertising the post of darners than designers in the classified?

I am digressing I think. I return to my trees to find a lucid illustration to what I have been trying to say.

Language, they say, constitutes our world. We can start examining our language we associate with trees if we want to upgrade our relationship with them. There is a different register in Botany, Ecology, Environmental Science, Poetry and the capitalistic culture for the same tree. Code mixing produces absurdity, humour and an insight. May be in the core of absurdity and humour lies a knot we need to resolve.

It is time to get wary of our respective solipsisms. Can we see an environmentalist’s threat, an ecologist’s fact, a botanist’s description, a poet’s imagination and the trader’s research on its specific properties and also a pervert’s remark with some equanimity and involvement? Of course, certain facets of a thing gain precedence or ascendance and it gets urgent to assume an essentialist’s position to address a particular issue and it would be vain to think of a singular movement ensuring everyone’s interest but there is a need to include and expand as a practical activity in order to fill the gaps in our understanding of nature.

Also,

Can we allow trees ‘treeness’?  Rivers riverliness? Sea seattitude?

There is a great convergence between trees and humans but treeness of a tree can save us from quick appropriation of a tree in our various discourses.  This awareness can be a fascinating space to develop a more realistic relationship with trees and as it is said we may thrive on our differences.

As a small-time lover of trees, I know their mystery is big. I would like to say the mystery is inexhaustible but the word ‘inexhaustible’ is terrifying to an extent and it discourages even before we start. The big can steadily introduce us to the inexhaustible.

The relationship with trees can be as deep or strong as ready we are for it. It can be आलंबन or उद्वीपन in our lives as classical poetics put it.

Another poem I had composed about flowers–the one that you mentioned, is about tulips and flowers in general. I wrote it in Hindi. I observed that flowers are everywhere. If not in our conscious minds, they are on the cutlery, bed-covers, on the carpets,curtains, murals, and on the clothes we wear. Many people turn suddenly happy to see vivid floral print on a fabric. (This is the moment to think of the cotton plant, the textile industry, the underpaid workers, and the politics simultaneously) May be it does not kill the joy. We want flowers anyhow. With adjournments. Here are a few lines from that poem:

 

पर्दों पर फूल हैं

गलीचे पर फूल

खाने की प्लेट पर फूल

पहने हुए कुरते कुर्ते पर फूल

क्या हमें फूलों की इतनी याद आती है

क्या हम फूलों की याद में रहते हैं ?

 

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