A worker welding small machine parts together at a factory in Gurgaon, Haryana, India (3 March 2018)
I am always fascinated by graveyards, tombstones, epitaphs, crematoriums, and anything that has to do with death. This crematorium stands on the bank of the now dried-up Harinagar Lake, New Delhi. This area keeps me interested for various reasons–when I visited last, there was a weathered boat keel up on the parched lake-bed and a pig stubbornly snouting something at its base, children in two or three groups playing cricket in the middle of the bed, some tail-tucking dogs feeding on the skull of a buffalo with noisy crows, and a couple of kingfishers perched on the dry branches of a fallen, uprooted tree. And there was smoke escaping from between the wall and the corrugated tin roof of the cremation buildings every time I visited that place. This time too.
by Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)
Nobel Prize in Literature (2011)
কানশিনবা তারে ঐগি
খোঙ অমম্বা থোঙজিনসিদা৷
ইঙান ঙাল্লী অঙৌবা চেদু৷
মমি কয়ানা লেঙ লেঙ৷
শোই তৌনীংই পূম্নমক মদুদা৷
মঙালদুনা ঐবু লাকহৎ
Robert Fulton’s translation:
I have to step
over the dark threshold.
The white document gleams.
With many shadows moving.
Everyone wants to sign it.
Until the light overtook me
and folded up time.
Photograph by LYNN DAVIS
Poetry is ash, Ashbery—your dust has already scattered in the wind, been the breath of many who have turned into ashes and joined the dust, wind, fire, water and the sky. I don’t know where you came from, Ashbery, but I think you return where you came from, like all of us. We are ashes for a while and we fly and scatter when the home-bound wind comes.
John Ashbery, the beloved Ashbery, your death has let the hell loose in me again, and a sadist or joyist (who can tell them apart, if they aren’t one and the same thing?), I love it because there is a pleasure in all this. You are like me—guilt tasted pleasing, and it made you a poet, for which you have become the beloved.
Surviving the death of a loved one always accompanies a subtle (often acute) feeling of guilt. Life wants to live and death wants to go on, and unfortunately love cannot bridge the two, to our chagrin. If not bridge, love should be able to keep us together in life, through life, or in death, we petulantly demand. But we the warlike humans, who just don’t let it go without a fight but wage wars against and kill each other for whatever petty thing there can be, can’t possibly put ourselves into any action when death wrests our loved ones from our arms invisibly even as we see it, which is stabbingly painful. And life is such that in most of the cases we drag on (just out of nature, but for nothing obvious to live for—it really feels rather empty, unbearably heavily empty, and you just don’t commit suicide), feeling the fading pang of guilt—the survivor’s guilt fading into general sadness or general weakness that pervades the rest of our life, which gravitates toward and finally empties itself into death. Life with its apparent injustice ends well in ash, so it all seems well. Maybe, there will be a lingering after-life feeling of anger at having put through it that badly.
Ashbery, you go on. Your ash, a berry to home—it sucks you back. All the world is ash. I loved you. I love you. I love myself. Life and death. Living and dying. I don’t put myself to a final death maybe because that would deprive me of the (extended) pleasure of continual dying, the pleasure of hating life that in turn breeds love of life, the pleasure of feeling angry at being wronged or done out of something good. The sadism or joy of all this.
Happiness spreads across the tissues of the living moments of life, but it is like the air–it slips through your fingers when you try to clasp it in your hands. It is not that we cannot think about happiness. Of course we humans are self-conscious beings and we can think about and examine our own conditions and our happiness. However, when we do so, we put happiness on the table for the equivalent of a clinical examination, and happiness stops being happiness, because happiness is not a singularity. It is a multiplicity–a multiple of several factors. A surgical examination of your happiness may reveal the factors of your happiness, but at that moment of examination, you do no experience the multiple feeling called happiness. Happiness is a composite feeling–let’s say “a feeling”–experienced, not an analyzed one. You may know happiness, but you are not happy if you do not experience this feeling. It is like sadness in this sense. You know your friend must be sad when his loved one dies, but this knowledge does not necessarily make you sad. Knowledge is one thing, and being is something else.
We feel the grainy texture of what we go through when we are deeply in the moments of whatever we go through. In plainer terms, being at the moment of the living moment and being focused on what we are doing at the moment is to be experiencing what life has for us. There is nothing to live beyond that. There is no life beyond that. Spirituality is something else and it does not preclude happiness.
I have seen happy people, living their daily lives happily. This girl I knew from my town is one of them. Irrespective of her material conditions, …
Oops! I gotta go. Will continue later tonight.
When you can’t carry your own weight
against the earth’s call for a fall
life is reduced to the weight
of flesh, blood and bone.
The old man settles into his unmade bed,
made only by the fussy wind from the sea—
a bundle of wrinkles among the messy folds.
Old and spent, he sleeps the last sleep.
No snore. The folds and wrinkles at rest.
It feels like time has done with all its fuss—
there is nothing stirring in the bedroom,
in the living room, the corridors, the kitchen,
on the stairs and the cornice—the white silk curtains
in frozen stirs at the windows, and the breeze
caught in the cobweb of the air.
None will hear and the air won’t feel touched
when the old door creaks again to close
when you’ve walked home in your sleep.
Son of an impractical philosopher type of guy with a taste for literature, I got inured to hard work, privation and stoic life, and all the more importantly, as it will have consequence to the rest of my life, to abstract things, quite very early in life. When I think of my father, now a diabetic invalid, and then of myself, I can’t but think life is too vast a field for one person to live the entirety of it, but when you choose to live only certain parts of it, that may turn out too narrow to support its own weight that you sink. An economist of an artist–perhaps a flawed one–I don’t like many things about life to form part of the art called my life (for example, I hate earning for survival, detest eating, hate me being wished unmeant and meaningless good mornings and birthdays, the formalities of life such as schools, colleges, universities, jobs, making friends, chit-chats, workshops, conferences, etc.), and I don’t want to go through these processes, and without me undergoing them, I have to pay for it, by ruining my own life, and that is what I am doing, most of the time. That is why I am in a troubled relationship with life.
As a boy, I wanted to become a painter, philosopher, sculptor, dancer, filmmaker. Some sort of artist. But I always wanted to live in the woods without much contact with the world. Then at school, another ambition caught hold of my mind–a scientist. A physicist. Working in the field of energy. I read a lot. Actually a lot. Infatuated. I did not know what formalities it took for one to first go through before one reaches there. You need to pass through a lots of gates, and the gatekeepers don’t let you pass that easily. I took up science at secondary school, where my first ever ambition was shattered. A lot of things happened. I gave up that ambition. Streaks of that desire still swell weakly in me, once in a while. Quite a familiar stranger now. A sleeper in me. Deep sleeper. One thing that has made sleep beautiful for me is this sleeper inside me. In deep slumber, turning over once in a while.
What do you want to do in life? I ask myself. Nothing. Seriously, nothing. I can paint, think, dance, and believe I can still do sculpture. Clay. Wood. That’s just the force of life. Primitive. Like the wind blowing, dogs barking or wagging tails, stone just being hard on the cold ground. They serve no purpose. I have no purpose in life–not just mine, I see no purpose in life and this is making me feel empty. Just purposeless, I don’t want to enjoy life. Gay abandon. Eating around. Sleeping around. Fucking around. No carpe diem for me, please. No advice.
Why is it that humans, at least some of them, want to die when they have nothing to do in life? Do they want some job to do in life? Do they want to be busy? No. It’s not that simple. To exist, to undergo the process of existence in the stark meaninglessness, is a torture. Injustice. It is irritating. But why don’t I just commit suicide? Why not just blow my brains out? I wonder why I don’t do this–kill myself? Seriously. I don’t know. It seems like underneath I am a detective, justice of the law of the universe, that senses something is not quite right and wants to figure this out and fix it. Sort of some buried anger deep inside me. A quiet but burning desire to bring the culprit–if we can call it so–to justice. This is the violence in me. The cool violence. The icy cold stiff die-hard, stoic in me. Waiting patiently. But punching once in a while into the walls, on the floor, breaking my valuables all of a sudden. As if madness emerging out of nowhere. The violence in me.
Art gives me solace. I am an artist. I live as an art. My life is a work of art. There is pleasure in this art, this me. And I am not for show. How does art give me solace? Art distracts me from the meaningless elements of life. I remove parts of life I think do harm to life. Weeds. I live like an editor of life. Artists are editors of life. I edit my life. I live in my edited world. But it is also true that I want to die along with art–this art. This art is too delicate for the wake-up knock on the door. The membrane between the rumbling life and this dream called art is too thin and fragile. But I do not know how I come to the conclusion that death puts everything to rest. What is that logic? I am not sure. No, I am not sure.
I have no ambition in life. That’s true. No ambition. That did not result from any failure or fear of failure or any kind of fear. I just don’t like much about life. But that much of life I like, I want to live that much in the woods. Raising a small family. Raising birds and animals, too, as part of my family. Fish. Feeding them. Flowers. Trees. Farming. Producing my own food. Being part of nature. Dying of snakebite or being tiger-food. Or dying in the lap of my wife, surrounded by my children and grandchildren. Or dying alone in a cold bed. Unseen by any, except fruitflies. That would be a pleasing one. That is the life I am looking forward to now.
A child was born with death, a poppy birthmark
tattooed cutely on its tender skin adding art to flesh.
Pulling long carrot roots from the soft mulch
one weary evening, the boy saw sleepy time,
inveterate as an old hoary smoker, drowse across the valley
like a lucent birthmark floating free of skin.
What’s the body to the earth?
It reaches for and slips down to the floor
when breath begins migrating
and the blood slows down to a thick stop.
The accordion, singing voices, loud laughters and cries
and brisk and elaborate movements of dance
have made it a warm winter in the suburb pub.
The cold of the floor creeps up his cheeks
in exchange for the warm flow from
the cooling hole in his heart—
he is drowning in his own life.
A dancing girl takes a break, sits down
at a stool by the counter and tosses a swig
of red-blood hot life into her life-sucker.
Crimson seeps through the cotton clouds
slowly revealing the sky bleeds—
crimson drops trickling down the cold earth.
Death is quite different when you’ve survived
Several suicides and several other deaths—
Death is so useless; life—you’ve nowhere to go!
I died there in that city, in that small, dark, boring room
In those monotonous restaurants
Those parks, those benches, those thorns
Those hospital beds, corridors and clinic rooms
Those same boring streets, same boring traffic
Day in, day out. Year in, year out!
I lived there, across the city, digging a grave across it
I died there, across that city, in that grave
Buried my dead body there, in that grave, across that city
With the body of my dead love—
Love, nowhere to live, nowhere to die.
A piece of me still moving—a sure sign of life,
Like a dead actor in an olden movie.
Something doesn’t quite let it alone—life, death,
And I love it and I hate it—it just confuses me.
No name! My heart just pumps it, and it flows
Through my veins and capillaries all over my body!
Quiet like a dark mountain at night.
পোৎয়োমসি অসুম পুরিবনি পুনীংদুনা, নুংশিদুনা
উহৈশিংসে ফংদবদি নত্তে য়ূমগি হৈকোলদুদা
শাত্তবদি নত্তে নাচোমশিংসি ইপাগি লৈকোলদুদা,
অদু পুরক্লিবনি নুংশিদুনা চৎলুবা লমদমশিং
খূদোলজনীংদুনা লেম পানা ৱাৎত্রবা ঐগি নুংশিবশিংদুদা
হেকচরক্লিবনি হৈরাং লৈরাংশিংসে থমোই কয়াদ ঈরাঙ হৌনা
পীবগি অপেনবদু ফাওজনীংদুনা, থারম্লবসু পূম্নমকসে মখোয়না৷
চৎলিবনি পোৎলূমসে পুদুনা ৱারবসু ৱানা
করম্নদি লংথোক্লমগনি অদুক নুংশিনা খুদোলবীরক্লগা নঙনা?
করিদি পুরুনি নুংশি খূদোল পোৎলূমসে নত্ত্রদি?
করম্নদি খূল্লুনি চেগায় চেগুম খুলগি লম্বী মতাইদগি
থাদদুনা নুংশিবসে লম্বীগি ঊফুল মথক্তা?
ও! করিগি অসুক নুংশিরিবনো নঙনা ঐবু?
নুংশিবা য়াদব্র খরা তপ্না, খরা থোৎনা, মতম শাংনা?
তৌফম খঙহন্দ্রে নঙগি নুংশিবনা ঐবু
চৎফমসু খঙহন্দ্রে লম্বীসি নীং তম্না
অসুম নীক্তুনা লৈরে থমোই মরীসে ঐগি!