Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tristesse et Lourdeur

Today it began with this stück from Puccini, to which I had stumbled suddenly one night four years ago, tired but naive, after taking a circuitous route. And since then the heaviness inside me has refused to leave. I was reading Aaron's Rod, at the point when Aaron leaves the splendid house of the baron to embark on an aimless journey across Italy. He has no destination, no plans, and very little money. Since listening to Puccini, my mind had begun to wander, and I snapped my reader shut; there would be time for Lawrence, I told myself.

For some months now, I've discovered I have a problem. But it's not something which makes one pick up the phone to declare, "Je suis malade." I have found my problem difficult to articulate, and I suspected that it would be more difficult for the other person to diagnose. Hence when my mother entered my room earlier today, and I told her, "I'm so sad, my heart is breaking. But I simply can't remember why", and she put down a very material reason to it, she confirmed my worst suspicions that this malade couldn't be cured easily, and it'd be best to keep it a secret.

I probably noticed it during one of those long, aimless evenings I spend alone. At one instance I spent nearly half an hour, racking my brain to remember what it was that weighed me down with sorrow. After a lot of machinations, did I finally remember the reason. But that was the last time. It is rather awkward for a person who is otherwise very precise about her emotions to fail to attribute a stark feeling to something. Every time I realise this unbearable, unattributed burden weighing me down, I find it frustrating. As if, I have left an important passage unread in one of the preceding pages, and have since read on, but every word alludes to that passage now, and I can't find the page. At times, I learn to accept my failure.

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Unconsciously I have acquiesced to weight.

I learnt a new word today: tristful. It means deeply and romantically melancholy. It is the adjective you use to describe that moment of listening to Marta Sebestyen singing Szerelem, Szerelem, late one night without understanding a single word. It is also the word you use to describe that feeling of listening to Sultan Khan playing the sarangi. And because you don't know any other word, you use this word again, when you suddenly have visions of places and gardens and walls and bridges you have never actually visited, but you think you have. 'Tristful' enables you to give in to more imaginary ruminations and conversations, each misleading you more and more to believe in things that never happened, but which (if they did take place) could have made you happy. You emerge from your thoughts more melancholy than ever. 'Tristful', which has its root in the Latin tristitia, meaning sadness, has thus served its purpose.

And there is 'melancholy', a very useful word which was drilled into our minds in standard VIII while reading Charles Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, or rather Romeo and Juliet to be precise. Praise be to the system that teaches 'melancholia' and 'poignance' to impressionable thirteen year olds rather than 'mersmerising' or 'delectation' or even clarifying whether 'ecstasy' has a 'c' or an 's' or both. But of course 'delirium' does not carry the formidable pleasure of 'pathos'. Delirium is fairly easy, and very communal, which is why it loses its sheen for me. Pathos, on the other hand, is solitary and rather rare to find in its purest form, and hence encompasses sanctity within its folds.

One day, in the university, a friend had told me, "But there is a sense of pleasure in sadness, isn't it? Which is why we let it gnaw at our hearts." I acceded, but only after I reached home, in that twilight zone between day and night, did I remember another similar incident, involving similar words: two middle-school girls with bleeding gums returning home, and one telling the other, "But really, there is pleasure in tasting blood. I will not go to the dentist tonight."

Pan Comforts Psyche at Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
Photograph by self.