I am happy.
I am expressing myself more and more in a language that was lost to me, one that I considered to be my mother-tongue. But my mother spoke a different language for communicating with her parents and elder sisters – Marwari – and a different one for her four younger siblings – Hindi. I was born and raised in Gujarat and yet never found that familiarity or ease with Gujarati which the second generation of settlers always seems to have with the local language. So I grew up struggling to cope, to find a language for expression. And somewhere in my early teens, I befriended English. Anna Sewell’s autobiography of a horse – Black Beauty – started (perhaps) a life long romance with a language that had adopted me. Jane Austen, Keats, Shelly, Pope and Donne added colours and flavours that would make me try in my uncomprehending ways, to emulate them and then poetry happened. Not to say that I’m proud of what I wrote, but a beginning was made, of self obsession, of being in love, with the idea of being in love (which continues to this day). And with this romance came along the bitter truth of not-belonging.
This wasn’t my language. Why had I chosen it? Why had it chosen me?It was difficult finding friends now who would be life me, communicating in an adoptive language, having found a new ground for themselves, walking without precedents. There were none for a long time and when the came, they brought Kerouac and Kafka along. And long hours were spent in the quiet, undisturbed, friendly environs of the British Council Library, exploring its treasures.
I was happy then.
For a long while, oblivious to other languages, their romance, until I met Urdu, a language loaded with ‘tehzeeb‘, culture, and I understand now that I was never meant to love and receive love of one language alone. Learning the alphabet (alf, be ,te…) and conditioning myself to write from right to left,
opening a book at the end, no, the beginning, well, just in a different direction, transcribing an entire ghazal of Mir Taqi Mir Hasrat Mohani, a few stanzas of which were immortalized on celluloid, sung in Ghulam Ali sa’ab’s golden voice –
“Chupke, chupke, raat din, aansoo bahaana yaad hai,
Humko, ab, tak, aashiqi ka woh zamaana yaad hai…”
God! The romance!Each word felt like a mouthful of an exotic red wine. Even though I did not understand the ‘maani‘ of so many of Urdu’s words, but did I care! The words, they were just waiting to be consumed. And while I had just begun to discover the joys of this kanguage, I turned a lane and lost the plot. Or so I thought, till the time when trials and tribulations of love and a few compassionate souls introduced me the genius of the God-Poet – Gulzar. Tha man who wrote the adorable, unforgettable title song for the The Jungle Book’s television adaptation series in Hindi:
“Ek parinda, hai sharminda,
Tha woh nangaa,
Array issay toh anday ke andar,
Tha woh changaa,
Soch raha hai baahar aakhir kyun nikla hai,
Array chaddi pahan ke phool khila hai, phool khila hai”
And who also wrote what has become my eternal song of a failed love:
“Ek so solah, chaand ki raatein,
Ek tumhaaray kaandhay ka til,
Geeli mehendi ki khushboo,
Jhooth moot ke shikwe kuchh,
Jooth moot ke vaade bhi sab,
Yaad kara doon,
Sab bhijwa do, mera woh samaan lauta do.
Ek ijaazat de do bas,
Jab isko dafanaungi,
Main bhi wahin, so jaungi.”
The first time I heard this lyric, I had tears streaming down my face and it came to define timelessness, elegance and well, love, for me. And I had begun to find myself again. Some years have passed since and I see life at a similar turn and it has begun to feel like living a Pink Floyd song
“…swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old grounds, what have we found?
The same old fears.”
And the same two languages come to my rescue, with all their songs and poems and stories, Yes, I’ve been treading the endless knot.