The Monsoon doesn't speak English:
Translating the Untranslateable.

 

A poem penned in collaborative Malayalam urges us to reflect on Life, its translation into human understanding. Issues of meaning and loss. The gap between Cloud & Man. And The Language of Man and God... Tarun Cherian.

 

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The other day, we had a discussion with Trupthi, our neighbour, a mother, also an IT educational enhancement pro. As we were discussing a related field she remarked over how according to researchers, our multi-linguality, English + Indian language mastery leads to a more holistic stimulation of our brains. As we follow the thought we begin to sense how different cultures, may have not just different words, but different emotions, different thought processes. As De Bono put it, by choosing different hats we can greatly enhance our options.

A few weeks ago in early July, we were visiting Talitha & Satish {Sis & Bro-in-law in Cochin} and Amma & Appicha who are staying with them {Mom & Dad}. It was monsoon time. And it was pouring. The clouds were grey with the odd lighter wing of grey. Lightning tearing it apart. Below, was slushy earth and the unnatural green of tropical Kerala.

Does The Monsoon Rain Speak English? There's something about Rain. Clouds. Memories. Loved ones. Chai. Rushed stays. Parents on the wicked side of 80, that clutches the heart -- fierce. Like an ethakya between greedy fingers. {Ethakya; a banana, a Kerala delight boiled, or fried. Also called nendrapazhum in other parts of S. India.} Something unbearable within you, like a bird pecking out of an egg, wishes to emerge. But it does not have an English Beak. It does not have English Feathers. It does not have English Bones. It does not have an English Heart.

The Kerala Monsoon, and my Malyali Heart demanded a Malayalam poem. But… I can just about get myself understood in Hindi, speak the most basic Malayalam & Tamil. But, there are things you can say, emotions that make sense in Hindi or Malayalam that are unspeakable unthinkable in English. And vice-versa.

Each Language Speaks a Different Emotion. So how bridge this? In my advertising days, we usually cracked the core line in a central language usually English … and then working with translators and collaborators, delivered it in various languages. So ‘Fantastic Malathi' a line for a Tata Coffee brand became, ‘Bramhandam Malathi' {Lord Bramha's Delight} in Andhra Pradesh, and ‘Kalakidde Malathi' {whip-up-a-storm} in Tamil.

Walking Across The East-West Wall. But sometimes the gap between English and either Hindi based or South Indian based languages are too large. Because you sometimes need to catch an emotion which doesn't exist in the culture that the language emerges from. ‘Greet' doesn't do justice to ‘Namaskaar'. So sometimes we wrote in the target language in however broken a sentence, the essential thought.

 

 

The Many Languages of The Heart. Off and on therefore, because some emotions lie beyond English, because it exercises the heart in unexpected ways, I write poems in Hindi & Mayalam. It prevents me from being land-locked, soul-locked. I usually craft a crude frame of words in the language it will emerge in, and then test the patience of family, friends, roped into becoming translators… the poem on monsoon clouds, we are discussing, was conceived in Malayalam; instigated by me, Tarun, in Broken Malayalam, and birthed through a massive collaborative effort with A S Cherian {Amma}, Talitha Mathew {My Elder Sis} & Shazidaa {Our Maid with real inner light}; for as you know my Malayalam is strictly buy-the-milk variety. To relate it in roman script…

“Megah thinnde muranjya churagah
bhoomiyil veenuh enukya kitti.

“Oru kalam prithvium nyaanum
suhuurthakal aairunnu...
pakshangil ippol...”

Now if you are not a Malayali, here's a literal translation…

“The cloud's injured wing,
on the ground I find.
At one time, the earth and I were close friends.
But now...”
Accurate, but awkward. So we now present a translation taking mild liberty and emphasis.

 

 

 

Broken-words and a monsoon sky.

“On my muddied path,
I find the broken wing of cloud.
I Lift it. Clean it. Claim it.

“Once gravity and I were friends.
But now...”

Bridges of Sharing. Sitting across the table, the poem grew between us. Amma, Tlee, Me, The maid Shazidaa. And it became more than a poem. It became a caravan. It became a reaching in to memories. It became a reaching out to each other. Bridges. We are sure Shazida took back the metaphor of the broken-winged cloud home. As we took her inputs of kar-megham {thundercloud}.

Language can bond; Rajesh, a neighbour and insurance pro spoke about how language helps. A shopkeeper gave him a sizeable freebie because he is a ‘mal' too. India's states are principally shaped by linguistic consideration. And yet the very fact there is a commonality with a language, builds both a case for reconnecting with family, and simultaneously for looking beyond the horizon.

Different languages take us in different directions. Different cultures take us in different directions. When we went to Srilanka we realised how strikingly true this was. In India, Pereira is Christian. Jayawardhan would be Hindu. Khan, Muslim. In Srilanka, a Pereira can be Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist… What a liberating practice.

A Bharatnatyam Dancer and Ballet Exponent reveal different emotions, encase different insights. The rhythms, expressive eyes, connectedness to the earth of Bharatnatyam clasp one set of transcendent truths while Ballet with its ethereal leaps, and extended toes occupies another territory, no less profound. And so we begin to see the need to interact. And also to remain pure. A Bharnatyam dancer exposed to Ballet can be inspired. A Bharnatyam dancer exposed to Ballet can become a duckbilled platypus. But this too is true, the feet of a Bharnatyam dancer and that of a Ballet dancer are reshaped by their choices. The Global cannot grow at the cost of the Local.

Now if I was to take the poem furthur in English, going beyond being a translator, I may add crueller, post-modern elements… “ Fallen on the fallen earth./ I find the broken-winged cloud/ I lift it. I Claim it./ I stitch it with cat gut/ to my shoulders…” Now, this imagery, of the wing of a broken cloud stitched on by cat-gut opens a more ‘noire' {dark} artistic direction, resulting in poems that work brilliantly, as poetry in English.

Flying on broken wings.

In the corner,
the umbrella weeps.

It is broken.
The skies are broken.

I shall not be able to leave here.
Kerala has me in its beak.

The ticket will be cancelled.

Indefinitely.

In slush, the frog.
In slush, is I.

Soon the minister's SUV will pass.
Option 1. I will inspire a day's hartal.

Option 2. I flee.

Running on the heart's amputated feet.
I leap into this puddle.

It bursts into a thousand, startled feathers.

Child stamps.
Man leaves the earth.

I fly on the sky's broken wings above the city.
A polythene bag joins me.

"Every translator crosses a no-man's land.
Every translator hugs the world closer.
Every translator infects. Brings in new diseases, like how Spanish conquistador's infections humbled the Aztecs.

Every Translator is ruled by the moon. And longs for the Sun."

 

 

 

Systems & Interacting Systems. Wham! But there's another step we've taken without quite realising it. And that's… First we examined the possibility of shifting language to express varied emotive content. Now, we have realised that by shifting between languages and cultures rewarding cross-pollination can happen. There is an idea today that is currently gaining ground in India , that becoming a uni-religeous society is an unmixed virtue. That somehow divinity is served by all parroting the same book. Built into the Vedas is the argument of multiplicity. Going all across the spectrum from Advaita to Charakas, covering believers in oneness to those who deny anything but physicality. But this not a tired argument where Christians talk to Muslims, talk to Hindus. Let's raise the ante. Creator's Child is launching Buffy's Doggy Revelations, in it we listen to doggy voices. By corollary to cow voices, rat voices, cat voices… tree voices, hill voices.

Cloud Runners. By Buffy Cherian.

Clouds are for running on.
I like running on clouds.
First I ran on them to catch ka-kas.
Now I run on them to talk to ka-kas.
To save a goat. Rescue a moo-cow.

Above the clouds is a ground of light.
I like it, even though there are no bones to eat there.

 

"Crossing the border between species is wonderful.
Hearing a thousand voices, wisdoms.

And dangerous for when we leave the sacred circle,
we are cat 7 dog, crow 7 worm, man & beast."

 

Speaking The Language of Freedom. The other great gift that creativity offers is obviously freedom. The freedom of miracles. Where unexpectedly, a door swings open and a cloud wing drifts in. Wonderful, the pain's there, but hope's silver touch heals. But what, the man at Hiroshima, Belsen Bergen may ask. What if there is no miracle, no hope? What if we are all in a gas chamber which speaks neither Yiddish or German, but death?

No anaesthetic.

The cloud's wing I found rotting in the garden,
is stitched with catgut to my shoulders.

The hospital is a back-end clinic, in a back-end alley.

The Doc, a wall-eyed attendant, sacked for fraud.

There's no anaesthetic.

Shady pills are washed down with arrack.

One way or the other, I'm going to get to Heaven.

And we realise even if this is the end. We can write our epitaphs, our lives so deeply it is etched into the wind.

And so even where this is the end. This not the end. For the word cannot die.

But there is another freedom. The one between words... Now, there is a wholly discredited, but bitterly-held belief by those who call themselves rationalists, but often are merely antediluvian Newtonians, and that is of determinism. In a mechanical universe, it is billiard ball logic that rules. In an informatic universe, a universe with overall intelligence or elements of intelligence we begin to see ourselves not as a product of circumstance, but agents free to the extent they claim their freedom.

Consider this, if your circumstances can be compared to the poem ‘no anaesthetic', you may revel in it, or may hate it. In a billiard ball universe very little can change, a comma, a synonym, but that's it, the destination's inevitable. In an intelligent universe, we can change the poem itself… We can shift to Flying on broken wings. Or Broken-words and a monsoon sky. Or to a poem about to be conceived, or not even suspected {Skin of the Burnt Cloud, Or A Puddle for Mr & Mrs Cherian, Or Shoes for the Cloud Walker , Or Clouds & Clothes for God.}

We begin to see that the current reality, current poem, current arrangement of the letters of matter is a crystallisation of a state-of-mind, in a particular language. By changing the words or even language we can change the poem {read reality}. But we can do one better. We can go back to the source of inspiration and return with a wing that can even cheat death.

Skin of The Burnt Cloud.

I stitch the cloud's wing to my shoulders.
It will not flap.
Or slow my fall.

But hey, in the tattoo parlour,
the client and the tattooist both know
the angel will not leap off skin.
But it helps.
It's a scream holding a white rose
in pink-inked teeth.

The other day, I saw the needle of a smoke stack touch a star.
But the star did not flinch.
It laughed.

"We always think in terms of hard realities.
But what if reality is not hard, thinks the dreamer?

But just because he is a dreamer is it wrong?
What if reality is a laugh that can turn sour?."

 

 

The Language of Conviction. When we speak of freedom we are not speaking just the happy language of Pollyanna miracles. But of conviction that made Pollyanna miracles real.

For… Even if nothing changes, everything changes.

1. A man stands before a mob. He falls. And blubbers. He will be killed.

2. A man stands before a mob. He stands tall. He will be killed. But the two deaths are different. For in the second, something changes in the eyes of the men of the mob.

Sounds unreal? The Roman circus was one where thousands of men, gladiators and animals were killed for sport, so the romans could satisfy their bloodlust. One monk stood up and protested. He was killed in the circus. But the very next day, the Roman circus was halted. Consider the next poem with the same bridge-hand of thoughts, but a triumphant game.

A Puddle for Mr & Mrs Cherian.

You are here with us a short while.
A year or 20.
Amma. Appi.

I cannot say ‘goodbye'.
I will not say ‘drag it on'.

I have seen there is more to us.
You have seen there is more.

One day, Mr More wearing a skeleton outfit will knock on the door.
And say ‘come'.

If he comes for you, please keep this handy.
The other day walking along the beach,
I found a broken-winged cloud.
Stitch it to your shoulders
and you can fly beyond the sea of there's no-more than this.

In a puddle, I see a cloud.
In a puddle, a child sees a cloud.
He stamps in it.

I, instead, walk to the cliff.
I have catgut in my hands.
And an urn of ashes.

 

"The blood price… we always believe someone else can pay it for us. Sometimes someone can. ”

 

 

 

The Language of The Unknown. We can comfort ourselves or numb ourselves into forgetting. Pecking like broilers in a cage, at little handfuls, cutting our asses on the cruel mesh, squawing when one is lifted up, shitting in fear, and cowering.

We can do this. Or we can go one step deeper. One of the oldest adages spiritualists have for seekers is to go beyond words. Go beyond thought, and go beyond the mind. Nice words. But the mental asylums are filled with those whose minds were torn off.

And as we pursue this thought, we begin to go even deeper, for we realise we can go beyond being shadows on walls to lights that throw sparks. Just as an inspiration may have infinite expressions, so too at every point of time we have infinite possibilities, and freedoms.

Clouds & Clothes for God.

God came to me.
He was naked.
And he was dead.
His passport had been revoked.
And his social security number read 00000000.

I told him I know what it feels.
When we dressed up Ammachy for her funeral and put rose perfume,
it felt like we were dressing up a beef packet.
Another Uncle shoved into the furnace,
was two bare feet and a circle of fire.

I told God I had chased ghosts
and sung lullabies to the very lost.

Amma reads The Bible she believes it is true.
I no longer read The Bible.
I write my own Holy Book.
But I believe in most everything Amma believes in.
God. Love. Caring.
And a place of great light.

Living the light is more difficult.

God said I wasn't making sense.
So instead I poured half my tea for him.
Since my clothes wouldn't fit,
I picked up the broken-wing of the cloud
Thrown near the garbage pile.
And wrapped him in it.
God looked a lot like the mad, raggedy, vagrant chased by dogs.
So I chased the dogs.
And gave the vagrant a loaf of bread.
Next, I heard a roar of lightning.
And a tree burst into flame.

 
 

 

The Untranslateable...can hug. The simple truth is that the monsoon doesn't speak English. Nor does it speak Malayalam. Nor does it speak lagrangian equations. It speaks... no it does not merely speak, it is a vaster sense, a greater word that we partly sense with our senses. And so we have to translate that being. From somewhere we have to find the word. And then we realise the word too, the cupping word that gathers falling lightning and angels with dripping wings too comes from the first one, the great one, the only one, the impossible one.

We are all translations of translations of the untranslateable dripping down the face of innocence onto a tongue of knowing. For awhile the raindrops from a high place are enough. But one day, the intolerable yearning to go back home shall overcome the dread in our bones. And so we storm the heavens like chicken with eagle eyes. And God laughs. And he descends. And drops a great wing.

The Untranslateable... must cut off its wings to fly. The simple truth... too is this... God may hide in the vagrant, fall in the cloud, speak through the mad, laugh in the child, die in the weed... And we may speak to God in English, Hug him in Malayalam... Till, till it rain. Till it storm. Till one day we see in puddle, a sky. Till we see a broken wing on our path. And then as we fly, we realise we fly not as wing but as polythene bag. Such a terrible and beautiful thing. To know that among the angels you are the one who drags his wing. And then you cut off your tongue, so you can speak, sever an arm, and graft on wing.

We rise, we fall. We rise, we fall. Then one day, all our days end. All our lives end. Gravity lets go. And we are there.

 

 

 

 

 

Shoes for the Cloud Walker.

We stand here,
Here where it rains.
Here where lightning strikes.

But we also stand here, where we can pick the broken-winged cloud.
Where we can heal the broken-winged cloud.
Where we can fly with the broken-winged cloud.

We stand here, which is not here.
We stand in a here which is there --
where lightning can coil
or be flung.

There, will you choose lightning,
shape a storm and scorch your child?
Or will you plant a seed?

And we can go one step further. And one step further. Into the heart of Creation. And...

 

 
 

The Language of God:

And there where all blazes or is very quiet... we begin to learn the language of God. The unspoken speak. How reshape a bone, and make a stone? {What poetic license you think? But hey hello, every Devadhara Healer, every Cosmic Heart Seeker, is this not what you do?}

The renowned performance artist Joseph Beuys, in a performane now titled how to explain pictures to a dead hare, carried a dead hare intensely whispering into its ear as he carried it from drawing to drawing. A magnificent art performance. He spoke. Man could hear the unspoken word. But could the dead rabbit?

The word of God, and the word of the poet are different in one key way. The poet takes liberty. God takes liberty. But if he were to change a word it would cause a second heart to beat in the chest or a hand to spring from the head.

To understand the perfection that underlies our word consider this, a decade ago or so, Celia & I were experimenting. I created a wordless, pure sound poem, or to the lay man, a nonsense word poem, each word inspired by a scene. I visualised the scene and spoke the nonsense poem. Was it just nonsense or could the sense leap across boundaries? Celia got the sequence of images with great perfection. The word of the mind was revealed.

In Lord Shankaracharya's brilliant Soundaryalahiri, each verse is not just poetry or revelation, it is force contained it is nuclear bomb awaiting tongue to reveal it. So shall we strip word of meaning, so sound may reveal it is not donkey, but pillar of life, wing of storm? Shall we in Lord ShankaraCharya's footsteps follow, with however small a shoe?

The Mall of Angel Wings. {Literally however: The Cloud with a Well whose Water is Fresh-cut Cloud Wing.}

Insha huzay. Insha huzay. Insha huzay.
Jha ruuutee skree.

{Repeat these two verses a few times till you realise you have invoked it. Invoked what? You ask. Cloud. Angel.}

Jharuuunee na. Jharuuunee na. Jharuuunee na.
Sahuree.

Aafree savray. Aafree savray. Aafree savray. {Repeat this with 12 mouths}
Sahuree.

Bhor hulahee. Bhor hulahee. Bhor hulahee.{Repeat this with the conviction you will hold firm no matter what.} Dhalamay.

Jarr da so hee. Insha huzay. {Be the breath as you say this. Both whisper and command.}

Here we have gifted you a chant. Around those who chant this in the elder tongue, a storm of grey wings shall surround. It gives both the power to see and seize stranger freedoms, also the power to cloak one's essence. This hints at the great power that all mystics and religions have known, the word that can bend the universe, unloose a volcano, and unfurl the wing of a child's smile.

But there are some, who wish for translations {that are impotent}... On the dark coverlet of clouds that is the All's mattress are embroidered little sleeping heads. They dream You. They dream Me. They dream The Lightning. They Dream the How. They cannot dream the Why. By implication: They are being dreamt for the All to Know the Why.

"In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God. And The Word was God." Proclaims The Bible. And we often forget that. Words are not just signposts. They are road builders. They are atom creators. During a chant many years to pray for Japan, a group in Bombay lead by Meenakshi found bowls of water placed near the meditators swirl in circles with the power of the chant.

And we can go furthur. And we can go deeper. But by now our feet are ground bone. Or cloud whisper.

The Creator is called The Creator for good reason. We stand not on ground. But on creativity. On wings that we now see as cloud. Now feel as an insistent cry at the heart of hearts.

 

 

 

"For obvious reasons, it is easier to stand on the ground than on The Word. Correction; it is always easier to stand on The Word thinking it were ground.”

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

You may also wish to watch Monsoon Videos that help us rediscover Joy.

Raining Diamonds: :Welcome the shower of goodness. 

Dance with the Rain  :Celia nudges us to kick off our shoes in the rain. 

A monsoon love story in 3 minutes and 55 seconds :Here is poetry in motion, words that evoke finding that special one, of being found by the monsoon. 

Nachon, nachnon pyare A magical song in hindi sung by Madhu Ganguly, written by Tarun. It invites us to dance with life, nature, God.

Earth Friend This video by Celia from Mangalore's stormy seas carries a magnificent message. 

Rain Blessings It is blessed indeed.