Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a philosophical, cultural and intellectual movement in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which stressed on the use of reason, logical criticism and freedom of thought. Science and empiricism gained centre stage, as it was believed that even man could be explained through science (Wilde 1). The Enlightenment had deep repercussions in Europe and throughout the world, with a gradual shift in the power of the Church and the monarch, and utmost importance being placed on the individual. The Enlightenment era is also regarded to have led to the Modern Age.

Despite the stress the Enlightenment era, often called the “age of reason”, placed on a universal set of meanings and values, the Enlightenment was never a simple, uniform movement. While Enlightenment thinkers agreed on certain broad categories, each had distinct views about particular subjects. There was never a “monolithic Enlightenment project” (Porter 17). Tolerance was central to Enlightenment thought, and great importance was placed on debates. Dissent was seen as a means to search for truth. The Enlightenment was a movement with a mission to modernize; with the aim to enlighten the nation. Therefore, the critical assessments surrounding the Enlightenment are also varied, and sometimes, even conflicting. I would like to briefly discuss some of the seminal assessments which attempt to define the Enlightenment, with special focus on Roy Porter’s “Introduction” from Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World.

Immanuel Kant reflects on the Enlightenment during the phenomenon itself, and offers a succinct definition of the Enlightenment as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage”. (Kant 1). He feels that the Enlightenment gives man the resolution to think for himself, something which a minority had been doing for the masses for a long time till then. He stresses on the need for freedom for independent thought to develop, but warns that the Enlightenment would be a slow process, because a change in attitude would take years to be complete. Thus his conclusion that his age was not enlightened, but an “age of enlightenment” (Kant 4). Kant divides the use of reason into public and private, and limits the function of reason as an end in itself.

Foucault presents a more complicated analysis of the Enlightenment as he can view the era from the frame of reference of tomorrow, while Kant’s frame of reference was the present. Foucault feels that Kant viewed the Enlightenment merely as an exit from another age, while he feels that it is an era in itself, with impacts so great so as to modify the present itself. The Enlightenment witnessed a mass change in attitudes of people, and Kant saw Enlightenment as the moment when man uses his reason independently. Foucault, however, feels that it is an age, and not particular events, that is a marker of a mass change in attitudes. Thus for Foucault, the Enlightenment is a process; one in which each person participates individually, but the individual participation is to such an extent that it becomes a widespread movement which attracts individual participation (Foucault 4). Foucault also feels that the function of reason was not an end in itself, but to critique, which is another of the main ideas propagated by the Age. He shows how the Enlightenment Age led to the Modern Age. By shifting the focus of importance from the Church or the ruling class to the public sphere, it facilitated the gradual shift of this focus to the individual, as it comes to be in the Modern Age. Thus the Enlightenment is a historical force which shaped our present, and we must view it as such, and not in a moralistic way by questioning whether the Enlightenment was good or bad.

After the Second World War, the Enlightenment was regarded with distrust and seen to provide a foundation for Western imperialism and an ideological foundation for fascism, Nazism and Stalinism (the moralistic stand Foucault opposed). The reason for this was the utmost importance the Enlightenment thinkers placed on rationality and logic. Roy Porter feels that such a harsh view of the Enlightenment is unjustified. He regards Enlightenment in a favourable light, and feels that we, as inheritors of the world the Enlightenment thinkers dreamed of- a world which believes in the unity of mankind, tolerance, knowledge; we should use the same rationality while analyzing the Enlightenment and its ideas (Porter 18). The main argument Porter gives for such a framework with which to view the Enlightenment was because, as he says, there was never a “monolithic Enlightenment project” (Porter 17). The Enlightenment was such a wide-ranging and complex phenomenon that it meant different things even for the Enlightenment thinkers who agreed on its broad aspects.

Roy Porter’s approach helps us to better understand the various and often critical discourses surrounding the Enlightenment. By viewing the Enlightenment as a conglomeration of various ideas, and not a single, unified voice, we can easily accommodate both Kant’s limited understanding of reason and Foucault’s view of Enlightenment as a determining process which has helped shape modernity. Even Isaiah Berlin’s idea of a counter-enlightenment, a movement which arose in the eighteenth century in opposition to major Enlightenment ideas, and its various strains, can be understood to have co-existed with the Enlightenment with Roy Porter’s approach.

The various strains of the Enlightenment, and its wide-ranging impacts, defy a simple, succinct definition of it. It also prevents us from viewing it as an isolated age, or a single event. By accommodating its various shades, we can see that it was a phenomenon whose ideas continue to shape the present.

Works Cited

Berlin, Isaiah. “The Counter-Enlightenment”. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “What is Enlightenment?”. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “What is Enlightenment?”. 1784. Print.

Porter, Roy. “Introduction”.  Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World. USA: Penguin Books, 2001. Print.

Wilde, Robert. “The Enlightenment.” European History. Web. http://europeanhistory.about.com/od/thenineteenthcentury/a/enlightenment.htm

Sentimentality in Literature and Sentimental Philosophy

Sentimentality in literature and sentimental philosophy was a move away from the importance the Enlightenment placed on reason and logic. While the Enlightenment believed in the use of rationality to reach truth, sentimental philosophy stressed on emotions and feelings as a means to attain truth. Sentimental philosophy is mostly associated with Romanticism, mainly because Romanticism is seen as a movement which arose in opposition to the ideas associated with the Enlightenment. Sentimentality is stressed in most Romantic literature, and is evident in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron etc., and also in the sentimental novel which developed during that period.

Marshall Brown in his essay, Enlightenment and Romanticism, gives certain characteristics of the Romantic period which in turn influenced sentimentality in literature and developed sentimental philosophy. One of the characteristics of the Romantic period was a developed sense of historical sensibility. This meant that a great importance was placed on how the present relates to the past, instead of a mere understanding of what the past was. When the Romanticist celebrated the present moment, he or she was also acknowledging the past which has shaped the present. This is unlike the Enlightenment movement, which was seen as an exit from the Dark Ages, a light which appeared out of nowhere to educate and illuminate. Brown feels that this was one of the major weaknesses of the Enlightenment, which discarded the past in order to glorify the present. Romanticism can also be seen to disregard the Enlightenment. It attacked “classicizing, conformist rationalism in recognition of unstated emotions and unconscious instincts” (Brown 26). Blake criticized the canons of 18th century art and dismissed Lockean empiricism. Wordsworth rebelled against the strict rules of 18th century poetry. The Romantic novel promoted “supernatural sensationalism” (Brown 27). Romantic philosophy was transcendental and idealist. However, this is a rather simplistic reading of Romanticism.

Brown complicates the idea of sentimentality being associated only with Romanticism as he explains how sentimental literature often existed as a counter current to Enlightenment works, and developed especially in the transition period between the Enlightenment and Romanticism, a time which some critics call post-Enlightenment or pre-Romanticism.

In Romanticism, Enlightenment ideas are accommodated along with Romanticist ideals; and this is where Romanticism succeeds where Enlightenment fails. It creates a balance between sentimentality and reason. Voltaire’s ideal of reason is reflected in the works of Shelley, Schlegel and French revolutionary thinkers. Popean satire influences the writings of Byron, Blake, Shelley and some of Keats. Neoclassicism, one of the most important ideas associated with the Enlightenment, can also be seen in the works of Shelley, Byron, Keats, French revolutionary artists, Schiller etc.

Sentimental philosophy does not try to vanquish the evil past with the good present. Instead, it transcends the good-evil dichotomy. The past, with all its flaws and mistakes, is accommodated with the present. Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey is an example of this. This coming-to-consciousness is the “ground on which Romantics arrived at their often conflicting assessments of the world they experienced”. Through reason, Romanticism aimed at knowing the light through knowing the dark and the present by means of the past. For this, the Romanticists employ sentimental philosophy.

The Romantics also shared a consciousness of revolution. This wasn’t limited to a political revolution, but a revolution of ideas, feelings, behaviour, and philosophy. Sentimental literature was a by-product of this consciousness. Romanticism was a revolutionary reawakening of the Enlightenment, a looking back at everything the Enlightenment had ignored to look into the present.

Works Cited

Brown, Marshall. “Romanticism and Enlightenment”. Ed. Curran, Susan. The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism. Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.

Rebellion in Paradise Lost

My paper will attempt to show how Milton’s characters oscillate between Christian humanism and a world of independence which oscillates between predictability and idiosyncrasy by focussing on the notion of rebellion. Through the text, I would like to illustrate how rebellion is ingrained in the characters of Satan, Adam and Eve; by focussing on the imagery and allusions associated with them, the conflict which arises in them from their sense of self and their relation with God. Through the concept of “felix culpa”, I would like to show that Milton depicts rebellion as a deviation from God’s will, yet, at the same time, as a part of God’s Plan; and how rebellion becomes associated with contemporary ideas of humanism and individualism.

John Milton declares in the concluding lines of the “Invocation” of his epic, Paradise Lost that his aim in writing it is that

“I may assert Eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.”

(Paradise Lost, Book I. Lines 25-26).

These lines, which mark the beginning of the epic comprising of twelve books, show the mixing of religious orthodoxy and humanism, which becomes characteristic of the entire epic. While Milton’s claim is religious, it is also the voice of overreaching, of attempting to pursue “Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme” (Book I.16). By calling on the Holy Spirit as his muse, and alluding to his writing as creation; as coming out of emptiness, just like God created the world, Milton stresses on the ambitious nature of his undertaking. Stressing that his muse isn’t pagan (Book I. 7-16), and that his theme isn’t human but divine (Book IX. 13-47), Milton claims to have a “higher argument” (Book IX.42); higher than anything ever attempted before by any man. Thus, in Milton’s ambitious claims itself, the oscillation between Christian humanism and independence, between obedience and overreaching, which characterizes the conflict in the major characters of his epic, is introduced. The purpose of the epic as espoused in the “Invocation” also indicates how Milton himself was never free from the ambiguities surrounding the dichotomy of obedience and free will, of blind faith and reason. This ambiguity is reflected in Satan, Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, as they struggle to find a resolution to this conflict within them. In this paper, I would like to show that this conflict, or rebellion, is ingrained in them, and how Milton attempts to resolve this conflict by depicting rebellion both as a deviation from God’s Will, and yet, a part of God’s Plan, thus associating rebellion with contemporary ideas of humanism and individualism, and enabling a binocular view of the characters.

Rebellion is inevitable in Paradise Lost from the moment God elevates man, a weak and frail creature, as the centre of the universe, endows him with reason, and places the Garden of Eden and all the creatures within it under his dominion. When Satan enters Eden, he is overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation, hailing it in these words,

“O earth, how like to heav’n, if not preferred

More justly, seat worthier of gods, as built

With second thoughts, reforming what was old!”

(Paradise Lost, Book IX. Lines 99-101)

Rebellion seeps in as Satan dislocates heaven by making Eden the centre of the universe. Eden is a “reform”-ed (made better, re-created) version of “old” (obsolete, orthodox) heaven. In describing Eden not as spiritual, but in sensory, physical, sensual terms, Milton’s language is pagan, as in the Bible, images of abundance and fullness are associated with blessings, the spirit and the soul, and not with nature. Through Satan’s praises, the voice of Milton the humanist comes in, as the earth is deified, and Adam and Eve made gods of this better heaven. Eden represents a space poised for rebellion, where everything is moist, implying femininity and seduction, and overgrown and over-weeded, bringing in the notion that something is disorderly and needs to be fixed. The garden also represents Adam and Eve’s tendency to go wild if they don’t have a restraining hand to “prune” or “bind” them. These inferences can be seen in the following lines, where Eve complains of the overabundance and overgrowth of the garden, and the need for more helping hands:

“…the work under our labour grows,

Luxurious by restraint; what we by day

Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind,

One night or two with wanton growth derides,

Tending to be wild…”

(Paradise Lost, Book IX. Lines 208-212)

While inferences to rebellion can be derived from descriptions of the Garden of Eden, the concept of rebellion is more evident in the allusions associated with the descriptions of Adam, Eve and Satan; in the heroic terms in which Milton describes their appearances, actions and emotions. Though Milton uses darkness and images of falling to describe Satan’s entry into Eden, his entry is raised to heroic heights as time and space is expressed in epic terms. Satan travels from Pandemonium to Eden, covering an incredible distance. He circles the equator thrice for seven nights, crosses the shadow of the earth four times, travelling from pole to pole, traversing each circle; to return on the eighth night to enter Eden. Later in the text, when he leads Eve to the Tree of Knowledge, his movements are described using an epic simile, comparing it to the movement of a ship steered skilfully in a stormy sea. Through Satan’s praise of mankind in the line, “Of growth, sense, reason, all summed up in man” (Book IX.113), Milton is deifying man by presenting Adam as an archetype of the Renaissance man: capable of reason and logic, possessing common sense, and constantly developing, continuously growing. Satan’s envy is also provoked because Adam, a “man of clay” (Book IX.176) becomes God’s “new favourite” (Book IX.175). However, Miltonic descriptions of Eve surpass those of Adam and Satan. It is in Eve that the inevitability of rebellion seems most obvious. She is called “sole Eve” (Book IX.227) by Adam, indicating her sovereignty and peerless nature. When Satan’s eyes fall on Eve, he is struck by her beauty, which undermines even the beauty of Eden: “Much he the place admired, the person more (Book IX.444). She embodies the Renaissance stereotype of the aristocratic, unattainable woman. Satan feels she is “fair, divinely fair, fit love for gods” (Book IX.489). Here, Eve comes to embody the seventeenth century stereotype of threatening female sexuality. Her body undermines dominant ideology and patriarchal, Biblical and phallocentric discourses. Her beauty relativizes the hierarchy of “He for God only, she for God in him” (Book IV.298), in which Eve’s position is clearly demarcated as subservient to God and to Adam. Both Adam and Satan’s gazes are fixed on her, prompting the reading of her as an embodiment of the Forbidden Fruit. Her power is so great that Adam chooses to die with her rather than live alone, and Satan’s malice is temporarily neutralized as he becomes “stupidly good” (Book IX.465) gazing at her.

The powerful descriptions Milton makes of these characters is difficult to reconcile with their roles as subservient to God, a God whose descriptions appear immobile and lustreless when pitted against the allusions associated with his creations. Satan, as Lucifer, was God’s most beloved angel. Though Satan vows war against God, and finds ease only in destroying God’s creation (Book IX.129), his agony at being separated from God is evident here:

“…but I in none of these

Find place or refuge; and the more I see

Pleasures about me, so much more I feel

Torment within me…”

(Paradise Lost, Book IX. Lines 118-121)

Satan’s despair is as tragic as Macbeth’s:

“I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as going over”

(Macbeth, Act III Scene iv 160-162)

There is no exit for him, no way he can turn back and become a part of God’s creation again, just like Macbeth cannot end the cycle of murders that he starts after the murder of Duncan.

Among Adam and Eve, Adam is the more rational of the two, the one more connected to God. It is with him that the angels converse, and he is God’s favourite; Eve being created as a helpmate for him in a garden which lacked a creation that could be his equal. He has a reified conscience, constantly espousing God’s commands whenever Eve questions, and unlike her, he is fully aware of the consequences of eating the fruit. Eve is twice removed from God. Her role and functions are pre-conditioned by the ideology of theodicy: inferior to God and Adam. Heaven and God are notional for her, as she knows of them only through Adam’s words. Her knowledge of the enemy, of evil, is mediated, as she says,

“That such an enemy we have, who seeks

Our ruin, both by thee informed I learn,

And from the parting angel overheard”

(Paradise Lost Book IX. Lines 274-276)

The subservient, obedient roles that Adam, Eve and Satan occupy in relation to God contrast sharply with the epic heroic terms in which they are described. Thus, rebellion seems imminent, as the grandeur of these characters seems to defy the scruples of obedience that bind them. In this view, Satan, Adam and Eve can be viewed as embodiments of the ideals represented by humanism and individualism. Satan is the sharpest critic of “God’s first devolution of power in appointing the Son vicegerent” (Radzinowicz 128). Satan was God’s most beloved angel. Corriptio Optimi Pessima, or “the corruption of the best is the worst of all”, is a characteristic of many tragic heroes, like Faustus and Macbeth. Like Faustus, knowledge corrupts Satan, and like Macbeth, he wishes to be sovereign. He rebels against God, and takes his army of devils to war against the divine forces of God. He goes against authority and fights for freedom. He is willing to put up a pointless fight even if it means that he’ll lose a place in heaven to not be subservient to anyone. In Satan, Milton finds the same inward conflicts as those experienced by man. Satan experiences the same dualism, the same conflict of good and bad, and makes a conscious and free choice of evil over good. Milton’s Satan feels pangs of envy when he sees Adam and Eve, a Satan who lives in constant agony after the loss of Paradise. Miltonic descriptions of Satan is so elaborate, and Satan’s rhetoric so convincing, that the Romantic poet William Blake remarked,

“The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

(Blake 102)

Yet, Satan falls short if being a tragic hero as his rebellion is ultimately limited in nature as he fights for personal gain and not any ideal. He seeks revenge as an end in itself, and his rhetoric begins to sound like petty propaganda after a point. Whatever Satan fights against, what he himself stands for is a “frozen meritocracy or tyranny” (Radzinowicz 128).

Adam and Eve, God’s most perfect creations, are bestowed with free will, and established as gods over Eden. Though warned not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the choice finally rests on them. In Paradise Lost, man’s recognition of the degree to which his fate is in his own hands is shown. He is not the victim of uncontrollable fate. The Fall is specifically a human act: the humanity of man is proved by his ability to fall. Eve is beguiled to her fate not because of her narcissism, but because the serpent offers her knowledge which could free her from succumbing to a strict hierarchical structure. The story of the fall can be read as the danger Eve’s desire for experience rather than mediated reality poses on an authority whose power arises chiefly from suppressing all other forms of authority (Froula 151). While Eve’s fall may reflect vulnerability and susceptibility to emotion and evil’s seduction, as well as a certain degree of innocence regarding the consequences of her action, Adam’s fall is a stronger humanist paradigm of the conscious use of free will in choosing Romantic love over Divine love. Adam follows Eve because of his inherent sense of inadequacy when he cannot reconcile God’s assurance of his own superiority with her apparent perfection (Froula 153). He believes Eve because she is so sure of her completeness and absoluteness:

“Nature failed in me, and left some part
Not proof enough such object to sustain,         535
Or, from my side subducting, took perhaps
More than enough…
Her loveliness, so absolute she seems
And in herself complete, so well to know
Her own, that what she wills to do or say
Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best.         550
All higher Knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded; Wisdom in discourse with her
Loses, discountenanced, and like Folly shews;
Authority and Reason on her wait,
As one intended first, not after made         555
Occasionally; and, to consum’mate all,
Greatness of mind and nobleness their seat
Build in her loveliest, and create an awe
About her, as a guard angelic placed.”

(Paradise Lost Book VIII. Lines 531-59)

When Adam falls, he realizes his actions are wrong, but exercises his free will to remain with Eve; to die with her, rather than live alone. Adam thus becomes the forerunner of the Humanist man, who exercises his individual reason to make decisions.

However, the humanist characteristics of Satan, Adam and Eve do not justify the Fall, which Milton portrays as a tragedy of epic proportions; a deviation from the will of a God benevolent enough to bestow his creations with free will. In the “Invocation”, the tasting of the forbidden fruit is blamed to have

“Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden…”

(Paradise Lost Book I Lines 3-4)

Adam and Eve’s mistake is shown as a universal problem by imposing the microcosm on the macrocosm; as the act of tasting the fruit results in cosmic chaos. The opening lines of Book IX establish its theme as tragic, through the use of words like “tragic”, “foul distrust”, “breach disloyal”, “revolt and disobedience”, “alienated, distance and distaste”, “a world of woe”, “sin and her shadow death”, “misery” etc. (Lines 6-13). The epic consequences of the act they committed is reflected in nature. When Adam takes the fruit from Eve,

“Earth trembled from her entrails, as again

In pangs, and nature gave a second groan;

Sky loured, and muttering thunder, some sad drops

Wept at completing of the mortal sin

Original…”

(Paradise Lost Book IX Lines 1000-1004)

The knowledge that Adam and Eve gain is ultimately lesser knowledge, as baser feelings of distrust and hate develop in them in the place of innocence and love. Book IX ends on a note of fissure, with Adam blaming himself for having worshipped Eve too much; out of his sense of inadequacy, when he was supposed to be master over her. Milton laments the fall as the loss of innocence, as the inception of despair and woe, a violation of God’s Will.

Humanist readings of Paradise Lost have described the fall as felix culpa, or happy fault. By this interpretation, though the fall resulted in the loss of Paradise, it opened up a world of choices for Adam and Eve, and the rest of humanity. After the fall, humans lead a life in which their choices differed from what was available in Eden; and it is these choices which determine the course of their life. The liberty of free will that God bestowed on Adam and Eve is hereditary. Thus, the Fall proves that the “law of liberty” is the very “law of God’s universe” (Radzinowicz 132). Adam’s fall may have brought mortality to all his descendants, but it also gave them liberty, a very cherished humanist ideal.

The forbidden fruit becomes the symbol of the Enlightenment as it brings in the notion of experiential reality and marks the rites-of-passage from ignorance to experience. The Tree of Knowledge becomes a means of upward social mobility by education and knowledge, transforming Adam and Eve’s myopia into telescopic, magnified vision. Adam and Eve die as a result of the Fall, but they die free of the existential stupor which characterizes their existence in Eden until they rebel. In the end, the Fall presents them with liberty, and thus, it becomes, felix culpa. They now lead a life based on the choices they make, and as Eve remarks in Book IX lines 335-336, “And what is faith, love, virtue, unassayed/ Alone, without exterior help sustained?”, bringing in the idea that virtue is pointless in the absence of freedom to face freedom. Thus, Milton’s major characters, through the fall, can be read as essentially flawed, essentially human characters, who struggle to strike a balance between obedience and independence, between belief and reason, between life and death.

Works Cited

Froula, Christine. “When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy” Ed. Patterson, Annabel. John Milton (Longman Critical Readers). Longman Publishers, 1992. Print.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Book I (The Invocation) and Book IX. Ed. Mangalam, B. Delhi: Worldview Publishers, 2014. Print.

Milton, John, “Paradise Lost”. Ed. Eliot, Charles W. The Complete Poems of John Milton. New York: The Harvard Classics. Bartleby.com, 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/4/ Web.

Radzinowicz, Mary Ann. “The Politics of Paradise Lost”. Ed. Patterson, Annabel. John Milton (Longman Critical Readers). Longman Publishers, 1992. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Ed. Eliot, Charles W. New York: The Harvard Classics. Bartleby.com, 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/46/4/  Web.

The Photograph from Another Life

I stumble upon a photograph of you and me

You’re younger than I can recollect, and I am barely three

Your arms are around my brother, and around me

How deftly you hold us both, and how sweetly my brother smiles!

….

But why does my face look like I’ve been caught by surprise,

As if I was submerged in ice cold water?

Why do my eyes, which shone with such a childish happiness

Suddenly seem dull and sucked of reasons to smile?

Had it already started by then?

I don’t remember, I can’t remember

When, where, why, what I felt, why you did it

All I can see are your hands finding their way

Beneath, under, down, below

All I have are frustrating fragments of doors closing

And recurrent dreams of hands roving.

Now you see me, you smile.

I wonder, do my eyes still lose its glow

And my smile choke short

When I reply to your questions,

When I play the part of the perfect girl child?

I wonder why your hands couldn’t stop moving

Why they found rest

Only in places no one else visited.

I don’t know how I’ll feel the next time I see you

Now that I have realized

What happened behind those doors

When my mind was too young to form into memory

All that you did to me.

Will I be angry? Will I cry?

Or will I just feel tired,

So tired that all I want to do

Is curl up and sleep,

Like I did after those afternoons

When I was three?

If I Lay Here

Response to Writing101 Prompt: Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

I wouldn’t call it my favourite song, but Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol is one song which I have listened to over and over again and still haven’t gotten sick of. Sometimes, the meaning of the lyrics change. Sometimes, I realize that each line has many more layers to it than what is just on the surface. It’s a beautiful song, mostly because of the meaning its lyrics hold which transcends to the music. But my favourite lines are these:

If I lay here

If I just lay here,

Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

People come and go in life. There are people with whom you have so much of fun that every moment you spend with them is soaked in stomach aching laughter. There are people who irritate you so much that their mere presence clouds your face. There are people you call friends when you’re in the same place, but whom you forget once you move away; and when you finally realize you’ve forgotten, you know they didn’t matter anyway. There are people you think would be by your side till the end of your life, the people you imagine you’d die for, but who slowly fade away as you try desperately to hold on through awkward phone conversations and one-line texts. There are people who make you wonder why you put up with them, yet to whom you stick to, maybe merely as a force of habit. There are people who make your heart beat so loud you’re almost positive they heard it when they smiled at you. There are people of whom you’re so insanely jealous that you already hate them before they’ve said a word. People come and go in life. It’s difficult to accept this, but it is inevitable.

But the ones that stay, the ones who even after they’ve gone, have such a grip on your memory that you’re overwhelmed when you think about them, the ones you know have unmistakeably, irrevocably changed your life are the ones who’ve passed the Chasing Cars test. It’s the person who lies with you, amidst the rush and the noise, amid the people and the pain, and forget the world with you. And you remember them mostly, for that time you forgot the world together.

A Fever and a Fall

Response to Writing101 challenge: If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

It had been a terrible day, the kind that he hated: sticky, busy and messy. The work in the office had seemed duller than ever as the heat drenched the back of his neck and the tie choked his throat. The boss’s sexist jokes during the break seemed more unbearable than usual, and he felt tiny as he laughed dully to them. The ride back home was long and constantly interrupted by speeding cars. He expected coffee when he reached home. But when she opened the door, she told him she had been sleeping the entire day.

“I couldn’t go for work. I have a fever.”, she murmured feebly.

“I didn’t call you because I didn’t want you to get worried”, she answered his unspoken question.

He made coffee, the kind she liked: with barely any sugar and a lot of coffee powder, and brought her a cup. He stopped when he saw her huddled in her blanket, fast asleep. He realized, for the first time since they got married, that he liked being with her. He had never imagined that he could fall in love with the awkward girl he had met for the first time in the presence both their parents smiling at the match. But he ended up falling anyway. Looking at her sleep, he realized that this was where he wanted to be.

The Day My Friend Cried

Writing 101: Unlock the Mind

This post is written in context of the flood that is ravaging Jammu and Kashmir, India currently. This is a personal account of a friend’s grief. If you can contribute towards the cause, please do.

I saw her cry for the first time. The person whom I thought was the strongest in the world. The person who goes through more in a year than what I have gone through throughout my life. She cried in my arms. As her sobs travelled up her body, I felt so inadequate trying to contain her sorrow in my arms. But I couldn’t let go.

Her parents hadn’t called her in five days. She didn’t know where her sister was, or half of her relatives. Were they alive and stuck? Had they been rescued by the army? Or, was it…too late? She didn’t know. Being away from it all made it harder. It was her land that was drowning, her people that were isolated. And all she could do was cry in my inadequate arms, trying to contain the sorrow within her. There was nothing she could do. Helplessness is the most painful emotion. It compounds grief and kills fleeting moments of relief. She was helpless because she was away. She was alone because she wasn’t there.

She scans the news every day. When I sit next to her in class, I see her refresh her screen every now and then. Her eyes are constantly drawn towards the unresponsive phone, as if staring at it would make it ring. For the first time, I see that the allure of Literature has failed to seduce her. As our teacher talks about Eliot’s existentialism and Hemingway’s sparse writing style, her mind roams, refusing to be captivated by words which she’d hung on to eagerly, earlier.

I do not know how to comfort her. I hug her as tightly as I can, trying to contain the sorrow, letting her know that she’s not alone. But when she looks at me and says, “What will I go back to? Everything will have changed. When the hard earth which I can feel on my palm begins to slip away from my grasp, what is home anymore?”

I cannot answer her.