He Knew Nothing Else

Image Source: Silverscreen.in

Image Source: Silverscreen.in

“He knows nothing,” Kannadasan said of MSV, launching into an anecdote. The iconic Tamil poet and lyricist loved to hold forth on a variety of subjects, including politics, love and other intoxicants, and his peculiar, inseparable friend, M.S. Viswanathan. “We boarded a plane and he misread Toilet and asked me what the rent was. We landed in Kabul and asked me what Afghanistan meant and who Muhammad Ghori was. We went to Tashkent and he was listless. We went to Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) and when I introduced him to someone, he mistook engineering for a vegetable. He was really quite hopeless. Our host took us to the Tchaikovsky concert hall and showed us a piano that the great Russian supposedly played on. Viswanathan couldn’t pronounce Tchaikovsky. But he sat at the piano and for 30 minutes, played the maestro’s concerto. Naturally, the Russians were spellbound. He really knows nothing. Nothing but music.”

Born in Elappully in Palakkad, Kerala, the story of Manayangath Subramanian Viswanathan would have ended in 1932 when his mother decided to drown herself and her four-year-old in a tank, to escape penury. Legend has it that as mother and son debated who would jump first, MSV’s grandfather arrived to deny them a watery grave. His childhood after that momentous day was unremarkable, except for a passion for cinema. He sold snacks at the local movie theatre, and sometimes, the payment, was to be allowed in. His musical talents were discovered by accident, when his teacher, Neelakanta Bagavathar, spotted him singing and playing the harmonium by himself. His primary ambitions were to act and sing in the movies. The pull of cinema was strong. He began his career as a ‘boy’ in Jupiter studios, cleaning the harmonium of music director S.M. Subbiah Naidu. His first film as an actor was Kannagi, a Jupiter production. Music, however, was always just under the surface.

MSV’s debut as a film music composer was Jenova (1954) starring former Tamilnadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran. Incidentally, as B. Kolappan of ‘The Hindu’ observed in his studied obituary, MSV has worked with four Chief Ministers – N.T. Ramarao, M.G. Ramachandran, M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa.

MSV’s relationship with music has a touch of serendipity to it, like a great love story. It was almost as if he let music pull him towards it, before he gave it his all. He was not born into a musical family. His talents were discovered early on, but he chose to act instead of compose for film. And while his training in Carnatic music was extensive, he had no formal training whatsoever in world music, which he enjoyed and seamlessly adapted to Indian sensibilities with prodigious ease. Thulluvadho Ilamai from Kudiyiruntha Kovil (MGR, 1968), and Avalukkenna from Server Sundaram (Nagesh, 1964) come to mind. According to several accounts, MSV set the latter to tune in 15 minutes. And it took the formidable T.M. Soundararajan the rest of the day to record it. A tricky bit with the rhythm illustrates casual, aesthetic virtuosity.

One way of putting it would be, ‘he could hold a tune from start to finish’. There was never any ambiguity in MSV’s tunes, even if he occasionally indulged complexity, like in the National Award-winning Ezhu Swarangalukkul in Apoorva Ragangal (Kamal Hassan, Srividya, Rajinikant, 1975). With a rich, organic quality, his tunes seem to make their way through the grammar of a raaga, occasionally conduct a brief liaison with a few bars of western music, and finally wrap themselves to a close all by themselves. Consider Kadhal Siragai from Palum Pazhamum (Sivaji Ganesan, 1961) or the poignant, dreamlike Malarnthum Malaraatha from Pasamalar (Sivaji, Savithri, 1961), the deceptively simple Mauname Parvayal from Kodimalar (Muthuraman, 1966), the seductive Anbulla Manvizhiye from Kuzhanthaiyum Deivamum (Jaishankar, Jamuna, Kutti Padmini, 1965), or the…this is dangerous territory. MSV, as a solo composer, and as part of a duo with Ramamurthy, a violinist with S.M. Subbaiah Naidu, worked on over 1,700 films. A playlist with a lazy, indulgent tag like ‘great tune’ would take a while to compile.

The inimitable (though many try) voices of TMS, P.B. Srinivas, P. Suseela and Sirgazhi Govindarajan blossomed, blushed, sparkled and shone within the liberating notes of MSV’s music. He did more than ‘give hits’ to these singers. He immortalised them within an indestructible amalgam that was his song, where it is impossible to separate or shut out music, lyric or voice. The catalyst is MSV’s affinity for poetry. No wonder he and Kannadasan were such fast friends.

He never had a problem with setting Kannadasan to music. There is latent music in every word, every syllable, he believed. As far as poetry is concerned, Kannadasan has a parallel in Gulzar. The latter boldly brings in the abstract into his lyrics and occasionally, the words and the meter grapple for space within a song. One wonders if he hasn’t found his MSV yet. Kannadasan had a cheeky proclivity towards distilling an everyday conversation into lines of lyric. MSV’s style is less about making words sit in a meter than about a musical empathy with the meaning. Could anyone else have set to tune the first line of Sonnadhu Nee Daana, of Nenjil Or Alayam (Muthuraman, 1962)? Or so marvellously brought out the onomatopoeia of the third word in Attuvithal Yaroruvan Adathaare Kanna from Avanthaan Manithan (Sivaji, 1975)?

An extension of his poesy was his feel for genre. While Ilaiyaraja is celebrated as the rescuer of Tamil folk music, songs like Thazhayaam Poo Mudichu in Bhaaga Pirivinai (Sivaji, 1959) and Aarodum Mannil Yengum from Pazhani (Sivaji, Muthuraman, 1965) ensured there was something of the rustic left to save in the film world.

Occasionally, MSV sang. As a poet once put it, “MSV’s is the voice of your conscience. You’ll want to listen, even if it doesn’t tell you very pleasant things.” Sollathan Ninaikkiren, from Sollathan Ninaikkiren (Sivakumar, 1973)  is not a bad example.

A star from an era that prized monopoly and produced insecure artists with an exaggerated opinion of their own artistic invincibility, MSV turned out to be an experimenter and cheerful collaborator with a later crop of lyricists, singers and music directors. That A.R. Rahman looks up to him and Ilaiyaraja considers himself fortunate to live and work as his contemporary, is telling of his magnanimous spirit. Talents like S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, K.J. Jesudas and S. Janaki owe much to him. Unakkenna Mele Ninrai in Simla Special (Kamal Haasan, 1982) stood its own, bang in the Ilaiyaraja era. Had he had time, perhaps MSV would have adapted to higher technology, richer orchestration. However, one finds it curious that even at the wane of his career, MSV’s music seemed as contemporary as the best of them. For the uninitiated, it’s hard to tell if the blockbusting Engeyum Eppothum and Sambo Siva Sambo from Ninaithale Inikkum (Kamal Haasan, Rajinikant, 1979) was composed by MSV or by Ilaiyaraja.

I couldn’t bring myself to write an obit on MSV. I enjoy him too much. A dal-chawal note with an anecdote and a few references turned into a binge-listening session, alternated with some impetuous writing, past 3:00 a.m.

It began when I was ten. It was the year Sun TV invaded our home in Vizag, just as it did the homes of Tamils all over the world. On a fairly large Videocon TV with a capsule-like two-toned start button, a song from Puthiya Paravai (Sivaji, 1964) began to play after cheesy logo animation. I was bored, uninterested in watching anything that wasn’t Cliffhanger. The song was Unnai Onru Ketpen. Unmai Solla Vendum. I was in love. It took me a while to realise my mouth was hanging open and that my parents were watching me curiously. “You like the song?” my father asked me. I nodded. And then, “Are you able to enjoy this? Really?” he said. “Of course,” I replied. Over the next two decades, this dialogue played back every time we listened to MSV. My reply seemed to validate the immense pride that came with being a diehard MSV fan, as well as the typical conviction of every generation that their music is the only one of any substance. My appreciation grew more vocal and nuanced, but the look of immense satisfaction on his face never changed. It lent itself to only one interpretation – “I have done my job as a father. I have passed on a love for MSV.”

An edited version of this article, published in  can be found here. Copyright © The Wire.

Gay and Happy


Illustrious gay men and women laud the Pope’s forward views on homosexuality. Anand Venkateswaran reports. 


Gay men and women went ‘Yay!’ as Pope Francis, during the course of a single conversation, said homosexual orientation wasn’t a sin, that gay people should not be marginalised, that they should be integrated into society.




Christian or not, alive or not, real or not; the following illustrious public figures and achievers who also happen to be gay, celebrated the Pontiff’s inclusive views and, well, commented. Here are the headlines –


Oscar Wilde lauds Pope’s important earnestness


“Better late and all that,” said a droll Oscar, who had a run in or two with the church back in the day. All the same, he was quite pleased with the Pontiff’s words, which he termed ‘important and earnest’ for gay people the world over. When asked if he read the interview, Oscar scoffed and said, “I watched the video. (He is an) articulate young man.” He parried questions about his strained relations with the church. He did admit, tongue in cheek, to having one thing in common with the institution – an inimitable focus on temptation.


Wizardly move: Albus Dumbledore




The headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry apparated into select newsrooms across the world in response to requests for his statement on the Pope’s views on homosexuality. “I commend the Pontiff’s stand, which I am sure will save many young men and women from spirals of guilt.” The wizard added, “It would take more than the flick of the wand, however, to wish away discrimination from the world they walk in.” With that, he tipped his hat, touched an old boot, and disappeared inside it.


Ricky Martin loca about Pope


The Latin pop sensation broke into song and put his snake-hip move to use for a good ten minutes as interviewers cheered him on. “Loca about Pope John Paul,” he announced to a surprised gathering. When a journalist pointed out that the current Pope is Francis, Ricky shrugged and gushed a stream of Spanish, which they didn’t understand a word of. They abandoned hopes of an interview and instead decided to examine the cocktail menu as they waited for a typed statement from Ricky’s PR.  


A suitable sentiment, says Vikram Seth


Vikram Seth, among India’s best known poets and novellists, once said it being gay in India was tougher than being gay abroad. When asked if the Pope’s recent statements might in any way remedy the situation, “Certainly,” said Vikram, and added “I might even write an acrostic poem about it, that spells ‘Go Pope’. The polyglot revealed he intended to sing the poem as a lieder, while playing the flute and cello. “I was just as happy when Section 377 got a kick in the rear. This will reinforce a tradition of tolerance,” Vikram said as pens scribbled furiously. He stared down a reporter who gushed about the upcoming A Suitable Girl, choosing instead to break into a spirited rendition of his poem ‘Fire’.  


‘They finally cracked the code’




Alan Turing, father of computing, leaned out of an LED screen in MI6, the British Intelligence fortress. Turing had a second coming to sort out some computational messes in London, consequent to M’s tragic demise in last James Bond caper, Skyfall. “I invented algorithm, computation, figured out German ciphers and still wasn’t enough,” said a peeved Alan. He admitted that former British PM Gordon Brown’s apology was mollifying. “Life is a variable. What’s the point of so many constraining constants?” said Alan.


This is great, says Alexander


“First of all, I look nothing like Colin Farrel,” said Alexander the Great as he walked out of a nail salon. “But kudos to the Pope. Kudos is a Greek word, did you know?” he added. The Macedonian’s varied sexual orientation gave him little trouble during his own time, but he wasn’t happy with the ‘long-term reportage’, “or history, if you prefer.” Ever a warrior still, he says there’s still a lot to fight for. “War is just plain silly in this age of nukes. You can fight other things now, like Section 377,” he quipped. He then got on to his hobby horse of fashion and promoted his new range of houte couture with a weaponised twist – Gucci sunglasses with a 15th century garotte embedded in the rim.


Freddy Mercury promises Vatican concert


The mercurial lead singer of British rock band Queen told the media that would love to organise a private concert at the Vatican if Pope Francis wished it. “He is a champion for saying what he did,” said Freddy. “That’s right, we will rock you, brothers, and give you a wardrobe makeover as well. Something with a little more bling, something operatic, darlings.” The star vocalist refused to allow live telecast, since he was “technically dead, my dear, haven’t you noticed?” He spoke for his bandmates, he claimed. “We’re all big fans now. We’ve found somebody to love,” he said. Running late for a posthumous concert, he looked back at the waiting press and said, “Don’t stop me now!”


An edited version of this article was published at The Hindu, right here.


The forgotten ones


There’s a chasm between wonder and imagination; of hidden width and depth. While we are all struck with wonder on occasion, few of us allow it to propel us into the realm of imagination.

When we revisit the past, for instance — back to our ‘old house’, in the city we grew up in but never went back to. We all feel coloured childhood memories welling up in the churn of chaotic emotions. There is the euphoria of having arrived, the happy initial confusion that comes from patchy memory, which alternatively triggers a flood of reminiscence or throws you into a vacuum. There are the things we’ve forgotten, but promised to remember — friends-for-life we lost touch with; unexpressed apologies; unsaid goodbyes. They tend to coalesce into a metallic taste that subtly colours our mood. The things we forget taunt us; they whisper to us that they’re far more important than the things we remember. Try as we might to bury them under new recollections and rekindled friendships, they gnaw at reunions and scoff at our fragile cheer.

Try as we might to become children again, the things we forget drag us back into the dull, oppressive present. ‘You are not worthy of childhood,’ they whisper. ‘You have forgotten. You do not belong here anymore,’ they chide. They hurt us, these forgotten memories, these loose ends from our childhood. 

Then we give up. We sigh, we look down at our ageing body, and as only grown-ups can, we let the fatigue embrace us once more, allow the melancholy of twilight envelop the heart and glaze vision over. We shake hands, we smile wanly, get into our cars and drive back, slack-jawed and heavy-lidded.

We fall into that chasm.

The forgotten  memories that taunt us are not really memories. They feed on memories.  They are old; have been for ages. They wait for memories to come loose from their tenuous branches, as the currents of life tug at them. They do not feed on the templated, staid memories we recount often. They wait for the really succulent ones, the precious ones we wouldn’t want to sully by picking at them again and again. They wait for the colour that our first kiss makes behind closed eyelids, they wait for the smell of morning on the funnest Sunday ever, they wait for the bittersweet…no, I can’t tell you any more. They wait. And when the memory nearly comes loose, and holds on to the branch by a gossamer-thin strand of will, and when that strand tugs at our heartstrings in alarm, when we turn inward in panic and rush to reclaim that memory, the forgotten ones push us away and maul the memory. They rip it to shreds and devour it in greedy gulps, all the while saying, ‘it’s your fault.’


Writer’s block. Misnomer, because it seems to strike non-writers as well. Over the last month, I must have written, in all, maybe 5,000 words. That’s really not much. That’s abysmal. In fact, I’m stopping right now to go and find a job that involves repetitive physical work; the sort said to dull the brain and make one an automaton. Since I’m already at that mental state, I might as well work my work around it.

The biggest disillusionment in life is finding out that creativity is not your birthright. That words do not fount forth at your command, and often, delightfully, when you least expect it. What I wouldn’t give to feel the mounting pressure of a thought growing, growing inside my mind, getting louder by the minute, demanding to be expressed with utmost reverence, not giving a damn about what I’m doing. What I wouldn’t give to be able to ruffle my hair, sparse though it may be, with exasperation and moan volubly about how demanding my creative process it, that it tears me away from the most essential tasks of everyday life. What I wouldn’t give to scramble for a scrap of paper, feeling that thought beginning to sprout limbs, expand, overflow, grow wings, stretch them and threaten to fly away. What I wouldn’t give for that excruciating pleasure of dithering, feeling the weight of the words even as they teeter on the edge of my mind.

All I have is fantasy. Wind. Imaginary, at that. I’d imagine all of the above and pull up a chair and rail at the computer and in the few seconds that it goes from ‘hibernate’ to ‘ctrl+alt+del’, contemplate on the limitations of technology. Then I’d create a new word document and give it a cryptic name and hit ‘enter’ once. And hit ‘enter’ again. A blank, white screen spreads itself open. My fingers hover over the keyboard, a coiled spring behind each knuckle. I stare at the screen, breathing hard. I stare at it as I would a lover caught in terrible betrayal, I demand a revelation, an outpouring, a tragic confession that would destroy us both. There’s this buzzing in my head. It grows louder. And then there’s just white noise.

The Newyorker, Guardian, a selection of incredible bloggers beckon to me from above. “You belong with us,” they say. “There’s nothing to it, really,” they say. “If you understand and enjoy us, surely you can write like us,” they reason. I believe them, nod furiously and begin typing. I hit ‘W’, remember to press down the ‘shift’ key even when I know Word will change the case of the first word of the sentence. One can’t be lax about these things. What if tomorrow, I needed to key in the first, brilliant chapter of my book and all I had to write on was notepad? I patted myself on the back for pressing down the ‘shift’ key. My right hand trembled. There’s still only white noise.

“It’s no big deal,” I told myself. “You’ll get it back tomorrow. It’s buried in there somewhere. You switched on the PC and nearly typed it out. It’s just a matter of time.” It’s just a matter of time, really. There’s nothing much to writing. The only difference between us and the writers we admire is that they sat and wrote things down and we didn’t. We can write anytime we want. There’s just not enough time. We’ll get around to it one of these days. It’s silly really, how people get worked up about not being able to write. A few lines ones in a while is more than enough to get by, keep the creative juices flowing.

What is important is that you understand what you hear and read. Say something appropriately smart, survive two rounds of repartee and you’re set. I mean, isn’t that what this is all about? To make conversation? What good’s a book otherwise? You read it, you talk about it a few times and then, well, you don’t really forget it, but you don’t remember as much of it anymore. Remembering that you’ve read it and being able to recollect a vague outline of the plot or point of the book will do, no? In fact, you don’t even have to read the whole book to do that.

Get on the internet, man! It’s all there. Look up a book, check out the plot, browse (love that word) some reviews, pick up some excerpts on the run and Bob’s your uncle. Yeah, Bob’s your uncle. I’m sure I read that somewhere. Who? Terry Pratchett? Oh yeah, that must have been who. He’s a satirist, isn’t he? Terribly funny guy. I haven’t read too much of his work, but the little I read, hilarious. Oh, yes, definitely, deep in parts too. I mean, a book can’t really touch you if there’s no depth to it, now, can it? That’s why I didn’t mention it was deep. See you around. I’ve got some reading to do.

Bastard. Insufferable know-it-all. Hmm, insufferable know-it-all. I’m sure I read that somewhere. I’l look it up. Must have read a thousand books so far. I don’t really see the point of reading anymore. I mean, the new ones are mostly like the older ones, maybe not even that good. I’ve got a vocabulary. I know what they’re about, where an author’s coming from. It’s like Shakespeare said. You just need to be a person to write about people. I’m sure characters can’t be all that different. I’ve seen a few in my life. I know the world. I know people. I wouldn’t say I know everything, that would be silly. I just know what I need to know. Important things. Things that’ll help me get by.

It’s wonderful, really. You don’t need much to get by on. A regular education, a few books over a few decades, travel a little bit, eat well, be confident, God-fearing and most importantly, just don’t overthink anything. Overthinking spoils everything. Go with the flow, you know. This business about being different, gay rights, LGBT, why go through all that trouble? Why not just be normal? There’s this funny Japanese proverb – the nail that sticks out gets hammered. LOL! So try to be normal and if you cant, don’t stick out. If you’ve got Chinese features in India, work in a beauty parlour. If you’re black, move to Africa. If you’re Tamil, stay in Tamil Nadu, why go and search for work elsewhere and be insulted? Stay with your family. Family values must be adhered to. Woman is the pillar of the household. If she goes out, the household falls. Nobody is persecuting them. But what would you do if your society depends on their contributions at home? No one else can keep the house homey and welcoming like women. You must treat them with utmost respect and care. Take them out whenever they want, being them back home before nightfall. Streets are not safe.

At home, TV on, browsing the internet for news, the women safely indoors, LGBT out of sight, everyone else in their respective State and country. That’s life as it should be. Who needs books? Who needs all those words? Why bother to write anything on top of all this? Enough, I think.

When I wrote to Sharika

I read a few musings and poems of a colleague of mine, a gentle girl named Sharika.

I wrote to her.

Dear Sharika,

If someone where to chance upon your writing, that someone would be surprised, moved and inexplicably grateful for the words you write and the way you write them. This must be evident to you from the number of times you would have been earnestly urged to publish it, with emotional and utterly redundant statements, like, “You must write!”. I might urge you to do this too, but tomorrow. Today, I might have just glimpsed, through a teeny little vein in the veil of words, the ‘why’ behind your writing.

I’ve come to understand, over two decades, that all women are the same. I don’t mean their natures; that would be a rather silly assertion. I mean their lives, their…lot. Friend, family, acquaintance, soulmate, muse…no matter who she is, every woman has been, for lack of an adequate word, violated in some capacity. I have felt the uncontrollable rage of the naive, to the simmering resignation of the helpless, as violence or perversity pecked at my loved ones like skulking vermin; ever repulsive, always a shade too quick to catch. It dawned on me, quite early, that I will never know the shades of fear that grip them, nor the steely courage they use to muffle it. I might never know the visceral pain that they are often intimate with, nor the boundless fortitude that keeps them from crumbling. However, fear and pain are like venom, which, unless brought out and dissipated, eat away at the very marrow of one’s identity. Here’s where I’ve come to understand, over two decades, that not all women are the same.

Some women are blessed with the unique ability of channeling their pain into some mysterious alchemy in their spirit, and transforming it into something else entirely. Like a mother’s kitchen, they redirect sharp tools, work away at incomprehensible ingredients, put together foul fuels and white-hot flame, and then… there is creation. The result of this alchemy is something that nourishes the soul. Not just the creator’s, but of everyone who partakes of it. Your writing, my friend, is one form of this magic. You wrote about a ‘certain depth’ you frequently visited, and yet want more of. How I envy you. While all you do is fall into it, men and their opaque imaginings are forever lost to that realm. How can mere red and blue neon lights hold any charm for someone mesmerised only by the aurora? The million little nuances and fractures in relationships parade themselves in shame, under that gaze, which can bend time itself. And through all the lies and hurt and pettiness, you still manage to hold on to your compassion.

Asking you to share these little miracles as if they were marbles, would be presumptuous of me. Then again, to you, a woman, they are indeed, little, colourful marbles. If you do give me a few, I promise to celebrate them like they were miracles.


Make good art

I was having a bad day. On a scale of 1 to 10, mental stress wise, it figured 273.  Some muddled thinking and random browsing led me to an illustrated excerpt of Neil Gaiman’s speech at the zenpencils website.

I have often seen my father produce brilliant poetry or break out in song every hour, despite terrible physical pain and/or severe stress. It never occurred to me that suffering could feed inspiration.

On the day this was written, it was an enormous challenge for me to do anything besides grinding my teeth and filling emails with clipped sentences. I found that trying to write when you’re in a dark mood sucks out energy with parasitic intensity. Perhaps that’s the point. Well, enough analysis. When life is hard, make good art. Good or bad, whatever comes out of you during that time is art. Here’s what I came up with –

Imagine yourself making love. Time screams past your ears, and in the next nanosecond, completely stills, gives you a glimpse of the mystery behind it, a tantalising tease into the infinite beauty of its rush and ebb, arousing you out of that other-dimensional reverie and deep into the fused, fluid entity of your bodies. When you thought this would go on for an eternity, when you hoped it would never end, comes a moment. You feel the moment with all your senses. It demands something of you, disdainfully flinging across a message in a mysterious, primal language. If you respond right, it would take you into warp, transport you to a divinely generous experience that will let you take back its core and hide it in yourself, long after your body tires, long after memory wanes. Your fingers tremble, a vacuum pulls at your eyeballs from behind, an invisible sponge gorges on every available molecule of moisture in your mouth.

Imagine you’re in the middle of writing something; by middle, I mean right at that point where hours of labour will find purpose. Your fingers poised over the keyboard, trembling slightly, hesitating to put into words what the tempest inside you – which has swept away and churned together your heart and mind and a hundred years worth of experiences and perceptions – has commanded you to convey. Seven words. Seven words, if placed just right, would take you over the crest, away from the pall of dullness that you constantly fight. But if insulted with too much hesitation, or one letter less, one missing dot, one uncrossed t, would drop you back in a void within yourself, where for eons you would yearn for the tempest. Your fingers tremble, a vacuum pulls at your eyeballs from behind, an invisible sponge gorges on every available molecule of moisture in your mouth.

Imagine yourself in a crisis. You’re neck deep in it. No, completely buried by it. Far beyond the point where you wonder if it is really your fault, or if it is of your making. Far beyond the point where you can even attempt to pretend you have an iota of calm left, to even place your hand on the impossibly self-willed console of the vehicle driving you inexorably down, accelerating cruelly, faster than thought. Your own will melts in a puddle of disjointed words – I’m sure we can…I think…some solution…salvage…is there anything we can…anything at all…I’m so, so sorry. For a moment, you cease to exist, for a moment, you find the grip of that nihilistic vehicle waver. For a moment, there is a sliver of…something. Your fingers tremble, a vacuum pulls at your eyeballs from behind, an invisible sponge gorges on every available molecule of moisture in your mouth.

It’s depressingly tragic that nothing worth anything ever comes out of calm, comfort or stability. It is also terribly ironic that calm, comfort and stability are possible only after an intimate date with life’s meat-grinder.  In effect, living is like trying to find a perfect position on your couch – tuck one arm in, curl the middle toe of the right leg, slide down from half the back-rest, and when your rear is exactly three and a half inches from the cushion, let your body unclench and fill a leathery cocoon – and within a minute of this, realise that the fan’s off and, cursing and whining, you get up, switch it on and try to find your cocoon again, only to find that it’s changed completely, but you find another way and get comfortable again, when you remember you left a tap running somewhere…


From an itch you hardly notice, to an incandescent membrane that you can’t see beyond, is the zone of pain.

There is no limit to pain. Even when you’re in the prime of your health, lying in your soft bed, simply letting your body do what it does, there’s pain. That unpleasant pull at the roots of a clutch of hair on your head, the pressure at the corner of your eyeballs as they swivel in the socket, tenderness in a dozen places where fabric has chafed your skin, the beginnings of a crick in the neck, unbidden spikes and tiny cramps as digestion lurches through your bowels, embers of little cuts and scratches fanned by a spurt of blood flowing under them.

You can’t ignore pain. You can choose not to communicate it outside, but you really can’t ignore it. In your consciousness, pain is an ectoplasm-like entity, whose purpose is to expand and envelop. Pain is how your body draws attention, your complete attention, to itself. A man with a migraine can feel the breeze laving his elbow, or the twitch of every hair on his head. A man with sciatica can feel interesting things, too.

To the uninitiated, sciatica is back ache with attitude. A slipped disc gives you back pain. Vertebrae pressing against the nerves that run down your legs gives you sciatica. The nerves in question are pressed together, squeezed and more or less chewed by two bones, according to the movement in your spine.

Here’s how it gives you your first anatomy lesson: Imagine a little bead of raw electricity. It is born in your spine, and without warning or known trigger, travels varying distances along the lower half of your body at what seems like the speed of sound. A short, sharp, sudden spike, down to the middle of your buttocks, or along your thigh, or all the way to your heel. You can feel the trail of the nerves, you can feel muscles you don’t usually think about.

Pain commands your attention and often, forces your compliance. But when it can’t, when you overcome it and bend it through your will, what a victory that is. It’s like internalising life’s struggle. Your body becomes the stage, and your mind is the actor. It draws on every bit of unpleasantness ever experienced and runs it over again; from nowhere, emotional hurts, heartbreaks, losses blend into your physical pain. It’s like instances of your mental anguish are disembodied spirits waiting for physical expression. When you’re in pain, you’re possessed. You’re acutely aware and completely oblivious at the same time. Inhibitions lose their grip in the onslaught of your repressed reactions. In moments of reprieve, which reveal themselves to no one but you, you choose either to exercise uncharacteristic compassion, or lash out viciously. You think you can get away with anything when you’re in pain. Your every whim is executed and if it is improbable, it is respected. As a man in pain, you can evoke anger, compassion, guilt, awe in whoever you choose. Your body is a throne, you are king. And when pain leaves you, you’re a hero; in spite of your tantrums, in spite of your contrariness, your succumbing to weakness, your surrender to emotion, your penchant for hysteria.

Why the triumph, I wonder. There’s little you can do to prevent pain, nothing you do can stop it leaving you. Clearly, I’m not talking about self inflicted pain. I don’t want to go down that pointless path. What I’m trying to say is that you can’t negotiate pain. It’s an objective entity. It has no attitude. It has a very predictable pattern. If pain were energy, you’d be a wire it passes through. Realistically, you’re a digestive tract which something entered and exited. You don’t boast about living through lighting or rain, why get cocky about living through pain, just another natural phenomenon?

And what if will has nothing to do with pain? What if people are simply built with different thresholds, that some feel pain more acutely than others? What if all this ‘overcoming pain’ is simply the result of a higher capacity for handling pain? “A bee stung me, I didn’t wince.” “Well, you’ve got thick skin, figuratively”. That would really take the juice out of it, wouldn’t it.

I don’t know how to finish this. There really is no end to pain. After we’re through with it once, we’re always expecting it in some form. We mould our relationships around it, we mould ourselves to avoid it. It is a sublime language, pain is. The body speaks it, yes, the mind does too. But really, they only understand the language – in varying degrees. Life itself speaks the language. I wonder what it is trying to tell us, I wonder what life asks us to do.

Perhaps, it is our resistance to that message which makes it all so painful.