Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the cuckoo sings

It’s been a Japan kind of month. Months after I travelled there, I was called upon to file the story, and the days of August went in remembering, reading, dwelling... and it seemed fitting to have a haiku by the master himself on my header. Matsuo Basho was the man who created the three-lined haiku as we know it today. With the country so much on my mind, I picked up to read Jane Hirshfield’s The Heart of Haiku, and then a long piece on Basho in the National Geographic... it was poignant.

Even in Kyoto,
how I long for Kyoto
when the cuckoo sings
–Matsuo Basho (trans. Sam Hamill)

This haiku, however, has haunted me for a while. What is to be done with this nameless angst? Even in Kyoto the poet longs for Kyoto... what then is Kyoto? Is it an amalgam of every single sight, smell, taste experienced here? Is it an idea, a memory? How does one merge with Kyoto, how to slake this longing? How to hug all of Kyoto?

It happened to me once in Sikkim. We were winding down the hill with the river Teesta flowing by. We wanted pictures and the driver was obliged to drive on for a few kilometres before we came to a suitable vantage point. One spot that gave us a decent glimpse of the hills, the forests and the winding river. I was suddenly so impatient with it. I wanted to soar over the landscape, merge with every blade and drop... I wanted to become the valley and here I was, frustrated, limited to one little fenced off spot, straining to absorb it all.

This, I imagine, is the limitation of our sense perceptions. We can see the tree, but only one side of it, not what’s behind it. We cannot know it, we cannot become it – with this apparatus. We cannot know the tree, even if we have every cell of it under a microscope; we cannot know it in this way.

And so, although content with our little pockets of life, once in a while, when the cuckoo sings, we long for Kyoto.

1 comment:

Amit said...

Beautifully expressed!

Another way to express the "so-near-yet-so-far" feeling is - Perhaps the beauty that the nature projects, is not supposed to be understood! If its understood, then its not beautiful - and if its beautiful, then it cannot be put in words, or expressed! That's how beautiful it is - and one cannot absorb it all. Had you absorbed it, you would not have been in a state to express!!
Reminds me of Kabir's doha:

'Bhika' baat agham ki,
kahan sunan ki naa-e,
Jo jaane so kahe nahi,
jo kahe so jaane naa-e ||

'Bhika' was saint, and here he says that some feelings/situations/realisations are so grand and magnanimous - that they could not be and should not be expressed. If someone tried to makes sense of it, or express it - suggests that he/she has not felt it in its entirety!