I’m staring at the fan, she’s in the bathroom, and she has the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen.
Lego bricks, assorted, in an indigo blue container with a knob-like handle on the lid that makes it look like a teat. When you ask me about the house my father grew up in, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It’s an image that doesn’t compete with any other: the winding roads that took us there, grandmother’s kaachimoru that I always wanted with my rice, the rubber sheets and hemispheres drying out in the sun, or the soft jasmine flowers that ended up in deathly garlands but grew back every morning like someone stuck in an abusive relationship. Among all the vibrant images of my dad’s place, the faded indigo container with yellowing lego bricks is what sticks out to me. So, I had to ask myself why.
I have a very peculiar relationship with my father’s ancestral home. To me, everything about it is fragile, like my dad’s lego bricks in the indigo container that are around 40 years old. The assorted collection was unfit for any ambitious project when I was a kid. The connectors had worn out and used to fall apart very easily. What I built with them was often of the most experimental nature. I should have known then that life was like that, that I’d always feel like I was dealt the wrong set of bricks. My imagination would be limited to, or rather free to be, a house without a roof or walls, with doors that broke easier than they opened.
My father and I are extremely different people. He’s always admired order and shunned chaos whereas I have always found beauty in the uncertain and unpredictable. It is, to me, the blessed curse of being an artist- a love for the unknown. The reward for my effortless recklessness has always been of a timeless quality, for no art has been washed in the blood that hasn’t come from the silence beyond. My father does not quite understand this, even though he wants to. This has made us unable to understand each other at a level that is required for his eventual death and my promised resurrection, the context for existence that every boy trying on his father’s shoes or shaving a beard that doesn’t exist believes he will one day receive. It is in the friction of this relationship between two unfortunate souls bound to each other that the ancestral home remains veiled. The fact that I was a kid who grew up extremely isolated from peers and popular culture in a milieu that made the language of innocence seem foreign and insipid on my tongue led to this inability to feel the earth of my ancestors even more painful.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy spending two months in the summer every year with my grandparents. I feasted on Ammachi’s tasty food and played with my assorted collection of lego for hours. Time flew by in my bedroom on the second floor while I breathed life into all kinds of weird characters who lived in worlds that ended right outside the door, in houses that collapsed on top of them, and rooms that didn’t have walls. Downstairs, at the top of an old bookcase made from what looked like rosewood, my dad’s Lego projects were on display: vintage cars, airplanes, and helicopters, even an apollo 11 rocket model with a launchpad and all associated paraphernalia. It was so far from what I was capable of with my hand-me-down Lego bricks. My dad’s projects had an order and stability that was nothing like the chaos of the indigo container. They were a part of my dad I could not understand. I couldn’t even see them if I stood in front of the bookcase. I had to be a good distance away from them, at the top of a staircase on the opposite side of the room, at the very top where the first flight of stairs intersected the next. Only then could I peek over the handrails and observe that magnificent display of what “man” was capable of, a species that I would never feel like I was a part of. I was not allowed to take anything down because they were old and hard to put back together. Imagine what it would be like if archeologists were never allowed to get close to something they discovered, to use a delicate brush to remove the ossified remnants of time that eluded the mechanical arms of giant excavators and see the legacy of the species they belonged to; to caress the bronze and the iron and feel the warmth of warriors that had been trapped in pockets under their feet. If they are not denied the joy of feeling the liberated souls brush past them, the glory of the resurrection of the past, why was I? As far as I was concerned, I was stuck in a world with people I did not understand. My story lay buried in plain sight, waiting to be brought back to life. This was why I looked longingly at the bookcase, knowing even then that what has not been resurrected can never bring forth salvation.
There were many books in the bookcase. Glass panels separated the books, their true colour and smell, from the rest of the house. In a way, the transparent glass made the bookcase invisible. I’d never seen anyone open it or read any of the books inside. What I saw through the yellowing glass was nothing that could be part of the life of my father or my grandparents. It was nothing worth excavating. The entire house was filled with things that seemed invisible to my family and thus were enveloped in a sort of darkness. It was like the house was made up of the loose lego bricks in the indigo container. It remained so until I entered such fragile spaces by force, in febrile fashion without cicerone or candle, and threw myself into the abyss of my senses. Around the age of 12, I broke into the wooden bookcase. The glass panes were designed to move within grooves made by strips of iron that had been rusting away for years. I pushed, hesitated, then pushed again. There was a scream of glass on metal, a hollow scream that sounded like a drowning man gasping for air. And then it hit me, rushing into my nose and seeping into my skin. The smell was divine; aged papyrus mixed with the warmth of souls and rust. I felt it against my skin and in my nose and knew then, with great conviction, that what lay before me had always been a part of me and my family.
It is perhaps because the house was the site of such endless excavation, the resurrection of a past unlived, that the journey there was always synonymous with death. We lived in the city, in the heart of Kottayam. My father’s childhood home is a two-hour journey on winding roads, through forests and heavy rain, over hills and powerful rivers. Every time I step into the car to go there, I see my death on the road, ripped to shreds far away from the indigo container of assorted lego bricks. I’m guilty of having excused myself from visiting my grandparents a couple of times because the fear was too real for me to ignore. But as time passes by, like the edges of outer space recedes away from us every second and takes our past with it, the fire of the city will take the trees, the small shops and bumpy roads, the forest air and the winding roads, and leave nothing but barren land between me and my father’s house. It is for this reason that I decided to challenge death and visit my grandparents a few days ago. On the way there, I realised that so much had changed; tar and white paint had replaced the muddy roads, the forest was less dense, the river’s song had been drowned out by a dissonant chord of torpid trucks chugging to life, the houses had grown in size and show, and I had hair on my chin. The journey to my depths, the chaos in the indigo container and the unattainable order atop the bookcase, had always been one of mythical dimensions. Without the primordial cathedral of the forests with frescos of the naked sky on its canopy, and the raging waters of baptism that flow from the mountains of God, the overt prescience of nature that always preceded my rebirth was no longer on display. To uncover the part of me that remains hidden, the father who speaks in riddles, is no longer a response to nature. The geography has prepared itself for someone else; my son, perhaps. The thought released me from the ropes that tied me to my father and exposed the deep grooves on my bruised skin. It is finished. “I am a man now”, I said to myself on the way back home with the indigo container on my lap.
You guys have seen those creepy mirrors in interrogation rooms, right? The ones in movies where on side of the glass there are people sitting in the dark looking at people on the other side who can’t see them? Well, yeah, did you know that one side of the mirror being dark and the other being well-lit is a requirement for the mirror to work in this way?
Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? You’ll be able to see yourself in your windows at night when the light is on in your room, but you won’t be able to during the day when the sun is shining through.
Why do I bring up this interesting-yet-too-specific-and-takes-a-long-time-to-explain-so-it-really-doesn’t-belong-in-a-blog-post piece of information?
Well, the other day I had this vision of me standing in a room without roofing. The sun was beating down on me and it was around mid-day. The sky was beautiful, with colours swirling and dissolving into each other like clouds. I wanted to reach out and touch them. So I did.
Well, I tried.
There was a ceiling made of glass in my way.
Since the sun was really bright, it didn’t look like there was a glass ceiling. I pushed first, tapped second, and then I just stood there. I looked out at all the beautiful stuff above me and felt like there was nothing I could do to truly experience them.
Then, as time passed, the sun slowly slipped out of view. It was evening. There was a light in my room, one brighter than the light outside. And now, when I looked up, I could see the glass. I could see myself in the glass. But I could also see the sky and the colours above because the sun hadn’t gone down yet. My reflection and the evening sky were two faint images superimposed on each other, still on the glass. I stared at it without blinking.
And then night came and I was alone. With myself. The glass was now a pure reflection of me and my room.
I know what the vision was about. It was about many things things that have present significance.
You see, I’m about to spend a year at home because I didn’t get into the postgraduate programmes I wanted to get into, which is partly something I didn’t want anyway but anxiety doesn’t care about what I want. I want so many things. During the day, when the rest of the world is alive, I’m constantly reminded of what I cannot have, be it because of my interests, where I come from, who I know etc. It’s just like the sun beating down on me through the glass. And I jump all day, hoping to catch one of those colourful clouds but I bang my head against the glass. This is all I can do during the day.
Then evening comes and I realise that there is a thick sheet of glass between me and the world, that the curse the 21st century casts on youth is the ability to see all that they cannot be or have. In the twilight hours, as I see myself and the world in the glass of fate and destiny, I am inspired by how it grounds me in reality by placing the good and the bad into context. This prepares me for the hours to come, when loneliness will take hold of me.
In the deep hours of the night, I am all I see. I look at my reflection on the glass and I write, speak, and draw. I reinvent, nay find myself in the void. This act does have the power to heal and restore but it does so only if I stare at the glass in the evening. To see myself and the world at the same time, to stop fighting and observe my existence in all its beauty, glory, and tragedy is the only thing that can bring healing in the night.
Well, now you know why I create everything in the night when everyone else is sound asleep.
About the artworks:
The first artwork contains a lot of ideas that I’ve already explored in previous posts with mountains, gyres, allusions to authorship, etc. The ice from the Hemingway post makes a reappearance as this post has a lot to do with fear of losing potential (https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/07/10/obsessed-with-loss-of-potential-jpg/). Lions, as you know, mean a lot to me. They keep appearing in my dreams. I’ve been a lion in some and I’ve also been protected and attacked by them in some. There are other reasons but I won’t go into them now. If you have a good eye, you probably noticed how the speech bubble kinda looks like a human being, with the lion and its mane making up the mouth. Not exactly planned but I believe these things happen for a reason. Makes sense in context anyway.
The second artwork is more minimalistic. You can see the colours yellow and red making an appearance. And you probably know what they mean if you’ve been keeping up with the posts. If not check this post (https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/why-i-even-try/)
Today, around noon, I found myself spending a few moments alone with my imagination. Listening to Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, my mind filled with all kinds of colours and images. I was alone on a beach, my hand buried in the sand. A green beverage of some kind was pouring over me, covering me in translucent green. The green pouring over me almost felt like a hand, like I was caressing myself. It was passionate. For a moment, I tried to take control of the scene and bring a woman into the picture. It seemed fitting that a feminine presence be the reason for such passion. But when I did so, the picture almost burst into a million pieces. So I decided to let it go. I was to be alone in this.
While I’m not sure what this means, I thought it would be helpful to mention a few interesting thoughts that have occupied my mind for the past few days. I had a passing thought a few days ago of a chameleon in front of a mirror. It struck me that if the chameleon only identified itself by its colour and not its form, then the world would become its mirror. Imagine that- the conflation of perception of the outside world with that of self. For a moment, I wondered if that was what happened inside the void that I keep mentioning, that nothingness where I flail around and retrieve pieces of the broken mirror; the place where I create art out of necessity and learn more and more about myself. Was this exercise of existence a conflation of the kind mentioned above?
I believe I will be able to answer that better in time. For now, a record of thoughts will suffice.
About the artwork:
It is possible that the green in the painting and in my vision had to do with me reaching into the ground, into myself, and thus into nature itself. I had mentioned in a few other posts how I create art to “ground myself” and that no art except mine has the ability to make that happen. I have drawn from an earlier painting of mine that represents me burning in the void (from post ‘Why I Even Try’ which is linked below). This time, I chose to make the head red because recently I have found my thoughts taking a much darker turn, favoring the confusing and the self-destructive during introspection. However, my limbs continue to help me create art impulsively from the fascination I have for my pain and depression. So they remain yellow. The reason why the head is facing the sky and not the ground, which would have been more natural, can be found in my post ‘On Sublimity’ which I will link below.
Reading the following posts and looking at the artwork in them might be helpful if you are interested in dissecting this post further:
The sun shines right through some people. If you’re at the right place at the right time, you’ll see how they carry the burden of the joy that fills your world. It’s a very private burden. To know it feels wrong.
But if you hold her hand in an imaginary land where to know is not a crime, you’ll feel the water slipping through her fingers; living water flowing from veins ripped open by the world. It falls on the grass and makes words grow like tress and bear music.
She is what people call a muse.
In this world that I’ve made up in my head, where lions escort us through the wilderness of harsh and bitter reality, I am constantly reminded of how undeserving I am of the beauty that she inspires. Is she a memory, a meeting of the earth and sky? Am I in love? Is this what it feels like?