An actor, who is a Gujarati and a friend, once left behind an evocative text by John Updike for me, after a short stay at my home. On the front page of this book of journeys, he has inscribed, “Anupa maate… shabd game che, e maate.”
It’s a sentence that does not require translation. I’m wary of translating, as words carry a very distinct emotive content when expressed in a mother tongue. When translated, they sometimes lose both, their emotional impact and import. Translations of Orhan Pamuk and Haruki Murakami’s works are examples of the inexplicable loss that occurs when one persons carries forward another’s words.
Over the years, books have come to become important not just for themselves, but also for the inscriptions they bear – the scrawl of someone’s handwriting, the tenor of someone’s unspoken emotion, the joy of giving… words mirror more than we can imagine. No wonder we are told, choose your words carefully… for words (and books) become the bearers of history.
In keeping, last evening I had the privilege of interacting with some eminent personalities of Ahmedabad – including writers, a musician, a filmmaker and a photographer among others. We sat in a circle and played a word game that I often use as an ice-breaker. I threw three words at them and they responded – each response, unique and spontaneous, brought forth the speaker’s personality and his/her world view. Their response also mirrored their feelings for, and their perceptions about Ahmedabad, the city that they have grown in or made their own. After three rounds of word play – the words I threw up were Ahmedabad, Sacred and Divide – we had established several tenuous threads and brought to the fore heartfelt emotions.
As we led them towards a table laden with art material – they had to paint/write their perceptions about the city – a writer asked if he could read out a poem that he had composed in aid of the city. We stopped in our tracks. Following his lead, another senior writer expressed himself poignantly. The group then went on to work with the art material – some wrote poems, some painted, some drew while others scribbled. But each citizen of the city left an indelible mark that spoke volumes without being verbose. The spare emotion in a phrase such as “Oh my Sabarmati” said it all.
Returning to the inner city where I live, when in Ahmedabad, it struck me that the most evocative words and images often come from people who are not from Ahmedabad, but who have made it their own. Last evening, a foreign national who is as much an Amdavadi as anyone, quoted Bulle Shah; another painted an elegy for the Sabarmati. A third mentioned a bridge that, ironically, is a divide.
A decade after the shameful chapter in our collective history, one can only pay homage to all that we, as Indian, Gujaratis and Amdavadis have lost, words included, in a frenzy of cold-blooded violence. Our biggest loss was dignity and, over the years, the inability to feel shamed by another person’s pain.
As thinking and feeling citizens we cannot afford to be fence sitters anymore. A city is one’s own. It must be embraced and cared for, just like its people. For it’s only when one loves a place, would one be able to pen lines such as these by a vocalist, who wrote: “Ahmedabad. My city, where I can roam without a reason and sing without a season.”
The author is a published writer and an independent arts consultant