Language

I confess that I am addicted to the learning of languages. Years of half-hearted attempts at memorizing French, Arabic and now Bahasa have left me jack of all trades but master of none. But I do not despair, for it is the process that I am mesmerized by – the careful rearrangement of syntax, forms, tenses, rules; the sharp jolt of the familiar as a long-forgotten word fades into recognition; the transposition of letters and syllables acrosss borders and continents. And that curious sensation, as you rustle for a word in your mind in a language only to emerge with a variant of it in another foreign tongue – the mixing of worlds, the overlapping of histories. Maybe it is true that it is impossible to achieve true comprehension, true translation, true understanding. But it is the trying, the trying that counts.

One happy thing

I am blessed and afflicted with the inability to forget. Spending the day with my favourite Chilean family, marvelling at how two months can transform shy sweet Zoe into a small girl with stuttering words. How the daily warmth of their domestic routines gushes into the heart like a fire in the dead midst of winter. Discussing architecture and urban spaces, politics and inequality. Cristian and Marcella met at work, he says, they were architects, fighting against the oppressive system together. And we won, he says with a smile. Marcella is my right-hand man. There is a camaraderie, an easy understanding, love and care and history in the midst of that breezy flat situated in the middle of Hackney Central. When I was young, I too was loved and treasured. Birthdays, when my mum seeked out the latest toy designs from Japan even as I know now that they had not much to give. Dinners on public holidays at steamboat restaurants, buffet places. Even as the blissful childhood days segued into laborious business trips to Malaysia, months of darkness and fear amidst SARS and departures and complete misinformation, I now know that I still am loved, needed, wanted.

T e m p o r a r y

Impressionism is interested in the fact that the things we love most change, are only around a very short time and then disappear. It celebrates the sort of happiness that lasts a few minutes, rather than years.

Cement

After a certain length of time has passed, things harden up. Like cement hardening in a bucket. And we can’t go back anymore. What you want to say is that the cement that makes you up has hardened, so the you you are now can’t be anyone else

-Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Lessons

The experiences which are the most challenging are also the ones in which you have the most to get

At fifty-six

I have forgotten the sum of your years
So much that I had to hunt up the present
subtract the stains, patches of history
to come up with a number that defines
your alleged wisdom

I know nothing now
But this I know:
That I so want to be unlike you,
keening through the screen
struggling to untangle the weight of the past
that has been clamouring around your heart

This I have inherited from you:
We remember too much and too little at the same time

We are

in sum and total,
parts and wholes of people
loved and lost