Tag Archives: heart

The Venus Flytrap: Not This, Not This | This Too, This Too

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There’s a love that looks like no love you’ve ever seen. And on some days, and certain nights, you can almost convince yourself that it looks for you, too.

Almost. The deeper you travel into a life of your own design, the further away the mirage of a co-sojourner appears. There is no one who falls asleep thinking of you. The face you see when you wake up is your own, in a mirror, all evanesced dreamscapes and smudged kohl.

But you must indulge it, a little dulcet speculation. You parse the present as though it already comprises kernels of a different future. Everything that has happened to you has happened in the absence of the one who loves you, who does not know it yet, whom you contain no memory of. The world appears less maimed through this awareness, this version of the story in which there is someone you would walk through the rain to meet, had you only known how to reach their door.

What you do contain, positively, is wisdom. It beams in you like a blacklight tattoo when you need it most. Like that night when you came home after seeing someone so perfect you could have sworn you wrote them into being, but you couldn’t sleep, and not because you’d been hit by lightning. There you were, your palm on your chest at 2am, breathing deeply, sitting still and listening to your heart. How it wouldn’t stop saying, “neti, neti.” Not this, not this.

“Not never, but not now,” you explained to those who were dismayed. But even then, you knew.

A seer tells you to say affirmations to draw love into your life. A priest prescribes garlanded circumambulations. A doctor puts you on multi-vitamin supplements so your hair might stop falling out and you’ll have the energy to go dancing. A friend downloads another app into your phone. You’ll do some or all or none of these.

But mostly you’ll just do what you have to do. You’ll return to the poems, and when the wish to mouth their magic into someone’s ear becomes too much, you will go to Rilke’s “You Who Never Arrived”. You don’t cry like you used to, emotion billowing from you as unmistakably as a bullfrog’s throat. Your sorrow gets mistaken for anger. Your strength for coldness. Your grace for forgetting. Now your tears are scant and taste like tea steeped far too long.

And the flights of speculation too grow fewer, which is why you notice them, lift them to the light in curiosity. There is nothing to anticipate. Days and nights of lacklustre certainty. And it’s you who must tell your heart, this time: “Iti, iti”. This too, this too. Even this. This with its saudades. This with its cosmic signs that anagram to red herrings. This with its gambles made on someone else’s loaded dice (but you’ll make them anyway). “Heads you win, tails I’m lost” – that country ballad by Jewel you’re surprised to remember, so many years later. This now, this here, this always – with its almosts that only almost count.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 10th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Heart

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The heart, that wretched thing, that effigy to which we take all our torch songs, the ones we quote from endlessly, the ones we listen to furtively, with earphones. Here’s Neil Young searching, a miner for a heart of gold (but does he possess one himself – can he give the thing he wants to receive?). Here are the Backstreet Boys, aching with an agony both pure and puerile; let me show you the shape of my heart.

Show it to us then. Here’s Christ himself holding his sacred heart before his chest like an apple, blazing like original sin – here’s Hanuman, taking things a step further, literally tearing his chest open with his bare hands and revealing its contents. The gesture may be stylized, sanitized, but it’s immediately recognizable: who among us hasn’t done the same?

Inevitably, barbarism. “The heart is a lonely hunter,” wrote Carson McCullers. The heart hungers, like every hunter. And the hunter is always armed – but with what? Look at the tip of the vel, look at the shape of the space for the eyes and mouth on a barbute helmet.

Here you are with your heart a deflated balloon, an overflowing chalice, a reservoir.

Here I am with my current favourite metaphor: heart a mosaic, resurrected and re-resurrected, cannonball after cannonball. This is what it means to love someone to pieces – your own life turns to tesserae.

Here it is in nature: the original Valentine of the silphium seed. Here the procession of magenta lamprocapnos spectabili, here the swaying vine of cordate pepper leaves. The former are called bleeding-heart flowers, the latter cling and cling like nothing but a thing in love. (Here is U2’s heart as a bloom, shoot[ing] up from the stony ground).

Here is Poe’s tell-tale heart, pounding out justice. Here the I [heart] New York icon, so ubiquitous that the [heart] is now shorthand. In films, we’ve [heart]ed Huckabees, been “wild at heart”, and even sensed “the beat that my heart skipped”. Whose is the mighty heart about which Mariane Pearl wrote – her slayed husband’s, or her widowed own?

How many metaphors we find for a thing that is, itself, a metaphor – heart as the source of our joy, heart as the location of our ruin, heart as the centre of the world. The idea of the heart as a place – Elvis and Whitney Houston checked into the Heartbreak Hotel; the idea of the heart as a thing that be named and therefore contained – I’m gonna lock my heart and throw away the key crooned Billie Holiday (unchain my heart, countered Ray Charles). The metaphysical heart that has implied proxies in the corporeal realm: the left breast over which a palm is placed in promise or allegiance, the abstract seat of the anahata chakra.

“The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of,” wrote Blaise Pascal. “The heart”, confirms the Bible, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Not us, perhaps, but trust it we must – trickster, torturer, truth-teller.

The ancient Mesoamericans practiced heart-extraction because theirs was a passionate cosmos, it needed blood to keep going. We too need the heart to keep going, and so we follow it, appeasing its hungers, rearranging its disorders, in faith that it will lead us somewhere where we can be whole, pulsing with life, transfigured by love.

An edited version appeared in today’s Times of India, Chennai (World Heart Day supplement).

The Venus Flytrap: Healing, Subtle As A Scar

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Without going into details, I was attacked last week and left with gashes on my chest which required medical attention and an injection. They were inflicted on me at the beginning of a nightmarish evening, and I couldn’t bring myself to look at the damage for myself until the next day. What happened then surprised even me.

Streaked across my decolletage, above my heart, were three bright, stinging maroon gashes. The deepest and longest rose from near my armpit like a wave unfurling in a torrent of movement. The one beside it looped in a small knot somewhere at the start of its trajectory. The last was shortest and extended almost directly under my suprasternal notch, that evocative hollow at the base of the throat. They were unequivocally, unexpectedly, beautiful.

Resting beside them on a thin silver chain was the rose quartz I had purchased just hours before the attack. I’d bought it to heal my heart chakra, and the literal effect – the surgery, if you will – laid bare across my flesh was not lost on me. Healing is rarely subtle work. I trust that which hurts.

Between the scarlet of the scarring and the calm pink of the quartz, dramatized against the brown of my skin, the only logical thing for me to do was to reach for my camera.

In the photographs that emerged, I look serene where my face can be seen. Where it cannot be seen I am all clavicle and throat, whisper of cleavage, shadow and light. The gashes tether every picture.

I know all about the documentation of scars. I’ve always found catharsis in creativity, in taking the trauma of a situation and subverting it. It is a manner of control, of reclamation, of hijacking Pavlovian associations before they fully form and replacing them with artistic ones. It is the duty of the artist to interrogate every experience. But although I had experimented with the subject of the self, in particular the wounded self, in a variety of disciplines – from autobiographical writing to self-portraiture in oil painting, and the body itself in dance – my photographic self-portraits had never been driven by anything but vanity. The horror of the scarring, however, and the overwhelming sensuality of their placement, had me transfixed.

Most people who saw the photographs reacted with horror. “I can’t look at it, Sharanya – I’m sorry, I just can’t,” friend after friend told me. I’m certain there were some who reacted with a different kind of horror – appalled at my exhibitionism, perhaps. I am very well aware that what to me was a meditation on pain, a means of negotiating with the multiple complexities of an event that had left me shaken and hurt in more ways than one, was for others just victim vogue.

The responses intrigued me. I had shared these photos not to shock people, but because it was truly healing for me to have taken them. Those close to me, I realised, were reacting to the violence I had experienced, and not to the process by which I was dealing with it. Many avoided it altogether. “I wanted to call and ask to meet,” said someone, when we eventually spoke. “But I saw the pictures.” Only one person told me the photos were beautiful, and asked – almost as an afterthought – what had happened.

I answered the question very rarely, when it was asked. What mattered was that if I was well enough to subvert it, it meant I had survived it.

The body is the canvas of our personal mythologies, but we are conditioned to titivate and obscure its realities. The reality of my body today includes three beautiful gashes across my chest, just as it includes the scar at my navel and an assortment of idiosyncrasies better left to poetry. They may fade, or they may stay, testament. The body and its blood. All of it is beautiful. And every last mark I carry is mine.

There are scars we see, and then there are scars we can’t. Perhaps what drew me to honour these ones, etched across my body with brutal intention, was that to do so gave me another way of calligraphing the invisible ones. I was here. I am here. Here I am.

An adapted version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.