Life, In My View: K Saraswathi Amma

Translated by J Devika

[from Saraswathi Ammayude Sampoorna Krithikal, Kottayam: DC Books, 1995, pp. 979-982. Reading this beautiful little essay, I cannot help imagining as a bridge of loving words across generations . This woman surely struggled all her life with depression and mental issues; the immensity of her intelligence was such that she scared mediocrities who lashed back with insults. This woman who was so amazingly ahead of her time was nicknamed Vattu Saraswathi — Crazy Saraswathi — by her peers (many became scholars but surely could not even hold a candle to her). I see the same among young people today — the talented ones — and they slip, like her into sadness and loneliness. This essay is for them.]

Life is not likely to be something that can be reduced to someone’s idea of it. Not in my experience, at least. Life is something that is shaped out of one’s own sensations and tendencies, and results, unique to each one or to the same person at different moments — the ecstasy of a celebration, the emptiness of a desert, the attractiveness of a garden, and the horror of the cremation-ground, all these contradictory qualities are bound together inextricably in it. It is hard to confine it readily within the limits of the word.  That gentle gurgling stream rushing past may be transformed into a roaring ocean the next minute.

When I say that life is primarily a struggle, I am merely repeating a truism that is as old as life itself. Because it is not a collective hunt, but individual battles, there is no chance of withdrawing to rest. The moments of peace may be the harbingers of war. The most difficult thing is to evade the guerrilla attacks. Taking shelter with someone would be cowardly. And besides it could also lead to more intense battles.

Since you have to struggle consciously or unconsciously, it is best to be conscious. This ensures, I feel, that you can protect yourself from defeat even if you are not sure of victory.

It is life that, in childhood, buzzes by like a celebration, oblivious to the value of time, that turns into a pitched battle, later – not just physically but also mentally, not just materially, but also spiritually. The  heart in adolescence which takes pride in having found a marvellous key to a fabulous universe, having mastered the letters, is led into a world filled with sorrow by the scroll of knowledge that slowly unfolds, and by the fire of culture that is fanned to burn fiercely.  As this journey on the wings of thought advances, the lightness and simplicity of life decrease in proportion. After a while there will be instances in which the truth and untruth will be hard to separate; doubts in which one may feel that there isn’t even a hair’s breadth separating the right and the wrong; strong bonds forged with the tender threads of the heart; uncompromising struggles between the brain and the heart, between reason and custom — life will look like a complicated, impenetrable web of complication. Not just to fill one’s belly or cover one’s nakedness, but also for one’s beloved ideas and ideals, against ridiculous aachaarams and blindly and strongly-held beliefs — the list of the provocations for the struggles of life is endless. Life gets caught between harsh realities and the sweet ideals of the imagination and begins to slip into a sad song, a lament.

It is at this stage — the stage at which one feels envious towards happy ignorance and uncivilized barbarity — that an unmatched sense of humour comes to our aid. Approach life like a sportsman. (I hesitate a little to say ‘sportswoman’, I fear to say it greatly, really,  because society’s habit of denigrating women if any of their sporting abilities, their sense of humour, why, if the woman herself crosses the boundary of the home, had not faded the least. The popular opinion since time immemorial is that women are unfit for field service — though such views are suspended temporarily in times of emergency. I doubt if the sportsmanship will be counted as a virtue in Woman who is venerated for silent sacrifice and bottomless patience. It is no wonder if life appears like a series of denials to the woman who is denied even that primary right. There may be many who think that the fullness of womanhood lies in being limited in this way. In short, under these circumstances, women like me have to encounter a doubling of the struggles of life). Yes, approach life with the pleasant openness of a sportsman, and the distance from the slowly-searing pain of Grand Tragedy to the energetic joy of Musical Comedy will not be much. The intensity of the pitched battle will soon be transformed into the lightness of an entertaining match.

Life that presents itself as a blocking football is much more desirable that one that stands completely still. On the path there are hills you have to ascend and descend, pits you have to jump across, obstructions you have to kick aside, and waters you have to swim across.  There may be traps and gangs of bandits as well. Say, there may be no heaven or hell to reach when one gets past all this, there may be pure emptiness alone. But even so, there is no place for stillness in this mobile universe. Even when getting past the troubles people set for you, make sure that you obstruct the path of others only minimally and move forward as carefully as you can. It is not the first prize or the victory that matters, but the thrill of taking part in the contest. If you waste time envying the industrious and weeping over your misfortunes, life becomes not-life. If you do not let your life flow, it will form a stagnant pool and stink. Even if we enter the contest of life involuntarily and with no exit option, even if we would exit if we get a chance, since we have anyway fallen into it, it is most advisable that we do not let ourselves slip into situations in which we may regret that we made this contest meaningless and useless.

It is nature’s law that makes life feel like an unceasing struggle. It is human ability that turns it into a friendly competition. Making it an unbridled celebration and a futile elegy may cause irremediable sorrow to not just ourselves, but also to others. It is more honourable to make pretty the toy that you found, rather than smash it to pieces. Only the extremely gifted can make their lives an altar of selfless sacrifice or a pilgrimage of service.

And, being a member of a class [gender] synonymous with unfettered frivolity and thus denied radical ideas and firm goals, for me, life is a joyous and intense battle. The atmosphere is one of the heat and cold of the pitched battle; the things you need to make it joyful and cool are not plentiful. To say that with healthy mental state that  becomes easy with regular practice, this becomes a celebration would be most right.

And on top, I have had to struggle against a rival who I have not been able to get my hands on since long, and who is too cunning to defeat. Thus, it is after battle for over a month and a half or so against laziness and applying much persuasion and tact that I have been able to somehow write this far.

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