A little while ago, while I was killing some time after a heavy session of study, trying desperately to find something to distract myself for a moment, I picked up a children’s book on rainforests that was lying around. I flicked through and there was much that was interesting. I found out about the existence of the tree kangaroo for the first time and was impressed by the statistic of fifty million ‘Indians’ estimated to live in the rainforests as well as dismayed by the man-made environmental catastrophe that is engulfing these fountains of life.
And as I read this work of scientific prose, admiring the photographic illustrations, I came across a beautiful phrase – ‘cloud forests’. This purely technical, prosaic term, with its beautiful, poetic connotations was like a point of light in absolute darkness. It was entrancing. It was magical. It conjured up whimsical fancies of forests of clouds populated by strange, mythical beasts. I repeated it to myself a number of times.
And I thought to myself of the beauty of scientific prose. Quarks named after James Joyce’s writing flickered across my consciousness. The beauty of the word ‘atom’ from the ancient Greek I studied in my lunchtimes at my secondary school. The Latin ‘multiverse’ and the very word ‘science’, which comes from the same language. The list is endless. Some would have it that scientific writing is divorced from beauty but this is not so. The beauty is there for them that will find it.
Later, I listened to a beautiful song while I was in the gym and I was again struck by the beauties of language. The lyrics were of the song ‘Do Deewane Shaher Mein’ in the Hindi film ‘Gharonda’:
In bhoolbhulaiya galiyon mein
In these labyrinthine streets
Apna bhi koi ghar hoga
there will also be our own home
Ambar pe khulegi khidki ya
Either the window will open to the sky
Khidki pe khula ambar hoga
Or upon the window will be the open sky
Asmani rang ki ankhon mein
Within eyes the colour of the sky
Basne ka bahana dhoondhte hain
We seek an excuse to live
The lyrics resonated for a number of reasons. First, there was the desire to find a home, one’s own place in the world, the desire to unite with the sky, what seems completely out of reach, to have what is impossible. But above and beyond this, there was the sound of the words themselves. The beauty of the sounds in the beautiful music of the song was entrancing. They impressed themselves upon my mind which returned to them again and again, much like I had repeated the phrase ‘cloud forest’ to myself, fascinated by its beauty, trying to find out what this beauty meant.
And this is beauty’s power: to scar memory with its power. To tempt us with the seduction of its knowledge of us, of the secret workings of our heart. To build upon language, the element that surrounds us like water surrounds fish, so that it becomes a monument.