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       Volume 11 |Issue 43| November 02, 2012 |


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The Colours of Melancholia

Syed Maqsud Jamil

  Sanjib Barua, Time and Journey 6, acrylic on canvas, 2007.

Melancholia is a sorrowful state of mind; a visitor that descends as sad episodes unravel or a longing that offers no hope, takes hold of the heart. The spell is normally not a permanent occupant and ends in a vacant gaze that stretches beyond or a silence that says many things yet speaks nothing. There is a sense of loss in it and an awakening of sorrows and fatuities and about the unjust and banal nature of lies. The ones with loads too heavy to bear struggle with the tragedy of the mind, for the rest, life goes on with the wind and against the wind.

There is something in nature that lets melancholia to descend. Here it is the sun and rain that rules the land. It can be the pastoral countryside or the high-rise melee of the city when the ocular mid-day sun is blazing, the lazy wind rustling away the fallen leaves, it is in this ethereal time of the day with the robin perched on the branch chirping, melancholia lazes into the mind. The housewife nestled near the window gazes up listlessly at the simmering heat outside, she wanders to her city-bound or overseas children and the tiny tots that frolic around in her mind. How much she loves to see them coming home. This is her hour of melancholia and she wipes away her tears with the corner of her sari. The joys of life look so distant and beyond reach.

There is philosophy in melancholia. It has always been an engrossing subject in understanding the ways of life. Destiny scripts a tale of what human beings want and get blessed with it or errs in wanting it and repents it, or when they want something and do not get it and the disappointment settles inside, or when they neglect what is offered and suffers in remorse. There is as many variants as there are human beings. The misfortune the loss and failing, by human predilection is the grazing ground of melancholia. The canvas unfolds - what I could have been, what I have become, why fate is so hard on me, to take away the one I held dear, why did it happen to me, to crush me with a load I no longer can bear, how much I have given what have I received, my folks, my flesh and blood - how could they be so unfeeling... The tale of woe abounds. Yet life goes on. It is nobody's buddy.

The poets, the authors, the music composers and singers weave the tales with the faculty of their imagination the magic wand of their language, and with the melody of their tune the lilting voice of the singer to beatify the fancy of the readers and listeners. The dearest are the characters built in melancholia and the songs that sing of melancholy thoughts. Hamlet the celebrated character of world literature is a classic study in melancholia. On arrival in Elsinore Castle the change in the Kingdom confounds him. He broods over it. ' Let me not think on't. Frailty, thy name is woman! …. Married with my uncle, My father's brother; but no more like my father.' His melancholia becomes pathological wondering at the ways of the world, 'How weary, stale, flat, unprofitable, Seem to me the uses of this world!'

Sanjib Barua, Time and Journey 12, acrylic on canvas, 2009.

Tagore's artistry in narrating tales and crafting characters had melancholia as one of its endowments. In the short story ' Ek Ratri' (One Night) the main character the third master in a remote school of Noakhali is a poignant tale of love lost told in brooding colours of melancholia. The third master in the prime of his youth was a student in Calcutta. In the euphoria of his age he dreamt of becoming Garibaldi and Mazzini of Italy. Surabala was his village playmate. News was sent to him that marriage proposals are coming for her and what was his opinion. He ignored the prospect instead continued in his ideological pursuit. The dream came to nothing and his fate made him a third master in Noakhali where Surbala was married to a pleader. He developed an acquaintance with the pleader. He visited the house and Surbala was behind the curtain beyond his reach. His melancholia rebuked him for his fatuity. Surabala was his to get, now she is un-gettable for life.

Melancholia becomes an attitude that casts a lengthening shadow on how one looks at life, in case of loss of a partner for a loving couple. This is more conspicuous for elderly couples. The poignancy is palpable for the female partner. For the loving male partner the melancholia in loss can be less noticeable but inside the slumbering sorrow awakens; melancholia descends. The sorrow also appears in relatively younger loving couples, but the nature of the age is such that with the fleet footed love the cloud of melancholia is sundered and the sunshine comes out. Life returns to the fonder choices and fancies.

The remnants and reminiscences are all around the house. The objects and memories hover around them. The photo frames, family albums, dresses in the closet, the gifts and the things he or she loved bring in melancholia like monsoon clouds laden with tears. And there are many songs that awaken the melancholy memories. Protima's 'Boro sadh jage ekbar tomai dekhi' (the desire to get a glimpse of you wells up inside), Satinath's Moromia 'tumi chole gele aye byatha kare janabo' (To whom shall I speak of my woes when you leave?). Or who can forget the melancholy tune of Jaganmoy Mitra's 'Chiti' that sings of a woe-stricken husband's recollection of the blissful time spent together with his wife.

The songs bring tears to the eyes of melancholic minds. The tear stained eyes look up at the dapper young man that was her husband and fondly wipes away dust from the frame.

John Keats was deeply in love with Fanny Browne and did not have many years to live. He died at the early age of 25. He longed for the love of Fanny and his mind glided through the grey firmament of melancholia. Yet he wrote poems that gladden the heart of poetry lovers through ages. A few lines from John Keats' 'Ode On Melancholy' will perhaps be the most fitting tribute to the subject.

'But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,' …

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