Mono No Aware: The “aah-ness” of things in general, life in particular
I have never been bothered much about the role words play in songs, especially anything non-Hindi/Bollywood. I have always tended to concentrate on the rhythm and melodies, and have thought of vocals as just another instrument that’s been layered over the soundtrack. That may not be the right way to look at it, but I think that allows me to appreciate each singer in a perspective that is quite separated from their abilities to come up with lyrics that inspire or move. Which is why when I first heard instrumental music, I kinda knew that this will stick with me for good. Of course, the taste has evolved, and I continue to listen to and appreciate music with vocals, but I think there has been a gradual shift in the aesthetic of the music that I want to listen to now.
A lot of what I appreciate now is something I can’t define. I used to hate people who said “I listen to anything that I like. No specific genre”, because that meant I could not judge the person’s musical taste, and I am judgmental in more ways than even I know of. Fortunately or unfortunately, I guess I am gravitating towards that end of the spectrum where you know you can’t define what kind of music you like, which also means I am judging myself heavily here. I like blues, rock-n-roll, rockabilly, country, folk-ish, rock, hard rock, metal, heavy metal, doom metal, symphonic metal (or whatever sub-genre you want to add) and many more genres and jargon. The latest amongst them is post rock, electronic, dream pop, trip hop. And then of course, anything that sounds good.
On one of these trips to explore music, I stumbled upon the American band Hammock. That was about a year ago. I ignored because I was still firmly wedded to Opeth. And then one day I heard “Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow”. The thing about post rock is that a lot of it is poetry — something that cannot be defined, but only be felt, like a visceral punch. Not only is it stellar music, but the bands choose their names, their album names and their song names in a manner that instantly transports me to a different landscape. While this is really noteworthy, it becomes even more interesting when all of this is harmonised — when the music evokes the exact same feeling as the name of the song. “Mono No Aware” is one such song. I will leave it to the reader to put in some effort and read what this phrase means. For the lazy ones like myself, it means the “aah-ness” of life, the pathos, and perhaps the sense of wonderment for transience. I am on the path to becoming a convert, but with slightly more significant things in mind than baby pigeons and pregnant cats.
This music, and I mean the new kinda stuff I talked about, has helped me look at the art form from a much broader perspective than I earlier used to. There are artists who produce significantly better output than the ones who manage to reach us comparatively easily. It is not easy for these rather not-so-popular, niche artists to wake up day in day out, and keep themselves motivated about doing something passionately, which eventually may not be sufficient to provide for their families. Peter Lindgren of Opeth did not find it easy and quit the band, amid other reasons. Good for him. But there are other young artists who are starting their journey into the infinite universe of music and its audience, and others who have been producing one stellar record after another, refusing to give into laziness and fan-pleasing ideology, fully cognisant that the critic community is more than eager to pounce on anything and everything in a way that may have a definitive impact on their careers. But they still continuously push the boundaries of what is music and who they are as artists, in the process, refusing to be written off or resting on what once was and who they once were.
And then I hear a lot of people, including myself, complaining about their day jobs and wistfully, almost romantically, speaking about their passions and interests. I am not philosopher and neither have I lived or seen enough to be speaking contemplatively about the profoundness of life. But with each passing day, including today when I listened to “Mono No Aware”, the realisation of “enjoy it while it lasts” keeps getting reinforced into my psyche. “It” being everything that goes into defining who I am, right from the tangible, headlong into the intangible. There are far too many complaints we have and as a result, too little time to appreciate all the good things that we encounter. And with that, I will note the usage of “I” and “we” interchangeably.
I may be wrong (and hence the analogies that I make after this may be absolutely pointless), but I think the natural state of the universe is darkness — there are events that lead to light, some of which we see after millions of years. I cannot recall what led to it, but in the same vein, I have this opinion that the natural state of emotions is indifference or nothingness. A lot of what we feel is cultivated as we keep discovering who we are, and what our immediate environment is or how it directly affects us, to begin with. A lot of events help us find our way through the millions of feelings or emotions that are there inside us, latent, waiting to be discovered, and I guarantee you, a lifetime may not be enough to explore each and every one of them, partly because of the analogue nature of emotions — however much we try and sample them, we always miss out. Now, extending the analogy further, there are infinite personalities within us that manifest on their own when our person is confronted with different possibilities. It follows that all of who we are may not see the light of the day in this lifetime, but we often desire to explore every bit of who we are. And for this to happen, we need to move on very quickly to things will help us find ourselves. They say are two ways of looking at a half full glass — half full or half empty. One may indefinitely keep brooding about the amount of liquid one missed out, or consume whatever one’s got and be content, or perhaps while in the process of consuming, also try and look for avenues to refill the glass with whatever quantity of liquid one manages to find on that quest. While the latter two are definitely constructive outcomes, the former is not. Nobody gains anything. That’s what I am talking about. This is nothing that you or I may have never ever thought of. But this is not about that, right!
From where I see, a lot of what’s going on in the world could be a result of the brooding over the half empty glass, and going to the extent of throwing the water away or throwing the glass away, both of which are a massive waste or effort and resources, both being meaningfully injurious, the second even more so. I cannot claim to understand or find a reason behind everything that is happening geo-politically or socio-culturally, but I am not comfortable with the way a lot these problems are being approached. I am not in a position to write detailed essays on these problems, for they are far too complex to be summarised, but let’s just say this — one loses out a lot of oneself when one refuses to see beyond the half empty glass; in the same way, a society / community loses a chance to discover itself /evolve from the literal and figurative rut that finds itself in, into something more meaningful that not only transcends the transience of everything that is world, but also manages to reach far and beyond in redefining what starts becoming consequential for it, if the society / community remains hinged on the emptiness of the glass.
This is not to say that a lot of these problems are not synthetic — in fact almost every single one of them is. We humans are a volatile breed. And we are fully aware. So while we know that we dislike our glasses half empty, we are unscrupulous when it comes to ensuring our glass is not half empty — when presented with the proverbial half empty glass, we somehow manage to steal from someone else, in the process, robbing that someone else of at least half a glass. What we tend to forget is that there happened to be a certain Newton who managed to postulate that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and in the case of humanity, the opposite reaction is more than equal — it has always been two eyes for one. We forget that while some of may be compromising in nature, others are not, which leads to spills, shattering glasses and suppressed identities.
The way we have tried to resolve these issues highlights that we are lacking in compassion, which beggars belief, or rendered inactive by the burden of past mistakes or expected future outcomes. In the process, there is a lot that suffers — humanity to say the least. The below is something that has almost moved me to tears.
This is a 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the rubble of a bombing site. There is no single culprit here. Only the victim. And Omran is more that just a victim. He looks stunned. He is gazing into nothingness as cameras around him whirr. He does not seem flustered, and is surprisingly calm for a 5 year old who is coated in soot, and is bleeding from the head. He looks at the cameras, and looks away. There is an frightening blank space in his eyes. He does not even have gratitude for his saviour. He seems to understand everything that’s going on, but is stunned to find himself as an active player in the scheme of things. And then suddenly, he feels the minor irritation of blood dripping from his forehead and trickling onto his face, disturbing his eyelids in the process. He blinks once, tries to get rid of the irritant, not realising what it is. He feels something hot. Or cold. I can’t even imagine. He feels something wet. He looks at his bloodied hand. There is that infinitesimal part of a second where he looks horrified. He does not know what to do. He seems flustered. But he breaks eye contact with his hand, looks away, and tries to wipe the blood on the chair.
I cannot even imagine to understand how Omran would have been feeling. I cannot even imagine to put myself in his shoes. I cannot even imagine to start saying that I am heartbroken. What I can say is that from the time I started watching the clip to the time it ended, there was smoke in my throat. Nothing else. I choked up. And this is not the clueyness that Tim Urban (Wait But Why) talks about. This is not imagination that fuels my feeling. This is something beyond description. This is visceral. Someone else broke Omran’s glass on his head, and we’re not even getting into whether it had anything in it at all. For all I know, Omran never had anything, not even the glass. Afterall, he is just 5 years old. Syria had become what it is today much earlier.
Mono No Aware. The pathos of things. The transience of Life. I have never felt more insignificant.