Charmolypi, Saudade & The Maalai Neram (மாலை நேரம்) Connection

Date: Mar 8, 2019

Great music has a tendency to leave an indelible impression on us. They reflexively remind us of a person, place, memory, event, or feeling. After 5+ years (conservative estimate), I listened to this mesmerizing song again. It hit me right in the feels :) It spawned a lot of threads involving different, but related thoughts and memories. I've listed them as separate paragraphs and tied them all together in the end. Bear with my wordy account. I hope it's worth your while :)

Sometime back in 2011/2012, during the first year of my undergrad, I was introduced to this song by my then roommate Naresh Balaji. I vaguely remember Visventh being surprised when I didn't know about this song. Apparently this was a part of the original soundtrack of the cult classic Aayirathil Oruvan. Unfortunately, Selvaraghavan couldn't find a place for this song in the movie. Truth be told, I couldn't fully appreciate the song then. It was just a sad, melodious song to my ears. I had it in my phone for a few years until I upgraded to a better phone. Slowly, it just slipped my mind.

Time flew by. My friends and I parted ways in the hopes of forging a better future for ourselves. We embarked on a long, winding, never-ending journey. It was all about chasing dreams. It's almost 4 years since we started on the path. Almost all of us are in different cities, trying to build a life worth living. I'm sure we all mean to stay in touch, but it's been getting harder and harder. Everyone has their own inner demons and everyday hassles to tackle. Life can be pretty exhausting I guess. But overall, I think we've put in significant effort to ensure that we don't drift apart.

My YouTube recommendations have been lit af recently. It's ridiculously good. I came across this song on my list of recommendations this morning. I couldn't help but smile involuntarily. I clicked the link only to be instantly transported to a different time and place. I was effortlessly reliving those memories. There I was again, 8 years back in Trichy, in a dusty, crowded little room (#33) in the Coral hostel at NIT Trichy. I could see myself - a skinny, pimply kid with glasses and awkward facial hair joking around with the best set of friends a guy could ask for. We didn't have a lot of money or resources, but there was no shortage of passion and warm camaraderie. We had big dreams back then :)

It's amazing when I think about how much has changed over the years. If I remember correctly, Naresh and I were the only 2 students in our hostel wing to own a touch phone in 2011! Maybe a few others did, but I'm willing to bet that it was less than 10. My parents bought me a cute little Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 as a reward for making it into NIT. Naresh had a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic which was all the rage back then. We used to browse for pictures and download songs over a spotty Airtel 2G network. The hostel lacked WiFi, very few of us owned laptops, so watching a movie was a communal ritual. A large group would sit together to watch a movie chosen from a hard drive consisting of a large selection of pirated English and Tamil movies. It was also a time of brutal power cuts in Trichy that could last up to 12hrs. There was hardly any water suppy, but mosquitoes and countless insects were having a field day on campus. A pig sty would've been a befitting description for our hostels. Broken dorm toilet doors, dilapidated buildings and water filters, dusty grounds, cows sauntering around the huge campus, blistering heat, all this feels like a painful, distant memory. Yet, it encompasses some of the best times of my life.

Now how is this song related to any of my ramblings? Well, for some reason, I remembered Naresh Balaji's Nokia 5800 as soon as I heard this song. After all, that was the first time I heard it. I've changed quite a bit over 8 years. I've had my own struggles and failures. A boy who was once a naive, optimistic, idealist has turned into a jaded, cautiously optimistic, realist. I finally have the maturity to truly appreciate the song. The bittersweet symphony of the song is just magical. Andrea's Anglo-Indian pronunciation of Tamil lyrics adds a certain charm to the song. All I could really do is sit in front of a lake or a river, listen to this song on loop and take a nice, long stroll through memory lane. As soon as I finished listening to this song, I sent a link to Naresh asking if he remembered the song. In his trademark style, he replied - "Ha ha! Yeah da. அது ஒரு காலம்" :)

This song evokes a two distinct sets of emotions related to - (i) the actual tone and lyrics of the song (ii) my previous life in Trichy. A major chunk of what I've been talking about so far is accurately captured by the Portugese word Saudade:

This word is starting to grow on me :) "Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return" [sic]. To me (in this context), the faded, yet golden memories of youth is what Saudade is all about. It's finally sinking in that my friends and I are chasing different things in life and that our paths may not overlap as much as it used to. The following threads (not an exhaustive list) can be categorized under Saudade:

  • my longing for things past
  • my gratitude for all the experiences (good and bad) that've made me who I am today
  • a bittersweet smile when looking back at the unaltered past, at the idealism and folly of youth
  • a realization that those carefree, happy, good old days are gone

But Saudade isn't what the song is about. Saudade is a side-effect of my adulthood. It's a reminder that I'm held accountable for my actions and have an enormous burden of responsibility. If I have to describe the way this song (by itself) makes me feel in one word, it has to be the greek word Charmolypi.

A beautiful word isn't it. It's perfect. It captures so many nuanced emotions. Charmolypi is a mixed feeling of happiness, while being sad. A phrase in the Tamil lyric - "இது சோகம் ஆனால் ஒரு சுகம்", is the perfect translation of Charmolypi in my opinion (the primary meaning). Of course, with a song like this, it's inevitable that we'd go into memories involving exes and all the lovely folks who were once a huge part of our lives. But I won't talk about those cherished memories here. Some things after all are still meant to be private :) In hindsight, there were so many mistakes I could have easily avoided. There's regret and repentance associated with those memories. I've been horrified at my self-destructive streaks just for the sake of short-term relief. As misguided as it was then, those experiences made me a better person towards the end. Listen to this song, enjoy it. If this is your kind of music, I'm sure it'd evoke a motley of emotions. Hopefully, you have the time and patience to decipher your own thoughts and feelings. Have a wonderful day :)

P.S: Huge thanks to Keerthana Manivannan for adding nuance to my post! She pointed out that I probably meant Saudade instead of Charmolypi. She's absolutely right based on the context of the original post. I initially wrote the post partly as an effort to better understand my emotions. Conflicting thoughts and feelings are quite hard for me to decode. I believe I was experiencing a strange mix Saudade and Charmolypi while listening to the song. Saudade when it comes to my high-school and undergrad friendships, Charmolypi when I recollect some bittersweet memories the song evokes :)