Weltschmerz / Arathi Devandran

I turned a year older a few days ago. Weeks before the event, as the year was approaching its end, I found myself facing a particularly heavy bout of weltschmerz. 

[A beautiful word, this. German, meaning a particular sense of world-weariness and heaviness. For all that the English language has to offer the more prosaic, it remains woefully inadequate in expressing specific, acute emotion.]

The ending of time, the ending of anything usually comes with weltschmerz. Nostalgia, for all that was and that has seen its fulfilment. Regret, for all that could have been and was never explored. Satisfaction, of course, for all that did and has and will be. A soft sense of hope, because in every ending there is beginning. Like the pearl white dove that flies out from the hellish depths of Pandora’s box. 

The medicine for my weltschmerz is writing. Putting pen to paper (always, pen to paper), being patient enough so that the thoughts come – slower, clearer, more fully formed. And this clarity, though sometimes only a brief respite, is like the lifting of heavy clouds on a sullen day. There is light. It is enough. 

And so in this way, page by page, I wrote my way out of 2018 and into 2019. Out of feelings and fears and thoughts and musings, into declarations and intentions and resolutions and newness. 

I wrote my way out of weltschmerz. 


Language is a strange thing. I function in a language that is not mine. I function so well with it (being able to go about my daily activities, consuming literature that never has and never will be mine etc) that I often forget that it is a strange and foreign tongue that never quite fits well in my mouth. Even now, I am awkwardly trying to explain this strangeness, because really, this language does not belong to me. I was not born into it. It is borrowed, a language of convenience. A quick fix for a deeper conundrum that involves identity. 

Who am I? Where do I belong? What is mine? Will I do better with what is mine? Truly, with such a large living creature like language, can it ever truly be tamed, be mine? 

[A tinge of weltschmerz in these thoughts]

But then I remember too, that sometimes the love of the borrowed can be a great and wonderous thing. Like the love we have for friends, a family found. Or how we move to a different part of the world and create a whole new life, a life that may not be the one that we began with, but that works excellently for a middle, a loved life. 

I read a lot in my borrowed language. At one point, I  only read in my borrowed language. Original texts that stemmed from times before mine, text written by men and women so different from me (and there, there was the allure). Then I read texts that were written in every other language that my borrowed language stole and made it its own. Another strange period but perhaps an illuminating one. My borrowed language struggled so hard. It was awkward and inadequate. It tried to capture things it didn’t know. Most times it failed. 

That may be when I loved this language the most. Finally, a sentiment I could understand. Unbelonging. Trying so hard to get it right but not quite succeeding. I commiserated with my borrowed language. We became better friends. I became more forgiving of it. I became more forgiving of myself for loving something that wasn’t quite mine and yet, one that meant so much. 

I continued to write. I continued to read. The weltschmerz stayed away. There was light. 


In 2019, I want to try something different. In 2019, I want to go back to the tongue of my mother. I want to understand the language I was born into more, perhaps, with a naivete that eventually, I will understand myself more. 

At the end of 2019, the weltschmerz may well return. Perhaps this time, I will have two languages to save myself with. My mother’s. And, what I’m slowly starting to believe, my own. 

Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry www.miffalicious.com

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