“AND SO BEING YOUNG AND DIPPED IN FOLLY, I FELL IN LOVE WITH MELANCHOLY” – EDGAR ALLAN POE
At the heart of all the great artists and deep thinkers is a quintessential understanding of melancholy, which arises out of legions of experiences and abandonments. They say sadness could possibly be the most woeful form of human existence. Those lonely places one didn’t even know existed within start to become a home – the more you travel the outer world, inside is where you start to nest. Melancholy can be termed as the inner journey of a wanderer landing a place of its own. It is for someone who bowed out of the set life of social barriers to find an adventure exclusive to them. Someone who believes strongly in experiencing the edge of extension, stretching the compass of their own knowledge. It is like touching the melancholy of a sunset – the accepted beauty of letting the after-burn settle in, the feeling of autumn that nature has wildered into the aftermath of darkness, being able to understand the potency of an extract which is so strong yet so pure and cogent for anyone to taste it in its very raw form. Melancholy is not merely attached to the remembrance of the past. It is constantly being within, foraging the emotional pain that can only be beautifully endured and lived by someone who has the relish for it. So many people are shut up tight inside themselves, like locked boxes. They may have decided never to open up, keeping everyone away from unfurling quite wonderfully if given a chance. They are melodies unsung, and some sung out so loud that they are eternally engraved, deep down. Each one of us today, inherently, lives in a life that has touched some benignity in sad verity. It’s just a feeling of thoughtful acknowledgment.
“No, nothing of nothing
No! I don’t feel sorry about anything
Not the good things, people have done to me
Not the bad things, it’s all the same to me! “
Hear her clear, she was born to happen to beauty and terror. People tell tales about her survival and her glory, and her depth in music was often autobiographical. She specialised in chansons and torch ballads about love, loss, and sorrow. This is none other than the French sensation of the 1940s – Edith Piaf.
The beginning of her poignant story was when she was abandoned by her mother as a child, after which she went to live with her maternal grandmother who ran a brothel in a small village in France called Bernay Normandy. A group of ‘filles de joie’ looked after her there, and growing up amongst these 10 poor girls having a dark life of struggles and poverty, she, later on, admitted that here was where her weakness for men got seeded. She experienced blindness at the age of 7 for a short while, and the kind women looking after her pooled their money from selling their skin in order to get her treated. These scarlet women prayed for Edith every day and took her on a pilgrimage honouring Saint Therese of Lisieux. Astoundingly, on this journey, Edith was somehow blessed with the miracle of healing. At the age of 14, she was pulled out from her grandmother’s bordello by her father who had returned from World War ll. Edith joined her father in his acrobatic performances on the street all over France to earn their daily bread – this is when she began to sing in public. Singing on the streets of France, earning money for herself, and performing acrobatic acts enabled her to finally rent her own little place. At 17, she fell in love and bore a child, but the struggles of raising a child at such a young age, in addition to having no knowledge about it, just like her mother, was a very difficult time for Edith. Sadly, she ended up losing her little daughter to a great illness.
Piaf got discovered at Pigalle in Paris by the owner of a nightclub off Champs-Élysées who persuaded her to sing commercially and named her “La Mome Piaf” meaning “The Waif Sparrow” or “The Little Sparrow”. Even with a really short height yet the longest pitch and strong tremulo in her voice, she commanded all the big stage performances effortlessly. Eventually, her nightclub gigs led to her first two records being produced in 1935.
“The little black dress” that Edith always wore became her trademark and she was soon esteemed as one of the biggest singers and artists in France. Although she got into many controversial involvements – both professionally and personally – she kept singing and writing her own song lyrics, contributing greatly towards breaking all the narratives of the cabaret genre. Falling in love, unfortunately, didn’t work in her favour in life, yet she achieved phenomenal success. Her listeners raved about the gravity in her voice that somewhere, consistently, sought love in the darkness, in spite of her being the most popular entertainer of France. Her signature song called “La Vie En Rose” was voted for the Grammy Hall of Fame awards in 1998. With a roaring career, Piaf achieved a lot of respect and recognition. But alcohol abuse alongside copious amounts of medications initially triggered arthritis and insomnia, and later a series of car accidents only exacerbated her addictions and pain. She went through many surgeries for treating her stomach ulcers, deteriorating liver, and needed regular blood transfusions. Her life had become totally dependent on nursing care. She died at the age of 47 due to liver failure at her villa in Grasse on the French Riviera, but she has left behind some deeply created, eternal melancholic melodies for people to remember.
The French media adored Edith throughout all her performances, and her friends formed associations on her name followed by the inauguration of the Place of Edith Piaf in Belleville. A Soviet astronomer also named a small planet in her honor – 3772 Piaf. In Paris, a two-room museum is dedicated to her on 5, Rue Crespin du Gast, called Musee Edith Piaf. It’s ever so ironic that despite leaving so much for the world to cherish, she herself lived a life of loneliness and pain.
Twisting the words of Charles Dickens, one can interpret Edith Piaf’s life like it was the best life with an extreme graph of the worst living in it, the age of wisdom coming from the age of foolishness. The epoch of belief and incredulity. Living a season of light and carrying darkness within. Sensing the spring of hope in a winter of despair. As they say, a wounded deer leaps the highest, but for how long, no one knows. Some endure it longer than others or heal from the pain. Some sharpen their craft or get lost in the wilderness. Some wait for the storm to pass and miss the chance of dancing in the rain. There’s an unequivocal sense of melancholy that thrives in each one’s life. It falls like rain, suddenly from heaven’s weeping clouds. It fosters the droop-headed flowers of the gloomy grass in the backyard of your quiet, hidden home and hides green hills in an April shroud. It’s not an intoxication by madness, it’s just being in love with that sadness. And compatibility enclosed by one’s own company grows along beside the adversity of it.
THE BOND BETWEEN MELANCHOLY AND ARTISTRY
But it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in the most humorous sadness. – William Shakespeare
My heart and mind yearned to pour out words in a poetic demeanour from time to time. Most of my writing would be dark, and extremely callous. I profoundly wrote poetry and read all kinds of Hindi, mainly Urdu poems from my school’s library – from Kaifi Azmi – Ghalib to Amrita Pritam. Nearly 100 poetries were committed to paper this way in a blend of Hindi and Urdu, alongside dedicatedly learning Hindi from my Literature teacher in school. Somehow, I ended up sharing whatever was penned down, waking up early in the mornings or even in the middle of the night at times. A confession emerged that it was a necessity to write, just like one physically throws up after over-consuming beyond capacity. My literature teacher remarked on those poems being indeed dark, yet beautifully portraying true love and loss of humanity. Turned out, I could never write in a happy state. The only time words flew out was if something of deep sadness occurred around, something that wasn’t all “buds blooming”. And that’s somewhat been the summary of life. Many times, things just don’t look the same as they seem to the rest of the world, and it’s ok to not be attached to the labels of being “Oh so happening…!” or “Oh so everyone’s favourite” ever…! Whether for people or things, it starts becoming banal when superficial compression starts mocking the true essence of life. Tedious are those tasks to hold on to or things that one simply cannot relate to. Sturdy is something that comes from the depths of scuffles and has lived life amidst a brawl of bravery. Ally with and stay connected to someone who would go far to stretch the horizon of existence, who has touched pain and life till the deepest core. “Oh so vanilla…!” is certainly not the flavour of life, no matter how sugarcoated and shiny it is. Belonging to the intensity of humanity with a higher purpose, the fervour of the one who sees beyond the mockery, and lives the pain of the hurdles of cunning, draining validations through the holy melancholy of dark academia – these are the ones who will recognise the gleaming omphalos at the end of this tunnel. Someone who could touch the icy chill of that pale skin of autumn, just to turn it into the warmth of summer, truly finds its beauty of transformation. He’s the one who masters the anatomy of superfluity and disables pretence. It’s like the kind of sadness which is intangible, the presence of an ache where one won’t need to pinpoint because they are the carrier of the very same within.
“At the end of the day, I want to be able to fall asleep knowing that our lives are intertwined in a way only we can understand …” – Edith Piaf