When Phatteman sings

Late into the night, as we fight to sleep because we had that extra cup of coffee or that smoke up on the roof for old time’s sake, or because the moon is full, or the last of the monsoon pours and we have just finished a good book, we let Phatteman in. And the words ‘baru’ and ‘hunna’ in the first line of his song Marnu Baru Garho Hunna immediately take advantage of our vulnerability.

It’s not just their colloquialism or folksy vibe, evoking nostalgia for a dying time or informalising death, making it seem less daunting. It’s more about the anticipation that with the repetition of the first line becomes stronger: What could be more difficult than the act of dying? As Phatteman straggles in with the second line, he lays it out—to let love die, to give up on it, to lose it and then forget it. Timro maya marnai sakina.

Any rational, practical person would know that these are blatant lies; no one finds it easier to die than to lose love, proven by the fact that no one dies for love (it is more hurt pride or the fear of loneliness that does it). One goes through life evading death as far as possible, bolting doors shut every night, devising laws to keep potential knife-wielding maniacs at bay or behind bars. Love, on the other hand, comes and goes. Letting it go is hard, definitely, but go it does, with a promise to return. And by the time we’ve been put through two or three of these cycles, we understand it is fanciful, little more than an illusion that is here today, gone tomorrow, nowhere near as definitive as death. How then can the unreal be more difficult than the real?

Because the realisation of love as fanciful strikes in retrospect. Because an army of our past stands behind the cynicism. Each person who has been on the verge of losing love, or in the midst of its death—either by choice or circumstance—knows how excruciating the pain can be, how a jump off the balcony can seem more welcoming. And for the period of five minutes, Phatteman helps us lose our hard-earned realism, resurrecting the desire to experience that unreal. With his voice imbued with sincerity, the long pulls and drops at the right moment, the plaintive music in the background, the sad strains of the flute bringing out raw emotions and wistfulness for the warmth love once radiated.

Back in the throes of romanticism, with hindsight at our service, we cannot help but agree, “Yes, Phatteman, we hear you. There are times when you wish your own death over that of love. We understand that the monsoon ends with September, the flowers wilt and black clouds vanish, but since your lover had been a constant throughout, you don’t want it to end with her; for seasons come around, she might not. Who then will validate those memories you created together? Who will help you distinguish fact from fiction? Go ahead and plead for that last chance, unapologetic of the desire to latch on to something you love.”

None of this feels cheesy. Such is the power of Phatteman’s voice and Yadav Kharel’s lyrics. They blame no one for the death of love; they just accept it and yet are unwilling to accept it at the same time, looking instead to exaggerate a little to lessen the pain of finality. Because when we die, that’s that; when love dies, the ashes remain warm forever. The cinders beneath stay aglow and we live to add more to them. The response to and popularity of the song are a testimony to that. We possess the amazing ability to remember fondly even moments of separation—that particular seat on the bus where we turned away from the passengers and let tears roll down our face, that old car turning around the corner for the last time, that final glance we threw to take in a figure standing in the distance. Those were tough moments. Tougher is it to fathom them.

Just as I was articulating this truth, Phatteman died of lung cancer, leaving behind this song and his own memories of love. He is beyond experiencing the pangs of finality now, but those of us living will continue, with his song as a sleep aid.

Published: 21-09-2013, The Kathmandu Post