Sweet Nothings

Painting: Aatmica Ojha

By Mohamed Shafeeq Karinkurayil

In a moment of togetherness, in a playful hide-and-seek by the curtains as the sliding glass door frosts to the elements outside, a word is out, unthought, unintended, unformed, as if from the netherworld where all words are of the same age. A sweet nothing has left a trace on this moment, making it all the more memorable, but effacing itself in the cacophony of the before and the after. A sweet nothing. What is it to speak those? What is it to pluck by the heart of, to elongate or to crop existing words, to carve in the instant and out of nothing and give rise to new ones which in a fleeting moment is said and then is gone? To speak in sweet nothings is not to mean to speak in words which are light or lovely or affectionate or just plain sweet, but to speak in words yet unformed, to speak in sounds in their plasticity before these are caged in convention. To be never able to hold but to feel words wriggling away like time itself, between one’s lips as it turns out to be. The sweet nothings do not refer to anything than the emotional assertion in the ephemerality of the moment in which it is uttered. They are not etched in any language to be corrupted over time; they don’t gather dust unused or become perverse in the hands of the warped.

By dictating the way to be, meanings enact on words discipline that decides between the exclaimed and the sentenced. And yet words fight these disciplines. Sweet nothings make the fight exceptional. Sweet nothings are an outlier to the language and yet exist within the realms of the intelligible. The signifier of the sweet nothing is not available through convention, it is the sporadic moment of invention itself. The sweet nothing is the desperate breaking away from the clutch of the familiar to express the ineffable moment when the word ceases to be. It is the last shred of rebellion against a system which ossifies and fossilizes all authentic acts. Man conquered nature not just through technology but also through language – through naming, which would then be turned to symbols to be annexed by brands by other words. The sweet nothings are signs that went into hiding in the folds of a universe where words are turned into things and put a price on, given shape and regulated movements. Once in a while these insurgents leave their mark in a faint etching that makes sense only for those who are in the moment. In whispers and coos the word ruptures with the possible. A slip from the anonymous streaks a flash of the inexpressible.

The sweet nothings are the only ones we own. The others were lost to the alien tongue even before our birth. We own them in the silent covenant between the speaker and the listener. The world isn’t listening in those moments. We own them in an act of owning up to them. In the sweet nothings madness becomes a responsible act. The sweet nothings are what we can never own. The boundary fence stares at the protean contours of the jingle jangle. If property is ultimately the basis of civil society, civility breaks down in this act of intimacy. Uncaptured by algorithm, the sweet nothings blend into the bodily memory, at moments they hurt at the betrayal of old trust to never be.

In sweet nothings are the promise to not be done with.

Mohamed Shafeeq Karinkurayil teaches at Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE). Email: shafeeq.k@manipal.edu


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

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