Father chases me with a stick
I run to grandmother in the garden
I sob into her warm clothes
She hands me over to father
Father dies in a car crash
Father dies in pain
I hear this in the garden
Now I know Pain
Why did you take him away
When I did your Sunday School work !?
Why did you fail me
When I prayed to you each day ?!
Something went missing
Around my 16th year
Something flew away
I don’t know where it’s fled
We went out for a drive yesterday and stopping by a Mawiong shop – for cigarettes – I saw again the once-familiar blue fluorescence, emitted by one of those bulbs that is meant to attract insects. I remembered then my father’s mosquito zapper, which shone similarly. I remembered fiddling with it after his funeral. I then became morose with these thoughts. It’s funny how the mind works. How it can leave behind the chatter and wander off into a blue aura. How it can colour memory and animate the dead. Yet it is also the thing that reminds you that none of its figments are real.
How can it do this? Teleporting me to my father’s death-bedside, while my friends drink in the car. How can it show me these things now? The image of his body in a suit – eyes shut – with some hideous cotton up his nose. It is still, seen through curtains, which I dare not part. It is still, seen in no one’s company but my own. It is an image, which has lost some of its details over the years but not its power. It still breaks my heart.
Slowly, I’ve seen the unruly co-opted –
The locality boys I was afraid of –
The boys who smoked bidis
Under the bamboo groves;
They are now buried under
Employment, ”adulthood” and Church.
Why was I so scared of these men
Who are now as docile as hens?
These men aren’t so tough
They could have used that boldness, that wit, that rough.
Now, all they can do is mouth psalms and anecdotes
About great, ‘white’ men
Who lived over there, back then;
Men like Abe Lincoln and Churchill –
Monuments you can no longer interrogate –
Because they’ve changed to clean marble
And that’s what the ”world” wants.
It also wants lads like these,
To exhaust their power and youth,
To rebel and wear down, to become depressed;
To come back like some biblical son,
Work a decent job, rear a decent family;
Then die, decently;
How I hate them for giving up
But they don’t know this!
( Or, Sensations I Can Never Relive Again Because The Initial Impressions Have Faded)
Coming home on a half day and it’s raining outside. Throwing my uniform about and running into the blankets from under whose safe warmth I could watch cartoons. Listening to raindrops hit my tin roof and nodding off.
Yellow sunlight falling on the wall of a government colony house, with a dust road running along side it. Motes floating and colliding in the summer heat of Assam. My cousin’s beautiful face peeking over the top.
Bathing with my siblings and fighting for a spot in front of the fire. Spitting at it to hear the sizzle and being scolded for it. Forced to apply the sticky glycerin and scolded for trying to drink it. Feeling my PJs warm my winter skin. Fighting with my siblings over the videogame console.
Sitting in the church basement ensconced in the thick bright red jacket, which mama bought for me from Bangladesh. The other kids smell of bidis and make faces at me. Sinking further into the material.
The glow of winter night fires in the family room. Memories of wood and coal like smoke. Poking the flames incessantly to command gas out of stone like a blowtorch. Everyone crowding the fireplace. The cats enjoy the embers.
What we have, dear friends, is poetry. Only we can use it. We haven’t guns nor knives, bombs nor tanks; no flags to flaunt nor conch to blow;
When the close minded and hate-filled attempt it, it sounds so forced. That is because they are not really free; they are bound still, anchored still, still fearful of change, still clinging to ruin:
For if they were free they would know Poetry. They would lose all their scales and shed away their old skins to gain soft but powerful wings. To fan minds, raise gales. To soar, to soar.
An elder gets into the cab, hauling her heavy bag into it. I move aside, making room for her. She rummages through it and brings out coins for the fare. I’m always drawn to such old people, who still have to worry about livelihood and cannot afford to rest in old-age leisure like many others.
-Mei, phin leit shaei?
-Polo, nga sah ha Polo
And we start conversing. She tells me about her being punished by the Governor’s gardener when she and her friends used to steal sohkhlur from there as children. How they would say sorry one day and be back at it the next. She chuckles.
She goes on about her father’s house which was made of thatch in Laban and how she misses it.
As we drive past Secretariat, she expresses her amazement that all those buildings could have come up in, what was once, thick forestland. She manages to draw a map of Shillong in every sentence and I try to envision all of it in my head.
In Keating Road, a beggar man comes up to our car and asks for “tea money”. She explains to him that she has no money either in proper Hindi. As he moves sadly away to the next car, she heaves a heavy sigh, looking back at him.
I pay for her and she is so grateful it startles me. I can not help tearing up as we separate and I thank her profusely, which must have startled her in turn.
She was just telling her story.
I have come to realise that such profound warmth and empathy for fellow sufferers is not alien to the poor and as I walked through the detritus of PB- that place with its SUV driving crooks and self-indulgent brats- I could not help but tremble as I thought of that old soul, walking down Jail Road, trying to navigate home.
It is our failure and not your own.
We killed you long before your death;
We killed you with expectation of high offices, high salaries, high horses.
We drowned you in the pool of Narcissus, we suffocated you in our charnel house –
And we call this ‘cowardly’ and the ‘easy way out’ after we throttled every single dream;
Took every single idea, dropped it on its head, shattered it.
You swore a bucolic covenant, in dark holy taverns (places more honest than churches, mosques and temples), where many souls have come and gone.
It brought you to people like yourself, made you friends too; until it turned on you,
until it too started squeezing out your sanity.
And all that while, we never stopped sneering.
After this suffocation, we wanted you to forget the happiness of childhood impossibilities, the mirth of being free and wanted you to get a job, a uniform, a routine, an order –
And we call such things ‘success’ and we will never accept anything else other than this.
All souls return to the One, they say. So be it, you are there too then. You have broken none of the laws of passage, you have defied no dogma. No gates are closed to you now.