Saturday, 31 January 2009

'Entre labios y labios hay ciudades'

'Between lips and lips there are cities'
PABLO NERUDA, from 'Alianza'

Last Saturday by now I was in Kota (Rajasthan) or near it. Hurtling along in the 2450 Goa Sampark Kranti I breezed down to Goa to take advantage of the 26 Jan holiday which fell obligingly on a Monday. I wanted some time to myself and looked forward to meeting absolute strangers who would help me get a bead on my life - if only to appreciate what I already have.

John (42)* who worked in Haryana, was coming down to Goa for a few days to spend time with his wife. 'I want to come back to Goa,' he said, 'and start something in IT- that's what my training is in.' Raghav (35) from Meerut was a happy-go-lucky sort who didn't know where he wanted to get off. Just married, he generously proferred his gobi-parathas when I was tucking into my dinner. Many munches later he counselled matter-of-factly - when I discussed a proposal of someone aged 37 -'You can enjoy.' 'Himmate marda / Mad-d-de Khuda'- he quoted in Urdu to sum up his life (Tr. If a man has courage, God stands by him). Raghav finally got off at Vasai Road at 3 am but not before rousing me out of my sleep to say he was going. Finally.

Bernice (29) from Tasmania (Australia) was hooked on India and wanted to spend a month at Harambol beach in Goa. I can still see her holding her head in her hands at the window of the sleeper class, unable to bear the sound of the train thundering along on the rails. Who moved me the most was Ajay Kumar (17) a poor boy stricken with polio in both legs. Ajay was from Motia, Gaya in Bihar. He was going down to Calangute beach to beg. From his 'earnings' he sent Rs 400 back home every month to pay the school fees for his younger brother. Lately he had taken a loan of Rs 5000 to install a water connection in his house at Motia. He had tried to make his handicapped person card but was cheated every time by touts who took sums from him and disappeared. Ajay had leapt into the TT's seat by the door when it was unoccupied and stayed there till he got off at Thivim. He travelled like this surviving on the largesse of pantry attendants who gave him a scrap of food now and then.

On Republic Day 26 Jan 2009 I was travelling back to Delhi this time via Pune by bus. Mr Sholapure (45) from Nasik occupied the seat next to mine. Things not having turned out the way I had thought they would, I found myself sharing my experiences with him. In the privacy of the night as the bus shifted gears on the ghat road we traversed the four ashramas* or stages of life in Hindu philosophy; the Bhagvad Gita; questions of Dharma; the emptiness of consumerism; Gandhiji's vision for rural self-employment; and the activities of self-sustaining khadi weaving groups with which he was working. 'Society is your family. Help those whom you can with your resources,' he said widening the narrow definition of 'family.'
'Write poetry, as that is the talent God has given you,' he said. When I mentioned my contribution in this world would be my book of poems, he countered saying 'Don't say "I wrote this book," for the grace to write it came from God.' 'In times of stress, relax doing yoga, listening to music, meditating.' I was touched by the simplicity of his life and his commitment to the upliftment of society. On the mahatma's 61st death anniversary yesterday India has need for his ideals now more than ever.
As I ambled across the tarmac to board Indigo to Delhi I was lost in my thoughts. Almost at the last moment as it were I saw a wheelchair being pushed coming towards us from the aircraft which had just landed. 'Posh life' I thought, 'to be driven in a wheelchair.' When we were alongside I made it a point to peep at the person who commanded this honour. The crumpled body, eyes closed pointing skyward revealed a young boy who was a spastic. He was being pushed cheerfully, if somewhat breathlessly, by a lady (42) who did not seem of Indian origin. Yes I had seen this face before. I think she works with spastic children and accompanies them from different cities to Pune. So mindful is she of her charges, that she refuses any assistance from the airport staff to trundle her labour of love. Through his silent lips the spastic seems to say, 'Welcome to my world.'

Between lips and lips are cities. Lips can be used to talk, to eat, kiss, or be silent in eloquence. If two souls communicate through their lips an imprint is left on our lives. The imprint could also be through song and the lips of the singer, moving you to an experience outside yourself in ex-stasis (Greek) or 'ecstacy.' Whatever the medium, the experience colours your being and transforms you. To those who come along our way, for those who transform us with their words and their lips - we stand indebted. Because to them and the fleeting moments we spend with them life itself becomes worth living:
Entre labios y labios hay ciudades / Between lips and lips there are cities
de gran ceniza e humeda cimera / of great ash and moist summit
gotas de cuando y como / drops of when and how
indefinidas circulaciones: / vague comings and goings:
Entre labios y labios como por una costa / Between lips and lips as along a shore
de arena y vidrio, pasa el viento / of sand and glass, the wind passes.
(Trans. W S Merwin)
*All ages cited from conjecture.
* The four ashramas according to ancient Hindu philosophy are 1. Brahmacharya ashrama - the stage of being a student 2. Grihasta ashrama - the stage of being a householder 3. Vanaprashta ashrama - the stage of retiring inward to spiritual practice 4. Sanyasa ashrama - the stage of renunciation of worldly practices
This article was published with the title 'Between Lips and Lips there are Cities' in the 'Herald2day' 4 colour supplement of Herald newspaper published from Panjim, Goa on Monday, 9 February 2009, page 14. The accompanying visual showed a lone vertical railway track reaching into the horizon flanked by an avenue of foliage.


Anonymous said...

hmm...wonderful food for thought this labial city scape! this post is surely neruda in prose

Deepa Baruah said...

hey Brian, peeped into your post...made good reading. Love the way you use your words--very economical yet rich in texture. Keep writing!
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