Sunday, 17 January 2010
Happy Birthday Mum
I am in Bhopal you know, and I am so happy the 2001 Bhopal-New Delhi Shatabdi is delayed. By 4 hours. The fog is terrible, they say, and even today, newspapers reported a train accident at Tundla in UP. Better safe than sorry, I say. Can't blame the railways for taking precautions. Actually they did not have a choice in this case since the Shatabdi from New Delhi has not yet come in. They hope that will happen around 6 p.m. after which we get to leave on the same train back to Delhi at 6.30 p.m.
You used to say, make a wish when you visit a church for the first time. So I did, when I went for Sunday Mass at the elegant cathedral of St Francis of Assisi, in Jinsi, old Bhopal. Parish priest Fr Arulswamy who said the 8.30 Hindi Mass, was a beacon of inspiration singing the hymns with great gusto. His homily on the Gospel reading of Jesus changing the water into wine -at the nudging of his mother -uplifted us all.
I thought back at the times when you used to nudge me mum, and I used to make a fuss. Or I just didn't like to be told what to do. But you always saw ahead and when I followed your advice I came out against all odds. I always remember how you urged me to do my PhD when I wanted to call it day after my MPhil. Thank you mum.
Looking at the riot of mauve bougainvilleae on the hedge at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, overlooking the 'bada talab' [big lake] I felt your presence in the quiet space. Designed by Charles Correa, the entire open landscape gives you a feeling of serenity. You used to take my lessons in school and spellings too. I always used to get 'knife' wrong (and I'm not sure the spelling of bouganvilleae is right either).
What actually brought me to Bhopal was to see a play here as part of the National School of Drama's 12th Bharat Rang Mahotsav / Theatre Utsav. I had seen two plays in Delhi, viz. Spinal cord (Malayalam), and an Afghan puppet show in Dari, in Delhi. Last evening I saw a Kannada interpretation of Euripides Medea with my poet friend Rajkumar Keswani. I had last seen him at the Noor-us-Sabah hotel by the lake years back. Sitting in our lofty balcony we beheld the rain dance on the lake while we shared poetry from my debut volume, tucking into pakoras and hot tea.
You used to be enthralled by plays, theatre and musical performances - the Paranjoti choir - during your working life in Bombay (It's Mumbai now). I too love going for these events. It makes life worthwihile. Even if I have to trot around the country - which I do anyway - to write my poems for my second book I've called A Peace of India - Poems in Transit.
Dad is fine. Touch wood he is keeping good health. He reminded me on my way to the paleolithic rock paintings at Bhimbetka yesterday, that it was your birthday today. Could I forget, mum?
I feel, as I did when you chose to leave, that I hardly knew you. In the everyday business of living, schooling, brushing my teeth, and cutting the mango pieces for miscut pickle, or rolling out the kal-kals while making the Christmas sweets, time was ticking away. We never believed there could be life without you. Which is why I wanted to be buried with you. Life had lost all meaning.
By Your Side
In the rustle of the breeze
I feel your caress
In the tremor of the leaves
I hear you speak mum.
Call me to your side
When you will
And I shall bring for you
Carnations of russet.
Around me life goes on as usual. But after all these years the trace of grief remains. The embers of absence. The voice in the distance.
But I know, we believe, as an article of faith, that we will be with you in time. We belong to the Lord and we are just travellers here. In the peace of St Francis of Assisi I felt your presence and through this day ofentimes. I know you are with us, with me guiding us, leading us, being with us. At every turn, strangers - like the one who led me to this cafe near the railway station in Bhopal - are always ready to minister to your cause.
In the devotion to Mary help of Christians, at Don Bosco, Matunga, I feel Mother Mary's great power at work. You work through her. Going for the novena Mass on Sat 2 Jan at 7.30 a.m. it seemed nothing had changed since the time I was a boarder in the boarding school at Don Bosco's. I left by the special Rajdhani that night from Bombay Central making a pitch for life hoping and asking for your guidance.
On this your special day mum, I ask God to bless you abundantly. Shine on us like the star did for the Magi. Guide us, protect us and make us know your way.
Sitting in the rose garden as Mrs Keswani brought steaming cups of tea and glucose biscuits, we shared our poems. The previous night for dinner, she laid out a sumptuous fare of methi-sabji, aloo-mutter, hot pakoras with chutney and hot phulkas from the kitchen. Bless her.
by Rajkumar Keswani
Chup mat raho
Oonhe baccho mein baant lo.
Being witness to dreams
Be not silent.
Share them with children.
[Translated from the original in Hindi by Brian Mendonca)
'By your Side' published in Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa by Brian Mendonca, (Self-published, New Delhi 2006, reprint 2007)
'Sapne' from Saatva Darwaja / The Seventh Door>Picture courtesy: Gond tribal painting at http://www.shalincraft-india[dot]com/folkart/gond/gond6.html