हम तो बस पेशी भुगताने आए हैं हम ने क्या लेना देना है रक़्स-ए-सबा से उस मेले से जिस मेले में दस्तावेज़ पर दस्तख़तों की पहली फ़स्ल बिछी थी और ज़माना दो फ़रसंग की ना-हमवार मसाफ़त पर हैरान खड़ा था हम ने क्या लेना देना है चाँद से चाँद की बुढ़िया और उस के चर्ख़े से उस आँसू से जो टपका तो हिज्र हमारी उम्रों के हल्क़े में अव्वल अव्वल नक़्श हुआ न हस्ती पर ज़ीना ज़ीना मैली आँखों की सैराबी न दुनिया की भीड़ में साँसें लेता वादा याद दिलाने आए हैं हम तो बस पेशी भुगताने आए हैं
Stargazing with the kid. The skies haven’t been this clear in decades. Coming at a terrible cost, the strange mercies in our life and times.
🌿 I cleaned the ephemera of his pockets and wallets and office bags, and collected in neat pouches all the things he had put in one place, things now awaiting his return.
Years’ worth of lists and bills and receipts and tickets and coins, to-do lists from the 90s, handwritten grocery lists made by me and my sister when we were tiny.
Thank you notes, birthday wishes. Flowers and leaves pressed between pages.
Passport size photos of him from different eras, a certain fierceness in eyes fighting against daily life stresses.
A large wad of business cards, people he met over the years―among them traders of pots and pans and directors of companies, bankers and artists, an aspiring singer, and plumbers and a magician. Telephone diaries, from decades ago. A key (to which lock I do not know). A rudraksh bead, and three other totems from even those faiths which he did not even practice.
The contents of a man’s pockets simultaneously speak and conceal so much about him.
He was ALL THIS, but he was not ALL this.
I picked the things and unfolded them and looked at them and sorted them. Bills went in one file he had begun putting them in, tickets in the other. A packet each for the memorabilia of our last two travels together. All his handwritten bits of paper, smoothened and pressed in place. As carefully as he always did. As carefully as he would have done, if life had given him time.
I wish I could show him my handiwork. I think he would have liked it.
(In picture: A page from Dad’s 1984 diary, a day of a 150 km journey on a scooter with my mom, and a perhaps a song lyric they listened to on the way.)
मुझे मालूम था, तुम मर नहीं सकते
तुम्हारी मौत की सच्ची खबर
जिसने उड़ाई थी, वो झूठा था,
वो तुम कब थे?
कोई सूखा हुआ पत्ता, हवा में गिर के टूटा था।
तुम्हारे मंज़रों में कैद हैं अब तक
मैं जो भी देखता हूँ, सोचता हूँ
वो, वही है
जो तुम्हारी नेक-नामी और बद-नामी की दुनिया थी।
कहीं कुछ भी नहीं बदला,
तुम्हारे हाथ मेरी उंगलियों में सांस लेते हैं,
मैं लिखने के लिये जब भी कागज कलम उठाता हूँ,
तुम्हें बैठा हुआ मैं अपनी कुर्सी में पाता हूँ
मेरी आवाज़ में छुपकर तुम्हारा ज़ेहन रहता है,
मेरी बीमारियों में तुम मेरी लाचारियों में तुम।
तुम्हारी कब्र पर जिसने तुम्हारा नाम लिखा है,
वो झूठा है, वो झूठा है, वो झूठा है,
तुम्हारी कब्र में मैं दफ़न, तुम मुझमें ज़िन्दा हो,
कभी फुरसत मिले तो फ़ातेहा पढ़ने चले आना।
My grandmother takes tender care of her glasses, and her attention to them encompasses, by extension, all the other pairs of spectacles in the house―she’s always concerned one of them is going to fall or break or otherwise meet a terrible fate right in front of her eyes.
Her glasses are the same ones that my grandfather used to wear. He is no more now. She insists that the spectacles suit her perfectly, and need no change of lenses (It has been six years). They are the only personal object of his that she currently has. (He never was the kind of person to care about owning too many things anyway.) She panics when the plastic case is out of sight, and never forgets to keep them in place after she is done with the newspaper.
It is wondrous to see how fond she is of them. After so many decades of marriage, do people take on each-other’s qualities? Do they begin to share absolutely everything, including viewpoints and reading glasses?
It is a fascinating thing to witness, this melding of identity.
How I suddenly miss the carefreeness of childhood, having caught up with the day, only tomorrow’s schoolwork to worry about; the total freedom of losing oneself in a good book. That sense of safety and nothing going wrong.
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
‘Romeo Juliet and Darkness’, by Jan Otčenášek, 1958.
Hindi translation by Nirmal Verma, 1964.
Beautiful and brutal story set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, though calling it by these tropes seems kind of reductive.
While the title and the backdrop didn’t leave any room for spoilers and/or surprises, hope is a tenacious thing that clings to even the slightest turn of phrase, and the end, when it came, was still heartbreaking.
There were several interesting ways the writer uses language, like using opposite verbs for usual actions to convey the claustrophobia. Such as, light is usually described as spreading, but here in the small room in the story, रोशनी ‘सिमट आई’. Same for describing smiles.
Despite being a translation, it reads very much like Nirmal Verma himself. The people in the story might as well be alternative universe versions of his characters in ‘उनके कमरे’, only this time they have their room but things are not quite the way they imagined.
Go back. Do what Walcott recommends – give your heart back to yourself. Do to the darkness what a seed knows best; eat it whole, grow. Mouth what you once wrote: Sticks & stones will hone my bones. Be whittled. Soap scrapped into sculpture by a patient prisoner. The fine art of embroidered bones. Invite the elephant into the room. Teach it how to pronounce copacetic. Look up at the fan again, not to weigh its verdure against the lapses of your own body but to admire the physics that powers it. Look at how it dances with all this enduring invisibility. Don’t noose the shoelaces, let them stay in the mud-slapped sneakers; let them remind you of how someday you want your fingers this entwined in a transcendent hand and the signature of any detritus won’t define who you belong to & with. Sit and touch the chartreuse giggle of grass peeking from the callused knuckles of this cracked asphalt. Let it teach you how to unbury yourself. Let it whisper the reverse of ya’burnee in the tired conch of your ear. Find the sea again. Ask her to love you again. She has never failed you till now, she has stored all your fleeting afterbirths of all your centuries in the jewelbox of her fist. Stand before her & let her remind you how you are the switchblade of lightning that shivers the silver mirror of water to the ambered dust of sands. Know that suffering beyond pain is powerless, is parasitic. Sprinkle some rock salt on that leech.Take a pair of scissors but this time don’t split your skin; find a long red thread, cut it into half & fling it outside the window you wanted to catapult from. Stare at a starling murmuration over the skies of Palestine. Stare at it with intent. Let it speak to you with the symmetry of its vignettes. Find the first letter of your name in this tango of bird shapes. Pet a dog. Any dog. Pet a pit bull. Build up the day when you can go to a zoo & ask if you can pet a snake. This is a lesson in tender tension. Memorize that tao of the Audi ad – All conditions are perfect conditions. Decide what is this condition perfect for. Act. Write poems again. Don’t ever let him take that away from you. Don’t be ashamed of the poems you wrote about him. Claim back the alchemy of every word you were arted into. Invoke through poetry. Call upon your sisters, your serpent goddesses, your guardian paladins. Call Calliope, Coatlicue, Athena. Watch the owl nest in the mango tree the next morning. What antediluvian prophesies are sleeping inside you? What will it take to kindle their veins? Seek the books you stashed at the back of those sandalwood shelves. Thumb through the dog-eared pages. Search through the debris of memory to find just a single diamond of logic you can smuggle across to your consciousness. Repeat Ozick – Trust the afterward. Trust what comes next. Trust your survival. Watch those wildlife documentaries. It is always the female of the species that can predict the oncoming natural disasters. This struggle is power. This makes a whole from your halves. This reminds you never to dichotomize your sense of self at the knife of another’s deceit. You know about the monarch butterflies of Yucatan, don’t you? You have come here through generations of women like yourself; women with clayen pitchers & bronzed children on their hips, women like your mother who sat alone in a pregnancy ward, feet heavier than church bells, your grandmother – 15 when married, 18, illiterate with 2 children, 25 -a student of herbal medicine.You have flown through epochs of migratory trance, the ache of wintered wings, their chorus warming your chrysalis. Respect their lives. Respect yours. Pin their photographs on the soft board. Watch them as they watch over you. Bow your head to what is whispering la vida! la vida! in quiet corridors of your mind. Etymologies are a parade of cliche but sometimes we need this ready entourage to rearrange our sadness. Find yours. For example, anger – from old norse “angr”. Meaning : grief. You want to leave this body? Do so. Leave the anger of this body. Leave its lies. Leave its violent hiss that tells you to distrust your gut. Replace its staccato with symphonies.Maybe Tchaikovsky’s Sixth (‘Pathetique’) or Mahler’s Symphony No 1. Bathe in music. Make it a menage-a-trois with Mos Def & Rakim. Go to the rooftop on a new moon night – Fire up your own Candomblé. Come back. Strip yourself. Let your eye travel the whole country of your body. This is the alphabet of desire. Pick the places you have hidden from yourself. Show them light. Show them grace. All civilizations are cradled in ruins. Bless your blisters, your shanty towns of mute scars. Pull back the tarpaulin off this skid row. These are the places you have best survived in. These are the spots you were strengthened in. These folded, cratered corners are telling you what Rilke knew – how beautiful the terror of enduring; how wild the appetite of angels. Go forward. Touch your past. Then let it go. It can’t call out. It has no voice, only echoes. Close the door. There is nothing to be scared of. Mark a spot – in a garden, a cathedral, a beach. Dare to meet yourself there. Daily. Ask how you have been. Show yourself at least a quarter of the kindness you lavish on those who wound you without a fear of repercussions. Loss is a weed of language. Find a scythe. Don’t keep your apologies hungry. Don’t let anyone reduce you to the sum of your mistakes. Refrain from bisecting yourself into the martyr/victim binary. You are neither. You are both. You are so much more. Break often – not like porcelain, but like waves. Make multiples out of your singularity. Bind the rains to your tongue. Find that place in your mouth where a storm darkens. Stand still while this hell handles you. Trust me, you have begun to scare the fire out of its throat. Everything good, kind & compassionate is waiting for you. Within you. Order a large pizza. Go back to Walcott. Sit. Feast on your life.