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Far away from maddening meadows of work, my restless heart beats behind them – Books, those little cages under the frail flutter of leaves of the tree, swaying at the terrace. Books are like a soothing treatment to our wounds – those felt but unseen insults and injuries we sustain, and the pain  understood by no one…I can feel the cool breeze as I run away…is there anything to run from at all? It’s the image of me, occasionally touching the intrusive arms crossing the distances to embrace me. Dad and mom are sitting in front of the TV. There is my book corner and that armchair where I curl. Nevertheless, I always wanted a space where I cannot recall those voices that would play on often, and where this continual wondering about the worldly matters, heartbeats, and devastatingly disturbing groupism humans engage themselves in vanish, at a hush! Both well-aware and extensively traveled, people still seek comfort within their group, its folklore, its dress code, its language and its escapades. I, as a stranger to this group, am thinking about how exciting this trip to be, or all lonesome and silent, or find a hand into which I could slip my fingers People we met never cease to amaze us and we just do not know until we find out. If a stranger knocks at the door, the group in the couch rustles unsettled with the arrival of new a pair of fingers and feet, new mouth…new lines. Why do people nurture so much insecurity? Why can’t they just stand on a firmer ground? There is a tapping at the door…. “What really happened”. Those leaves stare at me, their eyes heavy with sleep, as I look back at them at a point in the middle of space briefly. I feel like talking to them. I feel like joining the noisy bunch of crickets and bugs enjoying a get together in a tiny bush on the other side of the road. I draw a long breath just as the sky is getting ready for my voice to pervade through…a curtain of transparency falls across my body, as I lay down on the dewy cold floor and close my eyes…a poem I would love to read out or a story I would like to tell my tree and those tiny little bodies stir within its branches…a restless heart singing softly, a bedtime story to those lovely creatures which are full of songs and talking and laughter…my voice swings those words and their rhythm like walking on the deserted road lit by the moon, curling around and humming to the trees… Tonight, I read this…Kitchen : Tabish Khair

My mother had three stoves in her kitchen:
Electric, gas and coal. The last one
Was no token to tradition but saviour
That bore the cross of municipal failures,
Things like strikes, power cuts. And then,
For baking those littis only the poor ate –
The Hindu poor, that is – we had one
Of bricks outside fuelled by cowdung cakes.
You may call this a sort of infinity, but we
Knew that as the point where parallel lines meet.

The one time, though, my father – not poor,
But too Muslim to call himself rich – served
His polished colleagues the littis we made
On cowdung fuel (the only way, he said)
Spoons, forks and knives paused in mid-air,
Hindu-Muslims sat united round the curved
Marble-limned table in their polite refusal
to take another helping. The hard oval
Littis were left for me and my brother to break
And eat. More than family pride was at stake.

Always recall, Papa laughed in kitchen,
On occassions like these three stories.
The one about Ghalib who, when asked by the king
The best way to eat mangoes, replied: with juice dripping
Down your sleeves of silk. And the one about the cousin
Of your grandfather who strode up and resigned
From his job on being ordered by his superior,
An Angrez, to skip lunch. The third is similar,
So I shall skip it, provided the moral’s understood:
No Mallik ever compromises on his food.

He did not tell the story that was our favourite.
It had been told, just once, by grandmother:
How Papa, aged ten or twelve, desperate
And alone, had attacked a lurking hyena,
To save a smaller child. A few hundred feet
From here, she had said. But when my brother
And I were growing up, the vegetation in our wide
Compound attracted nothing more wild
Than hares. They had Papa’s protection, though
When he was away we took pot-shots at crows.

Gifting the ones we hit to our ancient tribal gardener,
Whose grandson looked deeply offended when, on a visit,
We gave him that delicacy of his tribe – a crow.
He stood as proud as us with our littis, and said no.
Later that evening, my usually-silent mother
Took us to task for failing to notice the naked hurt
Of centuries he had discarded in donning our old shirts.
What we took as so light, dancing on breezy lines
Strung outside the kitchen, hung from his thin shoulders
Full of meanings we had lost and heavy as a boulder.

What made Ammi angry were not the words we lacked
to pick up the torn thread of a boy’s story
And embroider it into the quilt of our different days.
She knew our stories were words and words are ways
By which we live, are brooms of twigs, are burlap sacks
Of rice winnowed by hand. However, the subtle art
Of our dances where all gestures begin from the heart
Is what she would not have me or my brother forget.
To that we owe the lines that connect, though I failed
To remember this when I shouted ’emotional blackmail’.

Stories are pasts we might lose and the future
As we would have it remember us. Old servants
Sitting on stools or the top of the flight of five
Steps leading to the kitchen, I remember knives
Poised in their hands, mixie, quern, muller,
The money they borrowed, the advice they lent,
My parents’ ability to understand what they said
About their parallel worlds in their own dialect.
You may call that point where lines meet a poem;
I recall it simply as my mother’s kitchen...
(C) Tabish Khair 2000 From the collection “Where Parallel Lines Meet” by Tabish Khair, Viking, Penguin Books India. Tabish Khair is one of the leading poets in English in India. He is a professor of English Literature at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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