Do You See?
I called my mother as usual this evening, a tad late, on return from a luncheon theatre session in Stirling town. It was night time in Kolkata, five and some hours being the difference. She was in the movie theatre with my brother and his family and had no time to speak to me! They were watching some recently released Bengali comedy flick. Good god. But I’m happy that she’s getting out a little now, enjoying life out of the four walls every now and then. After my father passed away in December 2010, she had been through difficult phases, emotionally as well as physically.
And when I had called her last evening and expressed my haplessness about this consumerist festival called Mothers Day, she almost pooh-poohed it. “I’ve always been your mother. One day and a card doesn’t do it anyway. Go, write.”
Period. That’s my mom.
Parentheses: the luncheon play was at The Junk Rooms cafe-bar-restaurant. Here’s a photo from their website:
Any how, all this resulted in some associative thinking of course. So, here’s a very curious “mother” poem by Kynpham S. Nongkynrih, an Indian poet from Meghalaya state in the Northeast. Also, read the discussion around it in Boston Review:
Nongkynrih’s “Blasphemous Lines for Mother”, for example, describes the poet’s childhood in rural Cherrapunji (or in Khasi, Sohra) and draws on Khasi idioms that sound shocking in English…
See for yourself:
BLASPHEMOUS LINES FOR MOTHER – by Kynpham S. Nongkynrih
R. K. Narayan is dead.
Tonight he sits pensive
in his bamboo chair
talking of a very rare soul.
Suddenly I’m seized by a desire
to vivisect my own very rare soul
from end to end.
Let me begin by saying my mother is more
plain-dealing, more truth-telling than Narayan’s.
My mother is retired, toothless, diabetic and bedevilled
by headaches and a blinding cataract. In short,
she is a cantankerous old woman.
I remember the time when she was a cantankerous
young woman. When she took an afternoon nap,
she was tigerish: “You sons of a vagina!” she
would snarl, “you won’t even let me rest for a moment,
sons of a fiend! Come here sons of a beast! If I
get you I’ll lame you! I’ll maim you! Sons
of a louse! You feed on the flesh that breeds you!
Make a noise again when I sleep and I’ll thrash you
till you howl like a dog! You irresponsible nitwits!
how will I play the numbers if I don’t get a good
dream? How will I feed you, sons of a lowbred?
And this fiery salvo would come hurtling
with wooden stools, iron tongs and bronze
blowers, as we ran for our lives and she
gave chase with canes and firewood,
her hair flying loose, her eyes inflamed
and her tongue lashing with a mad rage.
And we being but children would never
learn anything except becoming experts
at dodging her unconventional weapons.
I remember how, having no daughter, she would
make me wash her blood-stained rags. Refusal
was out of the question. So, always I would pick
them with sticks and pestle them in an old iron bucket
till the water cleared. But mind you, all this on the sly.
Seeing me not using my hands would be lethal.
Those days in Cherra we never knew what
a toilet was. We never had a septic tank
or a service latrine. We simply did our job
in our sacred groves. But sometimes
my mother would do her job in a trash can.
Then it would fall on me to ferry the cargo
to a sacred grove. Refusal was out
of the question. So, always I would sprinkle
ash upon it, top it with betel-nut peels
and things and do my best to avoid nosy
neighbours and playmates. Those who
have seen Kamla Hasan in Pushpak
will understand my stratagems.
I could cite a thousand and one things
to demonstrate how cantankerously
rare my mother is. And I decline
to tell you anything good about her.
I’m not a Narayan and I decline
to tell you how she suffered when
my bucolic father was alive; or how
she suffered when he died; or how
she suffered rearing her two sons
and her dead sister’s toddlers
in the proper way. There’s only one
thing commendable I will admit about her:
if she had married again and not been
the cantankerous woman that she is,
I probably would not be standing
here reading this poem today.
In other news, I cooked chicken tonight. Simple, with carrots, potatoes and Herbes de Provence. You find the latter in the campus grocery store. No kidding, I tell you!