He thought the storm had settled down,
And normalcy restored.
Only to discover that turbulence is permanent,
And essential, to some extent.
The lightning struck on an important day.
The day that used to be important.
But not anymore. The day has lost its meaning.
Like so many things around.
It has become a farce.
A fancy painting in a mirage.
The canvas laughed at him.
At his helplessness.
And he kept looking at the illusion.
The storm that was now brewing in the painting.
A storm that he thought had settled down.
The squirrels have deserted the place. The stripes are nowhere to be seen.
The parrots have gone too. Such irritants they were. I liked sparrows more. But they have left as well.
The night has engulfed me like a blanket. Crickets are chirping all around me. They have stayed. They always stay. I wish I was as indifferent as they are.
The night is very still. I look up at the sky. I see the Moon smiling at me.
“You tried your best”, he said to me.
“Will you stay with me?”, I asked
“Till the end”, the moon assured me.
The days have been too cold and lonely. I looked at the fire. This is the last fire I have. Last fire from my last tree.
The tree is gone. Squirrels are not going to come back. Birds don’t want to do anything with me. What could I have done different? I looked at the axe lying next to me. You are the last possession I have, I said. And just like everything else, I will have to let you go too.
I see the flames going up as I put the axe into it. This will last for few minutes before the cold consumes me, I thought. I am going to sleep. May be I will find squirrels in the place I am going to. May be it will be warmer there. Maybe.
I miss my trees. I burnt them all. Could I have done anything different? I do not know.
Passing between lips, an ancestry reminiscent of the chewed betel-nut grandmother transmitted from recesses of her stained teeth onto palm of an unlettered hand And again to my mouth.
Many years later I found myself teaching tradition handed down by word of mouth. A cane basket we put our socks in was stuffed with her stories.
It suddenly became a nest and I flew with unknown birds, giddy and half asleep seeking blankets of cloud in the maize field of the mythical cat who sometimes ploughed the sky.
The cane basket disappeared when a wooden cabinet took up residence in our three-room house. Socks found a nest and I began writing the first few letters of the alphabet.
Myiem, where my ancestors prayed for their deliverance from bitter winter, where they wrestled with earth and stone to script remembrances.
Today, lost and approaching fifty, surrounded and imprisoned by books, I sometimes murmur a prayer: “Grandmother, tell me another story”
– I read this poem in the village of Nongriat, Meghalaya. These words took me back to my village of Ghazipur. The days when stories were an integral part of our life. Why did we stop telling stories?I could not find this poem online. I am looking for this book – Do let me know if you know this book. Thanks.
The old tree and the murky sky
Looked at me and asked the question
Who are you?
Not the name. Everyone knows the name.
Who are you underneath.
Do you know? They asked.
What makes you think I am answerable to you?
What gives you power over me?
The tree. You are old and weak.
You have no time left here.
The sky. It’s approaching twilight.
You will soon disappear into darkness.
Why should I listen to you?
I might be gone, but my seeds will remain.
I will leave behind more than I ever had in this life form, the tree said.
I looked at the sky. The emotionless canvas stretching towards infinity.
The darkness might consume me but I will still fight.
And rise from within it, like a phoenix, the sky chuckled at my contempt.
It was approaching twilight.
The tree already looked dead. The sky sad.
I was angry. My thoughts were not clear.
I could not stand it any more. I reached for the blinds.
One last glimpse out of the window before I shut the view.
There was a lot of movement outside.
Birds were making their way home.
No one would surely want you as their home, I laughed at the tree.
The tree did not respond. It was dead by now.
The only thing I could hear was incessant squawking.
A pandemonium of parrots rushed by, interrupting my moment of victory.
I looked on as they made their way into the holes in that tree.
The tree, which I thought was dead, looked at me and smiled.
Who are you, it asked one last time before falling into darkness.
Do you like when it sparkles, asked the sky.
I looked at the stars as they shone in my eyes.
The sky was looking spectacular.
Darkness did not consume it. Neither did it try to fight darkness.
It accepted the night the way it is and turned it into something beautiful.
My ego could not stand it any longer. I finally pulled the blinds.
The tree was not dead. The sky was not sad.
They were in a state of calm.
A state of calm I always strive to achieve.
Why do they talk to me?
How are they so composed while I am so angry?
What gives them the power to make good of such adversities?
The answers would come, I thought.
But only if I know the right questions to ask.
I could see it now. The reason for my anger. The cause behind my discontent.
It was not the sky. It was not the tree.
It was me asking that question to myself.
Who are you?