She remembers it as a large airy room with ample sunlight splashing the pearl-white walls with gold, the windows covered with flower laden trellises. Looking in from the future after so many seasons of rain and shine, birth and death, it appears like a gently bobbing assemblage of artefacts, notions, nostalgia and barely recalled experiences. Secure yet fleeting. Rock solid yet on the verge of floating away … a shikara of treasured longings.
It seems so still and serene, a study in light and architecture. The books fill an entire wall, a set of carved Kashmiri tables with roses on them posed strikingly against the stern writing desk and plain wooden chair. There is an assemblage of ordinary furniture mostly in brown and time worn, an excess of magazines strewn all around, her mother’s ‘Woman & Home’ and father’s ‘Illustrated Weekly, Reader’s Digest, Desh of course, devoured by both of them… alongside piles of Archie, Tin Tin, Asterix and Biggles. Their own well-thumbed story books were in another room. Here all the classics reigned, along with Father’s scholarly scientific tomes.
The windows reflected silhouettes from time to time, she imagined children looking in. At times grown-ups too. Some squinted and sometimes the children waved to my mother, who got up and opened the door. Hours of happy browsing through books, smiles on eager faces…she could see Ma making orange squash.
The faces were not the ones we knew. They were wild, unkempt, the kind not ‘allowed in’. Outside the window across the huge garden of roses, jasmine, colourful bougainville and frangipani, miles and miles away, there were stretches of unbelievable darkness where no one was visible. Hundreds and thousands of miles of such invisible tracts made of invisible people, momentarily came into view, to be swallowed in the mist in seconds. The windows with flower laden trellises and learned tomes yearned for a touch too.
In the difficult year when the world went topsy turvy before grinding to a lugubrious halt, spring had been subdued. She couldn’t glimpse the roses easily even if they were there, the garden had filled with weeds. Mali was not to be seen. From her vantage point in the future, safe in her cocoon of arrival, she saw only desolate faces against the window, and the glass seemed streaked, drops rushing down in rivulets; she watched mute. The still life of an unmoving statue.
Somewhere, something had sparked off that cruel summer – images of migrants walking home, a family of young ones and elders trudging over burning asphalt, trains overflowing with uncared for people desperately trying to reach ‘home.’
A dam burst and a flock of hitherto ‘unseeing-eyed’ citizens gathered to provide relief, and be of help. It was the hour of awakening. Many windows outside which tracts of invisibility reigned, suddenly flung open wide to let in the people. The hour of visibility, of acceptance, of knowing, was upon us, and we couldn’t be more grateful (or more guilt ridden).
It had been hard earned, like every other worthwhile experience. The journey through a ghostly tunnel that had tried to devour everything in sight.
A hundred years ago, a Nobel laureate poet living through war and an outbreak of the deathly Spanish flu in which his wife almost died; had written the most famous of poems – ‘The second coming’, a line from which runs :
‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’,
W.B.Yeats had said history moves in two-thousand-year cycles, and that the age of Christ is over, now is the time of the desert beast…
He had written the poem in an atmosphere of gloom with a war on, and a pandemic to boot.
Is history moving in hundred-year cycles too?
Smeetha Bhoumik is a poet, artist, founding editor – Yugen Quest Review, and founder of the WE literary community (2016). Author of two poetry collections, she is Chief Editor of Equiverse Space – A Sound Home in Words (2018), and Host ‘Writing As Bridges’, a WE panel at Asia Pacific Writers & Translators (APWT), Bangalore, 2022. She facilitates poetry at #CeWoPoWriMoWE. Her favourite poetic form is the sestina.
As Founder – WE, she has helped establish several poetry awards, including the WE Kamala Das Poetry Award.
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