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The Singer and Madness of the Song

by Prakash Kona

For my mother

Her son. My mother.
– Carlos Fuentes, Christopher Unborn

In a 1960s Hindi movie Raat aur Din
Nargis, the actress
In the role of a schizophrenic
in search of her girlhood
That passed by faster than the flutter of a butterfly’s wings.
A photograph on the bookshelf: my parents:
My mother: a young woman with dark hair
earrings I vaguely remember
Vermilion on her forehead
appearing as a dot in black in the photograph.
My father: when I look at his image in the mirror
opposite the book shelf
I see a thin smile on his lips
But otherwise a serious man
who believed that life had a purpose.

I vaguely remember:

Earrings: a girl dressed for her wedding,
What thoughts run through her imagination
On the day yellow flowers are not
in the vase beside the window,
Her hair strange with all those flowers,
The ears beneath all the yellow,
He looks longingly at the rings,
How those ears bloom the first thing to see
when he wakes
The first morning of the first night,
the undoing of rings
Undone, they have the complexion of petals,
I miss those rings,
A small instant of eternity clinging to her ears,
Beautiful death has given those rings
to my mother
That she may walk seven circles
with my father,
He thought he knew the way
but followed the course of the ring
In the eyes of her beside him
in the black and white photograph.

In her eyes I found what he was like:

His past was given to a romantic brooding,
The hero was there and in love,
the heroism that succeeded in failing
In that tragic moment when love from a mercenary
turned into word;
Words could break his heart easily
As a pebble set still waters in motion,
words from a song,
So far they seem now that I try to remember,
As if ghosts on a white screen.
In the end words made no difference, he realized,
lying on a hospital bed,
All that remained was the new moon on its way
to fill the empty sky.

The darkest moment of night is the beginning of day:

February 8, 1999: his mind was elsewhere: my father
dreamt of cranes;
His thoughts were thoughts of brown, rocky hills
contrasting with green and uneven plains,
Rivers that dominate valleys,
The village of his childhood,
Mud houses with oil lamps,
Full-moon nights that cover fields
in a silver bed sheet,
His ancient fear of ghosts,
How a dog chased him one day,
How his mother tied him to a tree,
His own father who would have been proud
to see his grandchildren,
Who died early and left a mark in my father’s mind.

What’s in a date: can the water of your eyes
wet the moment that is past
If you are the past
Every tear a wasted one
every birthday a celebration of death;
I hear the train lunging forward like a wolf
the cosmos spinning like a top
I wake up nervous in the middle of night
that I was a child
Who could never count numbers
without a feeling that I was entering a labyrinth
Those nightmares of numbers in my father’s arms.

He was a young man and not my father then:

I remember a picture of him in the role of Krishna with a flute,
If he was not attached to the woman that is my mother
or took no delight in his children
How could he have transcended the limits of body,
How else could he have discovered who he was
before he entered the world;
A teacher for the most part of his life,
He took pride in the idea of a father
And dreaded the thought of getting old
but, so what
Made him different to the world passing by,
Except that the world had no choice but to pass by.

Winter nights are so quiet that you’re touched
by warmth of the table lamp,
The Milky Way stretching like an elastic band
One end in the sky and another in the breast,
I dream and my father is in my dreams,
Neither man nor spirit,
Only a trace of sadness at the heart of memory.

The beginning of summer:
Morning: following a breakfast
And tea as usual with milk (a colonial legacy),
With a pinkish red shirt and brown trousers,
He went out into the world that his soul
was familiar with,
As if walking in a haze,
The man decided to be a child once again.
I walked down the streets from Bazar Ghat to Charminar,
A route that he used for the most part of his life,
The streets were still there,
streams of hectic faces encountering
unknown worlds,
the traffic unruly as always,
bicycles, buses, auto rickshaws,
Streets with a symphony of their own;
Hawkers, shops, vegetable vendors,
colorful saris hanging outside, shoes,
dust and sunlight,
but my father,
He left.

Copyright © 2005 by Prakash Kona

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