The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you-
Then it will be true…(Langston Hughes, Theme for English B)
When the mini-lorry had gone rocketing past me, with a hundred petrified roosters, straining out of their boxes, croaking against the chronicle of their deaths foretold, I was stepping into a puddle.
The Tulavarasha, “Rains of the sign of the Scale”, or North East Monsoons had drenched me, my black umbrella, my college books, and my ego. Cursing liberally, I looked up and saw that the driver was a teenage girl in two dirty pigtails and grinning too. There was a huge , dark man sitting by her side. The lorry manoevered the curve with another cheeky swerve and three roosters flapped their helpessness to me.
I was awed.
” Who is that girl?’ I asked the lady who was also negotiating the puddle with me. She was dressed in a whitish grey saree that matched the vegetables peeping out from her coirbag.
” The girl…every tuesday takes the slaughter hens to the market in the city..motherless…” she added in details.
My curiosity increased. I respected good drivers. I was awed of fearless drivers. But I got enthralled by the reckless, motherless, girl driver of a lorry carrying foregone roosters.
” Totally fearless” objected the woman with a sniff, and lifting up her sari tip, was soon gone.
Madame lorry driver’s smile stays in my memory- naughty, devilish, I can do it-and you get into the puddle duffer smile.
When I saw her first, she was a pudgy, brownish lady clad in some invisible suit-no one ever acknowledged her presence.
She would come sharp at nine, take out the few pages to be typed and ploddingly, painfully type them out.
“Tut, tch, tch, tut…creaak, tuttuttut, tch…” the Remington would squeak.
I was preparing my trainee report on Electrical gadgets.
The woman in the office, was the only humane contact, if one ignored the manager who was always enveloped in plumes of smoke.
And one rainy day, she offered me fried potatoes and roti.
” You work too hard”, she said kindly.
I protested as expected, but nevertheless blossomed in her praise.
” Eat..my son too, engineer”, she said .
” Really? Where?”
Suddenly, the potato offering fingers wavered, and the eyes became cloudy.
” Father got heart attack.Engineer. I had never gone out of the home to work. Two sons, studying.”
I took the potato fry and munched slowly and got wet in the showers cascading down the mother’s eyes.
” Got this job because of his death. Such a struggle..today both are studying. The elder one is doing engineering.”
I opened my eyes and saw beauty in front of me. The invisible presence radiated with the luminosity of sacrifice, determination, dedication and pure love.
” What a woman you are”, I whispered, grabbing her hand.
She smiled shyly and said, ‘You eat. This I cooked at seven in the morning….boring khana, I know.. I have been making the same nashta for eight years now for myself..need money for the kids”.
Those potatoes were one of the tastiest, most nourishing food I would ever have in my life.
Ophelia : “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”
Laertes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.
(Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Shakespeare)
I read a vernacular poem after Ophelia’s grief.
“In the dark, a mouse teaches its child
Pointing to the Cat.
Great eyesight, my dear, can catch you anytime
Great hearing prowess, my lad,can discover who you are
If your fur scrapes the ground.
A creature of serenity, my child,
Will turn you around with soft paws
The incarnation of patience, my darling,
Will complete the process in four or five hours.
An ocean of compassion, baby,
Shall give us back our life many a time-
Sensitive and artistic, my child,
Shall enjoy the curl of your tail tip too,
No hurry at all, the Lord of Time.”
(Kalpatta Narayanan: The Lord of Time. Translated from Malayalam by Yours Truly)
And reflecting on that wisdom, I read Hamlet’s response to Ophelia’s death…
Hamlet: ” I loved Ophelia.Forty thousand brothers
Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum.What wilt thou do for her?’
King: O, he is mad, Laertes.
Queen: For love of God, forbear him.
And thus, on a rainy Sunday, embraced by the sweet winds and breezes of September, it all adds up for me. Langston Hughes, the screeching roosters, the half burnt potatoes, the columbines, the cat and mouse, and the madness.