Monday, June 11, 2007

Mother Alagammal, continued

Word came at last:
he was alive.
What did the details matter!?
Even if it had been confirmed
he was now a deer –
but definitely himself,
her irreplaceable, most lovely
Venkat –
what was some fur,
some different ears?
Who cared if he now ate leaves!
She would take him
in any form, any condition,
and rejoice forever.

The relief was swift and deep;
life turned from an unrelenting hell
to light. How beautiful
the kitchen now. Milk,
pulses, potatoes –
all ordinary things returned
(for a time)
to what they once had been.
The door turned back into a door
instead of an opening through which
an endless procession
of nonVenkats came and left.
How many times had her heart
stopped briefly when a pair of feet
had sounded so familiar
but proved, yet again,
to be the wrong feet.

And the sons of others …
their eyes lost their cruel reminder.
How unbearable it had been
to see other sons glancing
with unquestioned love
at their mothers,
worse still to see other sons
taking their mothers so for granted
that they disobeyed them, laughed,
then forgave and were forgiven
all with the ease
of some waves breaking on a shore.
Those sons from other houses!

Impossible to turn away
from her own other sons
but what about the days
when the awful question arose
in her mind:
what if Nagaswami had been the one
to disappear,
or Nagasundaram? And Venkat
Her love for each
was so full
yet different
that this question twisted
a knife in the place
where they all had grown.
Alamelu was another matter.
Alagammal could press
the girl-child’s head to her heart
and feel some distant comfort.
All boys were the absence
Of Venkat.

But now! The streets were full
of the beauty
of other sons. Her eyes could relax
and allow them in. Even
the Nagas
could be pressed more lovingly
to take a second helping
of iddlies.

The note -- worn soft
and giving out at the creases
from careful and repeated scrutiny
in the early days of Venkat’s
vanishing, then put away
as hope faded -- now
she took it out
and reweighed every word
against the news: her boy
a sadhu at Tiruvannamalai?
Incredulity threatened
to undermine her relief.
The words seemed more improbable
than the earlier rumour
that he had joined a drama troupe
at Tiruvananthapuram.
She could almost imagine him
a tumbler in some circus, the crowd
entranced with his astonishing agility,
but a sadhu? A famous one? Could this
be made to fit
with the strange undercurrents
of his brief note?
So many times
she had dipped
into those currents
longing to be swept
in the right direction,
the Venkat direction,
but the more she had read the note
the more it had seemed to point
everywhere and nowhere.

For almost two years now
her limbs had longed for action,
to pick up speed
rushing toward her darling,
(sometimes in dreams
she loosened her sari
and ran like a gazelle
to the ends of the country
and found him. In these dreams
his hair shone and his eyes
softened with welcome. Before
she got a chance to ask him “why?”
she would wake up
to the dark, Venkatless house
and shrink back
into her grief which would sharpen further
as his dream form dissolved.)

Awake, it had seemed impossible
to begin a journey
when her first steps
were as likely to take her
away from Venkat
as toward.

Trace this out? Since when
had her quiet Venkat
known himself as this?

Just saying his name
made her feel the air
was being sucked from her lungs,
leaving her thrown,
a fish that would never quite die,
on the dusty shore
of a river that only sustained
other mother fish. But why could Venkat
not say his own name? Edging dangerously close
to the truth, Alagammal thought in
he did not disappear from himself!!!
so why so hard
for both of us
to say his name?

And what was this about
a virtuous enterprise?
What enterprise could her son,
so dreamy and distracted
in those days before he vanished,
possibly undertake? Enterprise!
If he had come back by dinner time
Nagaswami would have teased him about that
for weeks.
But hundreds of dinner times came
and went, his place empty.

At the back of her throat
a wail lived, held back,
a distraught tiger in a cage
she kept well locked
knowing that wail, if allowed out
would grow to swallow
the family, the village,
the world, until all that remained
was the sound of loss.
She fed it: images
of bathing the grubby-kneed toddler
Venkateswara, pouring water
over his sweet shape
till he was fresh and clean again,
and the memory of smells:
his delicious hair when the sun
came up on the morning
of his birth. Her throat ached
from the effort
of holding back the wail.

But now her voice was strong
and clear.
Nelliapa, she said,
Go and bring him back.


Anonymous said...

YOur MOther is beautiful. You seem to have become Her.

IN bhagavan
a devotee

ramanamayi said...

Thank you. :-)

I was not too sure about posting the Mother poem, but if you enjoyed it, it was worth it.