I live a strange world where the earth itself seems to disappear. Now and then I hear a bird call, a song that only birds of the Monsoon Jungles sing.
I look about for this phantom and realise that tree lines themselves are hard to find. Now and then my attention surfaces like driftwood on the night sea when I see the damp edges of world. Frogs waylay my path refusing to move out of the way of my scooter, giant snails appear in strange places – absurdly delicate targets in a precarious world.
The only conscious glimpses I steal are on rare days when I’m over the crowded lines of buildings; terraces only intrude on neighbours in this city. On rare rooftops visits I look for the moon. They say that in old Sumerian myths Nanna, the Moon God was the one who birthed the Sun God, Shamash. The reason for this unusual pre-eminence was that in the old days on the Mesopotamian marshes hunter-gathers looked to the Moon more often than they did to the Sun. It was only with sedentary lives that the Sun grew more important.
I think of how wondrously different it must have been to live your life by the Moon, to wander along the Mountain ranges and river banks of the Tigris with Moonlight as a calendar, compass and God. Often I look up in surprised to see that the moon isn’t there, that it has slipped by so quickly while city life seems so frozen in concrete sameness. These years have all felt the same, lost in the slow stream of my own thoughts and the city, I can hardly imagine the Moon transforming so quickly.
In the empty liberation that builds cities there are no more butterflies for caterpillars to turn into, perhaps no cocoons either. No wonder then that the ever changing Moon is difficult to see when the sky is overcast and blotted out. With no cycles of the Moon to sway the tide there is only still water.
I heard a bird of the sea, so far inland
A bird of the mountains has followed me
To this desolate mainland, where we live
As though lost to islands deep in the Ocean
On the day of the lunar eclipse a morning bird
Called to me in the evening, but was nowhere
Lost to the sight as it sang it’s song of delight
Over the black Pontic sea the waves rolled without purpose, pushing in every direction like the chaotic hair of a fallen God – his face serene in death and his expression offering no notes on his death. A current pushes in a sinister direction, blood emanating from this Northern Colossus.
Under a bloody sunset there were a few witnesses, all quiet before the sight of a raging sea so sudden from the peaceful shore. Darkness was soon upon the scattered figures, soon only shadows in the moonlight swaying gently fearful of even a word but too subdued to turn away, to turn together. Among the ruins of a great death they were lost to any time, only shepherds without their flocks anxious and dwarfed by trees, intruders among bushes.
The face of the Colossus drew no breath but the raging sea drew gasps so deep the earth might give away. In the storm noise the quiet thoughts of the witnesses gathered on the Titan who had dealt the killing blow, the great axe that struck it, the hand that still quivered as it readied the next draw, as the drums of war carried across the steppe. The emerging Gigantomachy drew battle-lines across mountains, the earth roaring as her Children arose to over-throw the old order. The earth hungers for blood as the new dawn, a crimson dawn, is birthed under the cover of night, its champions are hungry and aged, monstrously shaped and many horned but so often wronged by the smooth marble of the old order.
The sunken stream lays across the land like a trench
In my dreams I see it, the old snail’s den zigzaging
Beneath the treeline there is only throttled sunlight
Sometimes the tadpoles and coin sized fish see snakes
And the rusty riverbed holds roting mangoes and red seeds
On it’s fringes weeds and moss are quartered
All year round the tree trunks and river side drip water
Sweating in the heat, living, breathing, calling in my dreams
From the long, long river, a world of struggle
From falling deep into the bitterest insomnia my words all muddled
Empty was the hazy night and the water in one long line
Empty of all life, the biting pain of the metal was all mine
In my palm was the skeleton key
In earshot was the rhyme of honeybees
Why would they call so deep into the night
Why did I not know to ask, as I walked into the archaic rite
Upon me befell the lurking beast common to all labyrinths
Upon me feel the fate of all tragedies, heroic strength
Caste aside by fate’s many threads
Caste blind into the silence of the many pathway’s of the afterlife – dead.
I recently found an old copy of the book “Sepia Leaves” in my office and was pleasantly surprised by what a great read it was.
The back of the book invokes a onerous atmosphere with a few references to the “Nehruvian” ideal of India, which I thought was a little disconnected from the topic of mental illness. The book is an autobiographyical retelling of the authors experiences growing up with his Schizophrenic mother.
However both the author and his mother are not the most intriguing characters though they drive much of what is described. The book lives up to this great expectation set by it’s back cover, by being a potrait of an newly independent country with it’s setting in factory towns and amongst a great range of people from the lower and middle classes.
His father in many ways is a deeply fascinating, meek and private man who is a perfect recipient for the nation’s propaganda about itself. He lionises Gandhi and struggles to live up to the ideal as the many strains and limits of what the middle classes of the day can aspire to rein him in. I am also tempted to call him a memeber of the labouring classes not merely because of his back breaking employment in the mining industry but because of his work ethos and the way his progress is stimied by unscrupulous middlemen native to all third world projects who so callously oversee exploitation in service of the national project and their own advancement.
You’ll have to read between the lines for this of course, because his father’s main labour that occupies him is to raise a child and look after his unwell wife with the limits and lack of understanding that everyone of the that time seems to embody. He is rather masterfully exposed in his weaknesses, his ambitions and limits. Yet he is also shockingly adacious, with his many acts of defiance and toughness. He is also unusually open minded for that day and age and for this day and age.
The friends and their families the author describes along the retelling of his childhood are also deeply fascinating. In a private age where most recollections are about as colourful as black and white photos, the authors memories give a silent generation very human colours of anger, lust, ignorance and discontent. He even manages to reach further back and hints in a grasping but effective way at the effect that the world wars and service to the British crown had on his mother’s father.
This frozen shell shock embodied in his grandfather’s anger, his tough and inaccessible exterior is in many ways what forges his mother’s condition; with the rest of the patriarch’s family embodying the unfortunate discretion or indifferent attitude towards the mother leaving her with very little in the way of help when she might have needed it the most.
His father is admirably kind in certain ways. The kindest and most patient of them all however is his maid, who becomes a substitute mother, sister and at one point an object of desire. Remember, this is after all a mining town, which employes in it’s official registers the middle classes but is permitted only by the labour of the lower classes. His maid embodies another cruel fact of our national project since she is among the many displaced tribal peoples of the region who regularly lose the most and gain the littlest.
Her story has many tragedies and many exploiters which I shall refrain from detailing because I think it would be a little distasteful to summarise it without context and also because I hate reviews that bother with discription. If you want to know what happens read the dam book. The book is most like a key-hole into the private lives of people in the past when reading about the maids and newspaper man. The stories the author mentions capture the rough open mindedness and kindness you don’t usually see. It’s rather different from bourgeois sensibilities.
There are many other aspects worth mentioning, such as the overt political dissatisfaction that captures the mining town since the book is set duringthe emergency or the nature of the boarding schools of yore but since they’re a bit more obvious I shall refrain from describing them.
I also found that the writing and narrative really came into it’s own towards the end of the book. It was a rewarding read that I’d recommend to anyone who wants a truthful potrait of mental illness and the struggles of caring for a mentally ill person.
I woke up two mornings with a poem and it was perfect
Line after line without defect
Last night it was because I was upset
But this time the poem was set
And it would hit you with a magic spell effect
My stupid expectations met as only sorcery can let
But out the window it went
I feel like we fought even though we’ve not
And I get that you’re the one I got
But it still hurts a lot when I want a lot and you’re just not
I wish we had fought so I could say I deserved what I got
I guess I gotta let these things wait till we’ve actually met
So maybe this fracture can set and I can stop feeling so adolescent
I wanna scream that’s not what I meant
This really does feel a lot like embarrassment
Can I tell you that I don’t know you but I want you even if you’re a stranger I’ve only just met
It’s not charming or disarming to meet a pretty girl and to look for a outlet
But I’m going to tell you the truth that I like you in the pure stupid way of an adolescent
That’s what I meant even if this poem isn’t perfect
what a misty day, my reflection the only one
who I can console, shining in my soup bowl
still sweet, though I’ve lost my way
my siesta with an old photograph
a stone face, was the flower blossoming
your warm breath, under snow
from flower to moss, a chilling moon
what did you drink?
round and round…
went the glass bottle
windblown in the grove
soft drizzle and still alone
A red dragonfly
on the port facing Buddha
resting on his heart
when problems arise
it grows warm-hearted
The temple doors shut
But oil lamps dancing
A Jackdaw sings
Too deep into the night
Crow, call again!
Hellfire on the streets
Far beyond what we can see
Over the smoke and moonlight
Past the Temple door
Crow, call again!