Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Back at Write...Edit...Publish...and back at home


Time to get writing again!




Three ways of looking...


It is time to head back to Write...Edit...Publish... for the October chapter and this is the much anticipated Halloween month. There's a choice of two prompts, both utterly yum! I am going with the Constellations prompt, there are enough scary stories in my life just now to want to write more :) The scariest thing in the world in uncertainty, not knowing what the outcome of any given event will be.  That one thing can reduce me to absolute jelly-legs. But that is also the one thing I, in fact we all, live with on a daily basis, dealing with our given portions as best as we can.


Recently, I have been reading some modern American poetry and specifically fell in love with this poem here, which worked itself into the title.
Not sure what these things are, they aren't poetry, and they aren't fiction. And they probably aren't fact either, though they might feel like that to me. Memory is a tricky thing, always selectively romanticised in retrospect.  Whatever they are, I am happily dedicating them to my mother, who, I am pleased to report, is now recovering at home after her recent illness. She is named after Arundhati, the Indian name for Alcor in the star pair Mizar-Alcor which are part of the Big Dipper (called the Saptarshi, or the Seven Sages in the Indian system of astronomy). I don't know of anyone more deserving of being named after a star. 


...at Constellations of Meanings




I.

The sun leaves smudged finger marks on the sky as he disappears.  Smoke-lilac, bruise-purple, ash-pink, burnt-rust.  I feel like taking a pot shot from the hospital window.  The glass pane is large, divided into three. So many things are divided into three.  Day and Night and the In-between times. Heavens, Earth, Underworld.   Left, Right, Centre.  Faith, Belief, Rituals.  Daughter, Mother, Dust.

She is named for a companion to one of the Seven Sages, she taught me that constellation in the sky herself. It’s the only one I can immediately identify looking up more than forty years later wherever I am in the northern hemisphere. 

“It’s a question mark in the sky.  See?” And I had traced it out with a childhood finger and seen.  “And that one in the middle of the downward stroke? That’s Great Sage Vashistha.  Look a little closer, do you see another? Not as shiny as the others, but she’s there.  That’s the one. Not as conspicuous as the Sages, but always constant, always shining, sticking close to her partner. She’s a good star to have on your side.”


I look from the window to her face on the pillow.  It is tired, lines of pain etched into deep grooves, the claw marks of time running parallel on the forehead. Her eyelids look a few sizes too big for her eyes, ringed with the same smoke-lilac of the sunset sky.  My hand on her forehead feels unwieldy, not delicate enough to touch fragile things.  Her skin is cool velvet, the fever has broken sometime ago, the clamminess now a faint residual glow.  Outside the threefold panes, the constellations have quietly climbed into their places meanwhile.  The Sage’s Companion is faint, but still burning.  Still a good star to have on my side.


II.

A snatch of song interrupts my titanic struggles with the Red Giants, White Dwarfs and Black Bodies.

‘Oh my mother’s smile lights up the face of the Moon; her tender gaze, how can it be lost? it’s there in the eyes of the stars; the sun steals her vermilion to deck the dawn…’ 

It is a 1950’s number popular with her generation, ostensibly an elegy for someone’s mother. Both the melody and the lyrics are maudlin and mildly annoying, really, Bengalis! 

‘Please stop!  I am trying to study here. And my grandmother isn’t dead, why are you singing that?? It’s a silly song anyway.’

I can hear her laugh, she is always laughing, the house rings with it all the time, expansive, pervading, infectious.  But her comeback is devoid of laughter.  ‘You get distracted too quickly, child! And it’s not about your grandmother, it can be about any mother. Mother Nature, the Earth Mother.  Mother is a vast word.  One word, many interpretations, whole constellations of meanings.’

‘It’s just an awful sentimental song.’

‘Space for your dislike too in this house. Just shut the door.’

Blue, white, red, dead.  All things born must die. All the stars are dead.  The constellations are dead, they are prehistory, primordially dead.  Dead is dead black, matter burnt to a crisp, to a nothingness.  Blue is hotter than red.  Red is hotter than dead.  Cool ice blue, fiery red hot.  No, hot blue, cool red. Constellations may actually be patterns connecting star-corpses. Constellations of bluewhitereddeadcrispblacknothingness.  Constellations of ancient, ancient light caught in a time warp.  Constellations of meanings. 

I get up to shut the door.  She has meanwhile switched to a different tune, ‘Are you only an image? Are you not true like the planets, constellations and the sun?…’

III.

A single star pins up the sky in place.  The sunset is a ragged, multicoloured curtain on the horizon. We heave ourselves off in long strides, back off the inselberg at the starting point of the highway. The twilight is just one sharp flare of light - and it goes quickly here.  We haven’t left ourselves much leeway. 

‘Pretty, isn’t it? A bit more colourful than back home.’

I am silent.  Because her ‘back home’ isn’t mine.  She is in a boarding school somewhere abroad, here only for the long summer holiday.  I live a little way up the road, my school a fifteen-minute drive. The local girls’ school - a compound of low buildings splashed with vivid bougainvillea and hibiscus. A residential school where I, as an expatriate child, am exempt - let off every afternoon to go back home.

Back home is a phrase fraught with many difficulties.  Because half the time home doesn’t feel anywhere at the back, it is right here in front of me, in this wide open, magnificent savannah I have known half my life.  And the other half? If I listen carefully, I can hear my still unformed identities split down the middle.  When I go on holiday, my grandfather rebukes my parents in absentia through me, ‘For how long? This nomad’s life? Settling down is also something. Do you know what your ‘gotra’ is?’

I don’t have the faintest clue. And I don’t much care. My father makes an indifferent Brahmin, I don’t see him wearing the sacred thread around his torso, don’t see him do the ritual sprinkling of water before meals, I have never seen him pray at all.  My mother now - hers is a different world altogether, she prays on the full moon night of Lakshmi-puja, marking the Gregorian calendar painstakingly in ink, picking out the correct confluences of suns and moons and constellations from letters that take more than a month to bridge the distances between her home and homeland half a world away.

She stands under the porch now in the fast fading twilight.

‘You’re late, child.  The rule is to get back home before the streetlights come on, remember?’

‘Where’s back home, Ma?’

'None of your cheek!' But something in my face arrests her displeasure. ‘Home is that land which puts food on your table.  Never forget the respect you owe her.’



WC - 999














35 comments:

  1. Poignantly beautiful. Playing my heart strings like the skilled harpist you are.
    And I am so pleased to hear your mother is home again.

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    1. Me too, vastly relieved! Thanks for being here

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  2. Mother is a vast word...yes, it is...so vast and holds such loaded meaning. As always, beautifully wrought, Nila, what gorgeous descriptions which caught me from the beginning -- Smoke-lilac, bruise-purple, ash-pink, burnt-rust. The imagery shows so much!

    Thank you Nila, for a wonderful entry in the WEP challenge. I'm sure we'll have lots of HALLOWEEN stories, so I'm glad you went with CONSTELLATIONS. So evocative!

    Denise :-)

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    1. There was no way I wasn't going to be at WEP, and I had hoped to write something entirely different, a flash or poetry, constellations and Halloween should combine so well. But then life happened and that is that :-)

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    2. I was also struck by the multitude of colors throughout, especially those pairings at the beginning!

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  3. I'm glad to hear your mother is on the road to recovery. Parental illness can be a trying time.

    As for your piece...I have no words for it. Well, that's not true. I have words, but don't really know how to put them into a proper sentence.

    Beautiful. Poetic. Haunting. Melodic. Soothing.

    Many different emotions and sentiments come together in a majestic tapestry of life, death and starlight.

    The early part reminded me of my mother's own illness, which didn't have a happy end.

    Overall, it is just a beautiful story, and one that will stay on my mind for a while.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am so sorry to hear about your mother.

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  4. Great that your mom's feeling better. And I really liked your post! Very well thought-out and equally well written.

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  5. so glad your mother is better. This is an excellent story dedicated to her. You capture "home" in all its forms

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  6. Haunting! I know it's not a Halloween piece, but the words evoke melancholy - memories. I don't have a relationship with my mother, but I've been thinking of writing to her. One final attempt at understanding, acceptance - forgiveness? Your writing brought tears to my eyes. Very powerful!
    Thank you!

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    1. Oh please do write to her! Not to be a busybody or anything. I'd just like to say that if you feel the impulse then go with it. At best you'll have mended fences, at worst - you'll know you did your best to. As Maya Angelou says somewhere - no matter what your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they are gone.

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  7. Very beautiful depiction of family relationships, mothers/daughters. I am glad your mother is well.

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    1. Mothers and daughters - the older we get the more we realise the value of the time she spent with us as a child, whatever our adult relationships turn out to be.

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  8. Beautifully written mother-daughter essay. Amazing imagery. You're painting with your words, like artists, only they use paints.

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    1. That reminds me of Denise and her entry :) thank you!

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  9. What can one say? This is a beautiful and well written drama. May strength always be a bessing

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    1. Thanks for visiting Martin, and the blessing.

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  10. Hi Nila,
    Outstanding. The sun leaves smudged finger marks on the sky as he disappears. That sentence grabs the reader and plunges us under your spell. What a wonderful post.
    Nancy

    Also I'm glad your mom is better. It's difficult to see our parents age and become sick.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, Nancy. As you say, staying far away from ageing parents and managing health issues is a tough job.

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  11. It's good to hear your mother is better. I also loved these writings, reminding me of boxes or collections full of emotion and memories. You weave your words with a maestro's finesse. Time to settle in now.

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    1. Thanks for coming over DG and for your kindness and encouragement.

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  12. is it is good
    for some live
    and other die
    some give life
    others take
    tho all mold
    our soul into
    what we've become

    A good mother
    should be chariest

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    1. Being super chary is half the job of mothering I think! :) Good to see you back in blogland.

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  13. Ran the gambit of emotions with this piece. A great look at family too, as it comes in all shapes. Really liked the ending. Also glad your mother is better too, hopefully a speedy recovery is had.

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    1. Family does come in all shapes, and mothers do too...not everyone is 'mothered' by their biological mothers...thanks for stopping by.

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  14. A beautiful tribute to your mother. How lovely to be named after a star. She was a great inspiration for your writing here.

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    1. She has been an inspiration in my life, thanks for your kind words.

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  15. First, the Wallace Stevens poem that underlies this post. He is an incredible poet, as are you. I see him as one of your mentors (?).

    And your mother ... reminds me of mine. I watched her pass away; she was 97, the body so old. The memories are poignant and maybe someday I can express them as well as you do here for your mother. So glad, as others have said, that your mother is better than she apparently was. (I'm new, as you know, to your family matters.) And what a beautiful name she was given. Also, a beautiful photo you've chosen to share. :)

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    1. I am beyond thrilled to be classed as a mentee of Stevens, wow! speechless! thank you.

      I wish you peaceful trips down memory lane, and may those cherished memories brighten your path ahead. It is a blessing and a privilege to be together with a loved one at the close of a full life lived well.

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  16. such a deep and intresting writng abt constellations.......grt job

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  17. A deeply moving piece. So rich in color, texture, and emotion. I love the sentiment about 'back home' when it is most assuredly always out in front of us, or at least should be. AND, mother is such a vast word encompassing all of what we are, and would be in so many different ways.

    Thank you for a great interlude this morning in the quiet of my very own 'back home'.

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    1. 'Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home.' ~ Matsuo Basho. Completely believe that!

      Glad you enjoyed the interlude. Have a great week ahead.

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