Published: Friday, March 29, 2013


The Gift of Sacred Thunder


Friday morning, the twenty-second of March 2013. Dry, dusty hot hours of mourning and reflection. Days of anarchy and arson stilled by the impending burial of the elderly statesman. Sanity prevails in the soft studied eulogies. Polite, deferential unity in respect and grief.

I embrace this quiet rationality with a smile in my heart. This smile is soon skewed by the strong images of senseless violence, of hateful victimisation of the powerless that scream at me from the pages of the daily newspaper. As my eyes flit from one shocking picture to another, a thousand words rush to my tongue. I painfully swallow the words; they are toxic.

I look up at the patch of blue sky. I draw a deep breath. I sigh at the absurd human tragi-comedy of recent events. I breathe in the crumbs of acrid soil suffocating the city, and my tongue rubs against the grains of dust in the air. I think to myself, will the madness resume once the body is laid to rest in the sacred ground?

My spouse leaves the house after breakfast, travelling miles out of the city on the dusty road north to a worksite. It will be nightfall before he returns. I lounge for a while, taking in Lyse Douchette and Obama magnificent in Israel, the fiscal disaster in Cyprus, and bark cynically at the glitzy new romance in the continuing saga of Tiger Woods. Looking at his smug face, I am incensed. Hideously irrational for a split-second, I internalise his ex-wife’s humiliation. In my head I play a perfect hole-in-one with a nine-iron to his head. I say a prayer for my own spouse, for his safe return, and I thank the Maker for the auspicious alignment and conjunction of stars and planets and mating of true minds. Where would I be today, what would I be today, I silently address the Maker, if you had not given my stormy ship the sturdy anchor of such a faithful mate?

Powdery dust everywhere, and I slide from room to room with the dusting fabric in my hand, quietly swaying to the liquid heavenly tones of Yanni playing by the Aegean sea. The work of hands in my own space sets my mind free. With the gift of ancient sacred songs and the spirit of a voyager, I am sent flying across oceans and continents, open and free as the seagull gliding on Mediterranean clouds. My inner eye places me on the cool sands of the blue–green shores on the Isles of Greece. Haunting, enchanting music of choral mermaid sounds emanate from the composition “On Sacred Ground”. Human voices blend with flute and percussion and the tranquil velvet vibes of the piano. The music makes me a singer, a dancer, a flying falcon. My soul stretches to Crete and I dream again of Cassandra and Andromache as I relive my youthful years of chanting aloud the poetry of Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides. Yeats poetry, his prophetic vision, his gyre, his unforgettable “Leda and the Swan” are intertwined forever in my dreams of Troy and the Hellenes.

per02 Yanni makes me dream of tomorrow, today. I dream of the simple grandeur and the sublime truths of the votaries of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. I yearn for the majesty and spectacle of the natural amphitheatre of Epidaurus, with the entire city-nation united in spirit underneath the temporal space of the rising and setting sun, with the undulating valleys and mountains at their back and the ocean and the infinite horizon before them. As I look again at the burial rites of our elder leader today in the evening, I yearn for collective catharsis, for national purification. I yearn for rain, for the bliss of quiet earth and scent of damp clay. I yearn for the dust to settle, the ground to be sacred for all to live on in democratic security, not to die in wanton acts of treachery.

Nightfall, and my spouse is home. After dining, after a period of quiet comfort of companionship, of talk and television, my spouse is deliciously weary for sleep. I pick up my book and take out the bookmark from the page and paragraph where I had left off reading Hesse’s “Siddhartha” the night before, a few pages into the ‘Sansara’ section: “Never had it been so strangely clear to Siddhartha how closely related passion was to death. Then he lay beside her and Kamala’s face was near to his, and under her eyes and near the corners of her mouth he read clearly for the first time a sad sign – fine lines and wrinkles, a sign which gave a reminder of autumn and old age.” It is almost half-past eleven o’clock, and I put my head on the fluffy pillows to read, with Yanni softly playing “On Sacred Ground” once again by my bedside.

Outside, the wind rises. Cool breeze flows into the room from the south and the east. The leaves of the sprawling mango tree on the south rustle furiously and a shower of hard, dry leaves fall and brush the dusty earth. I hear distant thunder, and I run to the verandah and pray for rain. Another thunder, closer, louder, and then, another. No lightning, but suddenly, oh so wonderfully, droplets of rain, and buckets full of rain. I stand and my nostrils take in the sweet rich vapours of wet clay. My tongue salivates with pleasure. I can feel a refreshing chemical change in my nerves and arteries.

The night-sky and the wet earth unite to cast a spell on me. Spontaneously, sensate words are born in my brain. I go into my room, raise the volume of the CD player a notch higher, open my laptop, and punch in the title of my mind’s moment: “The Gift of Sacred Thunder”.

The writer is Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka.