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     Volume 8 Issue 71 | May 29, 2009 |

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The Sun, in its Sinking Moment

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Dag Hammarskjoeld

The heart is a strange thing. It beats quietly and then the beating rises to a crescendo and goes it does not know where. It carries the imagination along with it, to shores that once welcomed the boats of desire and longing and might do so again. These days, it is this heart, this imagination which takes possession of my soul and pushes me once more into that indefinable territory we call wanderlust. It is that painfully beautiful season of spring, when the rains mingle with the heat of the sun and whisper the truth that I must break away from it all, take myself out of the prosaic swathes of life and simply let myself drift along.

I would like to go out once again in search of ancient cemeteries, for the long-ago dead are souls you need to commune with once in a while. Those cemeteries are in Wales, in the deep recesses of England and ensconced safely in the mountains of Scotland. The tombstones on which you read the names of the dead are an invitation to you to join the unending procession of mortality. Those names are blurred; those stones stand mute testimony to time and the passing of the clouds on rain-filled days. They are, if you sit back and hear the whisper of the wind among the lugubrious trees, a dirge which tells you of the fate that awaits you. You are condemned, as every life is condemned.

Sylvia Plath

My wanderlust takes me to thoughts of inevitable morbidity. You understand life a little more, somewhat better, when you reflect on the grave, on what goes on inside its dark confines. The parents in whose arms you folded yourself as a child, whose warm smells are realities you do not forget, have simply peeled away, layer by layer, until only their bones remained. Or did they? If it were given to us to open their graves, open other graves, how would we delineate the distinction between bone and dust? In my urge to travel, through landscapes of time and geography, through the monsoon fertility of the mind, I think of Dag Hammarskjoeld's grave, of the place where Willy Brandt lies for all times. Patrice Lumumba was not destined to have a grave, for his murderers had his corpse dissolved in acid. In the nineteenth century, the British colonial power had Bahadur Shah Zafar's body placed in a grave and then sprayed the body with acid. The Bolivians, with the CIA, threw Che Guevara's remains into a hastily dug hole and thought the world would not know.

In my wanderlust, I travel back to a cold day in 1941 and watch Virginia Woolf, weighed down by stones in the deep pockets of her coat, wading into the river Ouse. She is leaving life behind and going out to meet death on her terms. I can smell the fumes of gas as they rise and draw the life out of Sylvia Plath on a cold morning in 1963. And I think I can feel that searing momentary pain which rushes through Rajiv Gandhi as he feels his heart coming to a stop in Sriperumbudur. My wanderings, then, are a response to the sirens. In the desolation brought on by vacuity, an answer to the many questions that rise, mist-like, in my soul is hard to come by. The mind is steeped in darkness, haze glazes across the eyes and stillness defines the silhouettes that once were trees, in the light of the sun. It is a midnight desert you walk through. The wolves howl somewhere in the distance, for they have smelled the blood in you.

Che Guevara

It is to the old rivers that I go back in search of the past. It is the twisting, winding passage the Sitalakhya makes as it flows through lives, through time that creates ripples in the heart. On the banks of the river, on a rain-drenched morning endless moons ago, my ageing grandfather waved his final farewell. That is the face I recall, even as I stand before his grave in a large expanse of land away from his village. He was a tired old man, much shriveled by time and the burden of poverty. Bitterness came in where once the idealism of the pedagogue resided. It is this grandfather I strive to meet, hoping his spirit will rise from his grave, to tell me all the old stories and sing all the old songs that echoed through the trees before his hut at dawn.

The sun drowns slowly in the old river. In its sinking moment, it lets its crimson hue, deepening and sensual, fall softly on Tuntuni's softer cheeks. In the breeze blowing through her hair, I think I hear her poetry, the piety which comes with a recitation of ageless wisdom. Age cannot wither Tuntuni. The years cannot condemn her infinite variety.

Tuntuni will die someday. Call it my fear. Call it my acceptance of what Creation is all about. Her grave might be atop a distant hill. Perhaps the sea will roar around it all day and then through the night. Perhaps I will haunt that grave in the night, in dripping, gloomy rain, calling out her name. Perhaps she will arise, in white, from deep within that moist earth and dance with me in the pale light of the moon?


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