The weight of falling leaves
Syed Badrul Ahsan
A year has gone by. In these twelve months, in the interplay of the seasons, you have said not a word. The laws of the universe, the shaping of the cosmic patterns across the heavens, suggest you will speak no more. The dead do not come back from the grave to tell us of the sights they have encountered, of the working of nature they have experienced. You will not laugh again. But it is curious, isn't it, how the sounds of your laughter resonate across the regions of the mind? There was something electric about the way you laughed, that sure energy that came with it. And then, as if it was part of your scheme of things, came a sure sense of deliberate wickedness that swiftly transformed you into the schoolgirl you once were. You made a face as you read poetry, your own, even as the monsoon clouds floated across the horizon. It does not make sense, does it? You asked. I rolled my eyes, in mock anger. 'Tiger', you whispered. And then you went back to the poetry.
The gods do not tell me if you are out there somewhere among the stars in the nocturnal sky. That is what is so dispiriting about divinities at times. They do not tell us of the form mortals take once they have broken loose of this ancient earth, of all the trappings of power and light that come with it. And the clouds, as they swim in absolute good cheer across the Baishakh sky, give no hint of where you may be at this point in time and space. Ah, but why must we speak of time and space, now that you have gone beyond all that, indeed now that you inhabit a region not fettered to the one we go on being trapped in? You belong to time, to the ages. And space is where you scatter your verses, that spot of experience where your laughter does not have to be confined to the finite, to the circumscribed. You circle the moon; and you go swimming among the millions of astral symbolisms that long ago went into Creation. Here on earth, memories of the beautiful being, the incandescent woman you once were come rushing back into the soul. They have something in common with the tumult of the sea in ferment.
You died too early. There is something about life that does not treat us well, that keeps us hostage to its whims. They say you went through pain as the twilight drew near. They say your anguish did not diminish your capacity to diffuse joy to those you loved --- your husband, your children and their children. They say you took it all in your stride, that you recalled the times when rural grandeur shaped the imagination in you, when pastoral dawns awakened in you that sense of magic you would later transmit to your poetry. And poetry was what you exuded on a long-ago April day, when you spoke to me of words and sentences. The lyrical in you mounted even as a resurgent nation demanded, in the cold heat of a December evening, the fall of political illegitimacy. You glowed in the gleam of dusk that was no more. It was a gleam that came back, years later, as you touched a crowd with your verses, at home in foreign land. You danced, or swayed to the rhythm of your own music. Not an eye blinked in that room, in that warmth you called home. You were the life of the party.
You were a Bengali beauty travelling across Europe. The sheer thrill of a trip to North Africa lighted up your being. You passed that thrill on to me, together with the serenity that came of your pilgrimage to Mecca. It was you, the quintessential you, who screamed in disbelief, almost shattering the telephonic lines of communication, when you knew I was in the country that was now your home. It was a new spring and a new you I saw. Must I recall the excitement that defined you as we met again? You took me on journeys through the delightful landscape of nature, to enlighten me on the meaning of flowers and the definitions of leaves. You let me in on the mysterious ways that bring individuals together and keep them together.
In your dying, you left me burdened with the weight of the leaves that fall, in an autumnal dirge, from the old branches of time. As Baishakh roars again through the narrow streets of overcrowded towns and the open fields of silent hamlets across this land, I pick up that copy of Eugene McCarthy's poetry you sent me on a summer's day many moons ago. I retrace the poetry, which keeps getting blurred with images of the eyes that once were luminous in you, with the sounds of laughter that celebrated the joy of living in a season now lost, like you, to time.
The storm will blow over your grave. The rains will pour and, seeping into the earth, will wash anew the face which once sang of the charm of life. In death, you remain the force of life you were when the moon was kinder and the stars throbbed in unending ecstasy. That laughter? I hear it again, my friend. It becomes you.
In memory of Khadija Shahjahan who died in London and was buried in her village in Patuakhali in May 2009.
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