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    Volume 10 |Issue 34 | September 09, 2011 |


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Wanderings in Ancient Churchyards

Syed Badrul Ahsan

There must come that moment when I turn my back on the worldly. I do not speak of a spiritual yearning that will or could or might lead me to that state of being. But, again, perhaps it will or could or might. It all depends on where life takes me from here. If you ask me, life ought to have been different, for me, maybe for you as well. The old image of a tribesman leading a camel by the mountain even as a train rolls noisily by is a land I should like to go back to again. The future, as you might imagine, often belongs in the past. And thus it is that I wonder where that man and his camel might be today, nearly half a century after I watched them, from my rather leisurely moving train, trudging along in the desert heat of the mountains.

It is with a revival of memories that my wanderlust takes new hold of me. The sight of a pair of beautiful dark eyes and hair flowing down to the knees makes me raise a question before the stars in the night's fathomless silence: where is she who in the lost days of creeping autumn and falling leaves set emotions of poetry running wild somewhere inside me? Perhaps she grows old. Maybe she is dead. It could be that she sits at her window, the way she used to when she was sixteen, wondering why life must, as we age, strip away the old charms in us, make a havoc of the songs we once sang.

Ronni Ahammed, After Having a Great Deal of Capitalism we are Waiting for Mr Becket, acrylic on canvas, 2004.

I would like to collide into her, on a foreign street, at an airport, perhaps in the old snow-covered street of rapidly sliding innocence and observe the manner of the changes time has wrought in her. There are things, other things, I would like to do in the brevity of impassive time that cups life in its hands at bleak bends in the road. It is a strange feeling, this wanting to do everything, this wish for a return to youth that takes over as we near the end of the fifties. Amidst the early fall of leaves in a new season, it is my dead friends I recall, of the wives and children they have left behind. The tragedy is simple: I shall not have tea with them again, never discuss books with them once more even as the monsoon clouds threaten to burst upon us. I would like to spend long hours at their graves, to will them into the old patterns of conversation. If you really would like to know, I would go trekking all across the ancient cemeteries of the world, to tell the bones lying there that soon I shall catch up with them. True poetry rises among graves, in the unkempt grass of decaying churchyards.

Mohammad Fokhrul Islam, Image 4, oil on canvas, 2009.

That is the wanderlust in me. It is the imagery of gloom as it descends on the bare trees across a wintry landscape that takes form in my wild imagination. I travel back to time, to the old tales of long-ago battles and the deaths of warriors, generation by generation, to marvel at the cruel ability of the earth to swallow their bones, to pretend that they never existed. Dead emperors and dead soldiers, along with men and women who through various passages of time have perished in the rising waves of turbulent seas and in the fireworks of the sky, tiptoe to my cottage in the woods of the mind, knocking furtively on the door even as the winds howl. They quietly move away as I awake from torpor. The night has consumed them again.

It is always the night which comes crowding in. When the monsoon storms furiously pummel the world into submission, I go looking for that earliest of moments in time when time first took form and space was beginning to be forged. The night tempts me into the unknown when it parts the clouds to reveal gleaming stars many light years away. The urge to travel through astral paths, to search for the ends of the universe, to look back at the earth from millions of miles away, rises by slow, imperceptible degrees in the soul. Not willing to be earth-bound any more, I glide through space, skipping around stars, hopping around asteroids and dancing before quasars. Somewhere up there, or beyond that darkness in space, sits God. I muse, even as a star implodes and another comes to life not far from me, on the nature of paradise. Is there a paradise? Are there other living beings, other creations of the god we know, peopling some of the planets the road map of the mind takes me through?

I wander back to earth, to the world that throbs in a woman of gleaming beauty and unsurpassable grace. Let the emotions flow, I tell her. Let the waves rise. Poetry blossoms in her as the night winds caress her cheeks again and again. I stand before her window. Or I watch her from a million miles away, in huge intensity of anguished passion. What if she dies at dawn?

Suddenly there is no point in reading. Suddenly, writing loses meaning. I take to the old grassy trail beside the timeless river. I know the rising sounds of the water will bring me to the edge of the desert I have always wanted to call home. In the desert, men remember God. The desert reduces life to so much sand, so much futility. Flowers are then but an illusion.

The writer is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star.



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