I was ten years old then. I was magical, rare and had the patience to be impatient. I had the courage to dream. Like every other child,I was up against a world that brought in tides to drown our paperboats in the sea of reality. And so I faced my first question, one that would change everything.
“WHAT DID I WANT TO BE?”
I belonged to a well educated family with a strong background in literature. My father was a professor and my grandfather had also been a member of the pedagogy. I, too, was brought up amidst the dust on the books and scribbles on the paper .
It was then that I first met Tagore. Despite all my ardent effort, I could never quite grasp the meaning behind Tagore’s endless lines of poetry. But my grandfather’s tears and my father’s praises were enough to convince me that this bearded man was indeed a genius. Since both my parents were working, I spent most of my afternoons with my grandfather. I would be regaled by stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. That was my happy place. I realize now that those afternoons were much more than simple story sessions intruded upon by the sunlight. They also taught me about the ideal of happiness, and the sheer perseverance and dedication that it took for a man to transform his life into a “perfect tragedy”.
It was then that I started to explore the peripheries of the question. With magnificent enthusiasm ,I would aspire one day to become a doctor, the next day a policeman, a pilot on the next, an astronaut on the next…And my Grandpa indicated his approval each time with a smile.
But somehow, I just could not keep this Tagore guy out of my head. Perhaps it was his long beard. What left me truly flabbergasted was how the same father who scolded me daily for breaking window panes, was reduced to shedding tears on merely reading a few lines of his work .
Consumed by an inexplicable emotion ,I rushed in to find my grandfather, not realizing that the old man was busy doing what was necessary .I barged in, exclaiming with a roar just enough to scare the man in such a delicate situation ,”I WANT TO BE A POET!”
“But dear child, poets do have a sense of timing .And they most certainly knock, both on the minds as well as on the doors”, Grandpa replied.
Embarrassed, I stepped out of the washroom. Grandpa joined me in the hall a few minutes later, and asked me with a stern look in his eyes, “Do you even know who a poet is?”
Continuing with the naivety, I replied,” Yes! People with long hair and beards.”
Giving me a hopeless expression, he asked again,” Do you know how to write poetry ?”
I raised the bars higher and replied ,” Yes, I do know how to rhyme words.”
But then with a serious tone, and a look of Grandpa that I was unaccustomed to, he looked me in the eye.
“DO YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO LET YOUR HEART BLEED?” he asked.
I did not have an answer. He wanted me to find one, rather, to ‘be’ one .
Afternoon story sessions were now oriented towards the philosophical dimensions of life. Grandfather would help me ponder upon the eternal mystery of the birds and the trees, and I would take down notes unaware of my final destination. I started my journey with words and jotted them down in a little red notebook, my prized possession. I kept the words safe.
Being tired of listening to views that seemed futile, I kept asking questions.
“Grandpa, what is the greatest art on earth?”I asked him one day.
He smiled and replied,”To learn how to laugh when you are miserable.”
But soon the real world caught up with me. While I was growing up, the years saw a shift in my schedule. School, friends, Maths tuition and violin classes came much before philosophies ,which only overwhelmed the chaos. Grandpa now meant only a room on the second floor. The little bit of poetry which I had begun to write had also had its day, for poetic phrases were now only used to impress girls. The little red notebook was kept in some forgotten corner of a lost shelf, known only to the archives of my unconscious.
Perhaps in a parallel universe, human beings can be happy. We are all moths. And we strive to unite with great fervor towards something leads to the demise of our happiness.
This was it.
This was all that I had wanted in these years. I was finally growing up. But somewhere, somehow ,I was not happy. There was something wrong with me and I could sense it. I could feel it. But I did not know what it was.
I was there every day, sitting and being trained to grab my share in the world’s economic dinner, to be productive. But sadness had enveloped me. Soon, I learned how to hide this sadness and pain behind a false bravado. I was beginning to understand that a smile meant much more than outstretched cheeks and dimples.
I started looking for answers in every single person. I went everywhere in search of my Horcrux. I sought out every place where, I thought ,I would be spared of my pain.
The sadness had started out with manifestations in other forms. On being asked the way to the library once ,I replied ,“ For we know nothing, yet we know everything…”
The classmate obviously judged me for being a mad philosopher. Soon, everyone jumped on this bandwagon. I think I loved being misunderstood too, it almost became a habit. I stretched my arms wide to the confusion, to let the poison weave in through the forbidden.
There is great wisdom in sadness, they say. For now I knew what it meant to let the heart bleed.
It is interesting to note how we pin all our hopes on the one who drifts away, but constantly run away from those who love our naked souls. I was lost within the dungeons of my own heart.
But then, I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder.
It was Grandpa.
He said ,” You don’t look happy, little frost. Find the cause before the quick sand catches you.”And then he went away.
I could still hear the noise of his walking stick slowly fading away into the chaos of monotonous life .
Two weeks later, Grandpa passed away.
It rained heavily that day, as I lost myself along with my family in what I would call a ‘systematic sorrow’. How we emerged from this grief stricken inertia is now a part of my repertoire of memories, which I once thought had gone with the wind. I also found the little red notebook, and I sat turning its pages and looking out of the window for answers.
My mother came in and told me to write a poem about the old king for his funeral the next day. I got up early, wore white, and found that there was just enough ink in the bottle to scribble down a few emotions on the paper. I folded the paper neatly and kept it in my pocket.
As I was moving towards the funeral hall, a sudden thought made me change my direction and head instead for the terrace. The wind brushed aside the hair on my face. I took out the paper, tore it to pieces, and let the wind take it away in all directions leading to infinity.
For the last note which I had scribbled in the red notebook had read, ‘poetry is only for the infinite’. I knew I was right.
I had finally learned how to laugh when I was sad. I also learned that I should have known how to fly like those angels did, a long time ago. The wind still brushed my hair all across my face. There was no poetry that day, but I know now, that a poet was born.
As for who I am… Well, “ I AM INFINITE”.
(Story and photograph)