I’m on the side-lower,
In a dowdy compartment,
Of this restless train splitting
The plateau in two.
You probably are too.
A sprightly shooting-star
Splays across the treacly night;
Damp wind of the day
Smacks at the backs of my hair strands,
Kisses my unsure face.
In its arid scent,
A premonition of rain.
And ever and anon,
I sense the churning.
Where might you be right now?
It sets out with a gentle mizzle.
But then in no time,
The lightning’s a dancer on the mountain scene.
We come upon a turning
And the horns bellow,
As I glimpse the bolts
Strike the same place twice.
You’d be quick to call it coincidence.
But perhaps it’s like rhyming, you see.
And, do we not believe,
Last night I went to sleep thinking
We must strip the barks off trees
To see how they look bare, naked.
Stand under the tallest alpine ash,
In the nude. Or deceive a monoculture
Of eucalyptus, to elongate our limbs,
Our arms meeting across the border.
Its minty odour, woody breath,
Felicitated inside nostrils.
Flowers sprouting from our forearms,
Feet absorbed by roots.
Withering all around.
In late autumnal splendour.
And purple hyacinth stalks blooming,
Bulbous, from our very mouths.
See, I remember because I’m terrified of the gene.
Achachan remembered everything before he gave up it all,
When a new episode would brace him,
Of the great old war of his day,
He would call me aside secretly,
To speak of it, parked on the sofa beside,
The open window.
Always below the window, with the yellow film,
Wrapped in his rosy pashmina.
Looking westward at the sun.
That’s where he would tell me.
He’d tell me about all the shells and all the bombing,
Kaput kaboom sicily sicily bang bang
About desolate life in the barracks,
About making peace with your poo,
And soiled underwears,
Hidden deep in trenches,
For days upon days upon days.
He’d tell me about the flares, the frigates,
The frags and fighter jets;
About bullets and bombs,
That went off a few metres away.
About nights of horrors,
One can never wake up from–
Even after entire aeons pass on by.
He’d tell me about the fires.
I would stare perplexed, mouth agape,
Swimming into his silvergreen eyes.
Sukumaran was once a beautiful boy.
I pronounced his name “Poothaaram,”
At the thoughtful age of two.
My Poo-star. Flower aster.
I would rub the skin of my forearm
Against the nascent white stubble on his cheeks.
“What all did Achachan see?”
He saw Ceylon and Burma?
Malaya and Singapore?
Perhaps not Vietnam.
Where all did Achachan go?
He flew over the Himalayas,
Sailed the Bay of Bengal.
Swam in the Yamuna,
Shivered at Shimla.
What all did Achachan do?
He’d illustrate the images that came back to him.
Planes, lonely men on tree tops–
Even at seventy four.
We wouldn’t understand fully,
For he’d only seen what only he’d seen.
He floated his last packet of cigarettes off on the Ganges,
Never to smoke again.
Then he packed his trunks and returned from the war.
Some, never to be opened again.
In his second coming,
He manned a bus, taught a school,
Became a meister.
The entire villages of Mezhuveli,
Nediyakala and Tholai,
Not to forget good old Pottanmala,
Mistook his earthly enlightenment,
The rightful bequest of the Ezhava,
For that of the airy Brahmin’s.
They all called him “Pattar saar,” with dotty affection.
And like a good sir, he reprimanded no one.
He only ate what he absolutely needed to.
He made friends with the guavas, green and pink,
As well as with all the edible toadstools.
He taught us of ways to befriend the squirrel;
Of the seasoning of rose-apples,
The ripening of pine-apples.
He dropped us off to the school van and back,
Imparted something about the notion of discipline.
And about the secrets of fragrances.
Of axe oil and tiger balm.
He listened to all our silly stories,
Never questioning their legitimacy.
He infused in us the rich and whimsy
Pleasures of the early morning walk.
He picked for us the ripest moovandan mangoes,
In turgid, green, mango season.
Taught us how to suck deeply into.
Until the fibers clung to our jaws,
And our salivas turned a golden yellow.
He shelved the dried seeds and rinds
On the lower shelf of the radio-stand.
He hunted with the child brigade for
Lost Chellson and Stumper balls,
Coddled, from the bludgeoning, by
The roots of towering wilderjacks.
And he reliably found them hiding underneath,
False daisies and touch-me-nots,
Who didn’t mind his touching,
Who knew him very well.
Then on a sleepless day in some late September,
He leapt back in time before we could catch a trace.
Discarded his routes, threw off his marbles,
Slowly. Gradually, natural progression.
Walked back in age, perhaps decidedly.
Becoming a child now, Benjamin unbuttoning,
Calling Ammachi “Amma,”
Calling Achan his father,
Turning reclusive and deciding to let it
All, to let it all, to let it all go.
And then he returned to the dust to the dust to the dust.
“In Alzheimer’s it’s not the patient who needs the care.
It’s the family,” his doctor had said.
It reverberates across all of time and all of hospitality.
See, see here you,
You must remember,
I remember, because I’m terrified of the gene.
Appu Ajith is a writer hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He was formerly the Deputy Editorial Manager of The Caravan. He completed his Bachelors in Design from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Hyderabad, and an MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.