| Unspoilt charm
My mother died quite sometime ago. None of her children can remember what year it was, but we get together on her death anniversaries as on those of our father for an hour of prayer and keertan and feeding a motley of hungry beggars who somehow get to know about these events. I often ask myself: 'Why do we do it' We don't know where our parents are: their memories get fainter by the year. But for their photographs in our albums or on our tables and their occasionally appearing in our dreams, we would find it hard to recognize them if we come face to face with them. Come to think of it, I am now older than my father when he died and will soon be older than my mother when she left us. So our meeting again would be an incredibly bizarre event of a son meeting his parents younger than him. I am assuming that people stop aging after they die.
Such idle thoughts came flooding into my mind on my Ma's death anniversary. I expect the object of 'celebrating' (wrong word) is to recall one's association with those who are no longer with us. Like other parents, so also mine, though they kept up the pretence of loving their children equally, they were closer to some than to others. My father's favourite was my sister, the only daughter he had. My mother's was the youngest of the siblings. It was more emotionally than in terms of division of their assets. They tried to be even-handed in dividing their property as they could. My father invested more money on me than any of his other children. I was the only one he sent abroad for education. He sustained me during my largely briefless years as a lawyer and during my attempts to become a writer. Of their five children, I earned the least. Whatever little success came my way as a journalist and author was after his death. He must have been sorely disappointed with me. And since my mother could not read English, she could only take other people's word that I had not done too badly.
So on a cold, wintry evening, I sat poking the dying embers in my fire-place recollecting memories of dead parents. I could not help but recall the lines from the poem 'The light of other days' by Thomas Moore:
Oft, in the stilly night
Ere slumber's chain has
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears
Of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm'd and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me.
A lady with the unpronounceable name, Sandra Djwa, who teaches English literature and has written biographies of Canadian poets, came to see me with her Indian husband to get material on Patricia K. Page, who I had known closely during the year I was posted in Ottowa.
Memories of the country and its people came flooding back to my mind more than half-a-century later. Canada is the most beautiful country I have seen, its mountains, rivers and lakes unspolilt by human habitation; its wildlife 'grizzly bears, deer, elk, moose, geese, loons, gophers and serpents largely unmolested; its people a happy blend of Yankee openness minus their cocksure arrogance and English reserve. Of the many I was able to befriend, Patricia Page was the best-looking, the nicest and the most gifted. She was a year younger than me, six inches taller and athletic ' she could jump over a badminton net. She was born in England, the daughter of an admi- ral and had made her home in Canada.
She was on the Canadian Film Board. Her poems had given an entr'e into the charmed circle of the country's literary celebrities. Through her I got to meet quite a few of them. My earliest short stories were published in Toronto's Saturday Night and Canadian Forum and then in Harper's. It was in Canada that I began toying with the idea of trying to make a living out of writing. I have much to be grateful for to Canada and Canadians.
Pat Page rose to the top long after I had left the country. In 1957, she was given the governor-general's award for poetry; in 1999, she was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada. After she married Arthur Irwin, Candian ambassador to Brazil, she turned to writing fiction as well as books for children. Eight years ago, two volumes of her poems, entitled The Hidden Room, were published. Now almost 90 she lives in Victoria (British Columbia). I quote a few lines from her poem 'Outcasts':
In the laundered mind they rate
the bottom of the scale, below the Jew
with his hundred hands and pockets and below
niggers whose love is lewd.
Let doctors show a white aseptic hand
within their sickroom and let parents gaze
back against time's right fist to find the cause '
seek in the child the answer to the man:
Search out the early misfit, who at school,
sickly for love and giddy with his sex
found friendship like a door banged in his face,
his world a wasteland and himself a fool.
A doctor friend of mine was posted in a very remote hilly town of Arunachal Pradesh. There was no electricity nor telephone. The evenings were dreadfully monotonous and lonesome. To kill boredom, he taught English to a group of tribal villagers in the evening. Within a few days the tutor and the students became quite intimate.
One evening, a student asked if my friend had a photograph of his wife. It so happened that he had one of her taken in front of the Taj Mahal, and he handed it to the villager. After studying it quite approvingly, for a moment, he remarked: 'You have a very beautiful home!'