“I inherited poetry..”

I inherited poetry.

Before I loved it and made it mine, it lay in those corners of my house that my mother called clutter. Those havens of disorder had been reclaimed by my father and filled with old, torn and used books picked up from pavements. My mother disapproved, but grudgingly yielded; as several of those, were bought to satiate my prepubescent curiosity.

With time, piles began to mount and the books diversified. My grandfather and father’s books of poetry and philosophy mixed with my ‘Tell Me Whys’.  My father loved poetry but I never saw him sit down to read any. Not in the way he would read a thick novel. Poetry never snared him into his seat, like the mystery-thrillers he grew up reading. It crept up on him; on staircases, in waiting lines, in conversations, where he would suddenly break into a line or two. And then when his memory played hide-and-seek, he would burrow into the clutter and emerge joyous with a yellow-paged booklet. A faded picture of Sahir or Kaifi would adorn the cover and italicised titles in Devnagri would grace the bottom.

My father’s childhood was specked with my grandfather bringing him books to read. They were mostly used books – hardbound, with inscriptions and earmarked pages, and sometimes an odd one would be in Russian. My grandfather couldn’t read, but his thirst for knowledge made him more remarkable than most. A young runaway from Gujarat, he built most of what I take for granted today. My grandfather was a bold dreamer.

Mitade apni hasti ko, agar kuch martabaa chaahe, 
Ke daana khaak mein milkar, gul-e-gulzar hota hain.

Poetry, for my grandfather, was revolutionary.

As the progressive poets took their arms to cinema, mornings in my house echoed with music over finely penned words. It didn’t take long for the wave to sweep me under. I spent many an evening listening to my father read out Urdu poetry to me. He would painstakingly explain each word. When I moved away from home, he wrote me an email every day with two lines by a great master, some context to create the mood and a legend of words to make me go deeper. He would never fail to elaborate on the word play, the delicate nuances of language, and the ability of poetry to express yet not define.

Unke dekhe se jo aa jaatee hai munh par raunaq
Woh samajhte hain ke beemaar ka haal achcha hai

Poetry, for my father, is romance.

While I grew up reading few poets, I took to poetry like a child to chocolate. I began writing around the age of 11. Most of it was free verse and fairly dark – a sign of my oncoming puberty.

Poetry gave me a free voice to articulate everything I felt, with none of it having to carry the baggage of my age or identity. Amidst those lines, I was someone else, many someone elses and that is a powerful way to be when you are thirteen. Poetry became my happy place.

As years passed, I didn’t write often but whenever I did, poetry was like coming home.  I wrote about young love, longing and loss. I wrote about women, children and people who didn’t have a voice. I wrote about rebellion, I wrote about desire. Perhaps, this is because of the primal matter that made me, or perhaps this is who I became through poetry.

Poetry, for me, is storytelling. A little like this –

My grandfather
a married man
with a quiet wife
a solemn face
and rich eyes
tells his son
that masturbation
will make him weak.

My great grand father
a man who was left behind
whose wife ran away
later married a widow
who also died
a lonely man
tells his grandson
that nature is perfect
and pleasure is too normal
to be avoided.

My father
all of fourteen
with his curious eyes
darting from his father
to his grand father
just sits and smiles.

After few lifetimes,
my father
with mirthful eyes
tells me this story
and raises his hand
to the divine
and says –
thank you.
thank you.

-Zainab Kakal

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