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The Red Lady

Red was your colour.
If not red, then white. But red
Was what you wrapped around you.
Blood-red. Was it blood?
Was it red-ochre, for warming the dead?
Haematite to make immortal
The precious heirloom bones, the family bones.

When you had your way finally
Our room was red. A judgement chamber.
Shut casket for gems. The carpet of blood
Patterned with darkenings, congealments.
The curtains — ruby corduroy blood,
Sheer blood-falls from ceiling to floor.
The cushions the same. The same
Raw carmine along the window-seat.
A throbbing cell. Aztec altar — temple.

Only the bookshelves escaped into whiteness.

And outside the window
Poppies thin and wrinkle-frail
As the skin on blood,
Salvias, that your father named you after,
Like blood lobbing from the gash,
And roses, the heart’s last gouts,
Catastrophic, arterial, doomed.

Your velvet long full skirt, a swathe of blood,
A lavish burgandy.
Your lips a dipped, deep crimson.

You revelled in red.
I felt it raw — like crisp gauze edges
Of a stiffening wound. I could touch
The open vein in it, the crusted gleam.

Everything you painted you painted white
Then splashed it with roses, defeated it,
Leaned over it, dripping roses,
Weeping roses, and more roses,
Then sometimes, among them, a little blue
bird.

Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.
Kingfisher blue silks from San Francisco
Folded your pregnancy
In crucible caresses.
Blue was your kindly spirit — not a ghoul
But electrified, a guardian, thoughtful.

In the pit of red
You hid from the bone-clinic whiteness.

But the jewel you lost was blue.

 
Stand back poetry critics. This probably isn’t what you should be reading as a precursor to your lecture to PHD students on Ted Hughes. It has nothing to do with iambic pentameter (the only passable ‘literary term’ memory I have from my college days where I struggled three years straight just to make note of what notes to be noted before entering the dungeonous exam hall).
 
I have always felt that poetry does not belong to classrooms. In fact, I now feel that nothing at all belongs to the classroom. We, in our myopic haste to get a comfy crafty corner in the office and a heavy paycheck monthly, have condensed knowledge into this horrible mistake – called classrooms, schools, colleges. I can frankly admit here that I remember nothing at all of my 14 years of school, three years of college, 1 year of post graduation and other self-satisfactory degrees I have inflictedted myself with. But. I do remember what I was born to remember.
A still from the movie Pather Panchali, directed by Satyajit Ray
 
I remember the cinematic passages from Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay’s Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road), and the monochrome illustrations in Shahaj Path by Nandalal Basu.
 
And Nancy Drew (especially the part where she inadverantly went tap tapping on wooden doors and somewhere along the way, a hollow sound, and voila! a secret drawyer).  And of course Miss Havisham from Great Expectations – the Lady who froze time, whose perverted mind was engaged in shaping the innocent into a weapon against the male species.
 
 
And cartoon jingles about which I’ve already posted. And how to adjust people sitting in front so that they smother me for a brief nap, while the class droned like irritating flies reading Milton’s Paradise Lost.
 
I do NOT remember:
Matematics: I have forgotten how to multiply. Really.
History & Civics: Please pull up your jaws when I can’t answer who fought with whom in the world wars
Regional Geography: I don’t know where to find coal, or iron ore, or..
History of English Literature: Except for Beowolf. And maybe tid bits of scansion and meter. Period.
 
Dear Education System Administrators,
 
You got the concept all right.
 
People need to know things.
But not gobble up pages and regurgitate on ruled paper with the exam bell ringing like the death knell.
 
People need to be examined to find out if they’ve learnt.
But not for the sake of cruel memory games that may cost them their lives. They’re kids. And suicide is getting easier.
 
People need to be aware of what is going around.
But not bombarded with information, such that they know all and nothing. Subjects aren’t watertight compartments. The emperor Babur was human. I assume he had a digestive system as well. (Unless, of course, you like to shift it to the ‘biology’ teacher)
 
People need to be encouraged to be all-rounders.
But not held up as unfortunate trophies to the rest, who didn’t get up there to receive that twopenny book as award for excellence. Please note that the statutory kindness saying: ‘All of us are winners. Am sure we’ll see newer faces coming up next year” doesn’t work. Cut off that smug smirk, sir. Because you never will see newer faces.
 
I hope you understand Sir, that we weren’t born alike. We still have that humaneness clinging to us which draws me to something that doesn’t draw the other. It may very well be the Reproductive System Of The Mongoose for you sir, but for me, it can simply be stand-up comedy! We need a push to find our true destinies, not a shove that pushes us off the edge of a skyscraper.
 
Thank you very much. You may resume with your Evening Tea.
————
 
This post is inspired from three things that happened to me one time or the other.
 
(1) The title is what my Boss addressed me by today (I happen to share the sarcastic bent of mind with him). I had been foolish enough to complicate a simple procedure by highlighting portions of a document with Red. Hence the name.
 
 
 
(2) The poem in the very beginning is called Red. It is written by Ted Hughes who included in his collection of eighty-eight poems in Birthday Letters. You may be knowing that Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath remain to be one of the famous and infamous poet couples till date. It is a well known fact that when Sylvia Plath committed suicide, Ted Hughes was alleged to be the reason, given his notorious infidelity charges. Birthday Letters was a sort of retaliation from the poet. These were letters to his wife, Plath. However, to me these facts melt away easily to what I experienced alone by a broad window in a cafe adjoining a book shop. I had flippantly picked up this book from the poetry section, and sat down with espresso to browse through it. Next thing I knew, was the shop guy, politely whispering near my ear , “Ma’am, I’m sorry but it’s closing time. Could you please proceed to the billing counter?”  The book cost exactly six hundred and ten rupees and I had a spotless hundred-rupee note in my pocket. I paid for the Espresso and ambled out into the dark streets, puzzled with the unfairness of my poverty. Red is the last poem in the collection. It escapes description by me.
 
 
(3) I wasn’t always the anti-education activist you may discern me to be. It was just a simple incident that got the better of my passivity. It was a quiet summer afternoon, drugged with heat and noisy with sweaty snores. I was playing with my cousin brother, a fair happy boy of 2.5 years then. He was born in a car, we joked. Playing with cars was his life. He looked up and smiled the cutest smile on the planet. And then, everything changed. His parents (my uncle and aunt) rushed out with clothing and shoes for him. They dragged him by the feet and forced the fancy and perfectly ironed shirt on him. His squeaky shoes were dropped and he was given ‘proper’ stuff. Simultaneously, his mother rattled off stuff like  “A for? B for? What comes after 2?” ..It was the bizzarest thing I had ever encountered. When I found my voice, I asked them what was happening, they had gone some stairs down. My uncle yelled, “He’s got his school-admission interview! And we’re running late!”  The last thing I remember were his eyes, playful and laughing, unknowing of what he was stepping into.
 
I dedicate this song to all those who’ve snatched away our toy cars.Way too early.
 
 
Let’s have rosier reds.
Let’s have more toy cars.
Amen.
 
Yours Joblessly,
The Jobless Ideator
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