Monday, July 4, 2011

Reality demands

(by Wislawa Syzmborska. Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Poije and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Cheronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on their sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.

Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.

This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal with grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don't cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only the blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.
On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.

Notes for the poem:

Cannae: an ancient village in Italy, the setting of the crushing defeat suffered by the Romans at the hand of Hannibal in 216 B.C.

Borodino: a village seventy miles west of Moscow, saw major conflict between the French army under Napoleon and the Russian army under General Kutuzov on September 7, 1812. The battle is chiefly remembered for the heavy casualties suffered on both sides.

Kosovo Polje: is infamous for the battle fought there on June 5, 1389, between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire that resulted in the collapse of Serbia.

Guernica: a small city in the Basque region of Spain, was subjected to a massive aerial bombing attack by the German air force, aided by Italy and Spain's national Fascist party, on April 26, 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War.

Jericho, located on the bank of the West Bank of the Jordan river, was the first Canaanite city to be attacked by the Israelites according to the account given in Joshua I:I-6:27.

Bilá Hora, near Prague, was the site of the Bohemian defeat at the hands of the Habsburgs on November 8, 1620.

Pearl Harbor was a United States naval base attacked without warning by the Japanese air force on December 7, 1941.

Hastings, sixty-two miles southeast of London, is famed as the setting for the victory of Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror over English forces serving King Harold on October 14, 1066.

Chaeronea, an ancient town in central Greece, was the site of the victory of Philip II of Macedon over a confederation of Greek states in 338 B.C.

Verdon, a garrison town in northeastern France, was reduced to ruins during its historic resistance to German forces in a series of World War I battles that ended in French victory during August 1917.

Actium was the scene of the decisive naval victory of Octavian over Mark Antony and Cleopatra on September 2, 31 B.C

Hiroshima is the Japanese city on which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on August 6, 1945.

Maciejowice is a village near Garwlolin, Poland, where on October 10, 1794, Polish forces under Tadeusz Kosciuszko were defeated by the Russian army under General Fersen.

Email from the Past

By some twisted turn in fate's blueprint I wandered yesterday, into my Yahoo Inbox. And a few seconds later I found myself sifting through the oldest Emails I wrote and the replies I received in return. Back then I stunk at writing. I had heavy punctuation problems and committed so many blunders. I had deleted most of the mails that were written to me except the ones from my father and sisters. Blood being thicker than water. My dad, who has a flair for a stricter English, wrote much better Emails. He used correct punctuation, full-stops when necessary with aptly placed commas.

To quote from the past, here is an email I wrote to my father on Tuesday, 25 October, 2005.

hi dad i am fine here .hope teh same for u all tehre.i
dont know what buses to go to XXXXXXX any direct
buses? i will be starting here on 27 th tht is
thursday and reach hyd by morning of 28 th .how is
rajeev?(My Nephew)

today was our last quiz.wrote net started
working in ur office.
convey my regards to mummy and akka.

thats all for now bye trinathg


As I read it now, my hand involuntarily reaches for Delete, Backspace, punctuation keys and a glass of water.

I grew up with strict English grammar rules from Wren and Martin, the thick red 1960's edition that governed our Sunday afternoons. In between English grammar lessons were sandwiched the Mathematics tutorial sessions that my dad organized so diligently. For English exams and other academic writing I continued to follow correct punctuation. But I guess for Emails I never cared to do that. I am not sure if my dad felt how wasted all his efforts turned out, after looking at my garbled up replies to his mails. Even if he had felt he might not have corrected inorder to give me some independence or a free reign to make a few mistakes. I remember filling an application form of any course/examination called for some tensed moments in my home. Every letter was written down slowly as if speed would spill some ink into the next block, the legitimate space of the next letter. White-laid, eraser and a Topaz blade were always by the side to cut out any mistakes that my sisters or I made filling out the forms. After the tense moments are over we would disperse to watch the daily serials on Doordarshan.

But things have changed since 2005. I started dipping my fingers into the honey-pot of Literature, English or otherwise. Slowly, the importance of the words, their weight and appropriateness seeped into my pen. But the boyishness in my writing was still present when I wrote the much eluding Statement of Purpose (SOP) in 2007 for my graduate studies in USA. After a rejection from Uncle Sam and spending two months reading and writing arbitrary verse gave me some hold on the absconding meaning in my words. Soon after I joined a job in Pune. I had a great time exploring the city in Food and Books. The romance of the first job and the company of some of the wonderful people (Krishna, Sravan and Pranab) I have ever met, enriched my experience. We had everyone of the writing world in this group. I wrote poetry, Sravan and Pranab adept in Fiction and Krishna, the Critique. I was taken, what is the word, under the wing, of Sravan and Krishna as soon as I landed in Pune. The importance of the words, communication, clarity and all the Orwellian rules of writing conquered the better part of me during the time I spent there.

Time doesn't have an obituary but may be an experience does. It slips away, bit by bit into the dark. There is no way we can remember all of the experiences that we had, that nudged our way into being this and now. But some exist I believe like eternal poems. Read and re-read till the end of time.