Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My father: Pralhad Chendwankar

Pralhad Chendwankar

My father

That my dreams too
May sprout new leaves
The bright-green succulent money-creeper
Toddle into my house too
Like the tender rays of the sun,
My father spent his life
Carrying heavy sacks on his neck,
Turned from young to old.
Stroking my long lean body
My father used to say:
If you study a little
You’ll be a sahib, sit on a chair,
You’ll earn a little
Instead of chopping wood for Brahmins
Till you faint,
You will at least
Read your own letters.

My son,
The teacher we had
Was a bloody bastard
He’d make us sit
Outside the school,
Teach us not a thing,
Yet, beat us till we peed.

That’s what my father was like,
Telling me old stories,
And if I played truant
He’d beat me as he’d beat cattle.

Once when I was
In the fourth standard,
My father visited me at school.
He wore a somewhat soiled dhoti,
A close-necked longcloth shirt,
A wrestler’s pink silky turban.
The teacher’s tight-lipped face
Remained motionless
Like the neat letters on the blackboard.

Go on teaching, sir;
How is my son doing?
I’ve skipped a day’s work
To find out.

When my father said that,
The children in the class
Suffered an earthquake tremor,
And the teacher
Popped into his mouth
The chalk in his hand’
Crunching it like betel-nut.
The children nearly died laughing.

My father, giving
One packet of jalebis to the teacher
And one to me,
Escaped from the class.
All the children, including me,
And all of us, including the teacher
Fell on the jalebis.

That’s how, eating jalebis,
I studied each year,
As soon as I had matriculated,
My father
Sacrificed a goat to Nagamal.
The first male child in the family
Seemed OK in the head.
So, selling to the Marwari
The silver bangle
Won in wrestling,
My father
Pushed me through college.
At the same time,
Adding expense to expense,
He mortgaged the farm
And got me married.

In four years I just
Managed to scrap through B.Com.,
Became father of three
Plus a pair of twins,
That is, five children.
And again my father
Sacrificed a goat to Nagamal.

Education leads to money,
Money solves problems.
The dream-creeper
Bears flowers of reality.
So, my father, on retiring,
Entrusted Bombay to me
And returned to the village.

A spacious house and garden,
With an upper storey spick and span.
A new well, full of water
Streaming out, serpent- like
In all directions.
Cattle, goats, sheep,
Bullock-cart with bells tinkling,
Sugar-cane and turmeric in the fields
To dazzle the eyes of Nagewadi.
That’s how my father lived,
A new bloom was in his eyes.
‘my son is highly educated,’
he kept saying to one and all.

The fields swayed,
Keeping my father company,
Growing bright green
According to my father’s wishes.

My father got tired
Of waiting for money orders,
Gazing at the wretched fields
He had grown thin as a stick.

Letters from the village
Kept coming to me, the naivety of their words
Made my heart bleed.

The Bombay season
Was no longer for jalebis.
Even sacrificing a goat
Was impossible on a clerk’s pay.
My father left the village,
Returning to Bombay.

Seeing the city maddened
By rising prices,
He was baffled.
He dashed his broad wrist
Repeatedly against the wall.
When he saw its strength was gone
He collapsed on the spot.

On the hospital bed he squirmed and twisted:
‘I’ll work in the new godown,’
he blabbered in delirium.
With the help of oxygen- tube
He digested his sorrows,
Allowing his dreams
To spill from his eyes,
And then at last,
Came such a hiccup,
He stared at me, his eyes wide open,
Split the sky and disappeared.

Soiled dhoti,
Close-necked long-cloth shirt,
A wrestler’s pink silky turban.

From the village now
He sends me no letters,
The fields do not laugh
And sway to my father’s wishes.

Translated by Shanta Gokhale and Nissim Ezekiel

1 comment:

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