Last week, as I was gazing at the sky, sitting on the rooftop of our house, moonlit visages of my grandparents reflected in my mind — as if both of them were watching me from the window of my childhood. I sat ruminating over the dividing line between life and death — how illusory it was! The very actuality of afterlife seemed like the fanciful chapters we write in our slumber, quivering to death in the dragnet of daylight. My grandfather, while murmuring prayerful songs at night, used to say, “You would learn immoral things in life—things that would reveal themselves as insidious or misleading. They are addictive; tempting even without being tasted. They are a test, which if you fail to ignore, would haunt you in your nirvana. If you befriend them, you may not be found suitable, to be put back to life again in this beautiful world.”
My nostalgia fetched me the memories of a day — 25 years ago — when my grandmother, took out a hundred Rupee note from her closet, kissed me on my forehead, and gave it to me as pocket money. “Have sweets and ice cream with it.” My joy knew no bounds and I decided to cache it for coming times. Even after so many years in employment, that note remains priceless to me, for I couldn’t spend that note for many years, and the warmth of that kiss on my forehead still keeps it crispy. Later on the same day, my grandpa planted a kiss on my forehead when I told him to stop a group of woodcutters from cutting trees. He told me, “The jungle knows to defend itself. It is more powerful than our conception about it. That it is silent, is its humility and one day it might come out of the cocoon of being reticent, to tame our ever progressive minds.” His farmhouse in a remote village in eastern India, the cows he used to look after, the expansive stretches of paddy fields — he used to take me to see these wonders, and the bedtime ghost stories were like echoing snapshots—striking my melancholic mind, bouncing back to nowhere. Last week, these memories, like incessant waves, were tossing me up toward their moonlit images, pulling me down to reality in the very next moment.
The day after, with a strong urge to meet my grandparents, I drove down to my maternal village. I parked my car by the roadside, and started walking through the village – unrecognized. The lands, where our cattle used to graze once, were claimed by new hutments. The village Banyan tree that inspired me once to scribble a rhyme a few years ago, stood in the same meditative stance. It was like the emblem of this small panchayat village of Jahidpur. The lush green rice fields rolled out like an unending carpet, and the calm forests of Sal trees, were still working like before, sustaining harmony between the villagers and the villagey flora. As I stood by our maternal house, there was no one to wait at the doorsteps except a hot zephyr blowing across the flapping door. Distant raucous songs of tribal singers floated haphazardly in the gale. Inside, tears rolled down my grandmother’s cheeks as I sat beside her. Once an active homemaker, her activities have long left the earth. She lied on her cot, half paralyzed after a massive stroke. I took a chair beside her and waited to be kissed once again. She could hardly get up but held my hands tightly, perhaps reminiscing about the love between us. Inside the house — empty, forsaken rooms lied in the same condition as hers, extending their disguised hands in love for the boy who grew up in their lap.
While waiting for my grandpa at the front door of the house, I saw him walking down to me — still strong in his nineties. With his traditional thick glassed specs, he hugged me, and I could feel the joy in his smiling wrinkles. Just when I was about to leave, his poignant lips moved, pointing at the Banyan tree — “The age of this strangler fig cannot be concluded in numbers, but figuratively it can be said, that it has been a witness to several rises and falls in the haunting darkness of village and the prop roots hanging from its branches seem to be erected in remembrances of those trees which have ceased to exist, owing to our incurable interests. She is nature herself, and so is her age — unknown and uncountable.” It started drizzling outside and I was still missing something, when he suddenly kissed me on my forehead and continued, “This village is backward, devoid of urban features, but backwardness doesn’t imply stagnancy. Places as such, give you the much coveted space to lift your eyes toward the unending universe lit by constellations. And, don’t worry much about us — Death is just a change of phase. You knew nothing of life inside your mother’s womb, and similarly we know nothing about after-life in our present state. But, it is there. It has to be there.”
While driving back home, frequent breezes ripe with petrichor seemed to embrace and kiss me through my car window. Silence does whisper stories; sometimes it shows and sometimes it tells. Perhaps it was happy being able to inspire me, to take interest in the insignificantly significant kisses on my forehead.
Sonnet Mondal is an Indian poet and editor-in-chief of the Enchanting Verses Literary Review. Winner of the 2016 Gayatri Gamarsh Memorial award for literary excellence, Sonnet was one of the featured authors of the Silk Routes project of the International Writing Program, University of Iowa, from 2014 to 2016. Mondal has read at the Struga Poetry Evenings, Macedonia, 2014, Uskudar International Poetry Festival, Istanbul, 2015, International Poetry Festival of Granada, Nicaragua, 2016, Ars Poetica Festival, Slovakia, 2016 and Cork International Poetry Festival, Ireland, 2017. His recent works have appeared in the World Literature Today, Irish Examiner, Palestine Chronicle, Indian Literature, and Asia Literary Review.