Photo: Pixabay


by Abul Kalam Azad

( For Abdul Rasheed )


I don’t know much 
about my grandfather

How did he propose
to his first love?

Did he fold his passion
onto a page at the end 
of his four-ruled Math notebook?

( Did he go to school?)

Or did he swallow his longing 
into silence that coated 
his Adam’s apple?

When it rained,

did a part of him 
drift away with the paper boats 
the kids from the gully made?

Or did it hide 
behind the pallu
of his wife’s old cotton saree?

What movies did he prefer?

Black and white mythologies 
with lengthy dialogues?

Romantic musicals 
with happy endings?

What did he dream of
in his snore-kissed sleep?

A roof that doesn’t crumble 
when the wind blows its trumpet?

Days without hunger? 
Eyes without tears? 
Age without disease?

I don’t know much 
about my grandfather


I do know 
he dispensed tickets 
at a cramped counter 
of a cinema hall in a small town 
for a living

When he was very young, 
moustache just blooming 
like shy black petals, 
he toured the entire town 
standing at the back of a creaky rickshaw 
announcing the release of a movie 
fresh off the reels,

“ See today! See today! 
in your favorite theatre 
Only four shows a day! ”

He smoked Berkeley cigarettes 
from dark blue packets

He chewed Rajalakshmi supari
Or crane nut powder 
after eating biryani

He wore wide square glasses 
and had grey hair, 
thick as the receding wave 
of a white sea

When he returned for lunch 
from his work at 4,
he never failed to buy 
crispy golden boondi
or jelly orange jangri 
wrapped in newspapers 
of bygone mornings 
for my hungry tummy 
dead from a day at school

The days he forgot, 
for lack of money, 
I was sad, 
he was guilty

He took me to the movies 
at his work place,
free of cost

The tight grip of his assuring hand 
wiped the hint of sin
that hung from my childish heart

Some humid evenings, 
he asked me, in a gentle tone, 
like devotees beseech a steely god, 
to run a comb over his itching back

I played tunes, 
fast and slow, 
around the dark brown flesh 
of his spotted backbone
like a percussionist who relieves pain

Often on rainy dusks, 
he slit the brown shells 
of boiled peanuts 
and placed in my palm 
the light pink seeds

I do know the pleasure 
in eating them 
without that effort


I don’t know much 
about my grandfather

When he was bedridden,
wageless from disease, 
and couldn’t form a syllable
with his tongue,

he wept 
every time he gazed 
at my adolescent face,

that infant he carried in his arms 
was growing up and up

out of reach 
from his still body 
and moist sighs

He moved his lips 
with great effort, 
but words failed to escape

Shapeless breath 
twirled around a tragic language 
with no alphabets

One day, 
I found him on a road,
with a stick in his hand

The one he used to support 
his paralysed leg 
like a boatman’s oar 
wading through a cemented river

He was shockingly still, 
almost like a helpless bird 
whose wings had gone numb 
in mid flight

I tried to lift him up, 
too heavy a loneliness 
for my fearful shoulders

With the help of stranger’s pity, 
we placed him back in his cot

“Why did you go out 
when you can’t walk, 
you lame idiot? ”
his partner said,
with maddened love

He longed for something 
he could find only in the world 
without a ceiling

All were angry, 
except me

I was possessed 
by a grief 
that froze my pupils

The sight of his immobility
on that estranged street 
drowned my sweating flesh

“Never leave him alone,” 
I said

I don’t know much 
about my grandfather


I do know 
that my family never told me 
about his death 
until I returned to my hometown

that he craved to see me 
in his last moments

to feel this face of mine 
in the retracting nerves 
of his tired eyeballs

to say that thing 
he could never wrap his lips around

I do know 
how I asked my grandmother 
why his bed was empty

how I wept 
sinking into her saree
with an intense desire 
to flee from that moment

from mortality 
from love

from bonds 
without closures

how death pulled apart 
all the sutured fabrics 
of my quivering being

how guilt raked my heart 
over raging coals 
lit with betrayal

I do know 
that they built a tiny hut 
inside the grave 
to shelter his spirit

I knocked at its door, 
no one answered

I still wait 
seeped in regret

he shall forgive me

and I will feed him 
naked seeds of boiled peanuts

That day, 
I shall ask,

“How did you propose 
to your first love, Nana? ”

Abul Kalam Azad is a poet of Indian origin working in Japan.

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