“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spaces that are empty of you

(For Mark Strand)

It is difficult to recollect
Scenes in sequence
As images blur, shiver, jerk
Jump or scatter into a thousand pixels
Like my old DVD player does.

If they have Panama 20s there
Light up one and listen to me, father.
I can see you, running your fingers
Over that bottlebrush moustache
And picking tobacco flakes
Off your lips.

I hold it against you,
The only thing against you
That you left me when I was just thirteen.
That you never gave me the watch
You promised, for passing high school.
There are the places where we would've gone
Like the forests and streams we once wallowed through.
Rollicking in your Jeep
World War II condemned
With the Sambar deers running ahead
In the flickering headlights
Or that tusker standing its ground
And we running for our lives
As the Jeep got stuck in the mud.

Nobody now, father, to buy me
An Enid Blyton
Or sneak in a Classics Illustrated
Or a Chase, while I should be
Chasing a ball or burying my head in studies.
Dammit, you left too soon!

You bought me my first bicycle, though.
And the Readers’ Digest Young People’s Annual!
Remember that stamp you bought for me
Man on the Moon, in ‘sixty-nine?

What comes most vivid
Are images of food we ate
Masal Dosas and Rose Milks
At the Indian Coffee House
Jelly Custard at Simla Parlour
Biriyani Tea at Liberty.

Images come, hesitant, hazy -
You on your back with froth on your lips
Of mother crying, sisters looking stunned
Of walking, cold, through empty streets
Carrying you on a Mumbai morning
The few passers-by bowing
And somebody muttering
Ram Nam Satya Hai.

It took me a long time
To accept you were dead.
I remember distinctly
That I couldn’t cry and panicked why.
It took me a long time
Because I didn’t want you to die.

We hadn’t had much time together, did we?
You had all my thirteen years
And I –
I had all these years
To think of you; I do, you know.
At fifty-one, I am near the age you died.
And all I have –
These spaces that are empty of you.

I just feel sad, not angry, that you left.
If you could, I know, you wouldn’t have.
I just want to tell you this-
You left me rudderless – ever since.
I wish you were here
With me on the road
Hills and valleys, ups and downs
As I plod through the paths of life.

Are you there?
Are you there, hiding behind my dogs
Are you sitting by my son?
Is it you there on the snow-clad top
Or lying
There on the grass by the side of the stream?

**************** Balachandran V, 21-11-2008, Trivandrum


  1. Beautiful. The images are throbbing live... Your father flicking tobacco flakes from his lips, the bone-shaking jeep drive along the forest tracts, all the things you had shared in 13 years, everything you had missed, the bond the full intensity of which you know probably only now... Your father looks exactly like you in this poem.

  2. No words. Only admiration for you and fascination for life.

  3. A father truly never leaves us. My father passed away on the last night of June in 1996. I was in Manipal, having to get driven to Mangalore to catch a train to Palakkad. It is a numbing feeling but eventually we learn to get over and move on. Now, as you say, I feel his presence somewhere around me. Father never go away, they become your guardian angels.


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