Summer is almost over, as are the monsoons. The mangoes are most definitely gone, but here I am, still trying to snag one from the tree in the backyard of my childhood. There is nothing more delicious than a mango in the middle of the blistering heat of an Indian June. If this national fruit of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can’t bring us together, I don’t know what can. Happy 70th birthday to India.
The original ‘The Bomb and the General’ is a delightfully optimistic, anti-war children’s book – written by Umberto Eco (The Name of The Rose), and brilliantly illustrated by Eugenio Carmi. It was published in 1989 –
In Italian: By Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas S.p.A.;
In English: By Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
Inspired by the original story, this version retains some of the original text (italicized), and maintains a similar naïveté to create an anti-war message for children. For adults, its a more complex tale about hegemony and insular faith.
The General of our story enjoys a life of ease and gluttony, till he is compelled to seek God, during a moment of personal crisis. This pivotal encounter awakens in him an unshakable passion for God’s word. But his myopic obsession with the minutiae of God’s message clouds its original intent, and provokes an ominous future. Will his country slumber on through the impending doom or will they arise to reclaim their right in a peaceful world?
When my father died last summer, so did my childhood. Pouf! Just like that! And, very UNEXPECTEDLY. In that very moment as I stared at the slowly forming words, ” Your father passed away”. To this, and, with this one person in the world, I was, and, could always be, a child – not just middle-aged progeny, whose achievements (or lack there of) one could gloat or bemoan about. And his very last birthday wish to me (via Skype) said just as much.
It recalled an incident from nearly forty years ago. I was around two years old, and had been watching my brother, who had just started kindergarten, struggling to write his lower case “a” . Fluttering about him, I boasted that writing “a” was so easy that even I could do it. (Yes, kids can be insensitive!). During my last birthday, this incident was still fresh in his mind.
And, just like that 2-year-old, who hadn’t transcended the plasticity of time inside his mind, I continued to make demands long after I had left home. In the US, it was for the things that were almost impossible to find outside of Bengal – Gobindo Bhog Chaal (Very fine grained- fragrant rice), Shona Moongeyr Daal (golden very fine grained mung bean lentils), Moori (Bengali puffed rice), Mukhorochok (a sweet, salty, and sour snack mix) and Mokaibari tea. I knew that despite his failing health, and limited mobility, he would never fail me. And, sure as ever, he would arrive, with these common Bengali treats, packed in (and sometimes, disastrously strewn all over) his suitcase. Along with them, would also arrive a few banal trinkets that weren’t special to anybody, but me.
When he died last year, 16 years after my mother did, not only did I become a middle-aged orphan – but, I also lost that last refuge where I could always be a child.
That child who led a simple life, in a simple town, in a simpler time. That child who spent most of her afternoons reading, drawing, chasing butterflies, climbing trees, eating guavas, and, running around the neighborhood sucking nectar out of wild flowers. That child, who stared, with wondrous rapture at the birds flying across a bright fuschia sky, and, knew that it was time to wander her way back home from the hills behind her house, where she had just whiled away many happy hours. That child whose heart burnt just as brightly as that spotless evening sky.
As a parent to a pre-schooler, I know that it may be many years before I can shrug-off the self-generated urge to stress over school, organize my space to mimic an IKEA display, and make my meals look like they had just jumped out of the pages of Vegetarian Times, and release my heart instead, to long afternoons amidst the wild flowers of California, and, sink my feet into the wet ocean sand.
On the other hand, as a parent to a pre-schooler, it might just be more possible than ever to relive those childhood wonders of peering through grass, looking for snails, squeezing my eyes as the ocean surf hits my face, and dissolving into laughter at the first lick of ice-cream on a hot day.
While I no longer draw with the passion and freedom that I did as a child, my daughter’s free forms lead me to where I want to be.
Here are some of the things she drew when she was a little over two years old.
Picasso had said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” May be by the time she is my age, I will learn to draw and laugh like her again.
It was not the best day. She had been stripped of her womanhood. Shrivelled up inside this unfamiliar androgyny, she felt too debased to dare this world of wondrous, demeaning, and fragile promises. Debarred from tasting such tantalizing portents, she fumbled for a pencil, and touched color to paper for the first time in nearly 20 years.