METRO PLUS

My poem for you

What can surpass the joy of taking a leisurely stroll with a growing child? — Photo: K. Gopinathan

What can surpass the joy of taking a leisurely stroll with a growing child? — Photo: K. Gopinathan  

Life might be more convenient without children, not to mention less maddening, less crowded, less hysterical, and less crazed. But life is not about convenience; it is about rooting and branching, learning to wield the world. KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH sets the tone for Children's Day today.

THE IRONY of it — I've just chased seven-year-old Kunju from the room with a crotchety, "Go away pest, I don't want to see you," so as to sit and tranquilly write my Children's Day piece.

Even as I fumble for a good start comes Kunju's parting shot: "Then why was I born in your stomach?" sits at my shoulder sneering with the persistence of a Jiminy Cricket as I type: "Jesus said, `Become as the little children to come to me.'" Delete. I try Gibran's "Your children are not your children, but the sons and daughters of fate left a while in your care."

"Hah!" sneers the voice at my back. Delete, delete.

Just as it begins to seem that I will spend all evening fumbling for that start, my eyes fall on a shabby secondhand book, a jaunty Corgi lounging between an austere Collins edition of the Poems of St. John of the Cross and an exquisite Signet King Lear. Eric Malpass's Oh, My Darling Daughter is a treasure; its mixture of realism and fairy tale is reassuring and a great uplifter if you ever feel a bit crushed and shamed by the likes of Gibran.

Oh, My Darling Daughter is funny, wise, honest and touching rescued by humour from being facetious or smug; it has neither one-dimensional children who are good when their parents are good and bad when their parents are bad, nor selfless parents whose every choice revolves around raising their children. It releases you from thinking that to be a good parent means unmaking yourself — a clearly undomesticated and often self-centred Clem (entine) and a bewildered Harry actually make good parents, their children learn that life is all about being human.

Life might be more convenient without children, not to mention less maddening, less crowded, less hysterical, and less crazed. But life is not about convenience; it is about rooting and branching, about navigating light and dark, about learning to wield the world — diverse, troubling, sad and mixed up — in the untiring attempt to salvage our own humanness. For me, nothing could possibly surpass the sheer human exultation in walking hand-in-hand with a growing up daughter, and have her open her heart to me. I would willingly trade many inspired days of writing — even a perfect poem — for a rainy evening, with my 14-year-old, to hear her speak of how she loves the rain, to have her press her hand into mine and ask about why some people are so bad. As she ventures an answer to her own question, I am filled with pride, and I understand that this too is my work, that this too is the fruit of my labour, the measure of my life's harvest.

It makes me remember my mother; it also reminds me of one of the loveliest passages from Oh, My Darling Daughter: "I sat down next to her on the settee. I wondered how often Mother and I had sat thus, together, not needing words, sipping our bedtime drink — cocoa, Ovaltine, coffee, and now Benedictine. It was a part of my life, something that had always been there. It was strange. In our cocoa period, when I'd been a wriggling creature in a ponytail and a blue woolly dressing gown, I had loved and worshipped her as I am convinced she deserved. And now, in our Benedictine period, I loved her just as much."

Oh, and did I start this piece with telling you about chasing the seven-year-old imp out of sight? Well, he's just slipped me a drawing underneath the door that has a grinning round face with bug eyes and giant ears that says, "Missing you."

Why does a bird stir inside my heart and my eyes fill when I know the monster is going to heckle for the PC as soon as I let him in? Why do I open the door? It turns out to be one of his graceful evenings and he lies on the bed reading aloud from and chortling at The Emperor's New Clothes. That too has a child, one much like this, I would venture.

Soon I am drawn into a discussion about whether The Emperor's New Clothes would make a good computer game, his sisters stop watching MTV and join in; soon they have commandeered the computer, and not much later, a pillow fight erupts in my "tranquil" room.

I open my mouth to chide but it shuts without my volition as I catch sight of the picture they painted on my wall after I moaned over how unpoetic it was in here. A sky full of rainbow, flights of many coloured birds, what looks like a magic woman, a house, a tree, ducks, ponds, a road, clouds.

Somehow it never seems so lyrical when I am alone here.

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