Saturday, 11 October 2014

A Day in September

“What you remember saves you.”

“Bye, bye, bye…bye, bye”

The kids go round and round while the adults say their long goodbyes at the subway entrance. Watermelon and papaya. That is the color of the T-shirts the kids are wearing. Both are in green shorts. Round and round they go with a palm raised in expectation of a high five. Sometimes their expectations are fulfilled.

Bye, bye, bye…bye, bye.

The words ring in my ears even after I have left the kids a couple of Avenues behind.

Bye, bye, bye…bye, bye.

Every parting leaves behind a memory. Every remembrance is a meeting, but also a parting– even if it is the millionth leave taking. We try not to forget.


“I have always liked zinnias the best.”

Her frail, wrinkled arms push a shopping cart. A bunch of multi-colored zinnias peek from the top. Her much younger companion is holding the cart with one hand while pushing her own cart with the other. Her cart too has a bunch of multi-colored zinnias peeking out from the top.

They slowly make their way across the street.

I am left with a remembrance of zinnias: that flowerbed, that garden, that guava tree– and then one day the bent fender, broken glass, blood, crushed knee caps– leading characters from my earliest childhood memory.
While one of them is sleeping on his deck chair, the other is standing and reading a book. Beautiful dappled light filters from the tree above. Their carts are overburdened with large plastic bags. The sleeping one hasn’t shaved in a while. He has a sharp nose and a sharp jaw line. He looks like Gandalf tired, broken after a long hard, quest. The standing one has neatly combed back his white hair. He looks like an aged musician– Jerry Garcia from his later years.

What is it like to live on a folding plastic deck chair?

I can’t catch the name of the book. I can’t take a photograph. I am not carrying my camera. My hand refuses to budge and take out the phone from the bag.

The moment is soon past. But I remember.

“They closed down all the tunnels. People had to walk all the way across the George Washington Bridge… sirens ringing.” The father holding the hand of his son is saying as they overtake me. “I was…”

The child isn’t a teen yet. He is carrying a bulky schoolbag. Eyes fixed on his father’s face he is listening and learning as his father recollects that day when the world as we knew it came to an end, no matter how far away from the George Washington Bridge we lived.

“I was completely devastated.”

The man is saying, while the young boy nods his head. Both are carrying sports kit bags. Other kids in the same uniform as the boy, navy blue shorts and t-shirts are waiting across the street.

“Yeah! It was painful. And then they lost to Holland too.”

Ah! The Football World Cup. “I’ll never forget when the first goal…” now the boy is talking about the match between Germany and Brazil. The words ‘stunned’, ‘devastated’ and ‘painful’ are repeated frequently. Then even before the light turns green, they are talking about their hopes for the next World Cup.

Members of FDNY are dressed in full ceremonials. They are holding hands of their kids, their wives in their formal dresses. It is a somber sight. People are taking their photos. Soon the photos will be instagrammed with an appropriate hashtag. The next day the photographers will move on. But the people being photographed perhaps will not– cannot –move on.

As I turn off the lamp, a blue glow shines through the blinds. Two blue bolts of light rising high above the skyscrapers and the nightly din, casting a blue glow on every darkened square of glass from here to the edge where all is water. Behind every square of glass countless memories are breathing. Behind every square of glass far away from the glow of the blue bolt countless memories are breathing. Some born today. Never forget.

What you come to remember becomes yourself. What you remember saves you.

*“There is nothing for you to say. You must
Learn first to listen. Because it is dead
It will not come to you of itself, nor would you
Of yourself master it. You must therefore
Learn to be still when it is imparted,
And, though you many not yet understand, to remember.

What you remember is saved. To understand
The least thing fully you would have to perceive
The whole grammar in all its accidence
And all its system, in the perfect singleness
Of intention it has because it is dead.
You can learn only a part at a time.

What you are given to remember
Has been saved before you from death's dullness by
Remembering. The unique intention
Of a language whose speech has died is order,
Incomplete only where someone has forgotten.
You will find that that order helps you to remember.

What you come to remember becomes yourself.
Learning will be to cultivate the awareness
Of that governing order, now pure of the passions
It composed; till, seeking it in itself,
You may find at last the passion that composed it,
Hear it both in its speech and in yourself.

What you remember saves you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but to hear what never
Has fallen silent. So your learning is,
From the dead, order, and what sense of yourself
Is memorable, what passion may be heard
When there is nothing for you to say.

–W.S. Merwin, Learning a Dead Language