Baba: two short syllables in Odia, unlike its Hindi or Bangla counterparts where the first syllable stretches in the word for ‘father’ or ‘papa’. nothing about you was a stretch, in Odia, it is a sing-song sound like a swing, which you made for us and would pass under as you pushed us high even flat and precise like the hands of a clock and now, of time: your life matched the quick paces of the two syllables that held you, for the three of us. nothing stretched in your leaving either: you fought with swift strokes and in your inimitable quick style, you left, without even a “bye bye”. you rarely said ‘bye’ once, always in twos, always repetition not surprising that we await a return. Baba, what language do I remember you in? remembering is a repetition that I do not want to endure- it means the first event is lost. Baba, barsa padi laani, ‘It’s starting to rain, Baba’ Baba, khaiba badhaa helani,aasa, ‘The food is on the table, baba, come’ Baba, mo print-out neiki aasiba, ‘bring my print-outs with you on your way back’ a little bit of this, a little bit of that two languages together and apart; in the later years, it was always English when I fought back but when I remember you in Odia seas threaten to drown my heart. what language did we love in? mostly indecipherable but this comes to me often– I was inconsolable in school because a teacher had been harsh my sister called you and you came straight from work and took me home no questions asked; on your scooter, as I stood in front, six years of age, tears fast drying up, before my mother sent us right back, I tasted unadulterated love, a smattering of the freedom from hurt and fear that only love can bring us. the logos of love stands tilted and shaped like a father in a red shirt on a Bajaj scooter appearing on a hot afternoon in the middle of a harsh school day waiting with a smile on the other side of iron gates. If language could hold then I’d hold you there forever but look at me, alien and bereft in my own land. where I am I have come only to see you leaving, the gates in between seem to be made of something stronger than metal this time. I am thrice removed from you now remembering you in a language that was neither this, nor that outside of you, in many places at once, desolate, inconsolable and mad, I am placeless, nomad. what language did I love you in? that’s easy – it was the language of silence. I hope you heard through the whirr of the ventilator the ensnarement of sedation. you must have remembered that I spoke best when I was silent when you swung your head with a sudden jerk as they put you on with me on a hospital video call as you fought to regain your senses. what language did we lose you in? Chaali gala? you left? you walked away? chaali- to walk in Odia but also to go and how you always loved both ‘let’s go’, ‘chaala chaala’ you urged us to be on the move you, always towards me, always to, in twos, some of me now gone with you, some of me smothered, split, unsaid wondering where you could have gone you were always so at home here the earth solid under your feet. home is a watery place since your leaving good thing, for you didn’t like swimming. what language do I find you in? I find you in between worlds in the little spaces between the big things where you always lived where you are most unwritten, unwritable checkered lungis, warts on your clear skin that bothered you now and then unreasonable fights and uncontrollable laughter at memories of follies which once seemed like iron gates opening wide, as our sides hurt and our egos melted into joyful tears. Baba– your name to us or what we call you, a token of the untranslatability of twined lives, of your indelible presence on my being, on my tongue which I may have been foolish enough to believe was mine alone now I see, what I may not have seen, you are a language I had learnt without being taught, a mother-tongue, a language that is home. these two short syllables, packed closely together, all the place you need to live on
miracle called life
this wondrous body, with orbs and orifices, veins running like wild brookes amidst a forest of atoms. this ever-giving body, how hard it works but never in doubt about what it must knead, when it must rest and when sow seeds. let your body heal, it is stronger than you know or think, trust the heart, it knows, in faith and love it grows as does your glorious body– It's the stage of the miracle called life.
Sonali writes : This poem I wrote for my father when he was being treated for Covid in the semi-ICU on oxygen support and couldn't read, but I sent it to him nevertheless. Once he came home after being on ventilator support, only to go back to the hospital again after three days, he remembered that I had written a poem for him and asked for it through gestures and barely audible speech. I read it to him, overwhelmed with emotion, little knowing that we would lose him five days from that day. His asking for it on that day, is all the validation the poet and the daughter in me will ever need.
Dr. Sonali Pattnaik is a teacher, poet, visual artist and academic. She was a permanent lecturer at Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College where she co-founded with students, the literary journal Palimpsest. She has since then taught Literature in English, Gender Studies and Film Studies to graduate and under-graduate students for over a decade at several colleges of Delhi University, Mumbai and Gujarat University. She currently serves as Visiting Faculty and ‘Outside Expert’ on the Board of Studies in English at The Department of English, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. Her poetry, artwork and book reviews have been published in several journals and anthologies, including The Bombay Review, Yugen Quest Review, The Book Review, The Indian Express, Muse India, Cafedissensus, Wordgathering, Writer’s Asylum, Women’s Web and The Shout Network and Through the Looking Glass: Reflecting on the Madness Within, Indie Blu(e), Pennsylvania, USA: 2021, The Kali Project, Indie Blu(e), USA: 2021 and Journeys, Sampad, UK: 2010. Her debut book of poetry, When the Flowers Begin to Speak awaits publication later this year by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. Her academic publications and interests converge on gender, cinema and body politics. Her work can be found at www.sonalipattnaik.com and her Instagram handle @versonali.