A dialogue with James Aboud from 2002.
Some five and a half years ago, I was waiting for the train on the Calcutta Metro, on my way to work. I stood at the same spot where I always stood - in front of a particular mural on the wall across the tracks. This was at the Rabindra Sarobar station, bearing the name of the great poet of India/Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore. So the platform walls were adorned with murals accompanying snatches of his poems and songs, touching on different seasons and moods.
After I started taking the Metro to go to work in a new job, I stood in front of this particular mural, with a picture of a frog on a leaf in water, and two lines, in Bengali. I stood there because it brought to mind my (older) son Rituraj, who as a little child was fascinated by frogs and once sat on his haunches in our house driveway, just gazing away at a tiny frog. Once inside the train, I would stand on the far side, in front of a window, so that I could see the murals in another station, Rabindra Sadan, also named after Rabindranath Tagore. Here there were reproductions of Tagore's pen and ink sketches and his hand-written lines in English, of mystical personal realisations. I would wait to see what lines I'd face each day, and read this and try to internalise it, as a personal message for the day.
After over a year and half of such a routine, standing one morning at my usual spot in front of the frog mural and its accompanying lines, the image and words suddenly became a key to an awesome revelation, where past and present, self and other, ancestor and progeny, literature and scripture, here and everywhere - all came together in me in a very personal way, leaving me utterly overwhelmed and humbled, for having received the gift of Truth, as Being. But some months before that I had gone through an experience that totally transformed me, my outlook, my work, my life. A preparation had taken place, to transform the mundane, into the Divine!
Eshechey borsha, eshechey nobino borsha
Gogono bhoriya eshechey bhubono bhorsha
In my translation -
The rain's come, the new rain's come!
Filling the firmament, a universe of faith's come!
Maybe it was a breakthrough of the child’s imagination in the light of personal pain that enabled Tagore to get a new insight altogether into “the frog in the well”, as a sad sage who eventually found fulfilment!
Here's a stanza from another poem I later wrote:
They throw stones at the frog in the well,
Rama looks, wistful and forlorn.
The sad sage who leapt, sang, and then suffered torture
Now sits drenched in the very heart of heaven!
I had also been quite impressed by the tantric murals in the Kalighat metro station, which I would try to read in my own imagination. Several months later, again on a ride on the Metro, while passing the Rabindra Sadan station (the one with the sketches and lines in English), but this time facing the platform, I saw on the platform lots of young boys and girls, college students, engaged in easy and happy bonhomie. A poem came to mind:
Awe of the universe
And reverence for the dear departed
Interred for posterity
As subterranean viaducts
Of amazing metropolitance.
For me this is a mystic mantra, of rooted personal awareness.
When you are here with me in Calcutta I can try to share this with you!