This was the 31st night. The end of 2013. With the extra rice and milk, my mom decided to make kheer as a celebration to welcome the New Year. Sleepy after the days adventure’s and contented with a full stomach, I was ready to fall asleep. I hadn’t really seen what I had been eating. I just knew there was rice and there were vegetables in there. The light was too low, we were all too hungry and it was only the songs that we were singing that kept our patience in check. And anyways, after years of trekking I have realized that even if the food you’ve cooked is burnt or raw, you are so hungry that you eat it anyway. Plus, you made it so you better eat it. My mother adds in a bonus of stern gazes to make sure no one else complains either. And we don’t. For all we know, we might be in the food next time. So we ate and sang. I was not really in for kheer; sleep was more important to my tired mind and body. As I sat down my father came and lay his head in my lap. My mom was sitting nearby putting my sister to sleep in the traditional way.
Oh yeah, there was a traditional way. Maharashtrian ladies had this weird way of putting their children to sleep. They folded their legs and sat on the ground with the child comfortable places in their lap. Then they bobbed their knee on which the child’s head was kept. In sync to this bobbing knee and bobbing head was the mother’s or grandmother’s hand. So every time the knee and head bobbed up their hand flew up only to come down and smack the child’s head. I guess smacking is a harsh word. The hand was cupped, not flat and it never hurt the child. It was not exactly hitting either, because no mother would hit their sleeping child, nor would the child be silent if their mother was hitting them. Some simple rhymes and lullabies went in sync to the rhythm provided by the bobbing. I don’t know how any child ever slept with all that bobbing and singing but every child did. Every time. Without fail. I had been subject to it too by my paternal grandma (i.e. Aaji) when I was little. So while my sister slept through that torture, my dad lay his head in my lap. My dad’s friend a.k.a. Trekker uncle a.k.a. Prasad kaka was lying in front of me. With no warning at all he suddenly started spouting random bits of Marathi. Only a few lines later did I understand that he was singing not songs but poems. Yes, dear westerners, India sings its poems. Not speaks them. Or reads them. But sings them. Whether Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Pali, Prakrit, or even Urdu. Poems are sung. And they are beautiful. Coming back to the point, I just sat there trying to understand the words he was spouting. But I had been out of touch for too long. At school we spoke English and wrote English. With friends we spoke a disgusting goo of all languages. Something like- arre, I was saying that tujhe otthey jaake aamba purchase karna chahiye. Thats, hindi-english-english-english-english-hindi-punjabi-hindi-marathi-english-hindi-hindi. So yeah, it’s disgusting. And yeah, I was out of touch with my mother tongue. Or father tongue. Because my Father spoke Marathi and Mother, Punjabi. So yeah, let’s call Marathi my father tongue.
Realizing my dilemma, my father came to my rescue with ready translations. Before long I got a hang of the language and asked my father for lesser and lesser translations. Catching up with the fervour, Prasad kaka’s poems started getting better and better. I can’t remember any of the poems and I wouldn’t be able to translate them anyway. They are just too beautiful and I don’t think I would be able to do them any justice. Besides, no translated work is ever as good as the original. The essence of the language dissipates in another language. And some words are so original to one language that they lose their effect, intensity and meaning in the other language. For example, one word in Japanese summarizes and means much more than its three word English translation ‘Long lost love’. So… No translations. Sorry. But after the poems my mother said that Prasad kaka was nothing compared to his father, who had poems on the tip of his tongue. He knew millions of poems, their history, the poets. And he had a poem for every occasion. And I told them that I couldn’t imagine such a man. All my imagination fell short when it came to envisioning him or his life. But my father said that I had indeed met him albeit when I was very young. He had put me to sleep with his poems. I had heard more poems from his mouth than his own grand-daughter.
And with that, I fell asleep.