It all started with an old bible on my bookshelf. I had seen it there for quite a few years now – the spine cracked, dog-eared pages nibbled on by termites, the text underlined at places with a deep red pen. The book stood out among its newer colleagues – a collection of Harry Potter novels, science fiction works and encyclopaedias.
Nestled among its leaves were ten small pages, neatly torn from a notebook. Someone had written verses and chapter names on them. The handwriting was small, at times barely readable. I thought it was my father’s. He wrote in Assamese a lot but he did take a lot of notes in English. He also left this world about ten years ago.
Perhaps this was just me trying to find a lost connection with him, etching to find meaning in those scribbles like it was a dictionary. I never talked to him. Most of the time, I was just frightened to even be around him. He did not say anything to me either, just the sporadic grunts of approval or dissatisfaction.
His character in the story of my life was written by many authors. My mother, grandmother and other family members described him as a gentle soul, capable of attaining much greater heights. He was loving and caring, like most husbands, fathers and brothers. He was a traveller, as showcased in our countless family photo albums.
Cooking was one of his popular hobbies and fishing was his regular choice of escape from everyday life. He was a cricket fan, something I remembered from those nights he stayed awake to watch India play in the 1999 World Cup. I used to dress up as a paramilitary fighter with his cricket gear as a toddler. My father was all this and so much more. Everyone had a story to tell, paint another stroke on that canvas.
My mother brought an old notebook from 1984 to compare the handwriting. To my disappointment, it was not my father’s. Another one if his friends perhaps, my mother presumed. I was dejected. Mother pointed out that my father’s handwriting was neater, more compact.
I scanned through the diary and its contents. Poems, thoughts penned down in Assamese that I could not read. I spoke it very well, but my boarding school education had left me limited in understanding my mother tongue.
Mother read out one of his poems. It was called “Point of view,” a short, seven-line verse on how a poet saw his world. There were others, a lot of them. Sonnets about love and life; longer compositions on potential, the irregular future, family. There were heartbreakingly beautiful. I checked the signature for a date. 1984. My father was just 20 years of age and already composing works of art far beyond his time.
These were his thoughts, his feelings and sense of perception I had never known or felt. He was as illegible to me as those words in his diary. Mother read some more of his work. He had later written a lot on pride for our country, for his country in another notebook. One of the diaries was a gift from two of his friends, probably during his graduation, asking him to continue his passion for poetry. They wrote asking him to never get lost in his own reflections, to never lose his way and that his words were sweeter than all their love from childhood or from their girlfriends.
They were all on the cusp of adult life, looking ahead into the unknown. My father’s friends saw greatness in him, in his work – something he perhaps never viewed in himself. He published a short collection of some poems and continued to write till I was about five or six. He stopped writing at the turn of the new millennium. Time had broken him, layered his feelings and wishes with blankets of responsibilities, relationships and work.
There is nothing more painful than to watch an artist stare at a blank canvas, looking for inspiration that never appears. There is nothing more obscure than sands lost in time, than watching the wind through a windowpane. I learnt all that from scribbles in a journal.
As I continue to peel the layers to discover the person my father was, his poems seem to be speaking to me. They utter words not of misery, or of abandonment, but of faith, hope and optimism. They ask for courage in a time of fear, inspiration during commonness, and happiness when times are at their harshest. These are words of a 20-year-old full of promise, talking inadvertently about a 40-year-old who never lived up to it.
My father, the poet.