Part 4: Ever After
she heard it as an echo
in her inner ear, disembodied,
as, in a sense, all voices are -
We'll take him, Shakira.
He can travel with us.
You've enough on your hands
with the other four.
There are places still
on the second bus, inshallah!
At that swollen moment
there was a shadowy unburdening
because at that time, perhaps
any child was a burden.
How she would wish
as the weeks and the months
and the lifetimes churned on
to undo Take him,
to force back the heavy, rusted
hands of the clock -
God's clock held by God's hands
in permanent view.
Say your goodbyes, ticked the clock.
No time to lose.
But who was left for goodbyes -
her Hindu friends, the friends of friends?
A stream drying up.
How to say it?
It was hard to sit on a cane-seated chair
on her old verandah and sip tea,
the conversation curdling
like milk for the weekly paneer.
Tomorrow we will be gone.
The risk of departing
and the risk of remaining
weighing much the same.
Was the worst goodbye to the house?
The house was her second skin,
hardier than her first,
an island in the deafening, tumultuous sea.
She was married to its daily rhythms -
the kneading, the sweeping, the praying . . .
it was dauntingly calm.
And Ludhiana itself, the Old City
and the New -
the Civil Lines with their flowering trees.
The Christian Medical Hospital.
The cloth factories and the temples.
The neighbourliness of the lanes. Her lanes.
Bleeding internally, the city
tried to appear whole
for a final goodbye -
as, they would gather and wait
under Hindu sun and Moslem rain
Hindu rain and Moslem sun.
Nothing was wrong with the clock.
The clock ticked on.