My Mum told me, when I was very young, about the trauma of her father, my Papaji, coming home bruised and bloody after being attacked by people he had travelled to and from work with every day for years.
That trauma lives with her – she talks about it as if it were yesterday.
The artwork Cycle accompanies this poem. It is about the cycle of war and displacement we are caught up in. There is a barbed edge around the circle speaking of artificial boundaries created to divide and contain people.
When Partition’s mortal knife
sliced away the life she knew
Mumma was a child of twelve
one day trusted neighbours came
sorrow in their kind, brown eyes
told them that they were not safe
And we cannot protect you
Papaji, so calm, replied
But everything seems normal
she still remembers vividly
the day they paid attention
Papaji came back from work
the passengers he daily saw
who on the weary journey home,
always shared their joys and woes
stopped the bus, pulled him off
his clothes were torn, glasses smashed
I don’t how he was alive
He was so bruised and bloody
this moment when she realised
her dad was mortal never dies
and surely must explain her view
that danger’s always lurking
when I hold my precious girls
to soothe away their childish fears
and kiss their shining faces
I feel her shock, still deep and real
I don’t know how she bears it
Listen to Suman reading Mortal:
People talk about the rivers of blood at Partition.
Mum, my Grandma, and my younger Uncle went to what stayed as India first, but Papaji and her older Brother arrived later, bringing with them the few belongings they could in a horse and cart.
She told me that Uncle said he would never forget the horror of seeing rivers running red with blood, and walking over dead bodies lying in the road.
The artwork Anthology accompanies this poem. Anthology speaks of the fact that we are all individuals with our own stories as well as being part of a collective humanity. We are all connected.
in the embers
of our former lives
smudged with ash
newly minted ghosts
whispering beside us
stones ripping our feet
sharp reminders to keep
on running, keep ahead of
carrying our children precious
burdens, weighing us down
pushing us forward
in the dark red-eyed,
in the river