Mum liked stories, long ones, short ones, funny ones,
sad ones, the old ones were the best.
Halcyon days in the crisp Rawalpindi air, carefree
under the shadow of colonial rule. Partition trains soaked in bloody violence
never to forget.
Partying in the messes and verandahs of Delhi and Nasik, dressed to the nines,
smart officers ignored, proudly accompanying her daddy:
Major Lachman Singh Indian hockey player
1952 Olympic football team manger, buyer of boots in Helsinki.
Meeting the West Indian cricketers Walcott, Weekes, Worrell
sparkle in her eyes, histories unfolding
the past needs to be told, again and again, the past is the future
1962 monsoon wedding, welcome to Heathrow. 1963 snow, me.
Once upon a time…
Mum liked repeating tales ‘Mum not that one again, we’ve heard it
before, boring.’ Mum just carried on, with even more verve.
Diaries redundant, mum’s instant recall, birthdays, anniversaries,
oceans apart, histories together,
cards written, presents shipped.
Mum could talk, she talked to anyone, everyone, no one
to the end she spoke as if life depended upon words.
Recalling cold dark winter evenings, coal fires burning
heart-warming immigrant life, letters home.
Cosmopolitan living, monkey gods, Durga ma, fish and chips on Fridays, hi ram, It’s a knockout, laughing loud, Benny Hill and Norman Wisdom on the box, bhajans and Lulu. Carry on up the Khyber, It ain’t half hot mum. Nation time, ordinary lives.
Mum and dad hosts of Handsworth, alu paratha and tandoori chicken
little money, lots of joy, good times
time catches up, the past a lost image, photographs as frozen life.
dad lying down at the bus stop, mum’s despair.
time standing still. Nightmare
your nightmare, our nightmare
Gasping for life, fireworks burning bright, you left as dawn broke
the last breath ended our world,
your words live for eternity
now you are free to fly,
as little birds outside your window, till the end of time.
Mum so many stories still to be told. Tell us another one.
Shanti Shanti Shanti
(This poem was read at Narinder Sharma’s funeral on 16 Nov 2013)