- Two Sentences(exile : life)
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[End Page 36]
From the front row I watched the highway disappear into smoke or fog and then darkness, the full darkness of a countryside without light, the headlamps showed [End Page 37] a few yards of stubble and dirt on either side, then gloom, then darkness, we were on the Grand Trunk Road, such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world according to Kipling, one of the quotations we memorized at school, that year I had Mr. Brown or maybe it was Mr. Gotobed, I couldn’t say his name without laughing, until one morning he smacked me across the hands with his ruler, but now it was the Christmas holiday and I was away from Mr. Brown or Mr. Gotobed, whoever it was, away from Hong Kong for the first time, but the Grand Trunk Road wasn’t a river of life, it was empty and had been for hours, and the road was broken, sometimes it was hardly there, my head pitched against the window or the rail in front of us while the bus clamored in low gear, it was impossible to sleep, not even if I rested my head on my mother’s shoulder, though my sister was sleeping with her head in our mother’s lap, and others were sleeping across the aisle and in the rows behind us, wrapped in blankets, their bodies draped over their luggage, but not my mother, she had our bag between her knees and kept a hand on it too, on the clasp, because she was carrying money or silks or a bottle of Black Label, gifts, in any case, and in India you always had to watch your bag, even at night when everyone was asleep or especially then my mother said, she wasn’t going to sleep for the seven hours between Delhi and Chandigarh, she was awake and I was awake and then we were turning into the state bus terminal and it was morning, but I don’t remember the dawn, the reddening sky, the cold wind that cleared the air, all that was still to come, so maybe at last I was asleep—
one day when I woke my sister had her arm around my waist, we shared a bed and a wool blanket at my grandparents’ house, our breath showed on the windows, and my grandmother came in with a cloth over her wet hair, she’d heard us whispering, her salwar-kameez smelled of mothballs, she went out and then came back with warm buffalo milk in steel cups, I watched her stir the cream with her forefinger, she sang the morning prayer while we drank, ik o-ankaar satnam kartha purakh, then she sprayed rosewater over our heads and later I went with her to the garden while my mother and sister and grandfather ate breakfast on the terrace, we walked the rows of winter vegetables—potatoes, peas, mustard—she pulled weeds and I did, I was seven but my head was almost to her shoulder, she said this is a cold winter, little brother, we might lose the potatoes, she said this in Punjabi not English, and she rubbed her mustache and looked up to the mountains, or really they [End Page 38] were foothills, but the peaks of the hills were sharp and we could smell or taste the snow in the mornings, in the air that blew from the north—
we were there a week and it was all the same and then the day before we left three things happened, first I was on the avenue with my mother, we’d been sent to buy milk or flour, we were waiting for a tonga—I loved the sound the ponies made on the pavement, and the smell when we sat in the carriage—and I realized the ground was vibrating, then shaking, and there was the roar of heavy machines, a Land Rover turned the corner, then an open-bedded truck, followed by another truck and another, there were...