By Makarand Paranjape
Ten thousand miles from home
she sat listening to the song from her youth:
“It was a rage when we were in college. We sang
it from our balcony overlooking the sea in Bombay.”
They sat hushed, out of respect for her memories.
The song was about ducks in a pond–
so predictable, he thought, slightly uneasy,
trying to make out its unfamiliar words
in a mother-tongue rusted from disuse.
He looked at his mother, and burst out:
“I know what will happen. The beautiful duck
will fall in love with the ugly duck
in spite of hating it and calling it ugly.
Then one day, the ugly duck will go away
leaving the beautiful duck to sing this song ….”
His parents were visiting after several years.
Mother looked like a stranger, so old,
quite unlike his image of her;
she had lost all her teeth,
and looked like a real granny
without the dentures.
Their hosts, also Maharashtrians,
had decided to play nostalgic songs,
clinging to bits of lost identities
In this foreign country.
After dinner, driving
home in the cold, he felt slightly embarrassed.
The song troubled him with its refusal
to yield its meaning. Reluctantly,
he found himself asking her to explain.
“They called one duck ugly and crooked,”
his mother was explaining in her old voice.
“Shunned and ill-treated, one day
he swam alone in the water,
wondering why he was different.
Just then he saw his reflection in the pond:
He was no ordinary duck;
he was the royal swan…”
And he remembered at last
how he was the child
left alone by others
consoled by this song.
* * *
Makarand R. Paranjape is Professor and Chairperson, Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was educated at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a Masters and PhD in English. He is the author/editor of over forty books and has published over 150 book chapters, refereed papers, and academic articles. His latest publications include @The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi,” “Making India: Colonialism, National Culture, and the Afterlife of Indian English Authority,” and “Body Offering,” a novel. He is currently the inaugural DAAD-Erich Auerbach Visiting Chair in Global Literary Studies at the University of Tubingen, Germany.
The Literary Nest invited this poem for publication.