Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Poetry and prose

Sona stared at the page. The words didn’t change. Nor did they make any more sense to her than they had yesterday.

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Strictly speaking, this was yesterday’s work and she did not really have to study today but last night they showed Jab We Met on TV and she had never seen the whole film before so she begged and cajoled her parents into letting her watch it for the rest of the evening.

Jab We Met she could understand. She didn’t understand why that man at the hotel reception had kept looking at Kareena like that or why he suggested that they should book the hotel room by the hour instead of the night but Didi said she would understand everything when she was older. Anyway, she couldn’t ask too many questions because Didi said if Ma-Baba came in to see what they were watching the TV would be turned off. But apart from that bit she understood the movie.

Wordsworth was something else altogether. First, what kind of a name was Wordsworth anyway? English people had strange names. In her school textbooks she had a poem about a boy called Timothy Boon which her teacher always pronounced “Bone” but Didi said was “Boon”. Then, there was another poem about a boy called Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore (who was a boy who never would shut a door). That poem was by somebody called William Brighty Rands. What kind of a word was Brighty? Bright she, knew, and brightly too, but Brighty sounded like a spelling mistake.

Indian names could be strange, she mused, but she liked her own name. Sonali Singha. Of course, she really wished she could be called Kareena instead. Maybe when she grew up she would look like Kareena, with that long, straight hair and that perfectly shaped mouth. And she would be thin and glamorous and wear lovely jeans and tops and salwar-kameez and not boring old sarees like her mother. Minudi didn’t like wearing sarees either, thought Sona loyally.

But in the meantime Kareena was in the movie and she was stuck looking at Wordsworth. Why didn’t they write the full word, she wondered. Why write “wander’d” or “o’er” and make the student guess at the word they meant? Perhaps it was a secret puzzle or some game: fill in the missing letters, winner to finally understand what the poem meant.

Baba had handed her the printout on Friday night. He took it out of his briefcase and told her to look the difficult words up in the dictionary. He said it was time she read something more than those childish poems they taught her in school. Ma told him to sit with her and explain the poem to her but Baba was in a hurry to have his bath. And now it was Monday afternoon and she still had no idea what it all meant.

Daffodils were flowers, she knew. Perhaps pink ones, with a lovely smell like rajanigandha. But she was sure the collective noun for flowers was “bunch”, not “host”. Were daffodils a kind of people, then? And why was this Wordsworth floating over the hills? Was he dancing like Maria in Sound of Music? Did he have children who were dressed in curtains?

It was no use, she thought. She couldn’t make any sense of this without a dictionary. She went to her older sister’s desk and pulled out the big Oxford dictionary. She started hunting for D but the pages parted naturally at O. There was a sheet of paper there, torn from a notebook. It looked like a letter and she eagerly read the first words, “Dear Meenakshi, I love you – !”

She hurriedly closed the book and looked around guiltily. She was not supposed to touch Didi’s desk and somehow, she didn’t think telling Didi that Baba had told her to consult the dictionary would help. Not after she had seen the letter. She scooted back to her own table and sat there with a worried frown on her face. Wordsworth and his daffodils fluttered softly to the floor, abandoned yet again.