“Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House” may appear on the superficial level as a poem about an ancestral house. Nevertheless, it signifies, considerably, the Great Indian Culture. The house is said to possess an incorrigible property of letting anything into its confine without allowing it to go back. The Indian culture has forever accommodated whatever had arrived at its threshold. It has incorporated all foreign elements into its internal structure to form a homogenous whole. The adroit repetition of the phrase “lost long ago” points to the loss of its true essence. The use of the present tense highlight the ‘presentness of the past’, how the past and present are intricately linked to each other.
Things that once found their way into the house lost themselves among other things in the house that had also been lost long ago. Therefore this projects the antiquity, rich heritage and innumerable elements the culture encompasses. In a world, were human beings are marginalized, irrational creatures are accepted and provided with an identity (name); as with the intruding cow. The poet also mocks at the so-called tabooisms about natural things in Indian culture. For instance, the mating of the cows that girls of the house were carefully shielded from. Library books once borrowed from libraries never found their way back. Knowledge (books) that once entered into the heritage, formed a king of amalgamation of information refusing to die away. The diversity of festivals and plurality of religion is referred to in phrases like ”the wedding anniversary of some God.” Gramophones continued to remain there. Music was an inherent part of Indian culture.
Owing to poverty and the lack of proper amenities, diseases that once entered the household continued to haunt the scenario, appearing as if there was no permanent cure to it. It may also refer to the wide-spread prevalent superstitions that exist like a congenital deformity or hereditary disease in the Indian society. Sons-in-law and daughters-in-law that once entered the threshold of the house never left it. The Indian culture has always welcomed Western and Eastern elements, as a marriage of cultures. The sons-in-law teaching arithmetic exemplify that alien cultures have imparted a lot too, in the form of knowledge and technology. Bales of cotton were carried off to Manchester in the UK, and these bales returned processed as packets of cloth with heavy bills attached to them. India has forever been a source of rich raw materials to the West.
What an uncle once communicated to a visitor, was repeated by some other visitor to the family, who had no idea that these ideas were initially conveyed by an uncle of the same family. Certain aspects of knowledge and methods had their original roots in India. Though now in a different form, they are communicated back as though something alien. For instance, Sanskrit is the root-base for most of the languages in the world, especially English as in ‘I am’ for ‘aham’.etc. Also, how the concept of zero and the decimal system was introduced way back in India, before they travelled to Arab countries and the European countries and assumed sophisticated forms and returned to us. Al Khawarizmi and Al-Nasavi in 825 AD and 1025 AD respectively referred to the decimal system as ta-rikh ai Hindi and al-amal al-Hindi.The tradition also picked up crude things on the way, like the beggar’s hoarse song, for instance. The negative alien things once that entered the household were also warmly welcomed, because once they entered, they were our own. Sons that had long ago left leaving the soil came back in the form of their hybrid sons. They returned for the smell of their roots, for the smell of their blood.
Some things that went out of this house could never stay out for a longer period of time These included daughters that were married to idiots and were therefore found to be incompatible to live with. Or it happened that these idiots had turned them out of the house. This perhaps alludes to the racist practices that a select few practice in foreign countries.
On a poignant note, the poet ends the poem by mentioning that a boy who once ran away returned as acorpse that had been half-eaten in the Sahara in the year 1943. Certain attributes that leave do return, but in a deadened form .Like the nephew who had left the house to join the army and returned as a dead body. He had been killed in the course of a clash between the country’s border security force and that of the neighboring country’s security forces. Clashes and conflicts may kill the person, but it can never kill the nationalism and patriotic fervour. As Gandhi once said: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts of the people.”
©Rukhaya MK 2010
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