Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Leave Taking – Cecil Rajendra



Cecil Rajendra, a Sri Lankan poet, captures the bond between a grandson and a grandfather in his poem "Leave Taking". The poem has five stanzas. The number of lines in each stanza is not even. The length of the lines, too, varies.

In the first stanza we hear what his grandson meant to the old man.

The only joy
of  his old age
he often said
was his grandson.

This is not a unique situation. Today many people in today's capitalistic world are too busy to really enjoy the childhoods of their own children. By the time the grandchildren arrive the grandparents are retired and as a result they have more time to appreciate the childhood of the young ones. The parents of the children, in contrast, are trapped in never-ending cycles of responsibilities. Therefore, they are unable to spend much time with their children or old parents. So those who have common needs find comfort in each other’s company. Often the attachment between grandparents and their grandchildren is much stronger than the one between the parents and children.

The grandfather in this poem too has a very affectionate relationship that has “straddled eight decades, three generations.” The two laugh, play, quarrel and make up as good friends do. Their pastime is watching television together. The family may not have much to talk about with the old man, but the “little fellow” is a “fountain of endless chatter.” Loneliness does not plague the old man’s life due to the comforting company of his grandson.

When death rattled
the gate at five
one Sunday morning took the old man away
others trumpeted their
grief in loud sobs
and lachrymose blubber

In the fourth stanza a unique relationship comes to a natural conclusion. On a Sunday morning grandfather dies and his body is being taken away, probably to the funeral parlour. The adults proclaim their grief noisily. But the grandson, who does not understand the concept of death or the finality of death, does not cry. He waves as he usually does when grandfather goes somewhere. Only the fact that his grandfather has not waved back in return saddens him.

He never sheds a tear
just waved one of his
small inimitable goodbyes
to his grandfather
and was sad the old man
could not return his gesture

The language of the poem is simple. Simplicity of the language is suitable to describe such a basic no-frills relationship. The poet is careful not to make the relationship more than what it is by making the boy feel things he is incapable of feeling. By doing so he gives credibility to his work. He also uses irony, both gentle and biting. Rajendra is almost indulgent when he is describing the endless chatter of the child. But one cannot miss the sarcasm in the way he describes the wailing of the adults upon the death of a man they have more or less neglected.         

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