SHAH ALAM KHAN | 31 JANUARY, 2019
We can’t risk the swallows’ non return
Will the swallows fly home this summer? Will the Nightingale sing the ballad of hope ever again? And the tiny canary, caged in oblivion, fly back to where it belongs? Will this summer be like summer? I don’t know.
But I know the lifeless horizon is never forever. The dark night has to yield, dark and however cold it may be. The rays of light are ushered into darkness, thrust upon the soul of night to turn it red. Yes, red with the blood of hope and yellow with warmth. Somehow the ancient Winter of Quasimodo must give rise to the summer of Blake.
The somehow, I don’t know. The somehow only hope can decipher.
And the swallows, what predicts their return? The smell of summer maybe. Or warmth of the yellow horizon. I don’t know but still they return. Somehow. They return over blue oceans, flying over valleys of flowers and ruined cities. They fly, because to fly is to reach the zenith of truth. They return because to return is in them. Their souls have tiny, stoic wings which flap at the yield of summer in faraway lands. A summer where the orchards of hope will bloom and the mulberry tree never lose its leaves to the chilly draughts of hate. The summer, I want to live.
But there are many who won’t see this summer? Yes, I know their names. The gusts have blown them away into a land which has no summers, no winters, no rains, no hate: the nothing land. The nothing land of immensity. How can we march into summer without their memories tugged under the warmth of our beating hearts?
They are, they were the harbingers of this summer. They are the light of dawn which turns night into day. Won’t the returning swallows look for them? What if the yellow canary seeks for the little girl in purple dress, who went missing looking for her ponies in the green meadows of hate? Won’t the singing koel ask for the way to the homes of those who left us? And the mulberry tree, won’t it refuse to bloom in their absence?
And what will we say to the soft summer clouds who wander the blue sky looking for that brave whose body was riddled with disgust? Won’t they refuse to pour on this land to raise the wonderful smell of wet summer earth? Yes, they fortunately will.
We will lie to them all. We can’t risk the swallows’ non return. We can’t risk the koels not to sing again. The cruel silent winters have frozen away a few, but that doesn’t mean the summers have to wait. And this summer, precious as a child’s new toy, has to come.
It has to come!
It has to come for the koels and the swallows. It has to come to thaw us from our stony ice coffins of hate.
It has to come because the winters we faced have drawn out every morsel of life from our green trees and the singing birds.
Not the gods of earth or the gods of heaven can halt this summer from emerging on us.
This is a summer etched in stone over the graves of the martyrs who fought for its being. The long weeds of neglect surrounding these graves must be singed by the summer sun.
So does the approaching summer belong to, the swallows and the canaries and the koels? I don’t know. It probably belongs to them all, and to all of us, and to those who sleep hungry under the shade of the mulberry tree.
Summers, unlike the winters we have passed through, cannot belong to the one who is all powerful and full of hate.
We all have an entitlement to this summer. The swallows must return home this summer. This is the summer I want to live.
Shah Alam Khan is professor of orthopaedics at AIIMS, New Delhi and author of the book Man with a White Beard.