being 49 at russell square

i have been here before
sometimes alone
or my wife with me
or we with our children;
but never before at age forty-nine
this unremarkable cuspy year
and all by myself

the place hasn’t changed much
a scattering of oversized pigeons
abundant roses, degenerate
on straggly bushes
unkempt overall like my thoughts
this june mid-morning
time on my hand i wonder
what could this place mean
to a teenager growing up in new delhi–

plenty, when recalled by his
father on winter evenings
the family gathered in the warm kitchen
closeness spurring vulnerable memories:
at forty-nine he went to distant london
to round out an education
stubbornly acquired in orphaned youth
and with dry sandwich in hand
he sat often on a bench like this one
among the many roses
missing wife, two sons
a daughter barely five
–no telephone in his
shared mezzanine flat
nor among the modest furnishings
of his faraway home,
cut off
seeking hard to fare well
in his self-made career
(i call alberta twice a day
and they even faxed me once
in these four days of absence)

brushing ghee on hot chapattis
low voiced but trying to sound
casual, even self-mocking,
speaking of unspeakable loneliness
of a middle-aged man taken from
his home
(and i too was lonely then
scared of growing up relentlessly
with no one to check things out)

and as children play around me
today in russell square
my daughter’s bright face
ringed by curls, my son’s eyes
deep and tentative
come back to me
terribly clear, terribly dear
and i think i know
what children mean, and father too

the place hasn’t changed much
or so i imagine,
that it had been the same place
some thirty-five years back

i fly back in two days;
three years ago
on the bank of the yamuna
i cremated my father,
who once sat in this park

[First published in Mattoid, Australia]