‘Who sacrifices unto fire’

‘Who sacrifices unto fire’

Use twice per decade for purging, my new matchbox, Fire-brand matches, states in small letters on the back. My father would have really liked this one, as he was an epic firestarter, if that's a word. Actually, he was more of a firetender, which should be a word: he really liked the whole process of preparing for, and making, and tending, and then putting out fires. One at work, and two more at home – good for wintertime chills, monsoon dampness, hordes of mosquitoes or late-night contemplation. He would have liked my new Fire-brand matches too, though he would have said that he's purging all the time anyway, and that just two fires per decade is as good as no fire at all.

My mother didn't share my father's spiritual fire in the belly, instead using her matches with more utilitarian purpose. Of course she kept the homefires burning; and every winter it was she who chose the day on which to light up the hillock on which we grazed our goats. In retrospect, perhaps it was she who was more the firestarter. I could never understand why burning the hillock was her responsibility rather than my father's, given his love of firetending. But so it was. He would be gone throughout the blaze, and come back only afterwards, bleary-eyed, as though he'd been staring into smoke all day. And when, the following spring, the green shoots would rise again above the blackened ash, he would always avert his eyes.

Last night I dreamed of them both, though, and awoke fevered but calm. Fire-brand, they said, walking through a fog. And then they began to sing, as the old-timers used to sing of their own old-timers: And we went running through the cinders of our imagination: We were free.

This is part of a regular series of Himal's commentary on work by artists incarcerated in Tihar Jail, Delhi, made available through the Ramchander Nath Foundation (www.rnf.org.in). This work is by Raju, watercolour on paper, 31"x25".

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Himal Southasian