Sudha Padmaja Francis

June 1 to June 7

As a child, I went to places with my family, every vacation, almost always in a train. I remember the sleepless nights on the long train journeys, travelling to Goa, Maharashtra. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu…

 

 

Brown trains became blue trains. The smell inside trains; something which we took home invariably. We wouldn’t know of the smell until we reached home though.

 

I would be given a lower berth mostly, because it was difficult for me to climb  up onto the upper berth. I would lay awake in the night and look out of the window, trees taking different shapes and forms that fascinated me endlessly. I always saw animals and creatures in my half asleep state. It is telling I do not have a single image of things outside a train window now.

 

 

I was fascinated by the red chain one saw in trains to be pulled in case of emergency, as a child. I always used to wonder what would one feel like if someone pulls the chain of the train we are travelling in, unexpectedly. 

 

I think, this is the year since I was born, the least I have travelled in trains. The last I boarded a train was in March 2020; and then the world was held hostage by a virus. And of course our own thoughts on death and mortality.

 

“It is so morbid to talk about death”, a person I once knew used to say. I intend to not run away from my mother’s death until I die.

I do not have a sample of my mother’s voice with me. She died before the time of mobile phones. She loved freezing images. We have so many photographs from our childhood but no sounds. My mother loved train journeys too; the time when she wore her churidhar sets, instead of her everyday sarees, to be comfortable. She also loved movie. She was forbidden to go to the cinema hall in her parental home. We went for all the films that released in theatres.

 

 

I looked forward to every Sunday only for the film that showed on Doordarshan (national television channel). I did not sleep in the afternoon, while everyone else did, to not miss even a second of what the Sunday 4’o’clock film could offer. My mother made special snacks on Sundays.

 

I do not believe in afterlife. I desperately tried to but could not, as nothing presented itself to me in this world to suggest so. But it did , in my dreams. I think images like dreams are sort of an afterlife, holding onto memories and things that were never spoken about.

May 25 to June 1

The Logic of Dreams

May 18 to May 25

Backdairies 1

That photo of dried brown leaves
lying still carpeting the ground
next to the well
taken on that evening walk.

Brown, that fascinating brown
as if it came out of a watercolour painting
The symmetry of the shape of motionless leaves
Leaves from the mango tree in the backyard

Rotten mangoes falling down
Small green mangoes that do not have in them
the fate to become ripe
Falling down beyond the frame
that my photo can aspire to capture

But there is a piece of an orange peel lazily discarded

Summer
Lockdown
Rotten mangoes that fall

Shalini the cat was killed
a few weeks ago
in this lockdown
by hungry restless dogs that came hunting one night

There is an apartment building under construction
just behind the wall of the backyard
that now blocked off that evening light

coming from the open sea
enough to set one’s indulgent and not so indulgent melancholy
all through my tumultuous years
not so far behind
that now spoke through sleepless nights
that came out of months of living here in this country
whose heat/hate did not allow mangoes to grow anymore


Kitchen window opens to this backyard
The lockdown reveals people-workers living inside the ‘under construction’ building
The lockdown has locked them
in the building they have built

probably for the first time in history

I walk every evening
with my headphones crossing the backyard

They are walking about the building too
with headphones plugged in
listening to music or loved ones

Sometimes an accidental glance

A mirror appears on the edge of
a soon-to-be window rim

A mirror with a red plastic frame
I have a feeling its redness will remain with me for a long time to come
I cannot see through thick concrete walls
There must be someone beyond the wall
combing his hair, styling his beard

The mirror disappears
I can smell milk boiling


It must be a strange land to him and his friends
The strange old music that blurts out from my father’s phone
when he waters plants
Mangoes falling all over

Will they leave to their homes away from this strange land
to meet their dear ones
once the rotten mangoes stop falling
in our backyard?
Will they take the red mirror with them once the building is built unto its completion?
How will each of us remember this time when mangoes fell like anything years later?


My father and I go to our backyard one morning
to see where Akira the cat
has transferred her kittens to,
following my brother’s instructions
We stood there clueless under the mango tree
when a voice interrupted our stance from behind

“You are looking for the cat? It just went up the tree.”
Two of them stood on the terrace of the building they had built
smiling and calling out to us
We thanked them and left
the backyard.

May 5 to May 12

What I read in the novel came to me suddenly ,when I was waiting at the hospital last week ,with a dear one of mine. It was the second time we went to the hospital this month. The first was in the first week of April; what we thought would be a short visit, to do away with our feeble doubts about a pain that we were almost sure was some gas problem, turned into a week of hospital stay and confirmation of what one did not even dare to imagine.

In Jeet Thayyil’s new novel ‘Low’, the protagonist tries to deal with the loss of his wife, running away from where they lived to another city, with her ashes( after her cremation) in a box. In the novel Dominic Ullis the protagonist who is a writer reflects on how we have to end up consoling others, more than we get consoled ourselves, after the loss of a dead one. It is the same with grave illnesses I feel. 

I read ‘Low’ during this lockdown. I had borrowed it from the Ernakulam public library before the lockdown. The library’s automated system still keeps sending me SMSs on the dues I have to pay during the lockdown. 

*****************

Is it ok to play ludo when  one waits in the hospital? It would have been unthinkable  the first time we went.

***************

Only one person is let in to the hospital, accompanying the patient. ( I still can’t get to use the word ‘patient’ without discomfort). We skip a chair in between as instructed, to maintain social distance. Not everyone has gotten used to it. Some come in with their masks hanging loosely, in some daze, and suddenly remembers seeing everyone else.

********

All the time I have spent in the hospital in this lockdown, I come back home thinking of all the doctors, nurses and other health workers.. especially the nurses. How stressful and tiring their work  is in these times. What is it to go home after all this, to enter a space so different from what it is here? 

The first time we went, all I could see was surfaces everywhere and fearful eyes above the masks. Fearful eyes of having to make that inevitable trip to the hospital, without any other option.  But our habits have changed and are changing. 

***********

As I sat waiting for the tests to be done this time (and thankfully this visit’s reason turned out to be a false alarm), bell hooks came back to me. bell hooks writes in All About Love about something achingly similar. About how as modern societies we don’t allow others to grieve. Or there is no space or place to grieve after one loses a loved one.

I think I understood so many things about myself after I realised that. I was 19 when I had to first face the loss of a dear dear one. I do not think I realised what that death did to me; what it kept doing to me for years to come and how it could even influence the course of my life thereafter. 

Questions left unanswered: everything, from where she got that particular pyjamas which my hostel roommates loved, to my realisation about how hard it must have been to be her or how and what must have hardened her and why she was the way she was: all of it came too late. 

And yes, we as people don’t let others cry their hearts about their loves ones. It is as if it is a bad omen or something that needs to be brushed away soon; it is as if a grieving person’s sadness will bring death close to us and we don’t want that at all.

***********

There is so much talk about death and illness these days, out there in the open, with the pandemic. Not necessarily sensitive talk or empathetic talk. But it is inevitable to talk about it these days.

bell hooks reminds us that when we know death, we should become more mindful and love even more, going even further away from sexism and misogyny. 

The lockdown has got me thinking a lot about love and death and a framed photo on the wall.

April 21 to April 28

Backyard Diaries

That photo of
dried brown leaves
lying still
carpeting the ground,
next to the well
taken on that evening walk

Brown, that fascinating brown
as if it came out of a watercolour painting
The symmetry of the shape of motionless leaves

Leaves
from the mango tree in the backyard
Rotten mangoes
falling down
Small green mangoes
that do not have in them
the fate to become ripe
Falling down
beyond the frame
that my photo can aspire to capture
But there is a piece
of an orange peel
lazily discarded

Summer
Lockdown
Rotten mangoes that fall

(Shalini the cat
was killed
a few weeks ago,
in this lockdown,
by hungry restless dogs
that came hunting
one night)

There is an apartment building
‘under construction’
just behind the wall of the backyard
that now blocked off
that evening light coming from the open sea
enough to set one’s
indulgent and not so indulgent melancholy
all through my tumultuous years
not so far behind
that now spoke through
sleepless nights
that came out of months
of living here
in this country
whose heat/hate
did not allow mangoes to grow anymore

Kitchen window
opens to this backyard
The lockdown reveals
people
-workers
living inside
the ‘under construction’ building
The lockdown has locked them
in the building they have built
probably
for the first time in history

I walk every evening
with my headphones
crossing the backyard
They are walking about the building too
with headphones plugged in
listening to music or loved ones

Sometimes an accidental glance

A mirror appears on the edge of
a soon-to-be window rim
A mirror with a red plastic frame
( I have a feeling its redness will
remain with me for a long time to come)

I cannot see through thick concrete walls.
There must be someone beyond the wall
combing his hair, styling his beard
The mirror disappears.
I can smell milk boiling.

It must be a strange land to him and his friends
The strange old music
that blurts out from my father’s phone
when he waters plants.
Mangoes falling all over.

Will they leave to their homes
away from this strange land
to meet their dear ones
Once the rotten mangoes stop falling
in our backyard?
Will they take the red mirror with them
once the building is built unto its completion?

How will each of us remember this time
when mangoes fell like anything
years later?

*************

My father and I go to our backyard one morning
to see where Akiira the cat
has transferred her kittens to,
following my brother’s instructions.
We stood there clueless
under the mango tree
When a voice interrupted our stance
from behind

“Billi? Ped ke uper chala gaya!” 1
Two of them
stood on the terrace of
the building they had built
smiling and calling out to us.
We thanked them and left
the backyard.

1/ “You are looking for the cat? It just went up the tree.”

Sudha Padmaja Francis is a filmmaker from Kerala, India. She graduated with a Masters in Creative Enterprise(Film) from the University of Reading, UK in September 2017. She is a recipient of the Felix scholarship for 2016-2017.

She completed her first short film in Malayalam titled Eye Test in August 2017, which was her graduation dissertation film at Reading. Eye Test won the National Award for Best Cinematography in 2017, along with other awards, and screened at many international film festivals. Next, she went on to make a 26 minute documentary film, with the help of a PSBT- Doordarshan Fellowship (2018-2019), titled Ormajeevikal ( Memory Beings) based on the sub-altern musical realm in North Kerala. It has screened at various international film festivals and has been shortlisted for the Toto Funds the Arts Award 2020.

Prior to that, she also did an MA in Cultural Studies at EFLU, Hyderabad.

She has previously presented and published papers on cinema.

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