Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Deep lessons of childhood

At times, I think about nursery rhymes one learnt as a child. A couple of them I am partial to, because of the sense of weightlessness they evoked in my stomach. I'd recite those lines and try to wrap my mind around what's being said. It would feel so ethereal and whimsical - like trying to shape vapour into a horse and ride it to the sun.

The first one is 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'.

I'd always imagined a little boy reciting this. He'd be wearing a red woollen coat, black shorts and a white shirt made of stiff, white cotton. I see him in a hostel, with a glass of hot milk in his hands. He's in a huge, empty music hall that has a grand piano on one side. All his friends are down in a common room playing scrabble or watching TV or reading books. He stands by a huge window overlooking silvery ghostly silhouettes of mountains.

The sky is full of stars. However, there's a specific one that seems to have mutated into several tiny crumples of light. The little boy looks at that and imagines what it feels like - to be so distant from friends and blankets and warm milk. How can one be so small in a field so open and vast? Is the star not frightened? What kinds of games could it play? Hence "Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder how you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky."

I fancy this rhyme going through his head when, twenty years later, he comes to this hall on the night of Christmas eve. The school has long been abandoned by then and there is no piano. He proposes to his sweetheart and as they look out the window, maybe they talk. Maybe he tells her about the star he used to watch alone, while she played Scrabble with her friends in the common room.

The other one still gives me goosebumps and I don't know why. I wonder if it's because of its simplicity, or because it is quite a grave, consciousness-shifting nugget of a thought. Or maybe, at a gut level, as a child I knew what it meant. Yet at a cerebral level, I knew that I was too young to realize what it really means. It was like one of those incredibly beautiful things you are afraid of looking at directly. There's the fear that something momentous will happen and are you prepared to handle it when it does?

The rhyme is: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream; merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream."

For this rhyme, my mind selected a scene from the story 'Wind in the willows'. The badger and two others are in a boat on a full moon night. They are out searching for one of their friends who has disappeared. Initially, they are fraught and tensed. But as they look around, they are taken in with the beauty of that moment. The description in the book is so wonderful and elegiac - it could be set to tune.

Many years later, in a different context, this poem is recited in the movie 'How Stella got her groove back'. It's at Whoopi Goldberg's funeral and her best friend quotes this as part of the eulogy.

I think this rhyme is an amazing little piece of advice to give to a child.

In innocence one finds the courage to accept this wistful shred of wisdom. And having accepted, summon the grace to move on...merrily.


omnithere said...

so strange. as i started reading this post, ria (a little girl who visits our place almost daily) started singing twinkle, twinkle... loudly in the other room.. :)

Mukta said...

:-) i remember ria. although she was very shy and wouldn't talk to me.