Tessa Ransford



You speak with me in dream - eastern ascetic man Commune with me whatever we seem to say When I ask you where you come from Turning you look at me telling “Kashmir”. High land of sapphires, walnut and mulberry Whose lakes reflect the hills in their violet depths Glaciers melt to crystal rivers Kingfishers skim amid water lilies. The Fisher King may dwell in the Shalimar And we catch fire - to selve and to bear the light Whose the face we each reflect? Jesus the one and the thousand thousand. Kashmir afar I love and remember you Fine wool, fine rice, fine silk such as dreamers find Once in life and ever long for Now I must rest in the bluebird’s promise.


Guardians of India, idealists yet surgeons or engineers, my ancestors to six generations spent lives, sweat, tears, wives and children. Home was a word in the heart, almost strange. My medical grandpa: the only surviving child from ten. My own three siblings died. How precious I was To my parents! My mother’s passion the birds and trees, bright flowers that bloomed in the dust tra la. India and Scotland are entwined like a Kashmir shawl round my life. The knot cannot be unravelled but can uncoil like a snake, start up like the brain- fever-bird that disturbs any chance of rest.


(poems inspired by some of the sentences for which the Urdu was learnt by heart as a model for tenses and modes of expression, when I first lived in Pakistan in January 1960 as a Church of Scotland missionary’s wife to work in women and children’s welfare) poem one ‘Ruth said, “Whither thou goest I shall go, and where thou lodgest I shall lodge’ I had been born in India The man I loved in Scotland would be a missionary I had my doubts about my religious doubts not about the adventure of Pakistan On reaching the ‘mission field’ I felt myself come home but daily had to prove my credentials, as one who had chosen the life for love of a man rather than ‘love of God’ poem two I’m very pleased to meet you It’s a long time since we’ve seen you Will you drink tea on the verandah? hot dusty weary the house the road the work but in the evening - the garden gently cooling and the hornbill watching from the sheesham trees - all I ask is tea on the verandah poem three This is well water. This is rain water Boil sufficient water for us to have tea and for me to wash my hair water drawn from the Persian well - the buffalo toiling round and round - tastes of dark - the land - the soil the sweat - the goodness of the ground water collected from roof or garden - from downpour - the clouds crack open in storm - tastes of far-off snow ranges sky - trees - redemption poem four I was about to come yesterday but guests arrived so I couldn’t Guests expected, excitement company, gossip, laughter - forget the loneliness forget the work so much to tell to ask to share so much to do to provide for their every need our guests are staying days weeks on and on. they make us poor honour forbids we mention it the guest is king of the castle poem five please don’t mention this to anyone but - heat, dust aching legs throbbing head children sick no privacy no light, no water mosquitos, flies ants, weevils the stove smokes - feel like weeping no phone no friend the servant sees me: “the other memsahib never cried when things were much worse” - then I cry and cry the more “please don’t mention this to anyone”- he won’t - his pride and sense of honour restores my own, a little the mali appears barefooted silently with sweet peas. poem six If it is permitted may I say something? Take all your stuff and leave Take your bedding roll and go with all that you have taken of ours under cover of wanting to know about Jesus - watches, money, coffee, my hurricane lamp It’s the lamp I miss the most for me ‘it was a burning and shining light’ on dark nights when the child had a fever poem seven Please bring 2 anna stamped envelopes from the bazaar I have to post these letters What time does the post go? What time does the post go? I need stamped envelopes Whom shall I send to the bazaar on a bicycle? Letters written ‘home’ week by week and the answer waited for week after week but we keep each other alive as ourselves with this flow of words written in tears in tiredness in happiness and longing: ‘I wish with all my heart you could see my adorable baby.’ poem eight Does the watchman stay awake all night? As far as I know he does He may keep awake all night but he certainly keeps me awake all night coughing on the verandah and smoking hash through a hookah - Would he be able to save me from whatever it is that threatens? Yes. Remember how he came running wildly waving his arms and shouting ? I had left the sleeping baby behind when we set off in the mission car poem nine I was glad to cross the ocean and reach Pakistan To hear psalms sung in Urdu to Punjabi tunes and the beat of the tabla the honk honk of the machine which grinds the wheat To watch sugar cane pulped and boiled in a huge iron cauldron on a kiln built out in the field camels feeding under the trees near the village buffalos being washed in the yard which surrounds each cleanly-swept mud-house To see people with pitchers or loads on their heads, walking or cycling palm and mango trees clear starlit nights but why does ‘god’ allow the continual poverty and struggle? I can’t endure the babies dying and still they go on being born how brave are the women, how kind, and they laugh someone has brought flowers from a walk in the cool dawn

Signs of March

This full moon shines indiscriminately on Glasgow tonight and Edinburgh on Arabic and Persian poets, Albanian artist, Rwandan lady whose own radiant visage competes with the moon, on interpreters translators, photographers and actors and all who work to make things work together for good, for wine and vine-leaves filled with rice couscous with herbs, oatcakes and lemon cake, iced tea and water - Our poetry addressed the moon as curved and carved a barque to sail the inward skies of vision but tonight there is an eclipse of the moon, for Earth will come between and block the rays of sun letting the moon blaze like a blood orange in dark of night until the shadow passes - Our poets and the translators have now dispersed but their words are travelling who knows whither with old and young from diverse countries around our turning earth as they follow their destiny - In full countenance or in passing shade the radiance floats on and comes to harbour Indian music concert in church in Edinburgh 2007 Lalgudi Gjr. Krishanan Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi Somasundara Desigar South Indian ragas played on violins With mridangam, oval drum O quench our thirst Brother and sister sit for two hours cross-legged, barefooted flexible wrists and flying fingers O melt our bones Virtuoso improvisation exchange of gifts in rhythm and sound applause accepted with humility O hear our prayer ‘The lesson endeth’ for tonight on our upright chairs in this reason- worshipping, Scottish church O restore our sense.


Children of India we chattered the lingo water and dust plants and flowers as verandah players insect crawlers bird callers with kindly people smelling of spice who would squat at our level or carry us swaying barefooted and cool Children of India we ran in and out with our brown-limbed friends sat beside them on charpai or durry yes, the chapatis slapped together nimbly the rice juice-laden fruits sugary tea coconut sweets Born as survivors siblings who died children of India we never went back or home or where our lives began or travelling back we were awkward and old language slippage friends dispersed emerging as pictures fuzzy ghostly held in the mind for generations in sepia light of all that was passed. Children of India we never returned but nor did we lose that strange intermingled scented colourful wearied drenched dried-out tested born to die by-gone gone by tears in smiles good bye, gone, good bye.


Elephants of polished teak, ivory tusks, carved by Indian mistri cross-legged in the dust, wrapped in his chadar and carried to the station, spread out on the platform to catch the dulled eyes of British families travelling in May to the hills, or returning in September after the Monsoon… a few annas thrown. The craftsmanship is perfect and detailed: one elephant pulls and the other pushes a log of teak as big as themselves. Mighty civil servants, the leader takes the strain and the other puts his weight behind the task. The white man’s burden? Elephantine to build and bridge, to heal and teach, to manage and manufacture, to transport and distribute. Ships brought them to a bitter post-war Brtiain. They settled as they could in villages and suburbs, market towns and terraces, but on their mantelpieces teak elephants were still and still and work. Passed on to the children who had played with them from house to house, the tusks now loose, the burden was inherited along with carpets, silver, jewelry. All I have is from the India of my parents. Surrounded by it I live far from it. Chained to the log I cannot move.