POSTCARD#288: Chiang Mai: It’s all coming to an end here, I go back to Delhi tomorrow and today is the 5th of November… remember, remember the fifth of November. Scary things, monsters and Halloween coming to an end too, for my Thai niece M aged 13 who is not interested in it any more. Not interested in witches hats and dressing up – dressing up maybe yes, interested. Or dressing down, torn jeans and earbuds in, and deaf to the world. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ like an actor playing a part, and the audience is swept away. “Bye-bye Toong-Ting, see you in December”, and she’s in the car and gone. I go downstairs to get something, along the lane to the main road, warm air, tall buildings create shade. Sadness; remembering M as a cute kid holding my hand and skipping along beside me… these days are gone.
Sadness still, over the passing of the King, noticeable in the absence of remembrance wreathes that were there everywhere in the town (and all over the country) for a year of bereavement. The feeling that something important has been taken away; this is how it is all through Thailand these days. A sense of his presence remains in the hearts of the population, manifest in all of the thousands of rural projects he initiated over a lifetime. I feel the presence too, it’s simple, the King lives on… he was a devout Buddhist, and the way I see it now, he reached enlightenment – I thought, surely it must be that everyone else can see it this way too, but then understood such a thing was best left unsaid.
This is how the experience was for me; I’d been watching the cremation ceremony on TV until quite late, and in the morning I felt his presence all through the apartment, out on the balcony, in the sky, the clouds, reflected light in the fields of paddy and all the way, it must be, to everywhere in the country. I feel his presence in the air, assimilated in the structural elements of materiality; the buildings and all through my surroundings now walking along the lane, as I used to with M as a child, holding on to one of my fingers as if it were the branch of a tree.
Out of the shadow, into the sunlight. Same sunshine we all feel as it strikes the retina… reaching for my sunglasses. A wetness in the eye, vestiges of mourning almost gone with the experience of the passing-away of someone dear to us. A large part of the Thai has simply gone… yet things just go on. Behind me comes the sound: toot-tootle-toot! And a man on a three-wheeled bicycle gets my attention with his little horn: toot-tootle-tee-tootle-too. He’s selling pieces of cut fruit – inquires with raised eyebrow if I’d like to buy some. I fell drawn to it but politely decline, thanks no; I’m just looking around.
As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.
As some strings, untouched, sound when no one is speaking.
So it was when love slipped inside us.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
The heart’s actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.
Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can’t not
[Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief]