Archives for posts with tag: Motiram

I favor second-hand and consignment shops, partly for the bargains, but also for the little bit of extra history clothing that has been worn by another human being holds. Even if I do not know the people or the stories, I like how clothes that others have lived in now fit me just right. I have some things of my father’s that still smell a little like him, even seven years later. And because of those leather jackets and wool sweaters, he is not quite gone. The grandfather I hardly knew becomes a little bit known to me when I slip on his old gray sweater. Just clothes, we might say, easily acquired and easily passed on. Or we appreciate the comfort of an old sweater on a chilly morning all the more.

 

I reach for it in the dark closet and imagine

you wore it on cool evenings, taking the dogs

out, and maybe mornings on your walks

to the temple.  You held the children, my

mother, wearing this, walking back and forth

in front of the house until she slept.

 

It holds these things now – the knit

stitches moved with you, expanding

with your presence, resting with you, too.

The fibers – might they hold bits of you,

skin cells, strands of hair, a scent I would

not recognize?  I slip it on, and step into

the cool morning.

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The story I heard was of my uncle’s wedding day. My mother, then a little girl, was excited to be going, riding the train to the nearby town, wearing her white dress. When she dropped a heavy pail of water on her foot, and cried in pain, my grandfather came to help her. Her foot was red and swollen, threatening to ruin her day. She was too slow to walk, so Grandfather put her on his bicycle handlebars and rode to the train station, just in time. I was not there, of course, but the stories my mother and others tell of Grandfather have a mythical feeling to them. His otherness in the world comes through in so many ways — his dark Indian skin in a light brown country, his kindness to fellow outsiders, his small but significant heroics. I did not know him long enough or well enough to say I loved my grandfather. But I can say I love who he has become to me and my family.

At the train station, it was just another morning:

the sunlight cut through the cool air,

swirling into a glowing haze.

A train was preparing to depart –

inside, people were finding seats and

stowing bags.  A few stragglers were

hurrying to board.  Then, out of

a warm beam of sunlight, a man

appeared, running the length

of the platform.  He was darker than

most others, and he wore a white

suit that glowed in the light.  In

his arms, he carried a little girl,

also dressed in white.  As the train

began to move – the sound of metal

on metal tracks, the smell of oil –

the man ran faster, so that he

was a blur of brilliant white,

and reached one hand for the

handle on the side of an open door.

He jumped on board, one foot, one hand,

and “thump!” both feet

landed inside the train car.

The passengers looked up, unable

to keep from noticing the glowing

man and the girl who had arrived.

My grandfather Motiram settled in Chiang Mai, working first at a watermelon farm and saving his earnings to purchase the beginnings of his small business in textiles. He started very small, and took his bolts of fabric to communities that were not used to commerce and opportunity coming to them. The people of the hill tribes around Chiang Mai became his loyal customers and also his friends. I believe they — Motiram and the hill tribe people — must have shared an understanding of what it meant to be outsiders, immigrants, people in search of community and home.

 

His idea came in a flash,

the momentary blindness that

comes from looking at the sun,

even just for seconds.  When

the spots of light floated away,

he saw what he could do.

His investment:  three bolts

of cloth, one under each arm,

one tied to his back, and a

shiny pair of scissors, hung

by a string from his waist,

catching the sunlight as they

swung back and forth.

 

When they saw him coming,

leaning into the hill, arms

full, something shiny

dangling along, they

were curious.  And when they

understood that he had

brought this cloth to sell,

they were surprised.  He was

not asking for anything –

no food, no shelter for sleep,

no favors at all.  He was

bringing something.  No

one did this.

 

The villagers ran for

their money.  Hidden

away, buried in the dirt,

rarely used.  They gathered

around the man.  As he cut

the fabric with a zip of his

scissors, the women’s eyes

sparkled with the vision of

children darting about, bright

clothes swirling, of husbands

in fresh shirts, even of themselves

draped in flowing color.

My grandfather Motiram left far northern India when he was a very young man. He came from a poor family and was seeking a better life. He was a Hindu, and the part of India where his family lived later became Pakistan. Many in my family have told the story of his travels to Thailand, looking for a new home. It sounds like an epic journey, one that defined who my grandfather would be for the rest of his life. What he did not know was that the journey also defined his children and grandchildren and how we see ourselves in the world — as people who came from somewhere, even if we are still seeking a place to call home.

Motiram had travelled far,

and he was tired.

He had carried his pack –

everything that was his –

over mountains, across

salty ocean, farther and

farther away with each step

from what he knew.  Would

he see India or his family

again?  He met whole

worlds of people along

the way.  They had their own

language and food and

laughter.  They were kind.

But in the black night, he

listened to the rustle

of bats and the hum

of mosquitoes, and felt

the empty pit of loneliness.

What Motiram did not know

was that the next morning

the sun would rise and he

would set out again.  That just

over the next mountain

was a place he would someday

call home, people he

would call his community.

Looking back, he would not

be able to point to a day

when this happened. It did

happen.  And though he

could remember the lonely

night before, it was the many

happy days at home that

slipped so quickly by.