Telegraph Calcutta

Departed. Arrived. Departs, Arrives


Someone has been through here, someone has travelled. What you see is an image of that passing. Or a shadow of it. Or a remnant. Things remain. Nothing goes away. Even when things have passed, they do not go away. Even when folks have passed, they do not go away. They remain. In shadows. In imprints and embossed. In memory. What you see could be any of those things. What you see is, most certainly, a sign of someone having been through here.

Kolyma comes to mind. Nobody’s mother, this Kolyma. In fact, an entity mercilessly adept at making anyone feel motherless, this Kolyma. Know Kolyma? No? Let’s go there, briefly. Let’s go to the far Russian Far-East. Far, far up and away from everywhere else. Edged close to the Arctic. Probably. Not sure. But yes, closer to Arctic climes than to any other clime.

The tundra. You know what the tundra is. First know your tundra. Do not tell me I have a foreboding about the tundra without even knowing what the tundra is. That is typical. A foreboding about something you know nothing of. A manufactured foreboding. A pretended foreboding. A vacant, farcical, vacuous foreboding. Foreboding is not the critical word. Tundra is. And Kolyma. Then say you have a foreboding. Else, buzz off. Because if you do not know tundra and if you do not know Kolyma, you do not know the F, or the effing eff, of foreboding. Kid yourself in your quarters, with your fare. Boiled eggs and cakes? What else? Kid yourself in your prescriptions and proscriptions. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. This cannot be done. This is not how it is done. Leh. Who said? Ke bollo? Radhaballabi? Eat it. You would not even dare do that. You cannot even eat a radhaballabi and you are warning folks who can afford a million times less not to have their gulp of water off the lion-headed water hydrant on the street. “Baagher mukh theke jol khete nei!!” Tahole? “Tahole, kee? Aamar boye gaychhe.” Translated: live up to my fork and marrow-spoon standards, or DIE. Who cares, Marie? Who even cares, Antoinette?

Right? Yes. If you know the tundra. If you know Kolyma. Foreboding is the only thing you can have.

Because nature wasn’t the harshest aspect of Kolyma. Man was. He made a prison of it. A remote, frozen, bleak, depressing, diminishing prison. An open prison. So open. So vast. So cold. So inhospitable. So unending. Such a prison that there was no running away from it. Where would you run from Kolyma? In Kolyma, when you run you only ever land up, breathless and panting and completely trounced on intention, in Kolyma itself. Or some part of Kolyma. Kolyma is such a place. Kolyma is abomination. Kolyma is beyond most imagination. But Kolyma is. Google it. Gospel it. Gospel meaning Google; Google, the Gospel of Kalyug. Look at Kolyma on a map. You will find it. It is a huge unendurably cold geography. Most folks do not know Kolyma because most folks who know Kolyma do not survive to tell what Kolyma is. Some do. Some told the tale. But not many read them. They thought them incredulous. They thought them too noir. But in actual fact I shall reveal to you why they did not read the Kolyma tales. Or tell them aft.

Because they were too afraid. Too so. Even their worst imaginations feared to tread where the Kolyma tales began. But I shall tell you the beginning. One morning in Kolyma, a schoolgirl setting off to school told her mother she was in for a thrashing. But why do you say so, my dearheart, the mother asked. But don’t you see the shape cut out through the frost on the street, Maman? That is the shape of the headmaster. He has gone through here and reached school and left his shape behind. I am late. And therefore… Kolyma. Departed. Arrived… and thereafter

When the wind is down

Row, row, just row,

The signs are up all over town

And they just grow, grow, grow.

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