Today we bring you a few poems by an octogenarian named Brendan MacCarthaigh. Brendan is an Irishman living and working in India since the 1960s. He is a Christian Brother, a school-teacher by profession, but has taught in universities and colleges, on the platform (Sealdah, Kolkata) and under trees, by drains and in slums.
Brother Mac (as he is fondly called by his students) is also a practicing psychologist and a noted columnist. He has many qualifications and has received many awards for his efforts and achievements through more than half a century. In his own words, he “got lots of degrees and such from various places, though flunked a few exams in getting them”.
Among the awards are The Telegraph Education Foundation Hall of Fame, the Silvers Award from the Mumbai-based Harmony magazine, and the Gurukul Award for life-time service to education. But he is proudest of the award that he received from the Ram Rahim Ekta Manch in recognition of his contribution in the field of education, literacy, communal harmony, secularism and national integration.
Br Mac is also popular among the readers of Kolkata for his unique and engaging writing style. Some books authored by him are Where the Child is Without Fear (outlning a new system of classroom teaching that won its spurs in Delhi at the turn of the century), Where the Teacher is at Ease (with Sonia Bhattacharyya), Stress, Teen Things (with Debu Bhattacharya), Gender and Sex in the Classroom, Tips for Teachers, Principles for Principals, Fear the Destroyer, and many books of poetry.
Brendan cares passionately about youngsters and has been fighting tirelessly to reduce education-related stress.
About his poetry, he writes,
“Poets, even amateurs like myself, have a deep sense that what they are offering is important, that in some obscure but certain sense we are the movers and shakers of the world. Poets, like all artists, are inspired – that’s the 1% factor. The remaining 99% is hard work, exploring the best way to convey this inspiration to listeners / readers.
Sometimes we mistake emotional reaction for inspiration, and regret – or, if there’s time, delete the piece. What follows in these pages has punctuated many years in many places doing many things that had nothing to do with creativity. Understandably, the imagery is largely from my Christian background, mostly biblical, but I dare to think that the impact has the potential to be universal.“
THE REST OF MEN
Ask, I said glowing, and you
shall receive. Stop? Not a bit.
Seek, I said gleaming, and you
shall find. Stop? Not a bit.
Knock, I said dazzling, and
my door will open to you.
My tassles and phylacteries,
my scrupulous sabbaths and washed elbows
They touched my feet,
solicited my blessings,
admired my lectures,
read my commentaries and with me
wallowed in shared memories
of asking and receiving
and seeking and finding
and knocking and entering
and all manner of things that
would have continued well if
I hadn’t snarled at the sweeping girl
for spilling my drinking water over
my clean and tidy table,
snarled and dismissed her all
in one long sentence. And thus
I find myself alone, unclean,
now asking and seeking in whispers,
and knocking and fearing in my heart,
but knowing at least, at last,
who it was had hidden behind
phylacteries and tassels and words
from my perfumed sequined self.
– Poems by Brendan, Book 3
A poem: a piece you exhume from dank clay?
A poem: a thing you have scooped from a drain?
A poem: a rag all dirty and torn?
A poem: an item you salvage with pain?
But clay can conceal a great diamond inside,
A drain can disgorge things a King can’t pass by;
A rag can disguise the most beautiful face,
And pain be a chariot bound for the sky.
– Poems by Brendan, Book 4
The word says all,
But each begs more and more.
Each flame sears all
But none burns everything.
I pore and strike and hold
And then it’s done, and waiting
For one more, just one, just one more,
A pentecost of pentecosts,
The word blazing the cosmos
And seething into eternity,
The never-final word of all.
– Poems by Brendan, Book 5
Not thirst nor hunger – water and food
Define their need. Not inspiration –
Dams and volcanoes capture the mood
Of art’s response. An irritation,
A nibbling at the mind’s edges,
A butterfly brush against the ear,
A swallow’s shadow across sunset hedges –
These breathe of soul: a poem waits here.
And waits. And waits (kids trapped by sums,
A dream in a dungeon), it yearns and waits
For the coming presaged by distant drums,
A triumph wombed behind straining gates.
The sums get done, the dungeon fled,
Alas, words must be found
To free it, glorious from the dead!
Come, let us dowse. This is holy ground.
– Poems by Brendan, Book 6