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     Volume 4 Issue 27 | December 31, 2004 |

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A Roman Column

Harbingers of the New

Neeman Sobhan

It's an annual event like the migration of birds. To keep the metaphor going, it is that time of the year when the baby birds of the human kind who have flown the coop return to their parent's nest, flocking from all over the world. Here in Rome, it's the Christmas-holiday season, bringing students back into the family fold. Collapsing from the exertions of the end of semester or classes, children are tumbling home into the welcoming arms of waiting parents.

Rome is never very enthusiastic about wearing festive colours for Christmas, and I can never tell from my Italian neighbour's homes if they are in the celebration mood, so understated is the Italian approach to Christmas. Still in certain homes with young children, one sees some balconies half-heartedly strung with lights or decked with a pot or two of crimson Poinsettias, and less frequently a small Christmas tree. My home looks like any ordinary Italian home in this period, stark and un-Christmas-like, until my birds fly home.

As soon as my son or sons walk into my house from the airport, unshaved, unwashed, tousled and jet-lagged dragging their backpacks and dirty-laundry filled suitcases, the festive season begins with a bang as if invisible light bulbs turned on all over my home, imaginary bells started pealing and fire-crackers were going off all over the place! The giant tinsel-bedecked Christmas tree displayed on the Piazza Venezia might be planted in my front garden. It's not just my face that glows, the countenance of almost every mother or every parent within my network of acquaintances does the same. It's the season to be jolly, to be cosy, and to draw together at the family hearth.

The children bring not just the reminder of earlier times when things were the same but also newer versions of themselves. They come home smelling of other worlds, speaking the language of their other interests, describing horizons etched with their emerging dreams. Brimming with enthusiasm, crackling with energy they light up your world with their vision, their plans. I chat for hours with my son about signs and semiotics, literature and film, politics and history and as the words, ideas and images flow from him to me, I feel as if I were sitting before a fireplace getting the heat of freshly leaping flames that bring new life into every pore of my soul.

We exchange books. I give him the one I've just finished, Azar Nafisi's 'Reading Lolita in Tehran': A memoir in books, about life under the repressive Islamic regime after the revolution in Iran and he laughs in delight as he hands me the book he just finished reading on flight. We cannot believe it---it's the same theme! And too, this is the exact book I had wanted to get next. It is called, 'Persepolis' and is the memoir of an Iranian childhood of the same period done in cartoons, by Marjane Satrapi.

He returns to me the Kurt Vonnegut novel 'Sirens of Titan', which he had borrowed last semester, and picks up the one I recommend to him, Yann Martel's early short stories, before he wrote his Booker winning 'Life of Pi'. In between shuffling the pages he asks if I've seen a certain film and I tell him about the ones I wished he could have seen. He tells me the plot of his favourite film so far, I discuss the one I loved recently. He shows me his paper on Cinematic coding and I give him my latest poem. And seamlessly we weave new bonds that knit our ever-evolving relationship into a tighter pattern that moves from parent-child to teacher-mentor to friend and back to family ties.

When he falls asleep at the wrong time, I sit watching his face and think this is what our children do for us: they bring the song and music of Life into our lives; make our old souls clap and sing. What was it Yeats said about age? "An aged man is but a paltry thing/a tattered coat upon a stick, unless/ Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/for every tatter in its mortal dress…."

As I go around picking up my sons flung off clothes, his jeans with ragged edges, the faded tee-shirt and worn out sweat shirt, I know that in spite of my freshly laundered pants and almost new cashmere sweater, the tatters are not his but mine; it is my torn mortal dress that needs to be picked off the floor of my being, mended and repaired. And he, the new flesh of my flesh, skin of my skin, sailing to his world of dreams and smiling in his sleep, is the 'singing-master of my soul'. Just listening to him breathe within his distant new worlds of fresh creativity, makes me believe that I too have exchanged my ragged robes for gilded wings, and like my jet-lagged sleeping bird been set upon a golden bough to dream and "sing of what is past, is passing or to come."

And this is a good moment for souls and songbirds: the New Year is upon us. The young, intoxicated with their youth, and jet-lagged from chasing their dreams, embrace the New Year as just another continuing chapter of their ever-unfolding newness, of fresh triumphs. But we who are older, the aging, the aged turn this new page as if turning to a Pied Piper who will lead us to a whole new world, to a new Byzantium, of fresh possibilities and new hopes of unending beauty, vigour, love, of last chances, of groping towards 'unaging intellect' and 'the artifices of eternity.'

Personally, I don't wish for either eternity or mindless youth, but for a moment when eternity seems within reach at that point when some personal dream comes to fruition. I desire the experience of age and the energy of youth towards the realisation of goals. I pray that the New Year gives each of us the music to quicken our soul to clap with joy. If we cannot defy age or time, may the New Year still grant each of us the immortality of fulfilment in our deepest desires and dreams. Let the dreaming begin. Let the year roll. I hear it is a great film.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004