Poems by Ravi Naicker

Ravi Naicker

For Mother Dearest

There you stood by my cot
Tall and majestic.
I gazed at you through innocent eyes.
Your soft smile exuding love and kindness.
Your warm lips gently calling my name.
I must have reciprocated by smiling.
And your heart must have sung with joy.

Mother Dearest, you hailed from Newcastle
To the Farm Glen Albyn in 1951.
What were you thinking
When you left behind your Mum and siblings.
The coal mines, the luscious orchard.
The exquisite and beautiful pomegranates.
The soft falling snow flakes ensconced on pine branches.
What of the times when you stood alone by the front gate,
Against the backdrop of well-shaped hedges,
And watched Boswell-Wilkie Cricus troupe,
Alight the train and pass through the streets.
The reverberating melody from a neighbour’s grand piano.

Were you not the Princess in your family?
Your tears formed rivulets as you passed the little towns.
You were in a quagmire.

A new dawn awaited you…

The shimmering rays of the sun
On the vast Indian Ocean.
The waves of sugar cane fields
Breaking ashore the Ifafa Cliffs.

Your ability for enduring worst case scenarios
Cemented your life and times on the farm.
Your decorum and soul force
Endeared you to your new family.
Your seniority in rank escalated
Earning you deep respect and reverence.

Growing up under your love, affection and guidance
Cannot be expunged from memory.
You were a fountain of love and infinite patience.
Mother, you weathered the most hazardous storm
Like the mighty Himalayas.

You nurtured your five children with life skills
And those who lived with you.
You benevolently shared your baking and knitting skills
Without reserve.

Your twilight days spent with family.
Your pain became our pain to endure.
Surrounded by a sea of people you loved.
Your dignity restored.

Mother dear, you departed peacefully
Amidst the weeping and chanting of Mantras.
Your last intake of holy water from Mother Ganga.

All that remains now is our memories.
Your radiant smile.
The sun set beyond the horizon.
A slight breeze and the branches
Acknowledge your journey.
Rest in peace, Ma.

The Naicker Patriarch

His epitaph reads: Ponnusami Naicker
Died 31 May 1936 – Rest in Peace!
The tomb conspicuous in a sea of young sugar cane.
Weathered the elements that battered it timeously.

Arrived on 28 July 1891
From Chengalpattu, Chennai, India.
During open season for sugar barons.
His commanding voice,
Stature surely earned him position of Sirdar.
Our patriarch, matriarch and infant
Transported by ox-wagon to Nil Desperandum.
Indentured ‘coolies’ were spared
No aorta of compassion.

Their living conditions and job description
Was a crime against humanity.
Like a fish out of water
They had to find their footing hastily
Or accept flogging – as harmless and defenceless as they were.

Sundram, our matriarch reluctantly and remorsefully
Relinquished her infant for rapid internment.

Piercing cries from often hungry and ailing children
Fell on deaf ears of the White supervisors.
Mothers gritting their teeth and working fiercely.
Their motherly instincts challenged by a whip yielding overseer.
Some neglected infants barely survived.

The various farms bear testimony
To Indians hanging themselves – escaping Draconian style punitive measures.

Our Patriarch won the hand of, from a bevy of maidens
Principally due to the matriarch’s deteriorating health.
Between the wives there were 22 children
Of whom only 12 survived.

1904 back in Chennai
1906 welcomed as free farmer.
Nkwifa, Glen Rosa, Glen Albyn and Glen Roy.
Parallel agenda – land was re-claimed by landowners
After virgin forests were cleared.

Hard labour produced bumper crops.
Drought also swept through these lands.
Forcing some free farmers into subtle slavery.

At tea estates and sugar farms.
Our patriarch was resilient.
The desire to succeed made his spirit indomitable.

He selflessly established a school and temple at Glen Roy.
Engaged in farming on a large scale.
Drought stricken – and then our patriarch’s illness.
10 May 1936 our Patriarch sandwiched between his wives
On their journey to his beloved farm.
Passing away scarcely prior to reaching his destination.

Today sprouting from the grave is a stump with two branches.
The Naicker legacy – two schools and temples.
Rest in peace dear great grandfather.
Your clan has reached the 600 figure and promises to grow.
Indebted are we to you,
For your adventurous spirit and fortitude .
Your memory shall be enshrined in our hearts.
So long…

Coral Avenue

My Toyota Cressida laboured through undulating terrain,
Often crossing streams that meandered gently.
Charged with urgent business to transact,
Our companion, an octogenarian,
White shoulder-length hair
Flowing like the Mpambanyoni River.
Rising above the December sugar cane harvest
On the Farm Glen Roy at Dududu.
A headstone was magnified
As we descended the hillock,
The only visible evidence indentured Indians
Once lived and worked here.
History unfolded before our eyes.
“That was where I used to drive cattle at dawn,
A daily chore that seemed to last for eternity.
During winter the warm cow patties
Doubled up as sandals to my frost-cold feet.
The warmth was unimaginable.
School awaited my attendance.
Oh! Nothing special – half a tank suspended on poles.
Mother Earth smeared with freshly baked dung.
School slew ignorance ruthlessly.
My parents worked the land relentlessly.
Drought brought unyielding harvest,
And sometimes, the pangs of hunger gnawed
But my family transcended these barriers.
Menial jobs but the vicious cycle broken
By the younger generation.
This is my story …”, said our Uncle.
Leaving the farm,
The popular Barber and Robust Insurance Agent
Gave one last glance at his childhood haunts
And smiled at us as a child would at seeing friends.
And somehow it dawned upon me
That our Uncle would not pass
Through Coral Avenue Again.
The beautiful Coral flowers were in blossom
Adding colour to our journey.
An individual who rose above all odds.
An infinite store of knowledge and wisdom,
Requiring prospecting and mining.
What gems lie deep within such rocks
Is known only to those who seek them.