Once upon a blackboard, war was poetry. My father was in high school, and the world was at war. Every morning, when the children went to school, they would find a war update chalked out on the blackboard. And every morning, that update would be written out as a poem.
I wonder what happened to those poems, if anyone bothered to collect them. Did they just get erased and dusted away? Did the man who wrote the poems copy them down in his delightful handwriting? Are they lying in an old diary at the bottom of some mildewed box among decades of clutter in a church somewhere? Or have those paper leaves long since crumbled back into the earth? I wish I knew.
The reason I know the author of this "war poetry" had a delightful handwriting is because I have seen it. In an old carefully rebound hand-printed magazine that my father created in 1950, there is a lovely long note from Rev. A. J. Tellis, the headmaster of Milagres High School. Delightful too, to read words such as 'augur', 'replete', 'doffed', 'garb', 'justly', 'splendid' .. words so infrequently heard in today's impatient texting world:
Hv u bn 2 c K3G?
(Translation for the technologically-challenged: Have you been to see Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham?)
(Translation for the Bollywood-challenged: K3G is the title of a mega-starrer Hindi film with much weeping both by actors and audience).
But back to my father's magazine, Roshani, an annual that he produced by hand: it contains articles in Kannada, English and Urdu. There are India-inked landscapes, pencil sketches, watercolours, cartoons .. and there is a poem by Rev. Tellis titled "Boating Down The Suvarna and Back". It's probably not great poetry, but that really doesn't matter. Perhaps there's greatness in a man who ten years' earlier had painstakingly rhymed every pair of lines in a daily war update for schoolchildren. Why did he do it that way? Did he want to camouflage war's horrors in a poem? Or did he think the children would be more motivated to keep abreast of the news if it rhymed? Perhaps he needed to say it with poetry, perhaps the need was something in his own heart, that, for whatever reason, found expression this way.
I shall probably never know. But I see my father, once a young boy reading Tellis' wartime poems; and now, over eighty years old, my father still remembers what this man did. That is worth something.