Gappy – a celebration of a great Indian poet

CIMG2267It must be really difficult to write about someone you have never met but who is remembered with great affection in the family. This was the challenge for the daughter of a close friend of mine. Her grandfather was Edward Mendonça, a celebrated Indian poet, and his centenary was last year. A book of a collection of his poems was planned to mark this. Would Neisha, a gifted poet in her own right, contribute a poem?

Many families have pet names for grandparents, and ‘Gappy’ was that for Edward Mendonça. So Neisha wrote:


And so it was

That you should live and I should live

At separate times, in separate worlds.

So that I’ll never know your touch; the small expressions of your face;

The paper-soft feel of your grandfather skin, or the comfort of your laugh from afar.

I have no memory of you that’s only for me.

But I have endless tales: of love, of joy, of kindness …

And I know that you are wonderful,

And still here – in words, in memories and in enduring love.

IMG_0840As with so many of Neisha’s poems, I loved this as soon as I heard it. It had elements of reaching back through half-remembered, or half-told memories to try to form the feeling of a person long since gone. I played around with the words until I was happy with them, wanting a free and unstructured piece. Then to the paper – what to write it on? I found a single sheet of hand-made Indian tissue-like paper, slightly crumpled. This was exactly the feeling that I wanted. I tested the paper for writing, and although it was a bit of a challenge, it seemed to work with a bit of care.

IMG_0837The effect I was aiming for was that of reaching back into the past for memories, some clearer than others, some about to disappear. I had the idea of tearing the paper into strips and writing each line at the base of a single strip, one overlapping the other. BUT I had just that single sheet of paper and there was little room for wastage, so it was very tense! I placed the written lines of my rough on the torn strips of tissue paper to see how it would work and made a few adjustments.

IMG_0842Then I started, using a very narrow nib and Indian red, which I thought appropriate in the circumstances, I placed each line of ‘rough’ above where I was to write. I worked my way along each line, taking into account the position of the words on the line above, and also the shape of the torn paper. As I worked down the piece, I laid each line on top of the other as I did so to check that it was working as a whole.

CIMG2268When I had finished writing I pasted the upper part of the torn paper strips on to the back of the one above, and left the bottom part loose – not attached. Sticking everything down securely and perfectly wasn’t the effect I was aiming for! The piece needed to be free and slightly ethereal, and yes, a bit torn round the edges! Of course, there are always things that I would have changed, and had I a second piece of paper, I could have planned it much better, but the overall effect was the one that I had in mind at the start – going back in time through layers of memory, some better remembered than others.