Swan Song

Ten thousand miles from home

she sat listening to the song from her youth:

"It was a rage when we were in college.  We sang

it from our balcony overlooking the sea in Bombay."

They sat hushed, out of respect for her memories.

The song was about ducks in a pond--

so predictable, he thought, slightly uneasy,

trying to make out its unfamiliar words

in a mother-tongue rusted from disuse.

He looked at his mother, and burst out:

"I know what will happen.  The beautiful duck

will fall in love with the ugly duck

in spite of hating it and calling it ugly.

Then one day, the ugly duck will go away

leaving the beautiful duck to sing this song ...."


His parents were visiting after several years.

Mother looked like a stranger, so old,

quite unlike his image of her;

she had lost all her teeth,

and looked like a real granny

without the dentures.

Their hosts, also Maharashtrians,

had decided to play nostalgic songs,

clinging to bits of lost identities

In this foreign country.


                           After dinner, driving

home in the cold, he felt slightly embarrassed.

The song troubled him with its refusal

to yield its meaning.  Reluctantly,

he found himself asking her to explain.

"They called one duck ugly and crooked,”

his mother was explaining in her old voice.

"Shunned and ill-treated, one day

he swam alone in the water,

wondering why he was different.

Just then he saw his reflection in the pond:

               He was no ordinary duck;

               he was the royal swan..."


                                And he remembered at last

                                how he was the child

                                left alone by others

                                consoled by this song.

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  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape