Poetry Reads: The Gitanjali Album by Gitanjali Ghei

Gitanjali Ghei (1961-1977)

The Gitanjali Album has been an aching, heartbreaking read. How does a child confront the stark truth that she is dying
of cancer? I can’t begin to imagine. 

Discovering Gitanjali

I first heard of Gitanjali Ghei at the fag end
of the last century from my ninth-grade teacher. 

A curly-haired bespectacled
woman in her late thirties, she often mentioned interesting connected things in
passing, instead of going through the syllabus like a tunnel boring machine.

She mentioned a girl whose writings were discovered by her family in the most unlikely places in the house after she had passed on.
Then the teacher commenced reading from the textbook and that was that. But that little
detail of an adolescent girl’s death and her discovered poetry remained submerged in my memory.

An illustration by Gitanjali

The search for the elusive collection 

Thus began the search to procure a published copy of Gitanjali Ghei’s writings. 

The last known edition of Gitanjali’s poems had been published by Gujarat
Sahitya Prakash, Anand, India. The second edition (1995) followed in the wake
of the first (1992). The book has been out of print ever since.

I have been to second-hand book sales and book vendors over
the years, having discovered some priceless works, but not Gitanjali’s poetry.
Internet’s arrival eventually allowed me to discover if not all but the
prominent poems of Gitanjali Ghei.

Finally at the start of 2022, with the world still reeling
from the pandemic’s new, milder wave, I chanced upon the 1995 second edition
(in good as new condition) on a website that sells rare books.

The copy
was dispatched to me via book post from Germany. 

After two suspense-ridden
weeks, I finally held the elusive copy in my hands, and a two-decade book
search ended.

I began reading with unblinking intensity, my heart,
pounding a little.     

Gone too soon…

The Gitanjali Album: A Teenager’s Testament, a
collection of poems and notes by Gitanjali, also contains photographs of her
and her family, a couple of her sketches, and an interview with her mother.

Gitanjali Ghei’s painful, demolishing fight with cancer
began in early 1976. Her poems reflect her struggles to accept impending
death, conversations with God, the deep sadness of her family.

The first poem of the collection is a short, nippy one,
where Gitanjali hopes to live up to her name. 

As her mother Khushi Badruddin
recounts in the interview – She was about 10 or 11 years of age when she realized
the full meaning of her name and of the book she was named after. She almost had
a showdown with me. “Why did you give me this name?” Do you know it was a Nobel
Prize winner?”

To truly sense that there could be no tomorrow, here is Gitanjali ebbing three paragraphs on the dire uncertainties of life. 
The long wait for death is harrowing for Gitanjali. To see her parents and brother watch her fade away daily is even more painful. Here are three extracts from her poems.

Gitanjali vs. death 

Gitanjali wording her anguish as an act of courage and extraordinary grace in the face of pain and death…and that is why the simple verse grazes the heart like a sharp knife. 
Barely an adolescent, Gitanjali tries to seek answers in her bewilderment making this collection a torrid but stoic-faced read. Would we find similar courage if certain but prolonged death looms over us? 
What would we do in the face of death? Is how we live then a precursor to how we will confront death? 
(Article by Snehith Kumbla)   

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