Prime Edition

Sumana Roy
Free Verse

The doors that open up from innocence to experience

or centuries the adjective 'wooden' before 'door' would have been tautology, a bit like 'real love'. Could doors — or love — be otherwise? Like most children I did not notice doors until one was shut on me: my brother and I locked out by our disciplinarian father for having overstayed outdoors. Until then, all doors, literally and metaphorically had been left open. When does the child first realise the existence of the door? I think back to my two year old nephew's relationship with the door and realise that his only use for it is to close it to protect himself from 'Hou', the invisible monster that his mother uses to scare him into eating.

Intuitively the child realises that it is the door that decides the architecture between the private and public, a sentiment that finds expression in the expression 'Keep it within the walls of this house'. He is not supposed to speak, laugh or cry loudly — civility demands that the doors (and windows) of his house keep his sounds safe from criticism within the safe ambit of his house. For as soon as the child begins speaking, nursery rhymes arrive. This one is familiar to most children and their parents:

One two
Buckle my shoe.
Three four
Shut the door.

Who will close the door — the child or the adult? And why this arbitrary command after 'buckle my shoe'? The randomness of the child rhyme universe aside, the buckling of the shoe and picking up the sticks and then laying them straight, all of this to lead to the remarkable consequence of the sighting of 'a big fat hen' — what could the shutting of the door mean? Is the child locked in or locked out?

George D. Hendricks in an essay titled Dishrags, Dogs and Doors for Western States Folklore Society quotes two sayings collected by Gainesville: "If company comes in the front door and leaves by the back door, you will have more company"; "Close closet door at night for good luck". Doors and what they stood for came to be associated with superstition, as is evidenced above. (Wedding rituals across religions give a lot of significance to the door.) Coupled with this is the religious association of crossing the door to another life, to death, and for the good to God. Esther Lolita Holcomb in her article Opening Doors published in The English Journal by the National Council of Teachers of English quotes from a child rhyme that she has encountered:

Where I'd like the best to live?
Well, now, it's hard to say.
But somehow I'd always thought
I'd like it far away.
... And all about my cabin door
Pink needles on the sod.
I'd like it way up there alone —
It seems so near to God.

There must be great relief in that thought for the child, that if he were to enter through a new (or unfamiliar) door, it would be 'near to God'. The "cabin door" in this poem reminded my nine year old niece of the door of the cupboard in The Chronicles of Narnia, and I noted, again with delight, how children's literature, with its 'Open Sesame' doors, hinged so many fantasies around the trope of the door. Frances Chesterton's poem Here is the Little Door is another example, this woven around the birth of Jesus:

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, of lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift

Lemony Snicket, in an essay on introducing children to the magic of poetry for the Poetry Foundation, makes use of two poems, both about doors, a fact that she acknowledges with the moral consciousness of a teacher. Here is Carl Sandburg's poem Doors:

An open door says, "Come in."
A shut door says, "Who are you?"
Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors.
If a door is shut and you want it shut,
why open it?
If a door is open and you want it open,
why shut it?
Doors forget but only doors know what it is
doors forget.

There you have it: "shadows and ghosts go through shut doors". Apart from the open-shut logic that drives the child's universe of fear and horror, there is also the fear of the outsider that the door frames and annotates. The metaphorics of open-shut that decides so much in a child's universe is evident here, but even more importantly is the question mark that is the deciding punctuation mark of a door's life.

The other poem that Snicket uses is this one:

Knocks on the door.
I sweep the dust of my loneliness
under the rug.
I arrange a smile
and open.

It is by Maram al-Massri (in Khaled Mattawa's translation). "I arrange a smile/and open." Isn't that the distinction between the child and adult world — arranging a smile and opening the door and the fear of the door knocker? That is the propelling force behind rhymes like Knock at the door and the entire genre of Knock-Knock jokes. These days, I often have the feeling that these numerous doors, coming into the child's life in instalments, is only a preparation for the great metaphorical door(s) that one must break open in the professional world of 'entrance' examinations. Khol daar khol (Open the door), Rabindranath Tagore's song that Bengali children often dance to, has taken on a completely new meaning. And the fear of the door a new door knocker.

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