Bombay Lights

In the evening

on the pavement

drum-sounds

through a microphone

hanging

Dancing

gunny-sacked children

dangling in dust:

Yellow festivities of Navratri.[1]

 

The melody is empty

the dance, of death

the rhythm forever:

Dandia-

stick, lathi

stick, lathi

Thump[2]

Rama beats Ravana

Aryan jumps Dravidian

and out-castes[3] celebrate religiously.

 

Down the way

a shrunken mother

Squats

a doll of a child

and

Sneers

the nagging

of a beggar-man-superior

By whom

will her body lie next?

 

Construction working castes

timelessly

Shape

gutters and roads,

temples and homes

Without a roof of their own

Scathed

for touching the earth, for sculpting the stones

Their fruits more cherished than their seeds.

 

A man appears

in the midst of traffic

Arm outstretched, one leg gone

A ghost of himself

he has nothing to lose

In half-open-mouthed awe:

‘Feed me brother’

‘Forgive me brother’,

the rickshaw-caddie replies

Himself something of a beggar

to the absentee rickshaw-owner

and the rent-collectors of the streets.

 

Back on the pavement

a vendor kneels

over a box sporting zipper-heads

without their zippers

Ten paysa, five paysa[4]

He wonders

out loud

if they’re really worth

what the scrap-lord said.

 

And displaced

tribal women

walk tall:

dhotis[5] whipped tight through their hips,

three pots on their heads,

offspring at their feet

Hair bleached tan-orange

by a no-respite

Sun.

 


[1]Navratri is the ninth day of a ten-day festival celebrating the victory of the Hindu Lord Rama against Ravana, King of Lanka, the ancient-day Sri Lanka. In the Ramayana, a sacred book of Hindu mythology, Lord Rama is a light-skinned Aryan, while the King of Lanka is a blue-black-skinned chieftain of an indigenous (i.e. Dravidian) tribe of the sub-continent.

[2]Dandia is the name of the traditional folk dance danced with sticks during the ten-day festival in question here. Lathi is the name of the stick used as a weapon by police in modern-day India.

[3]In practice, only the highest Hindu castes have full access to religious knowledge and rituals, while those of the lowest castes, often referred to as Untouchables, are not permitted to set foot in Hindu temples.

[4]Paysa is the smallest denomination of Indian currency.

[5]Rectangles of cloth wrapped in various ways around the waist, to clothe from the waist down.

from breathing for breadth (TSAR: 2005, pp. 77-79)

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