The evening flappers – the crows and the hawks, the crap-happy rodent pigeons, the rubbernecker ducks, and the lightning-rod bats — they litter my terrace skies like torn plastic liners and brown-paper bags relieved of the bin life.
If I could bird like them, I would forget the earth altogether — for why, then, must I, grey-eyed and mysterious, persist with the gravity of things?
An old poem from a younger time when I lived in a barsaati, my sunsets spent perched on the watertank above my room — a dull, wingless thing watching those splendid things with wings doing unimaginable things in the sky. The accompanying illustration is from my book Jadav and the Tree-Place (Pratham Books, 2016).
(Pandemic Poems for the Devout, the Insensate, and the Faint of Heart)
We assemble in the gulf between the old broken landmass and the unknown island, in our prosthetic muzzles and snouts, made restless and jumpy, panicked by this hairy endeavour into ordered procession, bent in all directions by grain, fruit, and instant noodles, by boxes stamped with party logos that refuse to lighten or float like Rama’s magicked rocks. “It’s all too heavy, man!” We yearn to build bridges, to stack, cement, to work, to huddle and collaborate, but this is an isolationist war, and to stay alive, survive, one must stand alone. Viruses, unlike asura kings, have no motives or lusts. Their kingdoms cannot be set alight by simple fires or cowed into compliance with righteous violence. Their vaccines don’t grow wild on dirigible mountains. Perhaps we are better served by less ambitious tales – of ring-a-ring-a-roses or lonely breadcrumb trails – than empty boasts relayed from long-winded thrones made of loopy monkey tails.
2. On the Nose
Interstate milk truck, sicksweet vacuum-tube of rot: tin can for migrants.
3. Humble Request
Go, Corona, go! Go where the vessels haven’t clanged! Kindly spare the true patriots! (Focus on the Tukde-Tukde Gang!)
Go, Corona, go! Go where you know them by their dress! Kindly spare us Sanathanis! (But please infect the Sanskaar-less!)
Go, Corona, go! Go where the lights are still switched on! Kindly spare the Bhakt brigade! (Feel free to kill some non-Mitron!)
Go, Corona, go! Go after the Sickulars and Reds! Kindly spare our Saffron friends! (We’re running out of hospital beds!)
At unbridled, untethered twenty, I would measure my rides to that (certainly not this) college town — that lemon-and-eggshell homeostatic asylum for creative misfits — using, for signage, succour, pitstops and piss stops, lakes, banyan trees and omelette vendors, barbershops with chrome-and-rexine chairs, crone men with beedis behind ears hunched around the daily weather report like crows worrying at a fallen squirrel, jasmine, jackfruit, flames of the forest, snake-infested ruins of temples for misappropriated gods, the old brick factory, its tall red chimney blowing smoke at the police station athwart like a lonely, ageing pothead courting detention, courting love, this Andhra mess with the curd so thick you could sculpt it, that vada joint with the paperplane dosas, the reaching wind, its fingers running cold and warm,
raking sharply across all of nature, prehistory, my flatted hair, reeking of permanence, every bit of it a glorious lie. Because six hard lanes have since stamped out every living feature, every fold, hair and pimple, on Bellary Road, and I can’t see my place in it any longer. The old map is ash and rubble. The Parsee Tower of Silence jitters with the rumble of jet engines, cash registers, and the screams of ride-sharers and gig-workers hailing swift passage away, across, aloft, anywhere but here. The vultures are dead, gone, eaten, beaten, overtaken by their own morbid function. Townships, Layouts and Communities have uprooted or walled away the hallis like unclaimed, unmarked graves. The granite hills are bombed out shells. No, I cannot reconcile these two highways,
the one I see and the one I remember, just as I cannot fit my bloated thirty-seven into this jigsaw hole that’s still shaped like a crisp-edged twenty. What, then, gives me the right to judge the art, the passion, and potential of these soft young hopefuls who look and sound the way I still feel — bright, brittle, afraid, and full of bluster? When so much of the world they inherited is so dulled and compromised, why must they also tolerate the criticism of strangers? Or must I show them truth and horror so they may harden their backs against the highway’s next assault on fragile, aimless memory? Or perhaps the highway will, one day, wind back around, disappear into itself, and re-emerge as a smaller, milder, less ambitious metaphor for expectations, progress, or the many crimes of Time.