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.
For the students of Srishti, old and new.
Vinayak Varma, 2020