Smita Agarwal

Indian Parliament, circa 2015.

A set of dentures.
Teeth no longer alive.
Unable to bite, chew or grind,
Unable to help the body-politic
Digest;
Diminishing the country’s health …

India, a doddery old fool
Full of bluster,
Unable to hide the fluster;
Spitting in its own face
Because of its loose
Set of dentures.

Ode to a Saijan Tree

O saijan tree, O saijan tree,
Why you, no longer in abundance, we see?
Your little green leaves that you shed completely
Before gifting us danglers of
Drumstick, thin and crunchy?

O saijan tree, O saijan tree,
Is it because in our unholy city
Those old bungalows with their
Acres of estate have disappeared?
And with them those ayahs
Who carried us baby-log on their waist
To the ahata at one end of the estate
Where the servants lived?

And there you flourished
And there you grew
Along with the seemul, the ber
And the jungal-jalebi.

You were not allowed the front garden.
The aangan, the ahata and the roadside
Were earmarked for you.
For, you shed your leaves and littered the lawn,
Encouraged the girgit to scamper all over you,
And we baby-log were dead scared
Of that nasty creature that turned
From yellow to red to blue …

Those estates have now made way
For cramped apartment blocks,
Which can barely squeeze in a bush or two,
And perhaps, a single, slim, at-attention ashok.
And like all shrunken, clogged spaces
Have no room for
A heart, a hearth and you!

Notes:
saijan — drumstick tree
seemul — silkcotton tree
ber — ziziphus mauritiana
jungal-jalebi — pithecellobium dulce
ayahs — maids
baby-log — girlchildren
aangan — courtyard
ahaata — servant quarters
girgit — the chameleon
ashok — saraca asoca

I Love You

Babli Pandey says “I love you …” to Bittu Sonkar.
The campus is agog …
A high-caste girl, Brahmin at that,
Wanting to wed a Backward boy …
Babli’s brother, gets his act together.

He and his gang, with
Cycle-rickshaw chains
And crowbars, beat
The hell out of Bittu,
Who, for a month, lies festering
In the town’s most
Infection-riddled zone,
The Govt. Medical College.

Miraculously, Sonkar survives.
And, but naturally, after full
And final recovery, collects
All the Backward caste warlords
Of every out-house locality
And seeks vengeance.

Siege-like conditions prevail
Around the university’s SSL Hostel
Where Pandey and his chaps
Are holed-up …

Meanwhile, Babli, willingly
Abducted by the Sonkar gang,
Under the banner of the progressive
Arya Samaj, marries Bittu;
A scene-from-a-movie like exchange
Of garlands in the presence
Of the liberal intellectual, Prof. Das …

24×7, the mofussil town’s single tv channel
Blazes footage of Babli weds Bittu.
For the bristling brother and his goons
Attention is for the time being
Relocated from Bittu to Dr. Das.
Next morning, Dr. Das takes
An extra class on “Break, break, break …”
And discusses the forthcoming Freshers Function
In room # 8, where he shall encourage
Boys and girls of postgrad English
To dance to “Tera, tera, tera suroor”
And “Beedi Jalaile” …
Exhortations over for the day
Dr. Das leads the way
Down a flight of stairs
Where Birju Pandey
And his hoods waylay him …
Residual decency cannot make
Birju punch the don in his face.
So he pulls out a matchbox,
Strikes a match, waves the flaming
Stick, menacingly, three times,
Under the paralysed prof’s nose
And growl’s “Last chance, saar …”

Prof. Das clutches his heart and collapses.
The girls of the class let out a collective
Squeal and beg forgiveness for his lapses …
Tension is temporarily dissipated.
Mofussil India’s struggle
With modernity, abated.
The Babli Pandey, Bittu Sonkar
Saga, by these unforeseen
Circumstances aided and abetted,
Postponed for the next
Bright, new day …

 
Poetry

This Sunday, once again, I come back to you, love,
All my cares cast aside – the child struggling with his O levels;
My dreamy, difficult husband; the old man who said,
Come child, come, then pushed me down the hill …
In the light rain, I walk down Giles Lane to St Stephen’s Hill,
And take the footpath to Little Hall Farm, Eastingdown, Alcroft Grange …
Squelch over fallen chestnut and oak leaves till I come to Little Hall Pinetum
And see conifers, green sails in a sea of brown dead ferns …
Am surprised by a white Citreon Romahome with trailer,sitting
Patiently outside a brick house with Tudor beam façade,
The house quietly smoking in the rain, in winter …
Sheep-come-near-the-fence move off, turn around and stare at me.
I walk on to where the single track potholed road turns into a path,
Wind my way on till a neighing unsettles me … I see it …
Big, black, powerful, nostrils smoking … It snorts. I make a move
Towards it. It shakes its mane, neighs again and walks till it’s behind
A bush from where it watches … What does it see, dear horse?
An oddball in an anorak with an Eskimo hood?
I’m just as nervy … What if it breaks out and tramples me?
It’s to you I return, tired and hungry … It’s with you I wrestle …
Like a man I shout at you … , when you lay down the wrong preposition,
Dish out a difficult verb, throw a tantrum over a metaphor I’d spent so much
Energy inventing … Yes, we quarrel. You fling your history and pedigree
In my face and I say, Get out I don’t want you …
It’ll go on for hours, won’t it love?
Till we’re exhausted and my fingers ache?
Hopefully, by then, the weather will have cleared …

 

Smita Agarwal  is a poet and professor of English  at  Allahabad University, smita maamUttar Pradesh, India, since 1983. In 1999, she was writer-in-residence at the universities of Stirling (Scotland) and Kent, U.K. She also is a Hindustani music vocalist and has performed on All-India Radio. Her poems have been widely anthologized and her critical work has been published in journals such as the Poetry Review (London) and the Journal of Commonwealth Literature (UK). Agarwal is also an editor and translator for Plath Profiles, the Sylvia Plath online journal, published by Indiana University, USA.