A Low Temple
A low temple keeps its gods in the dark.
You lend a matchbox to the priest.
One by one the gods come to light.
Amused bronze. Smiling stone. Unsurprised.
For a moment the length of a matchstick
gesture after gesture revives and dies.
Stance after lost stance is found
and lost again.
Who was that, you ask.
The eight-arm goddess, the priest replies.
A sceptic match coughs.
You can count.
But she has eighteen, you protest.
All the same she is still an eight-arm goddess to the priest.
You come out in the sun and light a charminar.
Children play on the back of the twenty-foot tortoise.
Are you looking for a god?
I know a good one.
His name is Yeshwant Rao
and he's one of the best.
look him up
when you are in Jejuri next.
Of course he's only a second class god
and his place is just outside the main temple.
Outside even of the outer wall.
As if he belonged
among the tradesmen and the lepers.
I've known gods
or straighter laced.
Gods who soak you for your gold.
Gods who soak you for your soul.
Gods who make you walk
on a bed of burning coal.
Gods who put a child inside your wife.
Or a knife inside your enemy.
Gods who tell you how to live your life,
double your money
or triple your land holdings.
Gods who can barely suppress a smile
as you crawl a mile for them.
Gods who will see you drown
if you won't buy them a new crown.
And although I'm sure they're all to be praised,
they're either too symmetrical
or too theatrical for my taste.
mass of basalt,
bright as any post box,
the shape of protoplasm
or king size lava pie
thrown against the wall,
without an arm, a leg
or even a single head.
He's the god you've got to meet.
If you're short of a limb,
Yeshwant Rao will lend you a hand
and get you back on your feet.
Does nothing spectacular.
He doesn't promise you the earth
Or book your seat on the next rocket to heaven.
But if any bones are broken,
you know he'll mend them.
He'll make you whole in your body
and hope your spirit will look after itself.
He is merely a kind of a bone-setter.
The only thing is,
as he himself has no heads, hands and feet,
he happens to understand you a little better.
An Old Woman
An old woman grabs
hold of your sleeve
and tags along. .
She wants a fifty paise coin.
She says she will take you
to the horseshoe shrine.
You've seen it already.
She hobbles along anyway
and tightens her grip on your shirt
She won't let you go.
You know how old women are.
They stick to you like a burr.
You turn around and face her
with an air of finality.
You want to end the farce.
When you hear her say,
'What else can an old woman do
on hills as wretched as these?'
You look right at the sky.
Clear through the bullet holes
she has for her eyes.
And as you look on,
the cracks that begin around her eyes
spread beyond her skin.
And the hills crack.
And the temples crack.
And the sky falls
With a plate-glass clatter
Around the shatterproof crone
who stands alone
And you are reduced
to so much small change
in her hand