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Makarand Paranjape


Hauz-i-Khas

Approach
The path is six hundred years old.
On the way you will see peacocks
And, if you are lucky, some deer.
From this parapet
The empty, dried lake looks like
An immense ditch,
A grotesque seventy-acre dugout—
A gouged eye of earth.
The old emperor chose this quiet spot
For his grave. There he is--
In a simple enclosure of sandstone
That anyone can approach.
Beside him lie a son and a grandson
To keep him company, perhaps.

Does she remember
How this place intrigued us?
We haunted it constantly,
Walking here from her house
To be alone, together.
We speculated upon these ruins
From the sketchy tourist notice
Put at the entrance by the archaeological survey:
Just this brief walk would turn centuries.
We sat overlooking the pit,
Holding hands sometimes
While the attendant slyly looked on.
Does she remember
The December sun soaking into us?
And how one day
The birds flew away when we came,
Flapping in an enormous mottled flock from the tomb.
"They're migrating," she pronounced,
In her characteristic, solemn, symbolic way.
Does she remember?

This hollow goes back to times before Altamash.
But it was Firoz Shah who made it a lake
Cementing the sides, clearing the bottom,
Sealing it to hold water.
The college, which Firoz Shah also built,
Is almost in ruins.
Only the pillared assembly hall still stands.

The lawns are well-maintained
And the walls of the tomb
Are not disfigured
With the names of vain lovers.

Night.
In the steely moonlight,
The royal lake slowly fills up
Before my eyes.
I hear the ripple of gentle water.
Behind me, the scholars are asleep
In their cramped quarters.
The burly, heavily armed Afghan guard,
With a sharp, close-cut beard
Dozes, leaning on his spear.
From the dark
An old Mulla in his long black cloak
Walks into the balcony
Counting his beads,
His white beard quivering...
It's time for the last prayer of the day.

From a distance
I watch the light in her house
Go out.


In Lieu Of The Missing Poem

Dear reader,

A poem at the centre of the collection,
Is missing, as you can gather.
To speak truly, its absence, equally
Baffles me. Did I lose it to computer virus
Or did the censor excise it;
Or were there only twenty-nine in all,
Making this the unwritten poem?
Or does this represent the overwhelmingly absent presence,
Suggesting, like nirvana or the impossible
Revolution, something that we strive towards,
But never attain-I mean, Love?
Thus it becomes all that I was unable to say,
The sunya in the heart of purna,
The cavity in the middle of the decentred
Text; in a word, the death of the self,
(Or instead of the missing poem, these sixteen lines.)


The Dance

The rain-dance required prior permission from Mother.
IN the tiled courtyard in the middle of the house,
Gleefully shedding our clothes—those encumbrances—
We two brothers would assemble.
Then frisking and romping in the showers
We would yell for our neighbours upstairs
(Sisters of five and seven with rhyming names)
To join us, splashing about a great deal
To make our invitation attractive.

Then, with bated breaths we awaited the outcome
Of the artful badgering of our peers,
Considering that their father was out, and
Conniving to use the occasion
To bathe her daughters thoroughly,
Aunty upstairs would reluctantly grant permission.

I danced till my limbs failed
Or it stopped raining,
Scarcely realizing that the image of two immature girls,
Soaped from head to toe, dancing wildly,
Slowly washed by the rain to pink nakedness
Would follow me across the gulf of puberty
Into the wet dreams of an uneasy adolescence.

 








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