Apostrophe to Poverty


Poverty is not so easy to attain.

It is not all misery--belly-pinching brats,

motherless, naked and dirty, let loose

among garbage heaps on squalid streets;

it is not always a toothless importunate hag,

shrunken and gaunt, who, accosting you on the footpath,

clings and clings, pleading she has no other refuge;

it is not always the slum in Calcutta or Bombay

where during the monsoon, the pus of the city

oozes, and women, with babies at their breasts

wade across filthy gutters by the roadside

to reach their dissolute hovels; it is not always

some leper on display, limbs arranged on a cart,

a wrinkled begging bowl of tin balanced between

stubs of arms, pushed by his bandaged companion.

We, for whom poverty is the only sin,

miss the true meaning of what it is to be poor.


Regard myself in my own comfortable cage

twenty concrete floors above the common street

surrounded by my solacing clutter of machines:

my washers, dryers, heaters, coolers, mixers,

air-conditioners, refrigerators, cookers, grinders,

dish washers, vacuum cleaners, hi-fi stereos, CD-Roms--

wonderful possessions, too numerous to mention--

fabricate my secure and happy delusions.  My day

which ended with a sedative, begins with the alarm

of a chronometer made in Japan.  Wired to a shaver,

I adjust temperatures, turn on the coffee maker,

automatically dispose garbage, receive recorded messages

from the office, blip the tube for the Morning News,

open refrigerator, collect dishes from the washer,

breakfast instantly, and if not constipated, defecate,

shower, shampoo, condition, blow-dry hair, dress,

descend in the elevator to my automobile, waiting

in the bowels of the building.  After I leave,

the fluffy carpet smothers the floor, bolted windows

preserve the air-conditioning; pets, and potted plants

on display, strategically placed for effect, languish

for want of sunshine and air.


                               Regard myself among

all these, my indispensable possessions.  Can I

one muffled night, walk away from all this that ties me?

can I, oppressed by my fears and uncertainties,

disappear into the night to find all the answers?

"I shall not rest until I have found the truth"--

can I take such a vow and simply leave in the dark

without even a note, as over two thousand years ago

Gautama did?  With all my engagements, can I

without notice, even take a vacation?  No, impossible.

I will be registered with the Missing Persons Bureau.

The media will blare my absence; the major newspapers

announcing a reward for my capture, will print my

picture; my wife will hire detectives to track me down,

and if I am found, she will probably file for divorce,

suing me for desertion and maltreatment.  Afterwards,

endless alimony payments will follow as a matter of course.

No, my friend, even if I want to, I cannot be poor.


Poverty, the plain fact is, cannot be inherited;

it has to be acquired, for it is a quality of the mind.

Poverty is the lack of need, not the want of possessions.

It cannot be forced, because it is voluntary.

He who knows what it is to be poor, always walks

upright; using only what he needs, refusing all excesses,

he is the essential man, without any superfluity.


Or, consider another angle:

we humans are beings of spirit and flesh.

some stuff the spirit, starve the flesh,

some starve the spirit and stuff the flesh.

Some die of too little, some die of too much,

and all those who die are equal.  Hence,

privation and repletion are variations

of the same illness.  So don't think that

being rich, in itself, is better than being poor,

for in the ultimate analysis, despite your wealth,

can you deny, that in truth you own only yourself?


Beyond a certain point,

I do not care to prolong this argument.

These words formed in indignation

always dissolve in a calm beyond comment.

My philosophy is simple

though some consider it partisan and limited:

the poor define their opposites;

without them none would be rich.

Hence, if nothing else,

let me here declare

my allegiance to my deprived countrymen,

however unlike them I may be.

Let poverty be my lot,

let me make this meagre offering

at the shrine of indigence.

Having now come out into the open,

taken sides for the rest of my days,

let me end,

on a note of uncharacteristic bluntness:

we mustn’t extend our judgements

to what we do not comprehend;

we should accept each other,

as we are—rich or poor--

or mind our own business, please.


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  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape