1:  Day


In the pitiless sunlight

idiots, philistines, riffraff--

like gleeful maggots,

swarm this place;

they are the citizenry of this city,

dressed up as tourists

for a weekend outing.

The vanity of their ancestors

is suitably rewarded;

the populace tramples over the bones of kings

illustrating the brotherhood of mankind.

At sunset the dead begin to stir,

kept in check only by watchmen

and lunatics.  They laugh,

play, and exchange gossip;

the silent trees and sleeping birds,

bear witness.



2:  Soiree Medieval


The tomb has been decorated;

the Festival of France,

in the hall of the dead.

A medieval setting for medieval music

however alien--

in the candle-light even the atmosphere

is just right.

A hired Hyderabadi courtier

pays obeisance to the dead

to salve our conscience,

but his hands and heart

are both false as he places a rose

ceremoniously on the stone slab.

Then the music begins;

West penetrates the East.

The cognoscenti of the city

are easily pleased

by the array of outdated

instruments--the kids love

the good old hurdy-gurdy.

My companions are busy otherwise

checking out the audience--

one eyes the boys, the other

ogles at the women on display;

I only smile at the familiar faces.

The few Europeans in our midst

are a nice decoration;

white skin looks good

in dark shades of cotton.

The musician, unfortunately,

is dull; his music is all dead.

and we decide not to wait

for the dance after the interval.



3: Night


We leave everyone behind

and like lost souls,

embrace the night.

The city of the dead is haunted

by memories that hide

underneath the tombstones

in subterranean catacombs,

sulking during the day,

only waiting to get up

and come out at night.

From here, the city

looks ghostly, unreal,

a remote haze of lights

under a pall of gloom.

We hear no urban noises

and the dead disallow

inane chatter:  how irrelevant

are the words of the living

and these cluttered selves

that we drag about

like unclean bowels.

The moon is high, revealing

the decrepit dome of the mausoleum

like a diseased breast.

Bats squeak and scurry back and forth

in their bizarre nightly rituals.



4:  The Return of the Dead


I start the car;

at the first twist of the key,

it cranks irreverently.

My admiration of Japanese technology.

is simultaneously revived.

The headlights startle a sleeping dog.

At Toli Chowki,

we were reduced to the dust

from whence we came,

but Mehdipatnam gives us back

our flawed selves.

Nothing is ever finished;

everything comes back to life again.

No city lives

without the return of the dead.


Back to Selected Poems from The Used Book

  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape