A Suburban Ode from Madras in 1976
(Recalling a suburban Post Office in Madras,600031, now known as Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, India)
Under my black halo in the slant-less sun
I drop the latch upon my father's gate
And set out on a minor postal mission
Some seven minutes off.
The road dies here and is reborn
As customary right of way
Across a ground where houses sprout
In cement gore and grit.
Beneath this tree a munching cow and calf
Have staked a dung-patch cattle shed;
Their lolling eyes unseeingly
Take measure, let me pass
To buffaloes upon a stubbled plot;
Grave of gait, their ashen hide, blond spikes,
Their wicked looking horns
Meaning no harm.
In that sand-pit a mansion is a-building:
Its bare foundations already seem like ruins
That tell of rooms that will be lodged, planned
Walls and bricks too transparent for sin.
Here a house proclaims itself a workshop
For ailing cars immobilised on blocks,
With innards gutted, rust-corroded,
A man unloads a basket from his head;
The lattice top removed, tight hens appear,
Coupled like entrants for a three-legged race,
In that shade country of the noble neem
A siesta of yellow cycle-rickshaws wait
For school to close and green-white little girls
To go home escorted
By barefoot servant maids who lounge
Under a red-flame mohur, swapping tales
Of tyrannies defied; some ask a passer-by
The wrist-watched time of day.
Metal rhythms amplify; a shuttle smooth
Electric train swings by in anapest,
Incongruously swift. Impudent crows
Flit across my path,
Swooping down from branch to garbage heap.
On pronged benches a tea-stall audience
Imbibes transistor tunes. Biscuits moult
In bottle jars.
Within a tree-blessed compound headquarters
Chetpet Post Office. But how cracked and dry
The fountain that once filigreed this grove
With water joy!
A bungalow of cobweb privacies
Now shut in dim neon for public service -
This long desk on the veranda invites
I sit and scribble what I have rehearsed,
But that is not my meaning. Images
May calcify the metaphors of mood.
- - - - -
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