The Urchin in Dr. Radhakrishnan Rd.

 

                                                                       

              Still the din dashes about in his dreams

 

now louder in the spaced quiet:

   

   an occasional auto-rickshaw backfiring revving

                                    

                                                                     spluttering

      too close for chancy comfort

 

   some blaring tv hoisted above craning necks

 

 

Over the squeezed out crackling mud sidewalk

 

  his head buried in the crook of his charred bony arm

 

     his right elbow crusted in a masked-eye pattern

 

      his left spindly leg knotted at the knee

 

       jauntily splayed in a triangle on his right

 

   the mud-soaked sole inturned at the angle

 

    as if to cushion the prickly grains on bare scorched skin

 

    a defensive gesture against cold  dust  wind  noise  pain

 

       the slight lukewarm breeze lifting from Marina Beach

 

    teasing the settled dust   the strangled pores

 

                                      he had for a blanket

 

Through the dropped jaw     rosy-pink at the bled bitten lips

 

   his breath wheezed through stained craggy teeth

 

   his broken nose stopped by blobs of bloody phlegm

 

    a hovering fly or two keeping undisturbed guard

 

His hair streaked in plaited dusty strands

                      

                         lost in the sidewalk's trampled mud

 

 

On his loins some tortured rags     bound at the hips

 

    bulged at the dryblown stomach

 

 the nombril unfurled like a budding ear

 

  to where the hardly heaving contorted ribs

 

           held the will to awaken

 

the evaporating carcase of a steamy engine at the works

 

 

He woke to the mocking streaking laughter of the magpie

 

calling out to its mate across the slipping concave-tiled roofs

 

          across the dense mango green weighted clusters

 

                       where they had slumbered for the night

 

to the mangy scavenger dog    digging its nozzle in the splodges

 

    of decomposing leaves   paper and tins larded with leavings:

 

       turds dung urine  phlegm and menstrual foam

 

   that the parched earth gulped during the day

 

to the bluebottles festering on the peeled shin-bone

 

to the hordes of tinkling bicycles piercing his unquiet drums

 

to the buses and taxis top-heavy creaking and near toppling

 

  and the sharp clipped voices of servants

 

  urgently preparing the exit of their master

 

     in a polished limousine through laundered lawns

 

 

Some fifty yards away     across the road

 

 a low saffron roofed-box of a stone shrine

 

lay crushed and sagging on the tarmac against the mud-sidetable

 

    from which sprawled the scaly frame of a dust-throttled tree

 

 the garland of mallikai on the dark stubby slippery shrine

 

                                                of a squat Ganesha

 

 a hardly flickering oilwick open trough lamp lighting

 

      limply

               other framed coloured pictures of Ganapati

 

   two half-empty troughs of kunkunum and vibhuti

 

   on the half-opened cicatrised shrine gate

 

   traces of twirls of white chalk on the road

 

   reminders of mandala and disrespectful feet

 

a bleak reminder to the departed donor's culpability

 

 

To the boy now awakened

 

        looking through dazed poolai-stuck eyes

 

the obeisances of hurrying office workers

 

  and the coins they reverently pressed in a cement platter

 

    at the saffron-robed shrine's feet  

 

                         strewn with fading frangipani

 

               and shrivelling kernel in split coconut-halves

 

all these were on a reel spun high on a screen

 

the lad could neither fear

 

                 nor partake of the proferred fare

 

 

his only Right was his right hand

 

     stretched long but never touching

 

the deadened fury of his looks

 

    softened only by the lowered eyes

 

 

The day was long or short

 

   depending on his cavernous gastric growls

 

  and according to how he laid himself out in some public place

 

      to shut out the important world of poets and politicians

 

      shout-shooting around him

 

     into the Twenty-First Century

 

towards wild parties and fun-conferences

 

        to shore up their sagging petty images

 

 to bombs and cars that fly

 

   to other worlds won on stars

 

      to shrines adorned like filmstars

 

and filmstars adorned like shrines

 

 

 Just a privileged lingerer

 

  allowed to watch a while the magic lantern show

 

   behind burning fearful eyes

 

    that dreamt of steamy coco-shavings-crusted puttu

 

      a second stomach thunderbread and chapati

 

         ladiesfingers and drumsticks

 

            pumpkin in hot sambar

 

               stringhoppers in coti

 

                  masala tosai

 

and a tumbler of buttermilk

 

 

© T.Wignesan 1993   (January 4, 1993)

 

from the collection: back to background material (1993)  ISBN 2-904428-11-9

 

Notes

 

1.Dr.Radhakrishnan Rd.: Boulevard in Madras (Chennai, India) where are to be found some posh hotels

2. mallikai: Tamil for a variety of the jasmine.

3. splodges: a blend of "splotches" and "lodges" (in the sense of “to serve as a receptacle for”), meaning a great heap of splotches

4. kunkunum and vibhuti: Hindus streak their faces with these powders either for customary or religious reasons

5. poolai: Tamil for rheum in the eyes

6. magic lantern show: a reference from Omar Khayyam’s Ruba’iyat.

7. puttu, sambar, coti, stringhoppers, masala tosai: Indian Tamil cuisine, usually taken as part of  breakfast

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