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



      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



               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




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