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SALEEM PEERADINA MADRAS OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS DELHI BOMBAY CALCUTTA 1992 .
and published by SK Mookerjee Oxford University Press. Madras 600 004. printed by V. Walton Street. Oxford OX2 6DP New York Toronto Delhi Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi Petaling Jaya Singapore Hong Kong Tokyo Nairobi Dar es Salaam Melbourne Auckland and associates in Berlin Ibadan © Oxford University Press 1992 SBN 0 19 562868 3 Typeset by Jayigee Enterprises. 219 Anna Salai.Oxford University Press. . Madras 600 006. Ravi at Jai Ganesh Offset Printers. Madras 600 006.
TO THE GIRLS IN THE FAMILY .
The Indian Post. . Kavi. Sahitya Akademi Literary Journal. Acknowledgements are due to the editors.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Some of the poems in this collection have appeared in the following publications: Poetry India. Bahuvachhan and New Letters. Chandrabhāgā. Namaste. Opinion.
CONTENTS FAMILY MIRROR Family Man Strange Meeting I Strange Meeting II Group Portrait Homecoming Michigan Basement I Sisters Speculations 3 8 10 11 14 17 21 23 TRANSITION The Fire Hands Garden Landscape With Locomotive Transition Long Shot Counter Proposals The Divide Mother Differences Mirage Secrets BEGINNINGS Beginnings 53 29 31 32 33 35 37 38 40 43 44 46 47 .
FAMILY MIRROR .
adding here and there Ornamental tiles for effect. paper. The promoter insists on Avenues dotted with fancy lighting. covers The rough patches and dresses up the complex In dust-absorbing colours. string. as an afterthought. Inserts toilets. The big boys of the city. cleared The marshes. hammer And slam a pile of meshed floors. landscapes The approach with Ashoka trees. They spit and paste. Sand. parks Limousines at strategic points. and. glass. levelled the creeks. the bullies Who spread terror in the neighbourhood Have filed a claim on the land. brick. A visionary among them erects windows And door-frames. signs the picture And hangs it up above his swivel chair .FAMILY MAN I Someone is making a game out of us. columns and walls. wire and shells For this sport. sticks. They’ve turned Builders of skyscrapers collecting stone. A painter smoothens the edges.
bed. TV set. And making his final move. storewel. and real bulbs that light up on cue. Another hunched over homework and in the verandah. A fridge. matchstick table and chairs. A cat sits patiently but no one will let her in. perfectionist that he is. .For visitors to see. He picks up a row of cheap plastic figures with fixed smiles And plants one in the kitchen. Outside the door. one Whose face is buried in a newspaper. one on a tricycle. A craftsman with a sense Of drama now moves in and installs miniature Sofa set.
keeping at bay the monkeys who filch fruit from the fig tree. At least a dog. I’d keep a species of big spotted cat I once saw on a leash on a city pavement. to test a fancy notion of mine: a wild animal raised like a baby will adopt you as his natural parent. A small one.II If they could have their way the kids would assemble all their wishes around them. and greet his human mother without upsetting the horse she comes riding on. rabbit. As for me. turtle and fish. At least a deer. He would live on the farm in the company of goats and fowl. Twitching tails and furiously nibbling mouths will throw darting looks as they squirrel up the trees. . But there’s no way to shut up that uninvited bird who never fails to surprise visitors with his cawing sarcasm. A whole zoo to talk to.
The black and white arithmetic of these square feet has been paved with their meagre savings. but train the eye on the window grill through which the horizons come . minus everything but the fond hope They’ll survive the odds.III It starts with a cliché. the trajectory of their paces Between wall and wall. they occupy the nest. willing to pay more than the price Of gold for a hole in the anthill. starting afresh. All they want—with a million others joining the scramble—is a roof to call their own. Touching in their naivete. the wife’s Jewellery. If they cannot love these cramped quarters they have to pretend the walls don’t exist: chart out The living space for positions from which to eat and sleep and quarrel. Discovering soon enough as a prisoner in a cell does. The queues are a mile long: the stragglers grab what’s up for sale. loans from friends and the balance from parents. In their own birth-place They’re migrants. the floor plan’s Four corners.
so that the footprints it left behind could lead their children back to its hiding place. . On shafts of light compose the text of a remembered place to set against the reality of this passing one. Line the walls With snapshots of a world missing from view.Flooding in.
the size of a seed Embedded in a lump of clay had been pulsing For millions of years. Unborn. Before her time her message Came through. Her heart.STRANGE MEETING I With the visible signs of his first child God loomed into view. To initiate him into the mystery Of His life-giving breath. Long before she broke The water. Yearning to ride the air To attach itself to the flesh of its father. God alone could have sowed this urge in the womb’s Ancient slush. I exist. . clear as hoofbeats. He blew the dust that lay ahead. she pronounced— I exist. her heart Pounded. And to give Immensity to his joy.
The child’s galloping years diminished His own. he opened to a new life Drinking deep from the dark pool Of the child’s eyes which held his own in a spell— As if this child had summoned him to a great height And what he saw was his own soul Revealing to him the face of a timeless love That took his breath away. .Time collapsed. chilling him To the bone. God stood. watching. The earth Glided on. until a full-grown woman Sat by his bedside. stroking his hand. From that day.
it is Your face. It streams forward Lapping my sides. slicing open my dream. whose hand has led you here To the far end where I move in the passages Of my sleep? The current swirls. what sight Brought your dreaming to a halt? A room awakened. Eyes surfacing from the dark. * Ah. When light pulls my eyelids back. Renews itself around you. and a face stood. formed. whose tongue has revealed me to you? From a thousand million orbits—feet Fetching us from home to the world outside. dredged from the deep.STRANGE MEETING II Ah. ear echoing— From this long familiar fall. Distance became flesh. Words mirroring. . Breath curling its spine. ebbs. child. that has survived. love. bouncing.
the undulating green waves stroking Our sore eyes.GROUP PORTRAIT Four heads on a two-wheeler is a tight-rope dance promising edge-of-seat suspense to the riders. No performer of tricks. this forced daredevilry is for me a weekend act. unbelieving. Emerging from our burrow we bump along an open strip of road shaking off the skyline in hot pursuit after us. For many This is an everyday machine of convenience. We blink. . A getaway vehicle for a clutch of kindred souls poised in flight from the city’s snares. a church bathed in yellow light. Roll into the centre of a charmed world— vestiges of villages. or expert dodger.
In front. doubts. tamarind and casuarina. Not so hard here. past the creek. We stretch out. touching down On our own private public sanctuary. . by turning deaf to everything Except the crash of the surf.everytime we touch this holy relic. filling our eyes with the sky’s embrace mute to questions. As if this last surviving child has fallen out of history’s monstrous family tree into a trap door and stumbled upon the secret of everlasting youth: Here it plays.— and the children race into its open arms. Enchanted we move Slowly. curls gleaming in beams of sunshine. the seashore. the taste of its toe still lingering in the mouth. that break Surface to tiptoe abroad to take the air. This is the face of the city in its infancy. skirting the edge of the marsh through a corridor of palm. The suburban skyline’s given up the chase. in a chosen spot. to screen out insistent noises packaged by bands of picnickers.
In this moment of respite we sit close relearning the ease with which we. We only ask for grace. as lovers. We call out to them and they run Into our arms. Replenished. They set us free to float above the earth Interlocked in sheer weightlessness. . sat huddled. We rise as a family for the city dark to reclaim us. proves our innocence. From those fingertips That stroke my hair the way I like it. her love flows that it may arrest the receding hairline the multiplying streaks of grey. allowing pain to preserve the distance which welds our world together. their abandon that blesses our hurts. that we may Release our children with love. They are specks on the seashore belonging to the future. It is the children’s squeals of delight. I take the now-calloused hands of a slaving housewife to my lips in order to breathe new life into them. we ride home escorted by invisible hands.
Two voices start up together to fill up his ears until he loosens their clasp and directs them to games they abandoned before the doorbell rang. wild screams and peals of laughter. Entering. Chases through the crammed corners of the house. she’s edged out by the competition. there’s another round Of horseplay. her arm circling his hip. Imagine coming home . High-up. he’s held by a three-tier welcome. Later. The little one wraps himself around one leg. piling up on the bed to kick and roll and rib each other all over again. the second. gives his belly a sideways cheek-rub. Content with a mere peck. the face is territory only the wife can reach. more would be merrier. He’s bent to hug the second and lifted the little one to his chest to nuzzle. If two’s such fun. running out of breath.HOMECOMING It’s the best part of his day.
Or sulk. Sometimes he’s an overgrown boy with three mothers. Then he’d come home only to join the tumble and tumult. Two loving devils are bad enough and one wife’s too many at times. Yet he can’t touch a book. Arrive loaded with gifts just to hear the whoops of childish delight. Then it’s time to live up to their image and rebel. and run before the fighting broke out among the wives. put his feet up to dream or attempt to sort out a chain of thought. perhaps. Less exciting.to be mobbed by a proliferating brood of brats. but no less dramatic. The Sunday newspapers acquire . Better to live with what he has. He makes a show Of protest at the undertug of jealousy but it’s not secret he enjoys all the fuss. Not forgetting the train of women in the harem—and all-season celebration Of sowing and reaping the bounteous fruit. hang around long enough To be pampered and fed. But any display of temper is teased out in seconds. the lady is often the eldest child and the little ones bristling with womanly desires. So fierce is the rivalry in an all-woman household.
special enemy status in every woman’s eye. This household’s no different. They’d love to yank his buried head out of the news to face more homely realities. Some evenings there’s storytime rapture that’s outlived hundreds of tellings. Or painting, building blocks, leggo— games that achieve the hardest feat of all: making them stay out in a single spot. The best moments are yet to come. More exhausted by the kids’ hyperactivity than the kids themselves with their boundless energy spilling over way beyond bedtime, he settles on the mattress and awaits their descent Their smelly heads nestling one on each side of his chest, pinning him down with the heavy warm of incoming sleep. He keeps still, silent, in this precious, everlasting double hug Shoring his night. So their souls, like big milky swans taking off from the ribbed water, may free their feet from his clay and soar into their dreams of sky.
MICHIGAN BASEMENT I
I dream in my cell, a spare room Surrounded by roots. Between the wet mud And this dugout, stone walls define my space, Re-align the earth. A cut-in glass pane pulls The sky in. Sensing a barrier, the roots tap Their white canes along the wall, then reverse Direction. But not all is shut out Of this hermetic chamber. Something Penetrates: from the roots, an effusion Seeps through; a blind chill, creeping in From the loam to the lamps glow To fertilize my breath. As I start and stretch, Grasses sprout from my head, complete with caterpillar, Beetle and other acrobats. Moss rots the ridges Of the window overhung by a canopy of webs. I look out from my scoop to see Trees ascend into the sky. From the leaves, a ripple of light falls Upon my neighbour’s lithe movements in the yard: He trims the hedges, manicures the lawn.
I’m still plucking weeds, turning the soil, Tidying the corners of my mind. I have to draw Upon the marrow underground before I go Up the stairway to air an obscure rhyme.
Too plain in my view. entirely unBreakable. pummel And pulverize my consciousness. The body at rest is good For tramping: safe. They know its uses. A funhouse To set up and populate with props That never stop talking.MICHIGAN BASEMENT II Above the ground another life goes on: my life As seen from below. Their shrieks Can drill holes in the head. In deep conversation. the heart is tossed Like a ball. my legs are pillars To negotiate: my thread of thought is snapped. Dislodged from its hook. They curl up in its dark Hollows and lead my eyes to the window To gaze at the magic of the ordinary world. I flee into my own . In which Children barge in and out Of my mind’s swivel door. They own it. and to them. They knock.
I am what I appear To them: a country without borders. harsh words arrest Their step but for a second. with no place to hide Except just below the skin. gifted state. I surface. Scoldings. . Recognizing no barrier In their blessed. attaining equipoise.Bubble. threats. My space Is their turf. Remaining whole is no longer the point: It’s staying divided. they breach Nothing.
not quite ten but ahead of the other. she argues. sneakier. obeyer of commands. Most times blames end up in her sullen face. On bad days I shout her down. Fighting back. complete Turnaround. attacks me for taking the wrong side. immediately regretting my words. Like any disadvantaged species she has turned the handicap in her favour: she’s bolder. Living up to her inheritance. producer of tears.SISTERS One. I sweet-talk her the way all parents At all times have tried explaining to the elder child. she blazes back at my moralizing. underminer of rules. sweeter than honey. younger whose five plus will never catch up with the big one’s lead no matter how good she acts or how hard she cheats. . yeller. The older gets the tough end of it.
real and imaginary. she stands her ground knowing me to be unfair. . I rejoice at the lesson never intended but so well learnt: how to overcome fathers.But even as she retreats into a simmering silence. Secretly.
Foreseeing Divine dissent. decreed by fate. Still in the dark. released From the burden of his love. . and unprepared. his wife still eligible For a new beginning. an age he might expect To reach.SPECULATIONS I Getting on in years. To see his daughters in charge Of their adult lifeplans. he’s willing to shrink his self To size. his wife. a man starts Looking for himself and finds the mirror Going blank. He searches the future For a date. Even this plea failing He asks the higher dictate’s inscrutable face For a cycle of seasons to instil in his children The faith that will see them through Any eventuality. A life span Designed to spread at the feet of his folk Is his ultimate hope. Just enough time to steer his daughters Into adolescence. But immodest virtue Claims more than his vanity deserves. To live To play with his grandchildren seems to stretch God’s generosity a bit too far.
. The wife. Will stand like a rock against the blow. making No conditions. The kids will grow.He is now ready to count the days. he knows. instructed by life.
epidemics strike. goons prowl around. the house Burns down.II Not the type to air his fears. trains derail. she used As evidence to keep them warned— And vexed. Collecting horror stories from news reports. All morbid. inexplicable— Invade his mind. Now disasters. exhaustive—reels . He swore He’d never inflict the same on his kids. Once upon a time. calamities—sudden. Gutters yawn. He frothed and chafed. silently He allows his mind to run amuck. She picked them in the oil of her imagination To pull out the proper one to dangle On a ripe occasion. tragic. but did Exactly as he pleased. mysterious Events that ever happened within the hearing Of her family’s past history. Scene after scene—gory. rape. murder. Stairs collapse. he sneered At his cautious. palpitating mother who fretted Everytime he stepped out of the house And volubly dramatized his late returns.
he chokes on the fears his mother domesticized. another ploy to see the children survive. He watches unblinking. Hers was one. . plays dumb. He remains calm. A world he cannot stop From falling to pieces is proof of his own Disordered mind.Before his unbelieving eyes. His. Who is wise is hard to tell. This inheritance of doom.
extravagant In its blindness. When it grows secretive. palms sweat. life is child’s play. In the colours of abandon. the stems wet. a nerve swells in the temple. the leaves Lit in the glow of older trees. or the seed From which it sprang. Utterly safe Until its tinder catches a dry spark. airy head. Delighting. Sometimes it has difficulty speaking. From a mere petal on a wick To a well-fed blaze. When it is born. That knows not its own body. The fire that burns out of sight Whose flickering edges reach The irises of your eyes. Sometimes a racing pulse. patiently it grows Learning how to stay hidden and when to climb high. Tender in moist earth. its small urn surprised By its own searing. Smoke Confuses its time-sense. Spreading is all it does. Entirely Naked. The wings turn inward to cover its tense flame.THE FIRE I see it in your eyes— The fire that has no form. acid . it begins by taking. The eyes Run. it is an acrobat. unashamed to ask.
and in the heart. I see it— The fire that burns out of sight Whose flickering edges reach The irises of your eyes. . The chest is tight as a fist.In the belly. a chill in the groin. a pull.
Invited. but kept at bay. lure them with their fleet-footed tongues. .. their teasing. Scoring by touch or tact surrender. Wise to all your spry arts. They’re blood-related..HANDS They’re asking For your whereabouts! They were let loose in the blindfolded backyard— and all your incarnations Like children freed at playtime. led out of harm’s way. their melting laughter.
.GARDEN Under a custard-apple tree I would wait. And she would come. trusting her curiosity Would bring my cousin to me. Then. trusting me. Cheated. with a single jolt. she would leap after me Hoping I would accept her Readiness to plot again under another tree Her barely hidden delight. with power From my lurking hand the tree’s Thousand leaves hurled on her A shower of stored rain.
a shadow Chases a dog. too distant For the blue mountain to show any change of colour. plunge from the sky. The green tips the field has pushed up Were sucking the light with their eyes closed. In a joint Flutter the storks jump as the wave Of a tremor hits the ribcages of cows grazing.LANDSCAPE WITH LOCOMOTIVE For the man under the bridge Into whose vision two buffalo calves Flung off the track. His job He knows is to raise a shout. The thud is like a jab in the crotch. it is an invention better than Any play. For children. For the crows who make capital Out of anything unusual. this is an event To report. Banging clothes on the stream’s floor The women stitch a rumour in their talk: Too muffled for the pile of houses To cock their ears. The trees saw it coming But rushing to the spot was beyond their power. The patch of sunflowers as a witness confuses fact . The sky exerts its weight in favour of Not reacting at all. Leaping out of sight.
The mother of all calves sobs inconsolably: The hurt has entered her like news That happens elsewhere but belongs to her. The keeper of animals. One chewing a fruit asks another shifting in his seat What is wrong? In a hand-mirror held delicately Between the toes. a figure With stick and blanket looks up to see people Swarming round a train on the bridge. the stones Prefer to hold their tongues knowing this to be A well-rehearsed accident. In perfect silence He tells himself a story with two endings. Having been there the longest. one examines the contents Of his nose and tells another how it happened. On a slope a mile away. .With melodrama.
A plane lifts off.TRANSITION Half-past five. compulsively busy habitat. as I lean on the balcony Wondering where to fit your absence In this routinely dull. I squint at the stars. Still on duty. my back-porch. stables hemmed in. receding in the direction . This space. while the barking Of night dogs shows signs of settling down Into a snooze. the hill Pushed aside to nail human settlements to the ground. Sparrows chatter. where I greet each morning And drag each evening back full circle Is a cut-and-paste northern suburb: Fields held back. For some it’s time For prayer or kitchen or setting out. Trains circulate In the bloodstream of this insomniac city.
Two together can break love as easily As allow time and distance to dissolve it. With your answering tide of letters You’ve roused me to a fever. You’re gone.Of night. I wait For the light advancing up the shutters Of your sleep. Whether you’re two hours away Or a thousand miles out Or across the ocean in another continent Makes little difference. But more is found than lost in the state Of transition: the small poetry of letters Unearths a spring neither of us could divine From up close. My pitching place in the spot I stay in. to awaken your face Not in any inhospitable land But under the aegis of my watchful eyes. . Or nourish it.
Let love improvise. What’s at the end of the story is unwritten. curl the limbs inward into a whorl. out of sight. spiralling out scenes of days past—the first seven days of our intimacy. Here is material for a memorable work of art. checking the flaws. pick up the threads of a dream.m. Sleep’s painted over in a wash of light since You packed up and left and I’m in love with the rushes: rerunning sequences. It doesn’t work. . The script’s Unpaged. marking jumps.LONG SHOT Five a. The way is open. Still time to stay under cover of darkness. lip-synching the words.
make the beds. You’re waiting to be kissed out of your slumber by someone who’s just as sold on fantasy As you are. * You are pure. handsome prince wishes to rescue lovely. iron. helpless. just in case. * I can cook. wash dishes. The choice is clear. princess from mother’s clutches To settle in his own.COUNTER PROPOSALS Tall. lulled into a dream world all your own. . but who’s carrying an alarm clock. do the bazaar. * The poet was made for romance not for house-keeping. untouched.
I meet problems head-on. I never falter in a crisis. * Heavy-smoking. asthmatic wreck needs young beauty to drag him around bringing joy in his life and nobility in hers. manic depressive. I can be patient. I’m looking for a woman who’ll take me seriously. warm and considerate. . I hate to be pampered or fussed over.fix things around the house. tolerant and sacrificing without being a martyr. Lack of appreciation hurts but I don’t complain. drinking. put the children to bed. Most times I am tender. egocentric.
Onwards from the intersection. . You revolved Forever moving away. you are pulled unawares From a near-perfect world into the orbit Of an impossible one. your drift. II Things moved around you and held fast Your centre. Eventually Balance was disturbed by elements Unknown and ununderstood. And you revolved. fail to realise For a time When you run out of Wonder. Dylan Thomas I Again The cord is snipped.THE DIVIDE The ball I threw while playing in the park Has not yet reached the ground. When play is interrupted by new laws Of motion. You wonder why the winds bypass you Until you lift your stare And find your masts bare.
You longed Like a tree full of fruit To lose your burden. But No sound mouths your protest.Swings and boats move In another world. As sudden and obtrusive as The menstrual blood.. Fixed Until your motion loses all sense Of movement. When The protective peel of innocence fell Apart under pressure Of knowing and layer upon layer of Awareness shook and settled as its wont. As bewildering as The sprout of secret hair. III Consciousness flowed Early. You are stranded with Your metamorphosis. You are fixed by Multiplicity of cells hardening into trunk... You’re at the wrong end of the telescope. Fixed By body’s refusal to reassume Lost pliancy. .
you remark every morning To yourself: you have come to The wrong mirror. Though you are certain You’ll ever seek the hidden players. . You prepare to face the final Humiliation of being taken for A man. You could maybe plead No! No. There must be. If only. In a corner This side of the divide then.IV There must be some mistake. this is not it: You have come to the wrong street. Every night In the dark you resolve: try And face the loss. if You could hold and keep the changing face Of a town in your grasp.
and the mound at the finish marked. coffin touched shoulder briskly but reverently by the book.MOTHER for Tahir My consumed mother. While others wailed. But you never left home. shut out the sky from you. . they took over the beginning of your timed end to lay out formally and legislate your body cleansed and bound in hospital-white as an object under lens is probed and classified.
thinking I’d cast at The old landscape a fleeting look I entered the mosque. the whole works—bend and unbend mechanically. The old pain raged in me as I left the impotent walls and stepping out Found the sky ablaze.. The calculated silence across the mass of dirty slippers at the door mixed uneasily with the loud swish and gurgle of cleansing water and hypocrite eyes. Their lifted faces betrayed a collective suspension of disbelief.. Then. and ugh. in unison pursue delusions on their hands and knees (five times a day). after my Shell-clime. rubbed Shoulders with warm indifferent shoulders In the street alive with dung and tyres . the absurd posture of their hands. Inhaled The musty peopled dusk.DIFFERENCES Years it seemed. Soon the concourse shuffled to its feet in neat rows but in the reeking attar I smelt a shouldered conspiracy.
.And pressed home Between the row of houses towards A questioning silence.
.MIRAGE Speeding over ghats the countryside seems etched in eternity a grotesque bend of smoke stays static over cluster of roofs sitting girdled in green on the unwaving grass only the lazy movement of sheep grazing moves the still landscape into Time.
dim Hidden in the recesses Of childhood Too ugly To face the mirror Shining Like a stolen coin Throbbing With forbidden desire Grief-ridden At the death of love Cold As a locked heart Buried In the attic.SECRETS Exhumed For analysis Dark. * .
* Guilty Of wrong knowingly done Aching to speak The word That will heal Unbearable As an act Of cowardice .Secrets Scattered Like broken promises Passed From skin to skin Deeds In forgotten places Times past Simmering In the heat Of revenge Lying in wait To kill A crime Fully realized In thought.
* Secrets Yearning to be told Puzzled By their refusal To die Rising Like laughter Caught in the throat Held In safe custody As understood Among thieves Repeatedly denied .Heavy As deceit Shamefaced As a lie Exposed Unburdened In a hurry Lost Without a trace.
* Secrets Cannot afford A change of heart Secrets Are not secret Unless concealed Or this poem Would be called Confessions.Discovered By accident. . * Like ore Hewn Out of rock Salvaged From the deep Fictions Skilfully contrived With the power To destroy Muzzled Into silence Secrets Biding their time.
The swirls Of grandma’s scented skirts cure his tummy aches. From early on. At five. .BEGINNINGS I Onstage. After a day outdoors. studies the backyard well for his image. He fills blank paper with scenes that dance in his head. He loves picnics by the sea. Following grandfather’s strolling finger he discovers he likes dirt And what it contains. he is Always too alert for bed. He collects polished pebbles. the past evolves. tortures insects. but the loves the exploits of the Prophets. he’s the centre Of attention. He creeps up the attic of trees to steal unripe fruit. he’s well into the Holy Book. reinforced by applause. the first act is born: his entry as observed from the wings. the way boats walk of water. he’s pecking the alphabet from the day’s headlines. Written by an unseen hand. God puzzles him. On his grandfather’s knee at three. and the burning of the sky at sunset.
He refuses to speak. He shrinks from her to sink into his aunt’s aromatic arms. The family is relieved to see the boy return to normal. shedding hot tears at the sight of his scalped genitals. a crowd hurrying to an open seaside place. Supervised haircuts And oversized clothes. Grandmother goes on a trip she never spoke about. kind and caring. and a figure with a lamp leading grandfather into the sky. His father is severe. always smells of kitchen sweat and snuff.He follows the fight of a golden bird smack into the ceiling. He goes bright-eyed to school. waits for her return. He remembers a feast. Mother. a figure to be feared—and obeyed. He stays clear of the law. But a crisis Is at hand. he’s convinced He’s been doubletricked. They go about their business. . eager to perform. A favourite uncle brings home a bride: at seven. He does not believe the stories they tell him. he will not admit his mother. Nobody suspects. suitably humble him. When grandfather leaves. Robbed of all he held Most dear. the boy falls with the aunt. something in him locks up.
homework.II As the curtain rises. He knows he has to seal in his heart the sin of clutching in his palm The roundness of her flesh. To him she is the beloved he can touch and possess. he steps back. bony hands. This version is packed with school. games. His small frame. singing voice. As teacher’s pet. A scent at once fresh. Beguiling. stage rear. . a new thrill begins. His secret bursts into a craving he can never own in the glare. to the dimmer regions of his self To witness a play within the play. all his waking hours are filled With thoughts about the night. warm. Something prevents him from playing rough. he’s an example to the rest. He envies boys who brag about their escapades and wrestle each other to the ground. But she does not belong to him. When his aunt takes over from his grandmother with whom he used to sleep. He discovers a smell different from the breath of wrinkled clothes and the vapours of balmy old skin. and a boy’s daily allowance of pranks.
He has forgotten his cue And can hardly remember his lines. shuns family gatherings. He begins to chew hungrily on the pages of spicy books. stashing the copy out of sight. III At thirteen. the talked about gifted son. He learns the art of dissembling. it is the timely end of a long overdue innocence. a new one installed. he digs out the hidden.Daydreaming eyes. Defiant. Girls break into giggles. lives underground. a storm begins to brew. He reads the thrillers his uncle leaves Carelessly behind. and launches on a fabulous expedition of the classics. timid. he plays the part with flair but begins to sense a contradiction in the shame His eyes must wear. He’s the family’s showpiece for guests. His father forbids him from reading A Thousand and One Nights. He looks in vain for the old familiar props. all too eager to befriend him. It is a turning point in the boy’s metamorphosis. The backdrop is rolled up. His father deems everything other than textbooks a collossal waste of time. He grows introverted. angelic face. Groomed to bear the burden of a pure. cultivates guile. Shy. prepare him instead for a tactical use of charm. . When the household murmurs he’s getting too big to sleep with his aunt.
stretches his own cloth. his feet make tracks on territory he’s never tried. It is the call of a strange. fooling with the maids. quietens his troubled heart. rooms. It is a world He chooses to inhabit in or out of the house. becomes a favourite spot To brood upon infinity. He stoops under the weight of his own throbbing head. And makes of it an alibi to keep out of the crowd. Sniffing the skin of his knuckles swings him back into orbit. The time he puts into his art. to light . he becomes preoccupied with nudes. At land’s end one day. he haunts the beach to watch his fading hopes drown steadily into his eye. Sketching faces. The boy builds his own frames. drawing blood from his fingernails. brushes and easel. woods and a shoal of fishing villages. The path home is punctuated with chaos. His uncle sets him up Buying paint. Thenceforth it takes all his pocket money to fuel the proud enterprise. The blue swallows him: he loses sight of God. He turns upon himself. A hill he climbs to make his own. Riding through fields. old restlessness: to move. he wades across the creek with a bicycle on his back. Evenings. But neither praise nor money escapes the tight paternal fist. At siesta time He’s on the prowl. landscapes.Though even he cannot deny the boy’s obsession with art.
His father terrorizes one and all under his holy writ. to seize. Soon the fight is out in the open. She draws the children into a huddle to unravel tales of wonder. and guilt from the blind rage to kill. bitter tug-of-war between two unequal forces: the father bent on crushing the boy’s spirit. or where he should belong. not to flee The arena.Upon. the son Torn between filial obligation. Striving. the domestic battleground. the death spasm of the other. A long. above all. but never to be claimed. It is a partial answer. Inexperienced. Mother digs her heels in—a buffer between the children and the father’s unbending will. When he turns into a block. he raids the shelf to comprehend the evasions. slogs over the homework to give them the edge . At school his score is still high and he is at his best in the company of friends. She gives in to his decree to keep The household peace. a tentative release. to vault Over the paternal wall. the strange contradictions of human impulses. They argue and debate questions of life and death. the boy learns to sidestep. raw. An appeal so irresistible could become a sign of betrayal. but spends her entire life fighting to survive. adrift on an empty stage He knows not what to love. IV Stripped bare.
He makes a virtue of aggression to surmount opposition. perfects the art of persuasion To arrive in sales and self-promotion. who’ll make her life unbearable. and a fool .She never had. His teachers are convinced His life is charted out of for him. the girl will pick a mate. he’s got into a fix. The other son. He was born to use the light to ignite a spark in others: a teacher by instinct. he surrenders deeper urges To take the wrong turn. At eighteen all eyes are on him: he’s doomed to wear the mantle of his father. He writes off two years to make A fresh start: dives into the stream of life that springs from the covers of great books. is a step ahead in strategy. The daughter gets the worst of the father’s bull-headed view. aided by confusion and the desire to please his elders. The boy stands up for her but is rudely overridden— He can ruin his own life but not spoil his sister’s. By a strange twist of fate. the youngest of the tree. He turns her a prisoner in the service of tradition. Looking at his father with the faith and love lying dormant within him. The boy burns with hate as he watches the women sacrificed. As for him the first born. He gives a fair chance to rudiments of the new science. to learn beyond a doubt his promptings lie elsewhere.
He saves rupees from lunch to line his wall with books. an escape from classes. He has no worldly ambition. Ignorant of riches. he ranks among the strugglers. . Whole avenues of arches rush Into his eyes’ incredulous stare. he’s dumb as a boy in front of a sweetshop. The place to run amuck Is the public library. Streets run after him mouth full of songs. V Naive. the country boy is a prodigal. A chance Visit to a slum wedges open perceptions only vaguely sensed before: a flash produced by rubbing the flint of imagination to the hard edge of the universe. Markets spring out Of the pavement. Winding lanes. So packed and swift are his days. sets the tone for heartbreak. but wants his name remembered for daring to be a complete man. arms full of pictures. Dazzling enough for now Is the trip through the halls of learning. His first glimpse of the harbour extracts a promise of sea journeys—inventions of kinship with all the world’s cities. gawky. he does not even notice the premonitions of his first poem. stacked with surprises. he’s riding the train downtown. green. hidden alleys chase him into corners to surrender their delights.In the eyes of the world. The stroll along the promenade. arriving to claim a continent. Out on the wide open coast. frugal by necessity.
. he reinvents the past. the evidence of blood. With a new way of seeing. the posed choreography of human pretense. critical self-judgement. Simple. vibration of distant events. the fruits of meditation. an interior world made public in the grain of a snapshot. the framing of a statement. faces stripped of shame. upturned turtles rise up from the well of backyard memories To rinse his voice with minerals.The curve of night rolls away to give structures space to find new air: the noise of everyday objects. He has a name now for the labour he puts into daydreaming. turning it around slowly in the light: bucketsful of twitching fish. A mentor appears to school him in the exercise of his wit. essential gestures. He has heard the call: an agitation of the spirit in the act of finding a resolution in words. Stalking the mysterious rhythm of footfalls Lands him into print.
SALEEM PEERADINA studied and taught literature at Bombay University. They are somewhat unusual in their focus. USA. mother. and has edited an anthology of Indian poetry in English. Adrian. Siena Heights College. Peeradina’s poetry also conveys a masculine yet thoroughly unpatronizing view of women in the context of modern. This is his second collection of poems. Peeradina’s voice is one which all readers of modern Indian poetry will wish to hear.OXFORD INDIA PAPERBACKS GROUP PORTRAIT SALEEM PEERADINA The poems in this volume are marked by toughness and an expressive density. which is chiefly upon a family (father. An exceptionally graphic view of the heady tumult of living in the suburbs of a metropolis like Bombay gives the lives depicted in these poems a particular immediacy and appeal. He is currently Assistant Professor of English. urban India. two daughters) as the source of joy and fulfilment. Michigan. Cover design by Meera Dayal Deshpaoo hu Oxford Paperbacks Oxford University Press Rs 70 SBN 0 19 562868 3 . He worked for six years as Reviews Editor of Express Magazine.
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