Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Poem written in April 2011: "On a Visit, near Lucknow"

That chandelier you see, Sir, is Belgian.
True, one bulb is missing, some are cracked,
And all are – ahem – dusty
From the labours of servants who were ignorant or overenthusiastic.

That clock, sir, like this simple toast rack, doesn’t work any more.

But in our heyday, Sir, can you imagine how much it would have cost
How many years’ labour for how many of our people
Not only to buy these beloved things, but to transport them from Belgium to London
From London to Calcutta, thence by boat to Kanpur
(The river is blocked, nothing comes that way now)
And then by road the half-day journey to Lucknow.

Today, Sir, we can get anything everything direct from Sharjah.
By air. Direct.

But, Sir, Naseeruddin, Naseeruddin, Naseeruddin Haider!
He was something else!

What a vision he had of linking the Gomti and the Ganga!

If Kanpur and Lucknow had been connected, what a city Lucknow would have been!

Who would have cared for Lahore, Delhi and Calcutta?
Or even London, New York or Beijing?

Would there have been aircraft?
Might we, using ancient knowledge, have leapfrogged to a different propulsion system?

But, Sir, our nawaabs and thaakurs may be no more, their propulsion was the same
As that of our netas, only we are faster and harder - and more devious.

They all thought, Sir, they all think, themselves to be masters of the universe.

It is like - you know the story of the Naag Temple down the road, Sir?

No? Ah, then you must know! The most incredibly rich Jaat of the area
Had a dream in which he was granted a vision of the Naag Devta.

You must be knowing, Sir, Naag Devta, Shivji, Vishnu?

Yes yes of course, you live abroad but you are Indian, my apologies!

I’m sorry, Sir, but I must ask, I must not assume!

Nowadays, Sir, even Indians living in our own country don’t know anything about our traditions!

Anyway, the visionary demand was that a temple be built to the Naag Devta.

In the morning, trembling, the Jaat went to a pundit he knew a bit
And retailed the story, whereupon the wily pundit demurred:
building a temple is no small endeavour!

The terrified Jaat fell at the pundit’s feet and offered to sell everything he owned.

So, today, a beautiful cobra’s head overshadows the road, as you have seen,
The temple is splendid, overpowering. The pundit does very well.

The Jaat? I wondered if you would ask.

He volunteers at the temple, surviving gratefully on whatever is offered to him.

Yes, indeed, Sir, so what is the point of the story? That is what I am telling only.

This Jaat, Sir, was also a master of the universe.

All these masters of the universe had dreams.

And their dreams required them to sacrifice themselves and all they had.

But even at the height of their success, Sir, they were merely poor servants of their dream
Only imagining their mastery of the universe.

I am sorry, Sir, I fold my hands, I am an aged servant, not a philosopher
But we who've lived an age, even if we are uneducated, sometimes do reflect.

Many thanks, Sir, you are very kind. The master is good
But we have fallen on hard times, and everything is so expensive nowadays,
Thanks to today’s masters of the universe.


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