Poetry at Sangam




There is her little Baluchi-style face with pouting lips and insolent look in the eye. She’s about fifteen years old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There’s nothing like her, I think, in the world.
        – Mortimer Wheeler, 1973

To imagine you dance is to cross the highway like a child
not knowing length from breadth. And then to ask the question –
Were you woman or child – with your hand on that waist?

History, like paedophilia, has a way of turning girls into women.
For man is like Time, impatient for chests to grow monuments.
5000 years, fifty million textbook stares – of your hand on that waist.

For me in middle school, history curdling to hormone, you were Harappa.
You were the city’s interior: Granary and the Great Bath.
Was that the male alphabet then – that hand on that waist?

Poets have had their muses – Neera, Laura, Matilde and Bonolata.
But I was only a student failing exams, and you history’s dancing hall.
Dancer without feet, a patriot of dance – your hand on that waist.

That thinness of limbs, the geometry of bangles, and my teenage lust;
The trade and the travel, the marketplace in your shadow, the day’s slap.
And nudity, a civilisation’s top soil. Exams – and your hand on that waist.

‘Pendulous lips’: that phrase swam in me all night, fish and worm.
History, like desire, is all inside: you were its interior decorator besides.
Was that desperation or disobedience – your hand on that waist?

A dancer’s statue is a cruel irony, motion in freeze. A lie, a siege.
Hair in a bun, audacious and fun, questioning John Marshall’s
‘Ha, young aboriginal nautch girl?’ – with your hand on that waist.

You looked but didn’t see – the museum hadn’t wooed your eyes.
Harappa was a girl with three pendants on her neck. We eloped
but could not escape history’s racism – his hand on that waist.