Poetry at Sangam




or Where I am Snubbed at a Cocktail Party by a Bharatnatyam Dancer

Lady, do you know how long I’ve roamed
this world like a saw-toothed shrew, sans hubby
and kids? Do you understand the kind of resistance
involved in arriving at 37—alone, two white hairs,
the onset of wrinkles. To have withstood barricades
of scolding aunties and so many diabolical winters
of social conditioning? To have said N-O
to the effervescent sortie of evolution,
which twitches in me even as I’m mauling a puppy,
or singing lullabies to birds. I’ve thought about it,
sure—of a warm body that might save me,
of these teeth of mine, which could go on and on.
But I bowed out of the race, said thanks, but no,
to History and Biology. I decline the invitation
to breed. And when the situation got aggressive,
I gave a giant finger to Genes, to centuries
of women before me who patiently flexed
their shoulders and hoiked up their knees.
To all of them I’ve written letters of apology.
And before all this, Lady, I was a teenager!
No picnic, as you know—a decade of crawling
through slums in the gloaming; all those neuroses
and goddamn deficiencies. How many wasted vigils
for breasts to burgeon. How many nights
of fevered fantasies? And before that—
childhood—transparent days
of burrow and play. Being carted around
like a lady’s lap-dog, peeing and being petted,
paying no heed to the hours in the woods,
to subterranean skills of survival and moulting.
And this is saying nothing of the tremendous
caravan of Time, which mutters velvet aphorisms
as you sleep, like, In extreme solitude men perceive
again the touch of immortal wings.
Or, Civilization seems
to be the invention of a species now extinct.

So, having arrived this far, spare me, please,
if I choose to be mysterious. If I delight
in dilutions and the vagaries of neither here
nor there, and display no seals of authenticity.
What right have I, after all? Part sea creature,
part peach tree, to take this cocktail chatter
seriously? But Lady, truly, you offend,
when you say: Your body language is not Indian!
You demolish me by quartering my paltry
ancestry into territories of wetland, desert,
marsh, city. My legs and arms, banished,
poor things, for incorrect mudras and aramandis.
And why? Because I refuse to wear the sins
of my progenitors in the topography of my chin?
Because the wobble of my head is too perfunctory?
Must I be more like you, who has so clearly
embezzled the coronary stance of your turgid
mama and faint-hearted papa; who carries
all those failed proteins in your body
like an identity card? And just how far
will you go to ensure generations of Bharatnatyam
domination? Eliminate me if you must,
for I will always prefer the pale underside
of the past to a future of grass. And when
I die, which is a fate no mammal can escape,
it will be far from home in a nest underground.
There will be tremors and some confusion
as I hang these muddy bracelets of existence
around the wrists of an easterly wind. We will dance,
the wind and I—our bodies like rosebushes alight
in the sky, clanging against the geometry of stars,
with no one around, and no one watching.