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At A Resthouse, Near Jhansi

ISSUE:  Spring 1976

Circumspect, moon-white, an artifact of fear,
rooted in sinister country five miles out of Jhansi,
a resthouse, carelessly abandoned by the British.
By day, desolate grasses blew,
globed fruit dropped heavily to the ground;
by night, the aged caretaker with a beady squint
muttered to himself by a lantern’s glow,
and the lights of Jhansi fluttered like forlorn flags
as distant as a dream from another life.

Stand by this decrepit railway track and marvel:
Could it be, behind those bland, secretive walls,
men wielded power, urged others
to treachery and death?
Fettered to these prosaic times, I fantasize
of British colonels calling out for drinks,
turning their clipped moustaches to the sun,
while their icy Memsahibs in watered silks
regally inspected flowers, dogs,
nurtured by men, whose language, whose lives,
they never would understand.

Post-partition baby, no witness to
the frenzy, the lashings, the flailings in the streets,
passionate curses spewing from the land,
I’m perfectly at liberty to cherish the romance:
Sundown on the terrace, shuttered verandas,
cool clean fingers twirling long-stemmed roses;
something that has eluded us so far.

The weight of the ineradicable past.


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