Continuities - Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
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Allahabad, where I live, has figured in many of my poems. The first time it did so was in 'Continuities', written in the early 1970s.
This is about the green miraculous trees,
And old clocks on stone towers,
And playgrounds full of light
And dark blue uniforms.
At eight I’m a Boy Scout and make a tent
By stretching a bed-sheet over parallel bars
And a fire by burning rose bushes,
I know half-a-dozen knots and drink
Tea out of enamel mugs.
I wear khaki drill shorts, note down
The number-plates of cars,
Make a perfect about-turn for the first time.
In September I collect my cousins’ books
And find out the dates of the six Mughals
To secretly write the history of India.
I see Napoleon crossing the Alps
On a white horse.
My first watch is a fat and silver Omega
Grandfather won in a race fifty-nine years ago;
It never works and I have to
Push its hands every few minutes
To get a clearer picture of time.
Somewhere I’ve kept my autograph-book,
The tincture of iodine in homoeopathy bottles,
Bright postcards he sent from
Bad Ems, Germany.
At seven-thirty we are sent home
From the Cosmopolitan Club;
My father says No bid,
My mother forgets her hand
In a deck of cards.
I sit on the railing till midnight,
Above a signboard
That advertises a dentist.
I go to sleep after I hear him
Snoring like the school bell;
I’m standing alone in a back alley
And a face I can never recollect is removing
The hubcaps of our Ford coup?.
The first words I mumble are the names of roads:
Thornhill, Hastings, Lytton.
We live in a small cottage,
I grow up on a guava tree,
Wondering where the servants vanish
After dinner, at the magic of the bearded tailor
Who can change the shape of my ancestors.
I bend down from the swaying bridge
And pick up the river
That once tried to hide me.
The dance of the torn skin
Is for much later.
from Nine Enclosures (Clearing House, 1976), © Arvind Krishna Mehrotra 1976, used by permission of the author.