& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pi-Dog - A poem by Arun Kolhatkar


This is the time of day I like best,
and this the hour
when I can call this city my own;

when I like nothing better
than to lie down here, at the exact centre
of this traffic island

(or trisland as I call it for short,
and also to suggest
a triangular island with rounded corners)

that doubles as a parking lot
on working days,
a corral for more than fifty cars,

when it's deserted early in the morning,
and I'm the only sign
of intelligent life on the planet;

the concrete surface hard, flat and cool
against my belly,
my lower jaw at rest on crossed forepaws;

just about where the equestrian statue
of what's-his-name
must've stood once, or so I imagine.


I look a bit like
a seventeenth-century map of Bombay
with its seven islands

not joined yet,
shown in solid black
on a body the colour of old parchment;

with Old Woman's Island
on my forehead,
Mahim on my croup,

and the others distributed
casually among
brisket, withers, saddle and loin

- with a pirate's
rather than a cartographer's regard
for accuracy.


I like to trace my descent
- no proof of course,
just a strong family tradition -

to the only bitch that proved
tough enough to have survived,

first, the long voyage,
and then the wretched weather here
- a combination

that killed the rest of the pack
of thirty foxhounds,
imported all the way from England

by Sir Bartle Frere
in eighteen hundred and sixty-four,
with the crazy idea

of introducing fox-hunting to Bombay.
Just the sort of thing
he felt the city badly needed.


On my father's side

the line goes back to the dog that followed

on his last journey,
and stayed with him till the very end;
long after all the others

- Draupadi first, then Sahadeva,
then Nakul, followed by Arjuna and,
last of all, Bhima -

had fallen by the wayside.
Dog in tow, Yudhishthira alone plodded on.
Until he too,

frostbitten and blinded with snow,
dizzy with hunger and gasping for air,
was about to collapse

in the icy wastes of the Himalayas;
when help came
in the shape of a flying chariot

to airlift him to heaven.
Yudhishthira, that noble prince, refused
to get on board unless dogs were allowed.

And my ancestor became the only dog
to have made it to heaven
in recorded history.


To find a more moving instance
of man's devotion to dog,
we have to leave the realm of history,

skip a few thousand years
and pick up a work of science fantasy
- Harlan Ellison's A Boy and his Dog,

a cultbook among pi-dogs everywhere -
in which the ‘Boy' of the title
sacrifices his love,

and serves up his girlfriend
as dogfood to save the life of his
starving canine master.


I answer to the name of Ugh.
not the exclamation of disgust;

but the U pronounced as in Upanishad,
and gh not silent,
but as in ghost, ghoul or gherkin.

It's short for Ughekalikadu,
famous dog that I was named after,

the guru of Kallidevayya's dog
who could recite
the four Vedas backwards.

My own knowledge of the scriptures
and ends, I'm afraid,

with just one mantra, or verse;
the tenth,
from the sixty-second hymn

in the third mandala of the Rig
(and to think
that the Rig alone contains ten thousand

five hundred and fifty-two verses).
It's composed in the Gayatri metre,
and it goes:

Om tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yonah prachodayat.

Twenty-four syllables, exactly,
if you count the initial Om.
Please don't ask me what it means, though.

All I know
is that it's addressed to the sun-god
- hence it's called Savitri -

and it seems appropriate enough
to recite it
as I sit here waiting for the sun

to rise.
May the sun-god amplify
the powers of my mind.


What I like about this time and place
- as I lie here hugging the ground,
my jaw at rest on crossed forepaws,

my eyes level with the welltempered
but gaptoothed keyboard
of the black-and-white concrete blocks

that form the border of this trisland
and give me my primary horizon -
is that I am left completely undisturbed

to work in peace on my magnum opus:
a triple sonata for a circumpiano
based on three distinct themes -

one suggested by a magpie robin,
another by the wail of an ambulance,
and the third by a rockdrill;

a piebald pianist, caressing and tickling
the concrete keys with his eyes,
undeterred by digital deprivation.


As I play,
the city slowly reconstructs itself,
stone by numbered stone.

Every stone
seeks out his brothers
and is joined by his neighbours.

Every single crack
returns to its flagstone
and all is forgiven.

Trees arrive at themselves,
each one ready
to give an account of its leaves.

The mahogany drops
a casket bursting with winged seeds
by the wayside,

like an inexperienced thief
drops stolen jewels
at the sight of a cop.

St Andrew's church tiptoes back to its place,
shoes in hand,
like a husband after late-night revels.

The university,
you'll be glad to know,
can never get lost

because, although forgetful,
it always carries
its address in its pocket.


My nose quivers.
A many-coloured smell
of innocence and lavender,

mildly acidic perspiration
and nail polish,
rosewood and rosin

travels like a lighted fuse
up my nose
and explodes in my brain.

It's not the leggy young girl
taking a short cut
through this island as usual,

violin case in hand,
and late again for her music class
at the Max Mueller Bhavan,

so much as a warning to me
that my idyll
will soon be over,

that the time has come for me
to surrender the city

to its so-called masters. 

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