Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Burgeoning skyscrapers amidst the slums of Dharavi
Cater to a lost cause. I take a guided tour of Mumbai:

We traverse the paths between celebrity homes
And the tarred roads looping the mansions
Where film stars stay; but you do not point out
The thatched huts where the poverty stricken eke out
Their nightmares, dreaming of loaves and a little curry.
In beautiful skyscrapers built on the shoulders of laborers,
You toast my life with champagne drunk from crystal ware
While an alcoholic pauper dies of drinking French polish.
These sidewalks where I played as a lad in shorts...
With no notion that the rich eat from the plates of beggars;
Not knowing what it means to be naked and hungry
And the chasm between the well-to-do and the destitute.
You indicate the Gateway of India without eyeing
The old man sitting at its feet his bowl and belly empty.
You proudly wag an index finger at the flyovers and bridges
But do not mention whether they cross the divide between
Those who have and those who do not have.

Fool! You show me the Mumbai where I do not stay...
For the Mumbai I know lives in the graveyards of the poor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Pilgrimage

You held my hands fast,
Just a boy in his teens,
As you led me up the hillock
Where Balaji’s temple stands:
Strong as a rock,
Strong as your faith,
Till despair took over
And you saw
The serpentine queue,
Crawling from the bottom
To the top of the hill;
A queue of torn saris
Nursing infants
From torn blouses;
Male pilgrims,
Topless, half naked,
Teasing the holy thread
Which is the only wealth
That poor Brahmins
Bequeath to their heirs,
Their successors.

You conferred with father
As a tout appeared from nowhere,
Selling passes
At hundred rupees each.
You had the means, mother,
To buy me, dad and yourself,
A pass each. You bought me
The shortcut to the sanctum,
Where God stands,
Looking patronizingly
At the crowds who squeeze
Through layers of priests
And novices.
But mother, I am cursed:
For you bought me a way
To the inner sanctum, yet
Could not buy me salvation.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Shoeshine Boy

The Shoeshine Boy

Corrugated sheets for roofs
And frond walls their only roost
The shoeshine boy’s family eats
A meager meal. Conscience bitten,
Self-respect their only wealth,
They choose the bread of labor;
not the beggar’s banquet.

The smiling sun shows the boy
Shining shoes at a railway station;
A few boots done he views them
With a proud eye. Vans screech in
Spewing officers and constables;
Beggars and whores fan out
To escape the x-ray eyes; the boy
Watches with steady eyes through
The polish stains on his visage...
The constabulary pick him up also
Deaf to his protests: I am not
A beggar, a whore or a pimp, sir

But deaf ears are blind too.
The boy is herded with the filth
Into a large van only to be freed
For a fee...hundred rupees each.
The boy, the only one who cannot
Afford to buy his innocence, pays
His hard earned ten rupees
For his self-respect and shame

Back at the station, groping
In garbage cans, finding nothing,
He seeks his tools in a frenzy;
Desperation seizes him finding
Them gone; he shakes his fists
At the heavens above in rage; now
Even the bread of labor eludes him.
Sore, totally disillusioned with life...

He sits on the pavement to beg.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


The Temple Coffers

The sounds of a knocker
End the potbellied slumber
Of the upholders of the faith;
The recesses, dark and sullen,
Frown upon my daring.
I look for the temple coffers;
I have some money,
Stolen from a rich criminal,
For a worthy cause.
What could be worthier
Than the upkeep of religion,
The high priest asks; I repeat:
Where is the money box.
The fatuous men of God
Keep it in the alcoves; nest eggs
For an age when their youth
Abandons them while the idols
Fast, ostracizing nonbelievers,
Governesses of pampered brats.

As I reveal
Crisp hundred rupee notes,
The priests triumphantly
Lead me to the slumbering idols
And toll the hanging bells
With their left hands, their right
Grabbing the currency notes.
Truly, I am blessed!

As I leave, a soiled devotee enters,
His eyes mirroring idols, no cash
In his demeanor; the priests
Shout: Come at dawn with the sun;
The gods are resting, you know;
The ringing of bells disturbs them.
I watch: the pauper joins his palms
In the surrender of silence
And heads for the exit

As his wife lies dying in a slum.