– a poem by Ashok Mahajan
Bred among odours of ordure
I missed the chance to nose
A pure damask rose.
Now fully grown I realize
We were only taught to use
Green fields as lavatories,
And therefore I have come to associate
All kinds of hues
Merely with animal or human waste.
A tinge of minivet-scarlet
Is no reminiscence of that bird,
But of betel-spittle stains
Left by movie fans
On walls of cinema halls,
And by pimps and harlots
In red-light lanes.
Siris leaves possess
An autumn flavescence immeasurably less
Than expectorations of asthmatic old men
Coughing doubled-up on loose
Squeaky string cots whose
Rans of twine
Ken as their thoughts.
A takin-gold evokes
Not in the least
Memories of dawn or some rare beast,
But scats of stray dogs
Like pagoda heaps
Among scattered slippers
Of scores of worshippers
At a Vashnoi temple-feast.
in Ajanta art
I know this pigment from
pools of bovine piss
at any vegetable mart.
Ashok Mahajan, is an Indian poet whose “Goan Vignettes and other poems” provide a peep into the quaint, idyllic and sometimes anachronistic Goan life-style. This poem, the first poem of the first section – ‘Eclectic sketches” – is one of the ‘other poems’.
Though the compilation is considered light-hearted by some critics, Mahajan’s poems are of more value to the common man who would better appreciate his short true-to-life vignettes of life in Goa as well as in other parts of India. May I add that I am biased towards him as he is a retired army officer, my father’s good friend and he fueled my interest in poetry, though I’m sure that he thought it was to no avail.
In ‘Culture’, he shows us how colours associated conventionally with poetic and literary motifs are equally well served by less salubrious examples in human life. Though the poet chooses his words carefully to avoid repugnance, his craftsmanship and choice of examples evokes graphic images.
The poet attempts to show us colours through Alice’s looking glass – a new way of imagining colour. At the same time he gives us many ways to interpret this poem.
Is he indicating that ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are two sides of the same coin as in Kipling’s infamous line :
“For the colonel’s lady an’ Judy O’Grady, Are sisters under their skins”?
Or that good and evil are interlinked as in old English proverb:
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
Perhaps he mocks the futility of objects that people desire and upon which they bestow high epithets, echoing Daniel Webster’s words:
“One may live as a conqueror, a king, or a magistrate; but he must die as a man.”
I prefer to look at it from the earthy viewpoint of nature-watching. That the commonplace and unremarkable things in nature are as valuable or fascinating or worthwhile to watch as the rare, the unusual and bizarre.
The poem also obliquely draws my thought to a dialogue between the protagonist(s) in “The Last Samurai” – Tom Cruise (as Nathan Allgren a disenchanted ex-United States Army captain) and Ken Watanabe, the samurai warlord Katsumoto. They talk about finding perfection in life and its virtues, symbolised by the cherry blossom : –
- Katsumoto: The perfect (cherry) blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.
- Katsumoto: I also. It happens to men who have seen what we have seen. But then I come to this place of my ancestors, and I remember. Like these blossoms, we are all dying. To know life in every breath, every cup of tea, every life we take. The way of the warrior….
- Nathan Algren: Life in every breath…
- Katsumoto: That is Bushido.
- All files from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise specified.
- Click images to reach source page on Commons or elsewhere.
- Cherry Blossoms – Sakura CC3.0.
- Takin – ‘stevehdc’ ( on Flickr) CC2.0.
- Chestnut horse & manure – Malene Thyssen, CC2.5SA.
- Rose – Ulf Eliasson, CC 2.5.
- Cow & vegetable mart – ‘brotherscarface’ in webshots (unlicensed).
- Ajanta fresco – Jonathan A. White (public domain).
- Betelnut spit – Scott Zona on Flickr (CC 2.0).
- Scarlet Minivet – JM Garg, CC 3.0.