Thursday, December 31, 2009

Man of the Year

The title of this post is, I'm afraid, deceptive. It refers to one of Arun Kolatkar's Kala Ghoda Poems. Published in 2004, shortly before Kolatkar's death, Kala Ghoda Poems is the best collection of Bombay-related verse in English. Man of the Year returns to me every December 31st.

Man of the Year

Here I stand at this street corner,
leaning on the shoulder of a bright red pillar-box
at a drunken angle,

a foolish grin on my face,
an empty half-pint bottle of rum in my pocket,
a cracker up my arse.

listening to an old Elvis number
(Santa Claus is back in town)
coming out of a record shop.

And I feel like dancing in the street
-- but I can't.
I'm incapable of such knee-jerk reactions:

they've stuffed me
a little too tight for comfort, I guess,
Like a forked sausage.

Head full of cottonwool,
sawdust in my gloves and socks,
a bellyful of shredded old newspapers.

Actually, I'm a pretty solid kind of guy.
Underneath my faded jeans,
export surplus extra large sporty jacket,

and a hat straight out of Marlboro country,
you'll find
that my head is sewn on real tight.

Take away my dashing
rainbow-coloured muffler (it's from Chor Bazar)
and you'll see what I mean.

There are thirty stitches round my neck.
you can count them if you wish.

It's such a lovely morning in December
and it feels so good
just to be alive and standing here,

as if I had all the time in the world,
and watching the beautiful girls of Bombay
go by in a steady stream,

to their typewriters, switchboards, computers,
as to the impatient arms
of their waiting lovers.

But nobody knows better than I
that time
is one thing I'm running out of fast,

and my one regret is going to be this:
to leave this world
so full of girls I never kissed.

Malati, Niloufer, Anjali, Shanta,
Alpana, Kalpana, Shirin, Zarine, Sylvia, Maria,
Harlene, Yasmin, Nina, Kamala, Mona, Lopa;

I love you one and all,
and wish I could kiss a long goodbye
to each of you, individually.

Inside the pillar-box,
new year greeting cards are smooching
in the permissive dark.

I hear them billing and cooing,
sighing and moaning,
as if there's no tomorrow.

They nestle against each other
in the zero gravity of pure love and affection
where all laws break down,

in the no-man's-land
between the sender and the receiver,
betraying both.

One last fling before each goes
primly to its rightful receiver,
with clean ivory-card conscience.

I was a pretty unremarkable year,
all in all; and will,
no doubt, be left out of history books,

with no revolutions, wars, genocides,
no disasters, natural or otherwise,
to remember me by.

Nothing much happened, except,
that the Himalayas rose by another inch,
fewer flamingoes came to Kutch,

and the leaning tower of Pisa leaned
a little further out
by another 1.29 millimeters,

the Danube poured
two hundred and three cubic kilometers
of fresh water into the Black Sea,

the hole in the ozone layer widened,
the earth became poorer
by two thousand seven hundred plant species.

I did not resolve any conflicts,
or presume to solve any
of the perennial questions of philosophy.

There were no technological breakthroughs,
no big leaps;
just a lot of hopping around on one foot.

No new ideas.
A lot of old ones served with a sizzle,
with plenty of spice to mask the rotten smell.

The good news, on the other hand,
is that schoolboys
and girls will not have to memorize me.

Who got the Nobel for literature?
Who the Booker?
Who won the cup at Wimbledon?

And who did Time magazine pick
as the Man of the Year?
I have already forgotten.

6. Envoi
As paper trumpets blare and toot,
as sirens wail and foghorns hoot,
and as churchbells toll all around me

-- I wish a happy new year to you all.

Breathing fire, coughing smoke,
spitting ash,
as firecrackers burst inside my pants

-- I wish a happy new year to you all.

As all my buttons pop,
my chest opens and lungs collapse,
as a feather of flame starts eating my hat

-- I wish a happy new year to you all.

As the Rajabai Tower cranes its neck
to see me reduced to a smudge on the road,
and bursts into a joyous song

-- I wish a happy new year t

Kala Ghoda Poems appears to be unavailable online, but Arun Kolatkar's previous book of poems in English (he also published in Marathi), the award-winning Jejuri has recently been reissued by New York Review Books Classics, and can be purchased through Amazon here.

Eleven poems from Jejuri have been transcribed here, and explanatory notes added for those unfamiliar with the pilgrimage site.


Sujoy Bhattacharjee said...

Thanks, GS, for posting it here...
Never managed to get my hands on the English works of Kolatkar. My bad I guess. It will hopefully be rectified soon.

PS: "with cean ivory-card conscience"...shouldn't it be "clean"

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Sujoy, have made the correction.

VV said...

This is a great poem- perfect for NY eve. Thanks for posting it. Happy 2010, Girish. Looking fwd to all your posts.

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks, VV, have a great 2010.

Alexander Keefe said...

Wonderful, Girish, thanks for posting!