2/10/16

Poem | Gopika Jadeja

Rajkot Triptych


Artwork by Ernest Williamson


I.


The storm in my caste over my foreign voyage was still brewing. It had divided the caste into two camps, one of which immediately readmitted me, while the other was bent on keeping me out. To please the former my brother took me to Nasik before going to Rajkot, gave me a bath in the sacred river and, on reaching Rajkot. gave a caste dinner. I did not like all this. But my brother's love for me was boundless, and my devotion to him was in proportion to it, and so I mechanically acted as he wished, taking his will to be law. The trouble about readmission to the caste was thus practically over. 

Rajkot –
village masquerading as city consumes 
Rupees one crore in ice cream every month 

Ravi Varma lithographs lined just 
a little too high up on the walls
of the ice cream shop in the old bazaar, 
almost a 100 years old

As you sit down 
a thousand yous in quicksilver 
stare back from the mirrored walls

throwing you into a Vienna 
or a Prague only to pull you back 
into Rajkot – now

as the bharwad woman
at the table next to you
asks for Sitaphal ice cream
on her weekly outing 

The bright green and purple polyester 
of her chunni catching the mirrors
a thousand flowers blooming

The gold bears down, too heavy for you,
on her earlobes and the red dot on her forehead
transforms into a stream of dots you cannot begin to join. 

You think of frames to capture 
Words to slide the shimmering mirrors into
Hesitant to step out of the comforting dark 

into the glaring sun
into the too real sound of buying and selling 
of everyday shopping 

She’ll walk out 
chunni dancing with her bare back
blinking into the sun 

claiming the street 
and her week’s worth 
of goods. 



II.


I had realized early enough in South Africa that there was no genuine friendship between the Hindus and the Musalmans. I never missed a single opportunity to remove obstacles in the way of unity. It was not in my nature to placate anyone by adulation, or at the cost of self- respect. But my South African experiences had convinced me that it would be on the question of Hindu-Muslim unity that my Ahimsa would be put to its severest test, and that the question presented the widest field for my experiments in Ahimsa. The conviction is still there. Every moment of my life I realize that God is putting me on my trial.

The knife grinder
stands outside
the covered vegetable market 
built a hundred years ago 
by a benevolent ruler
for his farmers
Shade for wilting vegetables
Shelter against an angry sun 

You hear him before you see him
The sound of metal on metal 
Sparks flying
Wheel turning 
Bringing the edge back 
to blunted knives
that will not see blood

Not even of a chicken

The knife grinder
is a vanishing breed
for our kitchen knives –
now imported –
do not need sharpening 

Our knives will not see blood

We leave that to the landlord 
who will bar from his premises
polluting non-vegetarians

Our knives will not see blood

We leave that to our commerce 



III.


Moreover, I was a coward. I used to be haunted by the fear of thieves, ghosts, and serpents. I did not dare to stir out of doors at night. Darkness was a terror to me. It was almost impossible for me to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine ghosts coming from one direction, thieves from another and serpents from a third. I could not therefore, bear to sleep without a light in the room. How could I disclose my fears to my wife, no child, but already at the threshold of youth, sleeping by my side? I knew that she had more courage than I, and I felt ashamed of myself. She knew no fear of serpents and ghosts. She could go out anywhere in the dark. My friend knew all these weaknesses of mine. He would tell me that he could hold in his hand live serpents, could defy thieves and did not believe in ghosts. And all this was, of course, the result of eating meat.

Near Vorawad,
which you will not find 
on the map or in a guidebook

Past the public urinal with leering eyes
that cling to you long after the stench disappears
in a part of the city the guide books describe as
‘old and bustling’

Opposite the ageing shoemaker who will send you
a postcard when your shoes are ready
Ka ba Gandhi no delo looms large in your mind. 

As you reach the end of the exhibit 
the old man who acts as guide tells you – 
“Had Sardar Patel been the First Prime Minister
we would not have had Pakistan.”

And you think of a young Kastur
in the room on the roof of the same house
braver than the boy Mohan 
who was afraid of the dark. 




All the passages in italics above are from M. K. Gandhi’s An Autobiography; or The story of my experiments with truth, Translated by Mahadev Desai.

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