As I said before (do I
repeat myself? therefore I re-
peat myself), when we entered
P. Lals living room for biscuits
and tea, Sanskrit poems,
and literary discussion, he
announced our topic,
asking, What do you think of irony?
At the Agra depot, the
small boy with feet big as Shaquille
ONeills accepted five rupees
and took out of his pocket
an archaic wooden top
with a cotton thread for twirling.
He smiled to bestow his gift
as we looked away toward the train.
In the market seventy
stalls of fruit-sellers piled apples,
kiwis, and pineapples in pyramids
of beauty, as carefully
constructed as the Taj, or the
arrangements of carrots,
leeks, and peppers in vegetable stalls.
Halfway from Bombay to
Madras, the Air India Airbus
cabin filled with smoke.
As we flew back I read Edward Saids
in the silence of the cabin.
When we landed among fire-
engines, my knees turned to paneer.
Friends invited us to the Club,
clearly something established
and left behind by the Raj,
with its eighteen bright green fairways
in downtown Calcutta. We sipped
Black and White Scotch for two hours,
then dined under grand
chandeliers, without drinking the water.
Passing in Old Delhi
from the Red Fort to Jama Masjid,
our bicycle rickshaws
clattered and spurted through neighborhoods
of a hundred thousand shops
and two million people shouting,
loving, bargaining, laughing,
quarreling, chatting, worshiping.
The odor of flowers
in the marketoverwhelming jasmine,
red roses, marigolds,
tuberoses, and lotus blossoms
mixed with another
perfume as we crossed to the shoemakers:
of camel, dog, elephant, human, cow.
We drove for six hours
from Madras to Pondicherry, on roads
and tracks through villages
of twenty thousand, past rice paddies,
over wheat spread on the road
for tire-thrashing, past water holes
where women washed and spread
resplendent saris under the sun.
In conversation over tea,
at lunch, in a street market,
after a poetry reading,
or walking in temple grounds,
we encountered in a dark eye
humor, affection, shrewdness,
and endurance under the sun. Donald Hall
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 13 Number 6, on page 41
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