As I said before (do I
repeat myself? therefore I re-

peat myself), when we entered
P. Lal’s 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

O’Neill’s 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,

pears, pomegranates,
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 Said’s

Orientalism calmly
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 market—overwhelming jasmine,

red roses, marigolds,
tuberoses, and lotus blossoms—

mixed with another
perfume as we crossed to the shoemaker’s:

divers excrements
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,

religious intelligence,
and endurance under the sun. —Donald Hall

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 13 Number 6, on page 41
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