The Urchin in Dr. Radhakrishnan Rd.

The Urchin in Dr. Radhakrishnan Rd.

by T. Wignesan

Still the din dashes about in his dreams
now louder in the spaced quiet:
an occasional auto-rickshaw backfiring revving
too close for chancy comfort
some blaring tv hoisted above craning necks

Over the squeezed out crackling mud sidewalk
his head buried in the crook of his charred bony arm
his right elbow crusted in a masked-eye pattern
his left spindly leg knotted at the knee
jauntily splayed in a triangle on his right
the mud-soaked sole inturned at the angle
as if to cushion the prickly grains on bare scorched skin
a defensive gesture against cold dust wind noise pain
the slight lukewarm breeze lifting from Marina Beach
teasing the settled dust the strangled pores
he had for a blanket

Through the dropped jaw rosy-pink at the bled bitten lips
his breath wheezed through stained craggy teeth
his broken nose stopped by blobs of bloody phlegm
a hovering fly or two keeping undisturbed guard

His hair streaked in plaited dusty strands
lost in the sidewalk's trampled mud
On his loins some tortured rags bound at the hips
bulged at the dryblown stomach
the nombril unfurled like a budding ear
to where the hardly heaving contorted ribs
                    held the will to awaken
the evaporating carcase of a steamy engine at the works

He woke to the mocking streaking laughter of the magpie
calling out to its mate across the slipping concave-tiled roofs
across the dense mango green weighted clusters
where they had slumbered for the night
to the mangy scavenger dog digging its nozzle in the splodges
of decomposing leaves paper and tins larded with leavings:
turds dung urine phlegm and menstrual foam
that the parched earth gulped during the day
to the bluebottles festering on the peeled shin-bone
to the hordes of tinkling bicycles piercing his unquiet drums
to the buses and taxis top-heavy creaking and near toppling
     and the sharp clipped voices of servants
     urgently preparing the exit of their master
in a polished limousine through laundered lawns

Some fifty yards away across the road
a low saffron roofed-box of a stone shrine
lay crushed and sagging on the tarmac against the mud-sidetable
from which sprawled the scaly frame of a dust-throttled tree
the garland of mallikai on the dark stubby slippery shrine
of a squat Ganesha
a hardly flickering oilwick open trough lamp lighting limply
other framed coloured pictures of Ganapati
two half-empty troughs of kunkunum and vibhuti
on the half-opened cicatrised shrine gate
traces of twirls of white chalk on the road
reminders of mandala and disrespectful feet
a bleak reminder to the departed donor's culpability

To the boy now awakened
looking through dazed poolai-stuck eyes
the obeisances of hurrying office workers
and the coins they reverently pressed in a cement platter
at the saffron-robed shrine's feet
strewn with fading frangipani
and shrivelling kernel in split coconut-halves
all these were on a reel spun high on a screen
the lad could neither fear
nor partake of the proferred fare
his only Right was his right hand
stretched long but never touching
the deadened fury of his looks
softened only by the lowered eyes

The day was long or short
depending on his cavernous gastric growls
and according to how he laid himself out in some public place
to shut out the important world of poets and politicians
shout-shooting around him
into the Twenty-First Century
towards wild parties and fun-conferences
   to shore up their sagging petty images
      to bombs and cars that fly
          to other worlds won on stars
             to shrines adorned like filmstars
and filmstars adorned like shrines

Just a privileged lingerer
allowed to watch a while the magic lantern show
behind burning fearful eyes
  that dreamt of steamy coco-shavings-crusted puttu
      a second stomach thunderbread and chapati
          ladiesfingers and drumsticks
          pumpkin in hot sambar
      stringhoppers in coti
    masala tosai
                         and a tumbler of buttermilk


1.Dr.Radhakrishnan Rd.: Boulevard in Madras (Chennai, India) where are to be found some posh hotels
2. mallikai: Tamil for a variety of the jasmine.
3. splodges: a blend of "splotches" and "lodges" (in the sense of “to serve as a receptacle for”), meaning a great heap of splotches
4. kunkunum and vibhuti: Hindus streak their faces with these powders either for customary or religious reasons
5. poolai: Tamil for rheum in the eyes
6. magic lantern show: a reference from Omar Khayyam’s Ruba’iyat.
7. puttu, sambar, coti, stringhoppers, masala tosai: Indian Tamil cuisine, usually taken as part of breakfast


T. Wignesan



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