The Year I Nearly Went to India

In the land of Mulk Raj Anand
I never (in my mind’s eye, Horatio) got past the untouchables

                                       and the bullied and brow-beaten coolies
and was still laboriously practising my muttering
of Ram, Ram, Ram in the endless crowded streets
when, one early morning, that persistent beggar from Benares

at last drew from me the hoarded rupee of resolution

I had sedulously hoarded for many weeks …

Unable to refuse any longer that piteously outstretched palm
(whether raised in blessing or forgiveness I cannot say)
I acknowledged once more the fatal weakness
that all Lalla sahibs warn against: “going native” …

Alas, you see me now as I really am:
a simple homeboy who could never come to terms
with any vastly peopled otherness, whether in Kipling’s East
                                                                   or Dos Passos’ West
—except as these are encountered in the instantly retractable

                                                           environs of a book.

Gathering, then, my wretched dhoti around me,
how familiar was my passage to India, which took
only a fraction of the time it took
to read E.M. Forster’s book
and far, far less than any actual journey!

Farewell, Professor Mukerjee (whom I will never meet)!

And Ramachandra of the flashing smile,
whose wit will never fail to enchant me in my dreams!

And, you, Asha Das, who were to accompany us in our visitations
—may you, in your sari, remain shining darkly
                                                  as the northern heavens!

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