— for Raja Rao
A thousand years old at birth, he kicked up
the dust of Vedic sages wherever he walked.
The molecules of air they had exhaled swarmed
to him like gnats. He breathed them in and out,
in and out, and the stories he wrote turned
readers into ghosts.
Last evening it started when a character quoted Kabir:
“The road to the City of Love is hard, brother, it’s hard.
Take care, take care, as you walk along it.” Then
a few pages on as he chanted Shankara’s “Vishwam in
darpandrishya mananagarii”—“Like a city seen in a
mirror is the Universe, seen
Within oneself, but seemingly of Maya born”—I was gone.
My hands clutching the book went transparent,
my socks wrapped phantom feet. And this morning,
staring into a dim mirror, spooked by a spirit face creased
with traces of my own life, I suddenly realize I have forgotten
how to tie my necktie.
For sure, it was not an easy knot, but a Double Windsor,
its triangularities superior for concealing gaps.
Soon after crossing right side over left, my hands begin
So! Gandhi, Aurobindo, ALL! They fumbled this knot too!
Hurray Nehru jackets! Hurray dhotis! All, All resistances
sartorial against that Old Foreign Rule: Everyone! Out!
Of! The! Water! (And! Hand over! That salt!) No one!
Admitted! On the road! Of love! Without neckties!
Which have! Sewn in! On their inner! Folds! Instructions!
For tying! The Great! Double! Windsor!
—Richard R. Guzman
This poem originally appeared in different form in The Journal of Indian Writing in English. Go here for a list of poems and poetry commentary on this site.
For more on Raja Rao at this site:
- Read “World Writing: Raja Rao” —a short commentary and reminiscence.
- Read “Car Seats and Destiny: Meeting Raja Rao”
- Read “The Saint and the Sage” Part 1 / Part 2.
- Read “Against Pure Purity,” a re-reading of the “Saint and Sage” essay above.
- Read “Raja, Milosz, and Me“
- Listen to Raja Rao reading some of his work.