Christmas in Calcutta
You too are noticed here. Nothing full-scale.
Abroad your name is as a star: but here
street-lights, and a nearby mela, tell the tale.
It’s a calypso moment in the year,
a holiday in the household, a light touch
of freedom-time. Then the impersonal grip
is back, of Time’s forced march to work, and such.
And yet it may be said that Fellowship
for one day is the Christian name of Time.
It has the same name weeks on end elsewhere
in the Bengali calendar. Sublime
is Durga’s name upon the festival air:
to honour her, and hers, all hearts are drawn.
You too are known, the day that you are born.
Nothing too definite. And nothing, please Sir,
that runs around and tidies up the dying.
We leave that to the vans of Mother Teresa.
But do not chasten us: we too are trying
to make a city beyond the dead, for knowledge
of love in Being. Don’t harp on on your death:
it is enough to live and die with courage.
But you are known as one who breathed God’s breath,
and if, this Christmas morning in the city,
among the beggar-children at the cars,
there is the usual brush-off, without pity –
you know that you are truly one of ours.
A tiny sister carries you: your form,
held by her sacrifice, is barely warm.
Christ of the modern world, to give
and give again, is not enough.
There is a new imperative.
Now knowledge is the way of love.
The world must know itself: its spirit
working through that, can give its care.
It is not individual merit
that makes Jerusalem. Then spare
a coin for beggars, but get to know them.
Open the mind. Open the doors
to other faiths, and ways; and show them
(showing yourself) that ours is yours.
If this top-heavy world survives
it will demand not coins, but lives.
Open yourself. I step out down Park Street
at Christmas-time in two more thousand years.
There is no broken pavement at my feet.
There are no savage car-hoots in my ears.
But still a child scampers around my legs –
I threaten to slap him till he runs away.
Or else the whole community that begs
will be upon me! There’s no more to say.
The body-robot that keeps up the health
(for those that can afford it) is a sham.
The money-robot that keeps up the wealth
and more, can say I have but not I am.
The artificial birds, the plastic trees,
these echoes of the past – I mimic these.
Still you are born. In this tremendous city,
this furnace-town of 1996,
where bus-loads crush, and where the air feels gritty,
still you are borne towards your crucifix.
There let it rest. Like a dead telephone system
my verse is out. My words just rock and play –
whatever the sound-signals, it has missed them,
of what should be hooked up in fine relay
of poet and poem. But if in the merest breath
an instant of recognition has been given
to something, Someone, clear beyond words, past death –
I walk in Calcutta, I walk in heaven.
The city is all a song, the streets are gardens,
I walk the morning out. And the time hardens.