Friday, April 10, 2020


A Hindu Panegyrist Remembers
Sultan Mahmud

The wasting disease was bad enough,

Then he started losing his mind.

Visiting the treasury the week he died,

His jewels on display, he broke down

And wept like a child. Newcomers

Won't believe it, but Ghazna used to be

A miserable little place, known only for

The sweetness of its melons, before he

Changed its face, gave it a skyline

To match Baghdad's. He also changed our lives.

Each year before the onset of winter

He'd set off on his Indian campaign,

And four months later, when he returned

In the spring, the camel trains carrying

The spoils of war took a day and a night

To go past my door. We sang his praises,

He didn't stint on the reward; gold mostly,

But sometimes a string of pearls

Or a silk robe, like the one I'm wearing.

Ear-Cleaning Man

Unlike the carder

And the caner,

The ear-cleaning man

Has no street cry.

To find him you

Only have to look

And he'll be there,

Sitting beside you

On upright crate

Or low wall, probing

Your waxy ear,

First one, then the other,

For you to hear

Your inner voice

The better with,

Before vanishing

As suddenly

As he'd appeared,

The hands free,

A small bag tucked

Under his arm,

And two needles

In his headband,

Like a pair of feelers.

Worker Ant

The few things it needs lie within

Walking distance: an insect wing,

A grain of sugar. Sometimes it takes

A Grand Tour of roadside litter,

Or goes hiking alone in shingle

Mountains, past thumbnail lakes.

Its happiest moments are at a jungle

Boot camp, crawling on twigs,

Struggling in a bog-hole under

The garden tap, pushing a grass blade

Ten times its size towards a towering

Clod of earth in the flowerbed.

I saw the grass move before I saw

Its mover, hiding in plain sight.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
New York Review Books