A Hindu Panegyrist Remembers
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.
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,
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.
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