The Urchin in Dr. Radhakrishnan Road

Still the din dashes about in his dreams

now louder in the spacedout quiet:

an occasional auto-rickshaw backfiring revving

too close for chancy comfort

some blaring tv hoisted above craning necks

Over the squeezed out crackling mud sidewalk

his head buried in the crook of his charred bony arm

his right elbow crusted in a masked-eye pattern

his left spindly leg knotted at the knee

jauntily splayed in a triangle on his right

the mud-soaked sole inturned at the angle

as if to cushion the prickly grains on bare scorched skin

a defensive gesture against cold dust wind noise pain

the slight lukewarm breeze lifting from Marina Beach

teasing the settled dust the strangled pores

he had for a blanket

Through the dropped jaw rosy-pink at the bled bitten lips

his breath wheezed through stained craggy teeth

his broken nose stopped by blobs of bloody phlegm

a hovering fly or two keeping undisturbed guard

His hair streaked in plaited dusty strands

lost in the sidewalk's trampled mud

On his loins some tortured rags bound at the hips

bulged at the dryblown stomach

the nombril unfurled like a budding ear

to where the hardly heaving contorted ribs

held the will to awaken

the evaporating carcase of a steamy engine at the works

He woke to the mocking streaking laughter of the magpie

calling out to its mate across the slipping concave-tiled roofs

across the dense mango green weighted clusters

where they had slumbered for the night

to the mangy scavenger dog digging its nozzle in the splodges

of decomposing leaves paper and tins larded with leavings:

turds dung urine phlegm and menstrual foam

that the parched earth gulped during the day

to the bluebottles festering on the peeled shin-bone

to the hordes of tinkling bicycles piercing his unquiet drums

to the buses and taxis top-heavy creaking and near toppling

and the sharp clipped voices of servants

urgently preparing the exit of their master

in a polished limousine through laundered lawns

Some fifty yards away across the road

a low saffron roofed-box of a stone shrine

lay crushed and sagging on the tarmac against the mud-sidetable

from which sprawled the scaly frame of a dust-throttled tree

the garland of mallikai on the dark stubby slippery shrine

of a squat Ganesha

a hardly flickering oilwick open trough lamp lighting

other framed coloured pictures of Ganapati

two half-empty troughs of kunkunum and vibhuti

on the half-opened cicatrised shrine gate

traces of twirls of white chalk on the road

reminders of mandala and disrespectful feet

a bleak reminder to the departed donor's culpability

To the boy now awakened

looking through dazed poolai-stuck eyes

the obeisances of hurrying office workers

and the coins they reverently pressed in a cement platter

at the saffron-robed shrine's feet

strewn with fading frangipani

and shrivelling kernel in split coconut-halves

all these were on a reel spun high on a screen

the lad could neither fear

nor partake of the proferred fare

his only Right was his right hand

stretched long but never touching

the deadened fury of his looks

softened only by the lowered eyes

The day was long or short

depending on his cavernous gastric growls

and according to how he laid himself out in some public place

to shut out the important world of poets and politicians

shout-shooting around him

into the Twenty-First Century

towards wild parties and fun-conferences

to shore up their sagging petty images

to bombs and cars that fly

to other worlds won on stars

to shrines adorned like filmstars

and filmstars adorned like shrines

Just a privileged lingerer

allowed to watch a while the magic lantern show

behind burning fearful eyes

that dreamt of steamy coco-shavings-crusted puttu

a second stomach thunderbread and chapati

ladiesfingers and drumsticks

pumpkin in hot sambar

stringhoppers in coti

masala tosai

and a tumbler of buttermilk


1.Dr.Radhakrishnan Rd.: Boulevard in Madras (Chennai, India) where are to be found some posh hotels
2. mallikai: Tamil for a variety of the jasmine.
3. splodges: a blend of "splotches" and "lodges" (in the sense of “to serve as a receptacle for”), meaning a great heap of splotches
4. kunkunum and vibhuti: Hindus streak their faces with these powders either for customary or religious reasons
5. poolai: Tamil for rheum in the eyes
6. magic lantern show: a reference from Omar Khayyam’s Ruba’iyat.
7. puttu, sambar, coti, stringhoppers, masala tosai: Indian Tamil cuisine, usually taken as part of breakfast

T. Wignesan

If I might be allowed to say so, I think my "first" love was poetry. Unfortunately for me, the British curricula at school did not put me in touch with the Metaphysical Poets, nor with the post-Georgian school. Almost all the school texts after World War II contained invariably Victorian narrative poems and some popular examples of Romantic poetry. I chanced upon a selection of T. S. Eliot's and Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and a little later on Pope's An Essay on Man and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. That did the trick. Yet, I regret not having taken to prose in earnest earlier than the publication of my first collection: Tracks of a Tramp (1961). There's nothing like trying your hand at all kinds of prose exercises to come to grips with poetry. Or rather to see how poetry makes for the essence of speech/Speech and makes you realise how it can communicate what prose cannot easily convey. I have managed to put together several collections of poems, but never actually sought to find homes for them in magazines, periodicals or anthologies. Apart from the one published book, some of my sporadic efforts may be sampled at of Poems.htm

Last updated July 05, 2016