Siddhartha Bose

Animal City


Twin-bride of my ten-head home, I
        Watch you closely from the
        Cross of scorched lands, rubble of sea-foam,
                    Fire of snake-tongue.

Grand and pungent in act, I long to write you an epic,
        Worthy of our ancient tales.

For now, these
        Bites will do, as I
        Chrome myself round your lingo,
Scalding my brow with your
        Tears of grime, shame, bigtalk wealth.

I gender you in full-on
        Curry angrezi, with
        Patois political, image transcontinental.


Close on nine years you
        Be my multiverse, Bombay meri jaan.

Now me your bastard
        Ratshipper, who you coldthaw by turns,
        Breaking limbs, tossing one by one after
                Chop-n’-changing me to your

Dogs that bark the
        Rounds of Kala Ghoda.


Me you fat in slums stomach-lining
        Chatrapati Shivaji International airport,

Me you snatch like the sea necklace by
Marine Drive,

Me you step underfoot towards the
        Mosque that grows from the sea, by
        Hajiali, breaking me into the south.

Me you bleed on treetops that crown Siddhi-Vinayak,
        Pole-vaulting through cricket parks, churchbells,
                                                                                Lion in Sion.

Me you gorge in dark Bandra sounds,
        With India electronica, the asli bhangra.

Me you lick in clamour bars of Juhu,
        Palm trees and pork by the sea-view.

Me you sweat in pav bhaji streets, pani-puri
        Gag, vada pao itch.

Me you wet in tobacco nights, incense from
        Nigerian peddlars in Colaba, fevered.


You are my crude health, the
        Crass in my conscience.

(Once, one of your statue saints called out, at the
        Curve of Mahim, as the smog of sun
        Cut through canopy trees in
Cockroach antennae:

‘Life’s an echo. You get back what you give.’)

I remember too much. I insurrect. I thaw.


Recalling me pullin out ear-wax,
        Galling me, heavy and brown and long like rat shit, by
        Cuffe Parade at the ballpoint pen-tip of South Bombay.
                I see through large French windows, fishing-nets, seasalt.
                Wood smells like horsehide.

On the bus back to Versova, home from school, my
        Math teacher yells me 'bout
        Them Goan sausages, how spicy they be, how
                Mother would like them.

My first love, Aditi, in the school closeby
        Amitabh Bachchan’s house. I thought her an
        Androgyne, as in my child-wet dreams, we’d
                Fly over electric grass, whitelight in Andheri.

But no no, I tell it straight, one
        Image stark stays, genuine.


We stop on Linking Road in days when Fiats
        Clogged the shape of traffic towards Mahim Causeway, north to south.

Long before the whip of olive bars, mojo melts, too school for cool drawl-mocking
        Mumbaikars, sultry and bangled Bandra girls, their
                Slurps inviting.

Back in the 80s, a few years before I
        Played football with a bat-blind cancered grandfather, my
        Mother n’ me stop at the corner where Waterfield Road spills.

(Nearby, Maa liked the cottage-cheese shop.)

As we wait for the green light, a
        Sadhu six-footed walks to my openaired window,
        Dreads-matted, beard in forest, saffron-covered with
                Hint of charcoal, fume, lavender.

Him have a sleek, spotted,
        Jazz-patterned python wrapped round his
        Upper torso, fitted perfect like a bride’s sari. The snakehead juts out
        In a slither above his locks.

He stretches them crow hands, pigeon nails,
        Towards me, eyes fired, jaundiced yellow.

I recoil, screaming. A
        Hijra on the street-divider claps his hands,
        Clacks like a witch. Light greens, cars cough, cop
                Blinks. Maa shakes.


Them surrealists were hacks, term-tablers, scabs on a
        Tired, Southern Europe.

They never knew you, O animal city, where a thousand gods
        Jostle like men hanging outta late-evening suburban trains,
        Rowdy, brutal, bleeding.

Now some call you Mayanagri, but in me—
        Traitor—you be the slick oil, the
        Steel breath, the becoming cancerous starshape of a
                Fresh from sleep, proud,
                                                            Seething century.


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