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Adil Jussawalla

Sea Breeze, Bombay

Partition’s people stitched
Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind.
An opened people, fraying across the cut
country reknotted themselves on this island.

Surrogate city of banks,
Brokering and bays, refugees’ harbour and port,
Gatherer of ends whose brick beginnings work
Loose like a skin, spotting the coast,

Restore us to fire. New refugees,
Wearing blood-red wool in the worst heat,
come from Tibet, scanning the sea from the north,
Dazed, holes in their cracked feet.

Restore us to fire. Still,
Communities tear and re-form; and still, a breeze,
Cooling our garrulous evenings, investigates nothing,
Ruffles no tempers, uncovers no root,

And settles no one adrift of the mainland’s histories.

© Adil Jussawalla

Approaching Santa Cruz Airport, Bombay

Loud benedictions of the silver popes,
A cross to themselves, above
A union of homes as live as a disease.
Still, though the earth be stunk and populous,
We’re told it’s not: our Papa’ll put his nose
Down on cleaner ground. Soon to receive
Its due, the circling heart, encircled, sees
The various ways of dying that are home.
‘Dying is all the country’s living for,’
A doctor says. ‘We’ve lost all hope, all pride.’
I peer below. The poor, invisible,
Show me my place; that, in the air,
With the scavenger birds, I ride.

Economists enclosed in History’s
Chinese boxes, citing Chairman Mao,
Know how a people nourished on decay
Disintegrate or crash in civil war.
Contrarily, the Indian diplomat,
Flying with me, is confident the poor
Will stay just as they are.
Pyramids the future with more birth.
Our only desert, space; to leave the green
Burgeoning to black, the human pall.
The free
Couples in their chains around the earth.

I take a second look. We turn,
Grazing the hills and catch a glimpse of sea.
We are now approaching Santa Cruz: all
Arguments are endless now and I
Feel the guts tighten and all my senses shake.
The heart, stirring to trouble in its clenched
Claw, shrivelled inside the casing of a cage
Forever steel and foreign, swoops to take
Freedom for what it is. The slums sweep
Up to our wheels and wings and nothing’s free
But singing while the benedictions pour
Out of a closing sky. And this is home,
Watched by a boy as still as a shut door,
Holding a mass of breadcrumbs like a stone.

© 1976, Adil Jussawalla
From: Missing Person
Publisher: Clearing House, Mumbai, 1976

Colour Problems in the Family

Mother forgot her features when the rest,
Pinker with Persia, found her future black.

So father turned up, obligingly darker,
His iron skin scorched in its shirt of rust.

Yellow frogs, grandmother called us,
Sallow herself, brass with a touch of ash.

Then you, rose, haven for browns and blacks,
Said that colours that ran in my family
Had no place in your sun.

They were colours I shed on your shoulder,
Bled on your shirt as you spoke.
They were true, and continue to run.

© 2002, Adil Jussawalla
From: Poetry Wales, Summer 2002, Volume 38, No. 1
Publisher: Poetry Wales, 2002


Let me put out my welcome like a flag
Of olive leaves to wrap you in my truce:
Geneva: metropolis: one of the neutral cities
Here to relax you. I do not rot, or run
With sores like children; fertile, eastern suns
Breed maggots like brats; but spotless, sunburnt backs
Is all my shining citizens may (publicly) show.
The rest you may read in my eyes, my glazed shop-windows.
What do you see there?
A stuffed eagle and a clapping-clockwork bear.

Let me console you. I wasn’t made between
A sundown and sunrise in labour, by hands in bitterness,
Or hands weeping over rubble; not one
Built in a brickless desert of brick, nor stone
From the sacked quarries of Greece; but a white palace
Sits on my green acres: from shattered lands
Troubled statesmen wear away its steps
For you; I’ll bring you peace: I understand,
Keep, as a souvenir,
A stuffed eagle and a clapping-clockwork bear.

Smile, love, mix in my cafés, think of
Jerusalem; bless, in St Peter’s, my vigil and valour.
My fountain leaps a sixth of a mile in hope,
And Peace a turbine humming in the deep.
My museums –

The voice cracks, the streets darken,
The sword falls dripping through the yellowing air.
There are no clouds, but over the dwarfed city,
Dwarfing the toy Alps, fight

A stuffed eagle and a clawing, clockwork bear.

© 1962, Adil Jussawalla
From: Land’s End
Publisher: Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata, 1962

The Waiters

Blacker than wine from the loaded grapes of France,
Blacker than mud their Tamil minds recall,
Dark skins serving dishes to the sallow
Sweat more night than grapesblood has. All
The long summers they abjured, for chance
Of better prospects, change, a sun of contrast,
Stick in a language their clients won?t allow.
Must button up their manners with the past.
Grow expert on the epicure’s stuffed heart,
Polite of speech, punctilious, guarded, kind.
As guardians of good taste, these waiters know
The soiled and cluttered kitchens of the mind,
The rancid oils where sweeter dishes start,
Cooked, like a pick-up’s words, the soot-black roof
Behind our pasted smiles: their darkness grew
To insight in their day; they stand aloof.
But slacken in their service after eleven.
Guarding the day’s unending appetites,
Grow shifty-eyed, avoid our munching faces,
The spit and polish of our eating rites.
Then closing time: they dream of a foodless heaven,
Shrug off their coats like priestly cloaks of pity,
Day’s ministry complete. Slip to their sleeping places
In the throat of the feasted, pink-faced city.

© Adil Jussawalla