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An Old Woman by Arun Kolatkar

An old woman grabs
hold of your sleeve
and tags along.

She wants a fifty paise coin.
She says she will take you
to the horseshoe shrine.

You’ve seen it already.
She hobbles along anyway
and tightens her grip on your shirt

She won’t let you go.
You know how old women are.
They stick to you like a burr.

You turn around and face her
with an air of finality.
You want to end the farce.

When you hear her say,
‘What else can an old woman do
on hills as wretched as these?’

You look right at the sky.
Clear through the bullet holes
she has for her eyes.

And as you look on,
the cracks that begin around her eyes
spread beyond her skin.

And the hills crack.
And the temples crack.
And the sky falls

With a plate-glass clatter
Around the shatterproof crone
who stands alone

And you are reduced
to so much small change
in her hand.

The Jejuri drama has not ended, it will continue to as it has been started by Arun Kolatkar in Marathi, but it will bilingually too as the poems were a hit in journals then so these were into English as for the literary company, circle and friendship with editors and he too got the good critics and litterateurs of his time by his side to further it more.

When the bus takes to Jejuri, Khandoba, boarding the state transport bus with the tarpaulin flaps covering the window and the passengers braving the wind passing through, he encounters the old woman asking for the alms and letting him not go and he trying to search meaning, where it the value of life.

The old woman intercepting, interrupting him is the voice of misery, reality grabbing for a proper understanding of the world. The woman is very much like that of the persona waiting to enter the Great Temple at Puri, as it is in Jayanta Mahapatra's Dawn at Puri. The temple-visitors often confront such an imagery placing them at the crossroads of thinking from where one thinks where it to go and what it to do. Should it be the darshan of the Lord or the alms to be given to the poor and the needy begging for life? The helplessness of life, how to discuss it? When hope dies it, what to do it? Where will time and its compulsions, situation and circumstances will place one, none can say it?

We are at a loss to comprehend if she is a guide or a beggar, who she is in reality after all. While reading the poem, we get reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Benares essay. What more to say about the widows of Vrindavan? Leave you the talk of golden Vrindavan. Think you of ground reality. Where will the old go to? How do golden dreams vanish away at the touch of reality or when confronted with it? Why do the people talk with irony about the Ghats of Benares, widows and bulls? Those who serve the poor and the old, they too serve in some way not less than the religious or spiritual men.

While going to Lord Khandoba’s temple at Jejuri, the old woman grabs the poet, takes hold of and lets him not go without the fifty paise coin which she has asked for. The scene is almost like the mariner holding the hand of the wedding guest and telling the story of his tryst with the albatross, his shooting and thereafter the resultant narrative of sin and retribution. The woman as a guide recalls the scenes of A Passage to India by Forster and Kim by Kipling.

The meeting galvanizes him and he stands spellbound unable to shake off the interruption. The situation is just like the strange meeting of Owen. With a wretched fate of her own, where will she go? Where has she to go to? Where have the situations and circumstances of life brought to? Who can but say it, guess it before who has what in waiting? How will it be the time? How the pathway of life? Will her life end in begging, seeking alms for? Her beaten body, full of wrinkles and cracks, is already beaten. When confronted with such a situation, held by such a meeting, looking up to her, searching for meaning in life, the self forgets it his piety and homage, lapses into blank thinking and rumination and the wayward thoughts prevail upon the vacant mind unfolding the doors of dreams, finally leading it astray.

An Old Woman as a poem is one in the Jejuri series which Kolatkar began as a pilgrimage trip to Khandoba temple at Jejuri, near Pune.

While reading the poem, we get reminded of the devadasis, yoginis and sevadasis. How did we exploit them as for sacred faith and soothsaying? Where did the oracle lead to? How did the astrologers, palmists, pundits and florists mislead them? How terracotta figurines and sculptures denoting dharma-artha-kama motif on the outer walls of the terracotta temples? Do gods need temple-serving maids? Turning into yoginis, what will they ultimately get it? How the sevadasis of the Vaishnava saints? How our concept of vanaprastha ashrama stage?

What it frustrates the Western tourists and visitors is the heat and dust, the scorching sun of summer, what it bewilders them is the poverty and hunger of the people and above all, the beggars crowding the temple space and it is true of that as and when we go through the lines.

With a bowl into the hands of hers, she lies sitting at some nook and corner, expecting the merciful eyes to fall upon. Seeing them, we feel it within if they have none to look after. Is the old age like this? How is our old stage of life? The old age homes we have never thought about painfully. Can the old be left to the footpaths? Without serving them, can we find God? Why has it been said, Service to man is service to God? The story of life is strange. We doubt if we are really good sons and daughters. Why do we force them to take to the footpaths? Are they of the footpaths? Is man of the footpath? How the scenes, changing scenes of life? How our characters? Who the director? Whose is this direction? How the drama of our life? But we should not forget our ideal, morality, value and standard. It is value and meaning which but always remind us of our duty to family, society and nation. Where is dharma? Dharma is in karma too. What it has been lotted is not the talk, but we need to do. How should it be our action? Let us learn to serve too. God is not only in dhams. God is not only in pilgrimages and visits to shrines. He is in our heart and soul; in our good action.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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