Dilli Meri Jaan

‘bhaiya, ek coke aur ek camel light’.

I. Afternoon naps are difficult

without the croon of drills breaking concrete

labourers’ feet that warble under the weight of cement

pigeons’ wings slapping against windows

yellow knocks ignored by orange, translucent curtains

the warm fur of my golden, paws that smell like boiled rice

Maa, and the purple shawl with tassels covering only her eyes

the palavering in my kitchen in a language I’ll never learn

dishes scrubbed with steel wired buns, soak and dry,

the sound of water delayed by hands foaming with soap; wrung.

my hand on the soft ears of my spotted beagle,

our tummies heaving in unison, lulling each other to sleep.

 

II. On my way home I sit in the back of a chauffeured car

lights turn green and horns bark as if talking through windows

cows saunter to the sidewalk carrying the flies around their tails

with them to safety, in the company of begging children:

their skin stuck to the bodies of cars polished with sweat

hair crawling with lice and a dozen fake roses for ten rupees

vendors, students, women and the bricks tied to their head

slippery with the dampness staining their backs and breasts

a hand over their eyes like a visor searching for cool in shade

little beads of water form: on eyelashes, in the cupid bows of mouths,

the bend beneath the lower lip, in the hairs of eyebrows…

the afternoon sun is as bright as it is unforgiving

of painted faces melting into white powder and red cream.

 

III. Hands that belong to diseased teeth, red breaths

reach for a bottle of coke and ask for camel lights.

Panwaadis sat in the shadow of an awning

sell loose cigarettes, betel nut, gutka, pan masala:

a one-stop shop for maladies of the mouth.

plastic wrappers hot from the summer

holding candies and crisps hang

in chaplets as advertisements

hindi songs sound from an old radio

not heard in cars anymore

drivers, road workers, young men on office breaks

soften into the steam from their chai, smoke from their cigarettes

after seven minutes two others nod hello at the panwaadi

different men with the same requests

‘bhaiya, ek coke aur ek camel light’.

Brinda Gulati
Brinda Gulati has two degrees in the practice of Creative Writing in English from the University of Warwick with a First Class Honours. She writes about home, love, longing, and spaces. Her published works can be found at www.brindagulati.com