When he first did away with the mud walls
And put up cement and clay bricks
He built a driveway
This was in the days where the word driveway was un-coined in the English language
There being only possibly a hundred cars in the English-speaking world
And in the Punjabi speaking, maybe three and these too
Driven by a Maharaja, English and Scottish Sahibs
Lest we forget the colonised can also be the colonisers
No guilt, no finger pointing to the past
After all India too is a burgeoning economy.
Pundits on the BBC, in barely concealed voices say,
Fifty years from now India will be a Super-Power,
And we will be like the Old Roman and Greek empires.
Tourists of the ex-Indian villager, ex-untouchable variety will come to snap at a crumbling Big Ben.
The tables of guilt will turn
Or is it just the chairs?
Grandfather battered at the mud walls
Until they fell in small thuds
Filling the earth
With untold stories.
Cement was mixed and bricks bought,
And the mistris told
To make an opening in the dwelling’s enclosing wall
Wide enough for two cars to travel abreast
(After all he had nine sons, surely nine times more likely than those with five, three, or none to have cars in days to come)
Pondering that the wall looked like a mouth with several teeth missing.
To his face in high-pitched tones they said paramamatma will bring great prosperity to one with such vision.
Behind his back they sniggered into their hands
Convinced the man had finally lost his mind
Nine sons could do that
Too much of a good thing can bring disaster to one so proud.
Pulling sugar-beet from the field they muttered for God to keep them humble but sane.
And at night eating the unsold
With Coarse Rye Rotis.
The wives lamented that sugar-cane won’t fill the bellies of the
They told the wives to keep their tongues shut
Or else they would see the back of His hand
Teeth rotted and bones brittle
The villagers left to drive buses in drizzling climates and dark streets.
The cement walls half-broken, submerged into the ground, veiled by acid-green grass
The sugar beet growers’ children’s children listen to
Snow Patrol on their iPods
And when Big Grandmother asks them if they are getting A’s in school
They shrug their shoulders a half-inch
And pretend to not understand the Punjabi syllables
Bypassing the demanding Ancient Eyes
And wonder why Madonna at fifty
Looks so young
Unlike these Punjabis, unlike their Mamas