Sleep – and all intents – undone

(all, whether earnest, bow-tied

ones or those with crumpled skirts,

collars askew) by a steeplechase

at Nation: down corridors, up stairs,

over glowering, illegal puddles,

past the maze of entranceways

to Lines Two, Six and more, sidestepping

parents with toddlers

in tandem buggies glazed to vernal

sunrise – tongue deploying pardon pardon

pardon to cover the silent, unkind

epithet and amazed question jiving

behind (why in fuckin’ hell are these fuckin’ kids

up and out this fuckin’ late?) – then leapfrogging

busker ensembles complete

with pullulating scores plus cello

and violin cases in fresh delta

formations, to make that one last

breathless dash into the closing

arms of Line One as it speeds

away towards Franklin D. Roosevelt

and a hodiernal future, metrical

if imperfect.


Both tote and heart – lagging

by three beats and a bit – snag

on mindless steel, and hang halfoutside

till Reuilly-Diderot when doors

and hope spill open to ease the grip

on cloth and breath, which – rips

and slits notwithstanding – resume

roles and functions before Bastille

and its irruption of joyous, sparkling

melomaniacs, all disgorged – while

no rodents of Cinderella – by midnight

from Carlos Ott’s opera. One,

as French or foreign as you, a specimen

courteous to a fault, sets to enlighten

his older companion on Ott: another

immigrant they invited to build and storm

Paris, though one with the rare sense

to leave when his job was done.

You flinch in the crossfire of their

smiles, as ire at finding a stray

target supplants the amity,

the mirth in both sets of eyes.

— Illustration courtesy Roshni Vyam

— Excerpted with permission from Over and Underground in Paris and Mumbai by Karthika Naïr and Sampurna Chattarji, published by Context, October 2018

Also read:

Arundhati Subramaniam's Song For Catabolic Women

Kala Krishnan Ramesh's What the Peacock said to Ganesha about his Brother’s Lovesickness

Sampurna Chattarji's Ghatkopar to Versova and Back