by Devi S. Laskar

(Published in the 2000 Atlanta Review)

Forget the red dust-swept avenues, the drumbeat of your heart, the taxis jiggling over cobbled stones; dodging opposing buses and rickshaws, the naked street men bathing at public pumps, their street wives squatting at every busy corner. Forget them all begging for charity and spare change. Forget the decay of dead palaces of the Raj; the ordinary people who cleverly squat there, now; and that they hang their laundry like a lynching mob. Forget hawkers peddling mustard seed oil and green bananas, the congested sewers: urchins and rats now fight for the trash and spittle you pitch out the window; the narrow alleys and closed minds, the buildings stacked and pushed against each other like gaily dressed children in a queue. Forget the little blue and red awnings of skinny tin-thatched stalls, the leering smiles of vendors whose eyes you catch and meet, the diesel perfume coming through your open window, the winter sun shining through your windshield, the clamor of commercial planes overhead. Forget the bellow of buses as they stream past you, angry as a stampede of mechanical bulls; your insomnia as the moon casts ghosts behind you, the ashen taste of the Ganges holy water under your tongue. Forget the roar of men and women everywhere as they feud, and that they brawl over everything and nothing and you. Forget you're visiting red fire ants, in a bay colony. Forget it all, the sounds of crows feeding and mating, mating and feeding; your appetite, which you lost weeks ago at an open market. Remember to watch a street boy bring a bag of stolen oranges to his ailing mother in that neglected grotto. Remember to empty your pockets into the hundred open palms praying for change at every corner. Remember there’s no substitute for love or hunger, nor for fever or thirst. Remember me always when I leave here. Where do you think you're going?