The boredom artist , Moveable & Slumming in Bombay, Beelzebub
by Jeet Thayil
[ poetry - october 02 ]
The boredom artist
Life, said Hobbes, is nasty, brutish and short.
He left out boring, as grim a condition as any.
His tigerish namesake's epiphany,
in 20-point captions, is a Sunday slot.
Then there's Chekov, who, a moment ago, wrote,
The earth is beautiful, as are all God's creatures,
only one thing is not beautiful, and that is us.
Between philosopher, toy tiger, doctor, there's
a ladder of land no man claims as his.
I'll settle down there with old friends, familiars:
a monkey, my famous barking birds in pairs,
and defrocked Sukhvinder, the bald brahmin bear.
Dawn, like whiskey, half-lights a watery world:
all things break down to flesh, food and fear.
It's late December in Fleetwood, downstate NY,
"glorious showers, thunderclouds continue".
My mind unwinds as the century slows,
dribbles its years to a whining close
and defunct days peddle the news.
Listen: nothing, not even love, is true.
Alright I admit it, I am struggling, I am.
Naming the sacred is not a job you take
lightly, not, that is, if you want to live
to any half-ripe sort of age. Until 1989
we were frequent companions, I visited
you, entertained you, in Bombay behind
the Byculla zoo, and, merely a month later,
in HK, we lived in Repulse Bay on a junk.
After that my memory becomes hazier
with pain. Was it you I spent a month with
in Chiang Mai? Smoking opium in a stilt-
house with the chief and his daughters?
We had so much money then, it was as if
we were on vacation from real life forever.
I remember: I am bringing home goodies
- imported coffee, cigarettes, geraniums
in a jar. I am sitting on a scooter,
you are in the sidecar, laughing in tongues.
Who would have guessed the disaster in store
for us or how rarely you would appear
in the decade of denial? I am in my thirties,
shirtless, a baby elephant's head grows
out of my shoulders, I carry a beer-
belly and shades. My mother is bathing,
I am on guard duty, which I enjoy.
As my Asiatic time came to a close
you and I grew reckless, racing borrowed
toys through the streets of ghost towns
patrolled by soldiers, priests and guard-dogs,
and always the inscrutable face and
lotus feet of the first godman, Sri Sri
Baba Ba. On the airplane we sat
by the aisle, sharing drinks, magazines,
maps to the world, measuring our journey
in statute miles. At JFK you scurried
off for coffee. "Back in a mo," you said,
"and remember, yaar, the nail in your head
is moveable. So move it why don't you?"
In the winter of 2001, I do, I walk
from Roosevelt Station to a basement room
in Jackson Heights, past Hindi movie-houses,
kabab halls, cut-rate travel agents, suit-
sari shops, psychics, paan-DVD parlors.
You, I am beginning to suspect, are not here.
Slumming in Bombay, Beelzebub
found himself at home. Finally, he
had a reason for lethargy.
Inert like everybody, unable to sleep,
he blamed the humidity.
No use to say, "But B,
that's what this city does: saps you,
leaves you spent like change,
separates the dudes from the ditties."
He was having none of it,
a tools-down, feet-up, none of it,
and then the boss arrived, unexpected,
on a Sunday.
But his boss - now what? - had changed.
Hard as it was to believe,
she seemed kind, distracted, humorous,
The day she came to take him home
they were seen at the Hanging Gardens,
hand in hand, watching the dust bees
ride their pollen machines.
It was Christmas Day, just after dawn,
even the heat and humidity at peace,
it seemed, and Beelzebub's boss serene.