The poet is engaged in a conversation with the well known musician Ravi Shankar in a basement flat. The lamps led the people through the thick fog that enveloped the city of London. The imagery of the holes is apt as though the light streaks in just as sunlight enters through holes. The word ’flat’ may apply to the shelter, or to may qualify the word conversation implying that the conversation was flat and of no consequence. The conversation seemed to ‘fill’ the night that otherwise had a lot of space as implied. Ravi Shankar and the speaker had been smoking, drinking beer and munching snacks. The lack of punctuation for the animate chatter was provided by the inamate crisps. Ravi Shankar whiled away his youth ’whoring’ after English gods, that is, Parthasarathy implies that Ravi Shankar aped the English way of life to the extent of idolizing the English people and worshipping them.
The poet Parthsarathy had done the same in the past,and senses the futility of the whole endeavour. He felt like he was in exile in a foreign country. The word ‘exile’ brings in a sense of alienation from his native place, and from himself. His very existence is like a tree. It cannot be uprooted because the roots are deep. Language is a tree that loses colour over time under another sky as it cannot adapt to the circumstances there. It languished and lost its vitality due to lack of use and stagnation when placed in an alien country. As the snow of the alien country settles on the bark, it acts as a second layer coating it in a kind of artificial preservation. And due to lack of utility and the hostility due to its prudence the branches that once were adamant on flourishing stagnate. The hostility or cold nature renders the tree hoarse.
The only reassuring thing about the past was that it happened and that experience was a great teacher and left him to realize that his roots lay in his homeland. He dresses in his foreign clothes “Dressed in tweeds or grey flannel,/its suburban pockets“ and realized that his heart was very much at home. They were called ‘immigrants’ or ‘coloureds’; they were addressed with a common noun, and were adjudged on the basis of their colour. Indians find foreign countries to be a kind of embellishment but once they reach there they understand, that the city was just another city, and not a jewel. Just like gold could not reflect its own worth, the coloureds could not underline their significance. England also had polluted lands filled with smoke and litter. There were unbathed English children in a squalid set up. However, people were only repulsed with the coloureds. An old man in Trafalgar Square, an important fashionable locality in London, once said that it was no use trying to change the coloured: ”They’ll be what they are.“
The old man functions as a metaphor of the wise-old adage or saying trying to impart truth value to the same. On a parallel vein, an empire’s last words are heard on the hot sands of Africa, the stamp of colonization can be felt on the scorching sands of Africa. The statues of imperialists like the da Gamas, Clives, Dupleixs remain in England like a signature to remind themselves and the others of their own imperialist policies. Queen Victoria is emblematic of European imperialism, she is depicted as an old hag who sleeps alone her island. Her existence is islandic as she thinks only of herself. She shakes her locks in an act of defiance with an attitude of invincibility. Standing on Westminster bridge at once evokes images of Wordsworth with his romantic perspective .It again brings into play the hybrid identity. The Thames had clogged.
Boadicea was an ancient British Queen of the Iceni who had fought against the Roman when they invaded England. She was defeated. Boadicea was a significant cultural symbol of England. She is considered to be the antetype of Queen Victoria, but while Boadicea fought for her freedom, Victoria stood for the lack of freedom of others. In her pursuits, it seems that Thames had clogged the chariots wheels of Boadicea to stone. The wheel is an eloquent symbol of progress. Clogging of the wheel gives an impression of the stagnation of progress. In another example of vivid imagery, the poet describes how the river divides the city from the night. Perhaps that is the only thing that divides the city from the night, giving an indication of the night life there. And the noises reappear as the mechanical routine returns to the day with trains and milkmen foregrounding the scene. The events of the day assume vocal overtones with the newspaper boy.The grey sky makes vision difficult oppressing the eye. It may also imply that the grey sky was intimidating and not pleasing to the eye.
The poet reverts to the Indian scene in section 8 as porters, rickshaw-pullers, barbers, hawkers, fortune-tellers, loungers compose the scene in a life that is fast-forward and mechanical. The bridge towers above them. It looks a pale diamond in the water. The image reminds one of the paradox of value, also known as the diamond–water paradox. It stands for the apparent contradiction that, although water is on the whole more useful, in terms of survival, than diamonds, diamonds command a higher price in the market. The philosopher Adam Smith is often considered to be the classic presenter of this paradox. Trees with a big shade squat in the maidan. The trees are Indianised in their squatting posture.
The poets tongue is hunchbacked due to words held back, and the burden of words left unsaid as he heads for Jadavpur to his beloved. She smelt of gin and cigarette ash. Her breasts were aroused and therefore sharp due to desire. Feelings are described with the adjective ‘beggar’ as they shamelessly begged and lost their self respect in order to satiate their sexual thirst. They shiver in the dark recesses of the poet’s mind hungry due to the craving, and they feel alone as ‘lust’ desired to be accompanied by ‘love’. He affirms this in the very next line: ”Nothing can really /be dispensed with. The heart needs all.”
Over the years he has found only little wisdom. Experience is said to be the greatest teacher, but he has had to dislodge himself in order to find it. He gives indications that his identity suffered in the process. He finds himself on the banks of Hooghly, in the city Job Charnock built. Jobe Charnock was a servant and administrator of the English East India Company, traditionally regarded as the founder of the city of Calcutta now Kolkata. The speaker makes sure that he carries this wisdom of the colonial past in the bone urn of his mind. His mind now carries the ashes of his own existence that he now presumes to be dead. It also carries the remnants of a colonial past.
Nevertheless, all that is left are the ashes of things that were once young and beautiful, of the flesh and glow and all that youth stood for. He comprehends that his life has come to a full circle now as he is thirty. When something comes to a full circle, it either completes a cycle or has come back to its beginning. The poet probably considers it as a major circle or chapter in his life. Or as though he has reverted to the beginning as he gathered nothing significant in the course of his experience. He makes a resolution to give quality to the other half. He regrets that in the scramble to be a man in terms of sexual maturity and in the materialistic march for success, he has forgone his innocence.
© Rukhaya MK 2013
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