Sunday, October 10, 2004

Bon Appetit

I wish bon appetit
to the frail old fisherwoman
she is no more than just
an armload of bones
grown weightless over the years
and caught
in a net of wrinkles)
who, on her way to the market,
has stopped
to have a quick breakfast
in a hole-in-the-wall teashop,
and is sitting hunched
over a plate of chickpeas
— her favourite dish —
on a shaky table,
tearing a piece of bread
with her sharp claws
to soak it in the thin gravy
flecked with red chilli peppers;
and whose mouth is watering
at this very moment, I bet,
for I can almost taste
her saliva
in my mouth.

And I wish bon appetit
to that scrawny little
motheaten kitten
(so famished it can barely stand;
stringy tail,
bald patch on grungey back,
white skin showing through sparse fur)
that, having emerged
from a small pile of rubbish nearby,
and slipped once
on a bit of onion skin,
has been making its way,
slowly but unerringly,
towards the shallow basket
full of shrimps
— left outside on the pavement by the fisherwoman —
has finally managed
to get there,
raised itself on its hindlegs,
put its dirty paws
on the edge of the basket,
and kissed
its first shrimp.

By Arun Kolatkar (1932-2004)

Arun Kolatkar won the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry in the late Seventies. Decidedly reclusive, he wrote in Marathi and English and lived, without benefit of a telephone, in Bombay. Read more, in his Obituary as written by Ranjit Hoskote.

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