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Kamatipura: Namdeo Dhasal’s Ode To Mumbai’s Dark Underbelly

This poem appeared in Namdeo Dhasal’s 1981 Marathi collection, 'Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi' (What Grade Are You In), later translated to English by Dilip Chitre, and published by Navayana in 2007.

Kamatipura
Kamatipura Photograph: Chinki Sinha

The nocturnal porcupine reclines here
Like an alluring grey bouquet
Wearing the syphilitic sores of centuries
Pushing the calendar away
Forever lost in its own dreams

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Man’s lost his speech
His god’s a shitting skeleton
Will this void ever find a voice, become a voice?

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If you wish, keep an iron eye on it to watch
If there’s a tear in it, freeze it and save it too
Just looking at its alluring form, one goes berserk
The porcupine wakes up with a start
Attacks you with its sharp aroused bristles
Wounds you all over, through and through
As the night gets ready for its bridegroom, wounds begin to blossom
Unending oceans of flowers roll out
Peacocks continually dance and mate

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This is hell
This is a swirling vortex
This is an ugly agony
This is pain wearing a dancer’s anklets

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Shed your skin, shed your skin from its very roots
Skin yourself
Let these poisoned everlasting wombs become disembodied.
Let not this numbed ball of flesh sprout limbs
Taste this
Potassium cyanide!
As you die at the infinitesimal fraction of a second,
Write down the small ‘s’ that’s being forever lowered.

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Here queue up they who want to taste
Poison’s sweet or salt flavour
Death gathers here, as do words,
In just a minute, it will start pouring here.

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O Kamatipura,
Tucking all seasons under your armpit
You squat in the mud here
I go beyond all the pleasures and pains of whoring and wait
For your lotus to bloom.
— A lotus in the mud.

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This poem appeared in Dhasal’s 1981 Marathi collection, Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi (What Grade Are You In), later translated into English by Dilip Chitre, and published by Navayana in 2007. The subject of the collection was Mumbai’s dark underbelly­—prostitutes, pimps, drunkards, crooks, mill workers and taxi drivers—scraping a living in dreadful conditions in the city of dreams. Dhasal grew up in Dhor Chawl, a lane away from Kama­thi­p­ura. He wrote that visiting brothels was “the revelation of a tremendous form of life” for him. “It was life! Then I threw all the rulebooks out. No longer the rules of prosody for me.” His radical poetry is a mélange of slangs, expletives, profa­nities, Bambaiyya and rural Marathi. The poem has been excerpted with the permission of Navayana.

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