Two Poems by Arjun Rajendran

The Dog-Catcher

1747

 

Gumastas, sowcars, spies and mahouts

maybe important—but then

there is Savari, the dog-catcher, searching

 

near the town gates, in kilns, the riverbank:

for canines to drown

so his only playmate, the topasse who

 

spasmed seeing water, and recoiled

from sunlight, returns wearing the sukkûpachi

beads he was buried in

 

These murders might matter: the governess’s

son in Junkceylon, the Imâm’s Lubbay;

yet nothing haunts Savari like monsieur B’s

 

strange tale of the 2500 dutchmen killed

by 600 dogs—their howls shipped

from Europe, their fathomless avoirdupois

 

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one man : two executions

1748

 

When divinity spoke through

a broken noose,

and Clemency— the name

of the schooner—

brushed its masts inside

spectators, when a rope’s

courage failed

to end this man skeletal

with voyage, rats, rancid

port mistresses;

the priest

(foaming against custom)

condemned

the condemned

soul to a second hanging,

his epitaph,

a palimpsest

And to the officer prepared

to free the almost-hung: its holier

     than silence, this ignoring

a lord who absolves

           thick-necked vermin

 

 

About these poems

 “The coromandel coast of the 18th century appears to hardly hold intrigue for many contemporary writers, though it was a most interesting era, as described in detail in the diaries of the dûbash/interpreter, Ananda Ranga Pillai. These poems strive to capture the drama, nuance and enigma that prevailed in Pondicherry at a time when the Dutch, the Marattas, the English and the French were all vying for dominion.”

Arjun Rajendran is currently working on a collection of poems set in 18th century Pondicherry. He is the poetry editor of The Bombay Literary Magazine and was the Charles Wallace Writing Fellow at Stirling (2018).

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Arjun Rajendran

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