22 October 2009

Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar

Tourist, poet, pilgrim
As I read this book, I smiled with the words going round and creating images in my head, and I longed to get on that bus to Jejuri.
The one that is no more than a thought in the head of the priest (as he wonders whether there’ll be puran poli on his plate) when:

With a thud and a bump

the bus takes a pothole as it rattles past the priest

and paints his eyeballs blue

The bus goes around in a circle.

Stops inside the bus station and stands

purring softly in front of the priest.

A catgrin on its face

and a live, ready to eat pilgrim

held between its teeth.

I smiled again and sighed with pleasure when I read:


come off it

said Chaitanya to a stone

in stone language

wipe the red paint off your face
i don’t think the colour suits you

i mean what’s wrong
with being just a plain stone
i'll still bring you flowers

you like the flowers of zendu
don’t you
i like them too

Then I wasn’t smiling and my heart dipped low for the old woman:

She won’t let you go.
You know how old women are.

They stick to you like a burr.

You turn around and face her

with an air of finality.

You want to end the farce.
When you hear her say,

“What else can an old woman do

on hills as wretched as these?”

At Jejuri (where every other stone is god or his cousin) you will also meet a sheep dog (who had never told a lie in his life) the temple rat (who knows to jump away from the temple bell just before it swings into action) the reservoir built by the Peshwas (not a drop of water; nothing it it, except a hundred years of silt) cocks and hens in a field of jowar (seven jumping straight up to at least four times their height as five come down with grain in their beaks) while your brother who came along stands outside in the courtyard where no one will mind if he smokes, and you will soon find it terribly, terribly hard to find out when the next train is due.
You don’t have to go to Jejuri to feel the colour and the thick flowers (and the heat and the crowd of pious peasantry and their smell). They are all here in this book, a little mythology, a thousand-year old tradition, the reality of what you see today, a sociological commentary, and a word-painting that shows vistas, landscapes and people you wouldn’t see even if you actually went there yourself.

1 comment:

  1. I went to Jejuri after reading the book. I knew that my experience would be different than Kolatkar's - after all it's 30 years after he went. There were more people and a lot more stalls selling things that could be of interest to the pilgrims. But it wasn't commercialised and I didn't feel let down, as I had expected.