In The City Alone … and other poems / Rachna Joshi

In the City-Alone

The lone Tesu tree at the edge of the road,

hardy survivor of many city beautification drives

throws the morning shadow over the mazdoor


breaking stones.

Half-erased signboards written in Hindi

flank her.

Yahan Malba Phekna Mana Hai

‘Do not throw rubble on the road.’

Undeterred, she keeps pounding rocks

breaking them into pebble-size,

the sidewalk is cluttered.

There is a bulldozer parked on one side

and also a scrawny boy with a limp hobbling by.

 Girl on the Bulldozer

Oh!  Thin girl on the bulldozer,

your faded sari, shriveled plait,

your bold attempt to stand erect

have stilled me here.

Is the beefy driver-lover

exploiter, employer?

Have your desires, loves and life

Been pounded into

a sick and suffering body.

Ensconced in my sunlit terrace

like the maker of a documentary film

I see you still.

Elvish , wispy, forlorn

spirit: I gather you,

in my thoughts.

That Boy with a limp

He had shorn off

his hair after 1984

yet the limping boy

still feels cornered

by innocent stares.

Pulled apart by two sets of conditionings

split by the riots

in Byronic despair

he thrusts his fascinating profile forward

his trembling limb held firmly in check.

He is iconoclastic and outrageous

his voice fierce, eyes black

he seeks clarity and meaning

identity and success

in an increasingly incomprehensible world.

Images of carnage haunt him

scared, wary, suspicious,

he will rather starve than beg.

(From Travel Tapestry, Rachna Joshi, 2013, Yatra Books, New Delhi)

Rue de Rivoli, Paris

A cobbled street merges

into the paved road.

I see the old Paris

old buildings, worn and used entrances,

people dressed in quaint clothes.

I am drawn back to India.

India as a dark, vibrating womb

which maintains at its core

a primal rhythm.

A fragrance arising

out of old manuscripts, statues

rock carvings, leaves, bricks, dust.

Buried in nooks and crannies,

in forgotten places.

(From Monsoon and Other Poems, Rachna Joshi, 2020, Tethys, New Delhi)


In the bus, people move among goats and sacks of grain.

Women in flaring skirts

seamen on leave

sick children.

Across the ridge, the sun rises

Nanda Devi, Trishul, Pancha Chuli,

they appear in different colours.

I walk through the old market

fascinated by cowbells. Himalayan cedars

and pines cover the slopes around.

Dew soaks through the foliage

and the cold vapours settle everywhere,

branches and leaves hang in a myopic mist

green, white and light blend.

In the wooden house, the harmonium is playing.

someone is singing ‘Sivoham, Sivoham.’

His brow is covered with sweat

and there is a sandal-silver dot in the middle of it.

(From Configurations, Rachna Joshi, 1993, Rupa & Co., New Delhi)

Worli Sea Face

Rain flies across the pavements,

and smoke rises from the road,

wet, sticky odours linger…

one streetlight flickers,

one mangy pie dog barks,

but…the onslaught continues.

The churning sea comes inwards,

With deafening crashes, tumultuous breakers,

foam, froth and water boring every shattered rock.

Haji Ali, bathed in some celestial light

stands alone…distant…a tower of silence.

Smoke rises from the Bhel Puri vendor’s stall,

it hurts the eye.

Something drifts in the air,

something…reflected in the restlessness of the sea,

something felt as the rain drums the tarred road,

something felt as Sunita and Sujata discuss the language of the waves.

‘The sea dances,’ they say.

‘It joins hands to dance among the stratified remains of some land,

it breathes, it heaves, it wants to say something.’

I stare up at those tall, towering giants,

those muted high rises, the forlorn penthouses,

they look back, with conscious irony.

Then the sea decides to speak,

the rain beats faster, the sea leaps up,

the fast, co-ordinated dance breaks,

the waves lose step, the water screams,

screams out, too clear…

and we walk back,

unable to understand the fathomless, changing, unpredictable dance.

The sea has warned us,

the sea has warned us.

(From Crossing the Vaitarani, Rachna Joshi, 2008, Writer’s Workshop, Calcutta)