Small-Scale Reflections On A Great House

Sometimes I think that nothing
that ever comes into this house
goes out. Things that come in everyday
to lose themselves among other things
lost long ago among
other things lost long ago;

lame wandering cows from nowhere
have been known to be tethered,
given a name, encouraged


to get pregnant in the broad daylight
of the street under the elders'
supervision, the girls hiding

behind windows with holes in them.

Unread library books
usually mature in two weeks
and begin to lay a row

of little eggs in the ledgers
for fines, as silverfish
in the old man's office room

breed dynasties among long legal words
in the succulence
of Victorian parchment.

Neighbours' dishes brought up
with the greasy sweets they made
all night the day before yesterday

for the wedding anniversary of a god,

never leave the house they enter,
like the servants, the phonographs,
the epilepsies in the blood,
sons-in-law who quite forget
their mothers, but stay to check
accounts or teach arithmetic to nieces,

or the women who come as wives
from houses open on one side
to rising suns, on another

to the setting, accustomed
to wait and to yield to monsoons
in the mountains' calendar

beating through the hanging banana leaves
And also anything that goes out
will come back, processed and often
with long bills attached,

like the hooped bales of cotton
shipped off to invisible Manchesters
and brought back milled and folded

for a price, cloth for our days'
middle-class loins, and muslin
for our richer nights. Letters mailed

have a way of finding their way back
with many re-directions to wrong
addresses and red ink-marks

earned in Tiruvalla and Sialkot.
And ideas behave like rumours,
once casually mentioned somewhere
they come back to the door as prodigies

born to prodigal fathers, with eyes
that vaguely look like our own,
like what Uncle said the other day:

that every Plotinus we read
is what some Alexander looted
between the malarial rivers.

A beggar once came with a violin
to croak out a prostitute song
that our voiceless cook sang
all the time in our backyard.

Nothing stays out: daughters
get married to short-lived idiots;
sons who run away come back


in grand children who recite Sanskrit
to approving old men, or bring
betel nuts for visiting uncles

who keep them gaping with
anecdotes of unseen fathers,
or to bring Ganges water
in a copper pot
for the last of the dying
ancestors' rattle in the throat.

And though many times from everywhere,
recently only twice:
once in nineteen-forty-three
from as far as the Sahara,

half -gnawed by desert foxes,
and lately from somewhere
in the north, a nephew with stripes

on his shoulder was called
an incident on the border
and was brought back in plane

and train and military truck
even before the telegrams reached,
on a perfectly good

Chatty afternoon (1971)

(Small-scale Reflections on a Great House by A K Ramanujan)

by Ramesh Iyengar

Comments (6)

The scene before and after the death of his mother has been captured by the poet with complete solemnity, reverence and gratitude. Thank you, Dear Poet.
Beneath ist breast my mother lies asleep! Nice piece of work.
A soul searching experience to the readers about motherhood.
What a touching way to say, one's mother is gone and she is embraced by nature very fondly lovingly. Exquisitely worded poem. Simply fantastic. x
'Although the only one I loved was gone...' You said in Your poem And this is always True Oh, Claude You lost Your mother Your Only Beloved She was Unreplaceable You Poems are as well...
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