Srinjay Chakravarti


The ci-devant Imperial Library,
the historian's spiritus mundi,
frozen in marmoreal splendour:
Belvedere Estate, haunted
by the ghosts of lieutenant-governors,
relics and treasures of the cruel Raj,
and civilization's noxious fumes.

Over the reading rooms hangs
a miasma of turbid dust,
burdened in the tropical sunshine
with the effluvium of two-and-a-half centuries,
of oblivion and fatal neglect.

Where thirty-thousand books
of the precious National Bibliography
provide food for delectable thought
to an army of termites and silverfish . . .

Where damp seeps into a trove of scrolls,
chronicles and documents stored in basements,
turning glyphed scribbles mouldy
with modernity's fin de siècle insult and injury . . .

Where a researcher puts a razor blade
to industrious use, shaving off pages
from the 1901 Census of India
and dumps the recorded past
into a convenient garbage bin . . .

Where a reader replaces
his borrowed-and-lost Freud classic
with its photocopied contents —
and is thanked for the service . . .

Where scavengers set on fire
packets of mothballs,
smashed tubelights
and other assorted offal
with two hundred rare manuscripts and texts . . .
(Good copy for reporters
on a paper-chase).

What heritages can be salvaged
from the burning issues
of striking Marxist saboteurs?

The charred remains
of A Hindu View of Life
penned by the Republic's philosopher-President,
or A Narrative of the Black Hole
where forgotten history swallows burnt offerings
to the deities of postcolonial callousness.

The sparkling white palace
looms behind communism's
smokescreen of deceit:

when the federal ministry of culture
is in their bad books,
kitschy labour unionists
settle their scores
with arson, setting ablaze
the rich legacies of a poor nation:

White Papers, Yellow Pages, Red Books;
Great Indian Novels and Gods of Small Things;
Dateless Diaries and Writer's Nightmares;
Books of Laughter and Forgetting;
all the Adventures in the Book Trade
in a Bonfire of the Vanities.