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from the April 2015 issue

What Did Sriraman Say?

I saw the Lord, Sriraman,
for the first time
in an ancient alley in Choolaimedu,
playing kittipul with other small boys:
no naamam on his forehead.

Yet another time
on a footpath in Bombay,
he was hawking TV covers
with loud cries.
Just as I passed by,
I heard him swearing in Hindi
at a north Indian woman
who was haggling persistently,

The third time, at hotel Park Sheraton,
I saw him with a well-known Tamil writer,
tunelessly singing a fine poem
by Charles Bukowski
which was never set to music.
I didn’t really notice if it was vodka
in the glass he held.

The next time, on a long-distance flight
Who else but he could have stolen
the strawberry ice cream from my tray;
perhaps a carry-over from his avatar
as Krishna.

On a few other occasions I have seen him
at a distance,
among those who picked empty Bisleri bottles
in the old city of Hyderabad.

There he was, in Bikaner, carrying
the handbag of a Mirazi Muslim—
 a singer of Kabir’s verses.

Why, I’ve seen him too
at the Vadavalli Sriram theatre in Coimbatore,
there among the jostling queue,
on the first day, first show of the movie Ayirathil Oruvan.
The wretch was standing there,
in a Che Guevara T-shirt and sunglasses—
quite the ladies’ man.

Just once
when I saw him really close—
after a long kiss,
in answer to my casual question, he said:
“Ayodhya? I have never seen it.
In my grandmother’s stories, I remember,
it was the birthplace of Sriraman.”

"ஸ்ரீராமன் என்ன சொன்னான்?"  © Perundevi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy. All rights reserved.

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