A Rhyme and a Place

April 24, 2008 at 2:36 pm (Sampurna Chattarji, The Reading Room)

“There are places I remember, in my life, though some have changed

Some have changed, though not for better…”


Some places have an uncanny hold on that slippery terrain we call memory. For reasons unknown, such places live in our minds and hearts, untouched by reality.


Reality is a spoilsport in such matters. That’s when poetry comes in.


Take Kala Ghoda. My life in Bombay (after moving here from Calcutta) was almost totally centred on the Kala Ghoda area. I worked in an office on PM Road, and lunch-time would see me trotting out with friends to Rhythm House for a quick browse followed by a large and amicable lunch at Wayside Inn. Or else it would be Picolo’s (once, through driving rain, simply to devour a Parsi-bonu). Post-work, Max Mueller Bhavan, screenings, exhibitions. Outside Jehangir, on the sidewalk, the paintings, framed, or the prints, fingered. When I became a freelancer, Wayside Inn became the place where I would breakfast. I would sit with a pot of tea and a plate of eggs and regard the street for hours. No one hurried me. Or I would lunch, early, beginning with beer and ending with coffee, seeing as it was almost tea-time.


And then one day, it closed down. A new place came up, and with it, the only reality left was the one I found in my mind, and in the pages of Arun Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems. I read them greedily, again and again, marvelling at the precision and tenderness of this anthropologist of the streets. From now, nostalgia will be irrelevant. All I need is here.


Breakfast Time at Kala Ghoda




They’re serving khima pao at Olympia,

dal gosht at Baghdadi,

puri bhaji at Kailash Parbat,


aab gosht at Sarvi’s,

kebabs with sprigs of mint at Gulshan-e-Iran,

nali-nehari at Noor Mohamadi’s


baida gotala at the Oriental,

paya soup at Benazir,

brun maska at Military Café,


upma at Swagat,

shira at Anand Vihar,

and fried eggs and bacon at Wayside Inn.


For, yes, it’s breakfast time at Kala Ghoda

as elsewhere

in and around Bombay


– up and down

the whole hungry longitude, in fact;

the 73rd, if I’m not mistaken.


It isn’t just one breakfast that this section makes you hungry for, it’s the whole gamut of all-possible-breakfasts-you-might-ever-have, if you happen to be that side of town. From flitting across the world, from diving down south, from commentating and speculating, the poem dives down, to settle, here, on this place on earth that we know as Kala Ghoda.


Sometimes, poetry can show us the worlds we inhabit clearer than we ever could. Not just the place but the people in that world. Take this:


The Potato Peelers




Backlit by their dreams,

they sit on three upended wooden crates,


outside the entrance of a garage

converted into a restaurant kitchen;


elbows on knees,

bare-chested above their shorts,


hunched over potatoes

rotating slowly in their hands,

and the dark side of each one’s mind

faintly visible in


the reflected light

of the others’ unspoken thoughts.



Or this:



Bon Appetit




I wish bon appetite

to the frail old fisherwoman



who, on her way to the market,

has stopped


to have a quick breakfast

in a hole-in-the-wall teashop,


and is sitting hunched

over a plate of peas



and whose mouth is watering

at this very moment, I bet,


for I can almost taste

her saliva


in my mouth.


Try visiting Kala Ghoda after reading these poems, and not looking for the characters in them. You can’t. Through keen and loving attention, through the craft of wit and polish, the poet has brought the people we pass everyday with hurrying, averted eyes, out of their invisibility into light.


What Vikram Seth did for the Brooklyn Bridge in The Golden Gate, Arun Kolatkar has done for this little patch of Bombay, unrecognisable now with its large parking space, its new restaurants and fancy shops. It isn’t that one longs for landmarks to be immortalised in verse. It’s just that some places are lucky enough to be recorded, simply because someone who lived there, loved them.


And when that someone happens to be a poet, lucky us.



[Excerpts from: Arun Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems, Pras Prakashan]


Sampurna Chattarji 

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