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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nagar Tiger



'Nagar Tiger' is a Gujerati expression for a young pregnant woman of the Nagar caste of Brahmins in Western India.  Dressed only in her wedding gold, a 'Nagar Tiger' was paraded through her village, usually at midday beneath the high sun. Many of the young women collapsed from these ordeals, suffering heat exhaustion from the weight of jewelry and gems. The custom endured in Gujerat until the early 20th Century. 


That's such a crude poem!

Yes it is crude. But it's also subtle.

Why do you waste your time writing such crude pieces?

I'm happy to answer. Do you have a minute?

No. I don't. Make it short.

If I'm a carpenter and I work in a way that is natural to me, but happens to make cruder work than another carpenter, should I throw my tools down a well?

Of course not. But if you are that carpenter you are supposed to be trying to make the finest work you can.

Suppose I make two pieces, and one happens to be less fine than another. Should I destroy it?

No.

Or if one word happens to be less refined than another, should I not use it?

No.

If you have coarse sea salt in the kitchen do you not use it because it is coarse?

No.

If your thoroughbred horse has short coarse hairs on him compared with your Shetland pony, do you judge the merits of either on coarseness?

We're talking about the poem. It's a crude poem. You write better things than that.

Do I? Let me ask you this, why is it crude? Because it mentions your home state?

No.

Did I mention you by name?

No.

Did I mention anyone by name?

Yes you mentioned Richard Burton. But you made words that sound like my name.

Are you referring to 'Nagar Tiger?'

That too, but, I was referring to Amir and Amiri.

Ah, but isn't this sound resemblance interesting to you? I bet you never noticed it! If Amir and Amiri sound like something else, then so does 'Nagar Tiger'. You remember what a Nagar Tiger is don't you?

Of course. Don't patronize me.

I'm Burton-izing, you not patronizing you. But you missed it. 'Nagar Tiger' sounds like "Nāgá" as "Tiger". You missed that! Nāgá pronounced 'nag', is Sanskrit (and Pali) for snake, specifically the King Cobra, a sacred snake. Kipling in his famous work "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" named his cobra character, Nag. I'm going to Kutch to see a snake or a tiger! It's also a play on 'sea-snake', of which there are plenty along the coasts of that area. In addition you are sometimes a nag, though it's not your fault, but rather mine, as I don't always do as you ask. But I compensated by calling you my number one Muse!

Thanks a hell of a lot!

Would you rather be number two? Should I only be inspired by one person? Hey, I'm playing with the way you want to interpret things. More people will know what a Nag is than a Nagar. And far more will know what a Nagar is than a Nagar Tiger. So you see I was playing with what the words sounded like there too. It was you that chose to interpret them differently, in a cruder way. In fact at the beginning of the poem I warned you it would be crude by your standards. I said in so many words, this is about Richard Burton. It's about 'Kutch and sal'', or 'kitchen salt', or salty-words, which is a euphemism for swear words. But I actually used no swear words. I failed to deliver!

Also consider this. Are these convoluted references legitimate communication? Should I be trying not to embed such things in my poems? Here I'll say this. All communication embeds meaning, poetry simply elevates it to a massive level. To try not to do it, is to defeat language entirely. The poem shows you that you and yours have been made as much by the words that you use. That's why you're so hot about the poem!

I spoke of Richard Burton and said it was where '1001 Nights' was inspired. It did actually have its beginnings in this part of the world, not Arabia, and, Richard Burton was inspired to do his translation of it into English while stationed in Gujerat. This is true. He also had affairs with many local girls and wrote eloquently about their yonis and sexual practices as footnotes to that translation.

I know that!

Yes you know it, but you don't understand it.

      Richard Burton doffed Indian robes,
      He spoke Gujurati perfectly.
      He realized it was true that he should test what he knew,
     And bed some Guju gals in mufti!

Now is that crude?

Yes, a bit. But it's funny.

Why is it funny?

I give up.

It's funny because of the limerick structure, which announces itself at the onset! It's also funny because it's what I did. I doffed Indian clothes. I spoke "to you perfectly"! Now that's crude but beautiful because it's true! Crude and true. Crude is what words become when we lose our center and fall to where they are. I throw them out like pieces of bait. Unfortunately you bit.

That poem is about me and my people!

No it's not! . . It just uses words you are close to. . . and it uses them in a very clever way. You're not Muslim, but your family works very hard on behalf of poor women of every faith. I admire that. If anything this poem is structured more like something written in the 19th Century at an ivy league school in Connecticut, since it uses the rhyming structure of a football song.

     The women of the desert go there to wail,
     I'll buy their used tins of cooking oil,
     And ship my sculptures back home to sell.

Are you with me?

No.

Substitute 'Yale' for 'sell', a much more obvious rhyme, and one that's much like a lot of old college songs where the last words of key stanzas are the name of the school.

I also said I'm a Connecticut Yankee, a peddler, in so many words. That's what artists are, peddlers. They have to peddle. And what does someone from Connecticut do when he's in India, in particular what do artists do often? They ship stuff back home. I ship sculptures home. No fancy luggage for my sculptures. The kind of tins you'd find on a peddler's cart!

That business about the hare and the dog. It's crude.

Yes, it's crude. Limerick's are crude, and the meter says, be warned, 'this is crude!' You are forgetting that Ahmed founded Ahmedabad when he saw a hare chase a dog! He remarked to his aide, "If the rabbits here are so brave they make dogs run, then this is the place we should build our fort."

But you didn't found Ahmedabad.

Found vs. find. Yes, I did, I found it on my first India trip, by train, halfway to Udaipur.  I also "found Amiri in bed!"

You are the worst! You know that 'hare' has another connotation. 

Yes I'm aware of it. and used it. And I'm wondering if Ahmed, or the myth of Ahmed, also knew it too!

The Kama Sutra uses the hare, as a way of describing one size of a male genitalia. That's what you're thinking of my dear! Ahmed was impressed by the bravery of the rabbit he saw, which was chasing a dog and decided this would be a good place to found a city. I was impressed by the women I saw and decided a year before meeting you it would be a good place to found a family! Dogs are not mentioned in the 'Kama Sutra'. So it's funny, particularly, since through the poem and myth, we can imagine that Ahmed was a dog himself! Like me, like Burton, and like all men!

The real reason is you're not comfortable with poetry. Let me ask you this. When you walk across a river and some of the stones are sharp and dig into your feet, do you find yourself thinking that the world should have been made without sharp stones?

You know what I mean.

I do.

Note: This is a real conversation with my Muse. She took the form of my wife, to criticize me, and my work, and in her presence I become very defensive. Do I like this? Yes, she leads me to better things. 

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