Rhyme Capsules: Mukul Kesavan
My childhood lives in other people’s rhymes,
Half-verses jog visions of half-pant times.
S.K. Chauhan (that’s Subhadra to you),
Supplies me with my middle-school cue…
Ashwin, urf ‘Ghoda’ (he was hung like a stud)
Was asked to read verse as clear as mud.
‘Khoob ladi mardani…’ Ma’am, Rani was man?
No, manly! Like hairy? Like orangutan?
Old Monty, a drunk, a padre in name,
Loathed India and Indians and dreamt of Tulane.
Assigned Moral Science, he set us a quiz,
Promised a prize to the top-scoring whiz.
A warship in wartime is carrying mixed cargo;
Babies and bombs: any moral embargo
On a hostile sub? Should it sink that boat,
Or honor the children and allow it to float?
Everyone but me said ‘let the ship go’;
knowing Monty was weird, I wrote: TORPEDO.
He said in a whisper; “Life ain’t a romp, son,”
And gave me a mimeo of Francis Thompson.
That was the prize: so my Class XI
Was the year I met The Hound of Heaven.
“I fled Him, down the arches of the years”
That creepy line still stirs up gothic fears.
School verse attended to both horse and hound,
Shyam Pande’s Chetak took trees in a bound
(lewd fellows flagged Hindi rhymes for horse,
and the tone declined from epic to coarse).
The Charge…was loved because boys like slaughter
And we had plans for Lord Ullin’s daughter.
The farting babes in Wordsworth’s Ode were fun,
for action nothing touched The Highwayman
Odd words: Hippocrene, Lethe-wards… eftsoons!
Stick in my head like alphabet cartoons.
The verse left over is childhood unreeling
In time it’ll fade into half-scanned feeling;
Still, I’m grateful my memories rhyme
They’re switches I throw to travel in time.
My son’s school poems are demotic and free:
His past will begin with his college degree.