My first poem, I remember

I started writing poetry when I was barely eight

In ‘Class II-R,’ Miss Rongong’s class, I remember

My first poem was about the school jeep

That Mr. Johnston the school principal drove

The school jeep was blue and silver, I remember

Mr. Johnston was powdery white with a reddish nose

He had soft, velvety almost creamy wrinkles, I remember

A smile that warmed up the shivery Darjeeling winters

Twinkles in both his eyes under thick, black spectacles

Lit up the cold, old, grey but friendly colonial style walls

And him and his wife the beaming and lovely Mrs. Johnston

Were both always dressed so clean and oh so ‘spic and span’

When I first saw them, I thought they must never smell

They were the kinds of people who smelled heavenly – always

Not like those ‘dajoos’ with their rags and cheap drunkenness

Sometimes we thought our grey stone school was haunted

Maybe, by the ghosts of all those of the English Raj

We had ‘toilet partners’, ‘best friends’ and ‘tuck partners’

Friends to go to the toilet with in the middle of the night

Friends to help us pull out our milk teeth with a piece of string

Friends to share packaged foods we’d bring with us from our faraway homes

To supplement our missionaries-run-Anglo-protestant-Christian-boarding school food

One night on a late night wander around in near total darkness

To find the toilet at the end of our creaky, wooden dormitory

Shamila didi, the one with the sad eyes and the short leg, with extra padding on one of her shoes

Recounted to me, barely eight, scrawny, name tagged, how Jesus Christ, the chosen son of God, had appeared to her

One night on a night much like this, she said, on the woodden wall just outside the toilet

I stared hard at the woodden wall for a few moments, a heady mix of sleep and fear

Under the glow of her glass lamp, the smell of kerosene hitting my flat, big nose

But Jesus never showed up on that wall that night for me. Scrawny. Name tagged

Standing in my flannel nightgown with proper English twining piping on the lapels

Only eerie shaped natural markings on the wooden wall I saw. Owl’s eyes and a cross

I wondered what ‘didi with the bad leg’ had seen on that wall. I still wonder to this day

She said it was divine, flaming and glorious, like nothing she’d ever seen before

Years later, a budding, awkward teenager, bored and curious. Sitting in ‘assembly’

Jesus will be mad if you read bad books, says the pastor, and you will surely go to hell

I squirm in my seat. I can swear he is looking right at me. I have locked in my locker a secret stash

Of Jackie Collins, Harold Robbins, and ‘Mills and Boons’ novels. How I got them I don’t know

Must have been passed on from some of the ‘bad, senior girls,’ equally bored and equally curious

And definitely going to hell, along with me. Looking up new words like ejaculation and orgasm

In the Oxford English language dictionary.

My first poem? Aged eight

The wheels of the school jeep

Go round and round

Without making a funny sound


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