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Villagers Visiting Jodhpur Enjoy Iced Sweets (After a photograph by Raghubir Singh), By Chitra Divakaruni

In their own village they would never dare it,

these five men, sitting on the grainy grey sand

by the roadside tea stall, licking at ices.

Against their brown mouths the ices are

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an impossible orange, like childhood fires.

They do not look at each other, do not speak.

One man has loosened his turban and lets it hang

around his neck. Another, crosslegged,

grasps his ice with earnest hands.

A third takes a minute bite from the side, willing it

not to melt. The Lu wind

wrenches at the fronds of date-palms,

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rasps the men’s faces. But the ices are cool,

consoling tongues and throats raw from cursing

the moneylender for unpayable debts, the gods

for the rainless, burning fields.

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Soon, dust-choked, the village bus will come.

The men will board, wiping their tinted mouths,

surreptitious, on dhoti-edges. Back home,

heads of households, they will beat

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wives and children as necessary, get drunk

at the toddy-feasts. Their fields seized,

they will hold their heads high

and visit the local whorehouse. But for now,

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held within these frozen orange crystals,

silent, sucking,

they have forgotten to be men

and are, briefly, real.

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[1998]


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