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
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,
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.
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
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,
held within these frozen orange crystals,
they have forgotten to be men
and are, briefly, real.