• Dr K — A Poem

    Ari Sitas

    March 29, 2018

    Straight out of a redeemed and revised novel

    with all the particulars regretted, refitted, reconfigured and reconciled

    and

    with an honorary doctorate from the University of Prague

    Dr K stepped out of Indira Gandhi International

    To be garlanded and warned that one only sleeps badly here

    and was sent further

    clutching a letter from the Registrar for a Nirala Chair

     

    On the first day alas he sat only on an ordinary chair

    shifting his body with some humility a bit here and a bit there

    by the Registrar Assistant’s desk

    learning how busy the Registrar was with an Inquiry

    He was offered Chai

    It was sweet

     

    He met the chai man later by the students’ hostel

    at dusk

    who said “no problem sir”,

    “I am a magnificent chaiwallah Just for You

    You can have a ton of Chai on credit

    You have a letter from a Competent Authority

    We are doing nothing unnatural at all”

    He was offered Chai

    It was also sweet

     

    He slept under one of the dhaba’s outdoor tables

    He woke up with a dog licking his face

    He used the hostel toilet

    And washed his rancid armpits

    With a mosquito swaying above his nose

    -it gathered speed and left him quite alone

    it was a good omen

    He was offered another Chai

    It was sweeter

     

    He returned to the Assistant’s desk

    learning that the Inquiry had taken on a Radical turn

    “For the Good?”-he asked

    The Assistant gave him a piercing look

    “Villainy”, she chortled.

    He waited

     

    He slept with the dog under another one of the dhaba’s tables

    He used the hostel toilet

    He got Chai again

    He wondered to the Centre for World Literatures

    Not out of impatience or malice

    But out of a need that something had to be done

    And received a broad smile from the Administrator

    Who said “Welcome”

    He received a form to sign, with Chai and a Samosa.

    He signed the form

    “It will be sent to the Competent Authority”

    “And then?”

    “The Then will follow!”

    “Thank you”

    “You are Welcome”

     

    He asked after Dr Desai

    Who was to be his host

    But Dr Desai was indisposed

    With a serious strike

    “Stroke”? He asked

    “Maybe”, he was told.

    Ailments strike with regular abandon

    he noted in his Diary

     

    But then out of the blue

    He was told by a Security Guard

    Who spoke English with a fair quantity of hissing

    under his moustache

    That due to situations turning Bad AND Radical

    He could not sleep under any of the tables of the Dhaba

    This was on a VC circular and the VC circular is law

    But… for a small fee he had a cousin

    who was also the cousin of the ChaiWallah

    who could erect at no pain whatsoever sir

    a little shack just for you on credit of course

    by the workers’ hostel

    And since he had a letter from the Competent Authority

    he could have a man or a woman cooking Very Nice for him

     

    With shack in place and with Sarita Ma’am

    in charge of cleaning and cooking and anything sir

    he pursued his mission

    He was informed after a while

    That he should get his head into the “Hothot Air Place”:

    -the Academic Cell

    to see whether any actual letter was there

    because to all intents and purposes and another Chai

    they had not received anything looking like a letter

    They searched for an hour there

    through piles and piles of files but no letter.

     

    Next day a Letter was found

    But it wouldn’t do

    -they needed another Letter to precede this Letter:

    from the Finance Officer instead

    Before they could process this Letter properly sir and without hesitation

     

    He sat by the Finance Officer’s desk

    Who offered him Carrot Halva and Chai

    (the Chai, sweeter than the halva

    as was to be expected)

    He said he could NOT provide a letter to Human Resources

    that he would be Paid as a Nirala Whatnot and Etc unless Human Resources

    gave him a letter instead

    saying that he or so and so could or should be paid.

    He noticed that there was an angry clerk

    addressing what looked like a Skeleton of a forgotten  student 

    about the impunity of needing some fellowship or other.

     

    He returned with a compromise letter

    The kind of “we need a compromise now and then Sir”…letter

    It said he was to be receiving a Card

    once and only once the Competent Authorities had an audience

    with the Registrar , who was extremely busy

    with revolutionary matters of class and caste

     

    He noticed that his garland had turned brown

    and gave out a sickly sweetish smell

    He was unsure whether it was impolite to take it off

     

    On the 27th day the tenor of things changed: he was told

    that he needed a card from the Human Resources Cell

    Urgent Urgent

    It was difficult to continue with the Chai provision

    because the Suppliers wanted proof to grant the Chai Wallah credit

    and without that credit there could be no other credit

    Why they were to impound all the chairs from his Dhaba sir

    And as for Sarita Maam she needed that card because

    the situation was getting Bad if not more Radical

    and she needed evidence that she was working for a reputable man.

     

     “This will not do” the ChaiWallah said with the sternest of purpose

    “Indeed” said Sarita Maam who tossed his rotis

    and as was obvious stirred the beans and swept the floor

    “How long must we suffer from his delays and inconveniences?”

    “Here have your last free Chai” he was told

    “And you call yourself a Dr Sir!”

     

    “I will only continue if I get the main bed”, Sarita Maam said

    “Credit has ran out” the ChaiWallah said

    “From now on you sweep the Dhaba and light the fires

    cut open the sugar bags

    Impose yourself Dr Sir on some decent labour

    It is only fair Dr Sir”

     

    Dr K had to sleep with the brooms

    by the back of the shack

    it was fresher there anyway he thought

    but the dogs ate his shoes

    as dogs do in the night

    Dr K sighed, he knew all about the necessity of suffering

     

    It was still a vague sensation

    but he had a deep memory of suffering

    in his bones

    and although hard to sequence his sensations, he recalled he was on trial

    and in kind of confinement in times past.

    The mere sight of security personnel with their epaulets

    made him want to scratch

     

    Sarita Ma’am was very impressed

    with the Chai Wallah’s patriotism

    He described how inspired he was to find

    that each successful rags- to- power story

    in this Holiest of Lands had a ChaiWallah as its hero

    “His eyes were burning bright like stars

    on the Ganga’s face” she said

    “You are looking at a hero” he told her

    That night she let him touch her knee

     

    “I can’t believe this moonfaced”  the ChaiWallah said,

    “He feeds his shoes to dogs!!!”

    Give me your papers I will go and get the Card

    “Born? BORN?

    Are you joking with me?

    22.01.1906, Prague?”

    He took his calculator out=110

    He called his nephew to come count=110

    “Leave me out of this” said Sarita Ma’am

    “I am a Qualitative Anthropologist”.

     

    It is my birthday today said Dr K

     

    “My man you are a miracle!”

    The Chai Wallah exclaimed

    “You are getting younger

    You have reversed time

    You turned your bicycle the wrong way round

    You are one Big mistake!!!”

     

    “I am out of a redeemed and revised novel sir

    All things are possible in art”

    -confided Dr K

     

    “Sarita Maam, get this man some Chai, he is a miracle!”

    “I’ll give you one on the head with this pot she said

    And then you will see miracle you good for nothing good-for”

     

    The ChaiWallah spent three days and nights

    gathering sadhus and mystics from all Temples near and far

    from Connaught,

    from Chandi Chowk

    all the way to the infamous Kashmere Gate

    He asked them to get their cousins

    and hired a bus to cart them close

    When lines and lines of cops tried to stop them

    as situations were becoming more than Bad

    and Radical

    they could not restrain them

     

    They walked against the tide of cops and of thousands of students chanting

    They walked right through their slogans and their raised fists

    “Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh/We shall fight/

    We shall win!”

    to come and verify the miracle

     

    Dr K felt that being on display reminded him

    of another time,

    there was something lurking

    deep inside his soul from a bygone time

    had he written it, or was he the character already scripted?

    It was something about being on display as a hunger artist

    a thought that struck him also when on the way

    to the Registrar’s he saw young people

    under a banner stating: hunger strike.

    It was something about Bhagat Singh he read and heard

    “Bhagat Singh, Baghat Singh we shall fight, we shall win”

     

    The Sadhus declared the miracle to be pure fiction

     

    “Oh the treasures we will make

    Just to touch the miracle man

    Just to talk to Dr Shriji K”

    He imagined new menus and prices

    for the Chai

    and his infamous Aloo Parathas

     

    “Oh the treasures I will make” Sarita Maam said

     

    “What treasures?” the ChaiWallah asked with some irritation

    “To touch me”, she said “since I slept with him

    I would charge 50 000 a touch”, she beamed

    “To sleep with me it will cost a Lak”

    “You slept with him? “

    He asked in outrage

    She looked at him in disbelief. “Does it matter?”

    “It matters more than you think”

    He muttered bitterly

     

    Sarita Ma’am confessed

    that she was the most perfect anthropologist

    she blended in so well

    she was at one with her authentic

    “You take field-notes?”- he asked

    “I fill up notepads but each week

    I burn them

    they are inauthentic

    it is always me who is writing

    and never the Authentic”

    she said in some despair

     

    Dr K enjoyed the return of his bed

    But most of all he cherished

    his long meditative hours

    in the jangly reef that still survived

    and the peacocks and the nilgais

    and his thousand and one

    observations that he transcribed

    with a special pencil in his notebook

    about asymmetry-

    even about the Transcendental Ego

     

    Sarita Ma’am even took him to the dump

    By then her Assistants

    had made mounds of the beedies and the cigarette butts

    the bottles of foreign and local drink

    alcoholic and non-alcoholic

    the syringes and condoms

    “look” she said: Material Culture

    she counted and recounted

    she noted and re-noted

    and placed the notes in neat envelopes

     

    Dr K was hesitant

    “what if they love their job so much

    that they import condoms from afar?”

    “How far?”-she asked irritated

    From Pakistan he thought but didn’t say it

    But did say something hurtful:

    “What if they don’t use condoms at all?”

    She was very upset.

     

    Dr K was getting strident

    He even started “finding” himself he wrote

    perched high on rocks

    atop enormous Water Reservoirs and

    he could even sense a music in each thing

    and the undulations of the notes as the wind

    rose up to modulate and hide them again

    and again

     

    The last entry in his Notebook

    was that Derrida was wrong on

    Logocentrism

     

    The dogs found him first

     

    The desperate ChaiWallah found him second

    just before they gnawed his knuckles off

    He shooed them off with a big plank

    He seemed to have slipped off the

    Water Reservoir

    or tried to fly in vain

    On this point the Security Guard showed some discomfort

    that all of this happened on his shift.

     

    The body of Dr K

    was small and broken

    “such tiny hands” said Sarita Maam

    So it easily fitted in a crate

    So sad and diminished he looked

    His sad death did not cost much

     

    Crest-fallen the ChaiWallah

    sent Sarita Ma’am to Security

    to fill in the particulars for the card

    just in case

     

    “Photograph” said the bored security man

    “Go stand there you stupid woman”

    She checked herself in her mirror and said No

    I am not wearing the right Bra!

     

    She returned tomorrow

    He clicked and clacked and grunted

    “Those water melons would make you truly Indian Ma’ ám”

    …Best flickflack photograph ever!”

     

    “What?” cried the Chai Wallah

     

    “Jump to attention and show intention

    What have you done…Sarita Ma’am?

    They will hang you with Boxcar rope”

    “I killed no one” she said

    Look, look, I look gorgeous as Dr K”

     

    It took her a week to recover from the blow

    she received

    the Big Chai kettle dented her skull more than a bit

     

    The ChaiWallah so bereft and so remorseful

    took some of the Crematorium ash

    and placed it in a plastic urn

    he had a small and vulnerable figure made of clay

    added four sugar containers of different hue

    a packet of tea bags, and the notebooks

    he even made delicate oil lamps and set out a shrine

    He told no one that the Sadhus declared his plight pure fiction

     

     

    Sarita Ma’am

    remembered the sense of dread

    when deep in the night she and Dr K

    talked of their respective hauntings:

    the feeling that you are already scripted

    the ancient-old literary dread

    sent shivers down her spine

     

    She recalled that deep conversations about

    Being and Existent

    could not extirpate his bad breath

    It reeked of cat-piss.

     

    Sarita Ma’am was banished from the shrine

    There is no time to ponder now on justice and the like

    she thought

    Instinct told her that she should rush and go clean and iron

    for the International House

     

     

    On the 74th day she counted 1002 used condoms

     

    The VC was very pleased with her work on material culture

    Sarita Ma’am he said you are a perfect Sanskrit Anthropologist

     

    On the 75th day

    The Registrar walked out of his Chamber

    and with some distress noticed that his

    favourite Administrator had aged

    He wiped a tear from his eye and tried

    to hide the next

    She saw and she obliged with a silk handkerchief

    as always Ever on his side

    even in these most Radical times

    He hoarsely uttered “Dr K, Dr K where is Dr K

    a special Emissary from the USA is here to meet him”

    “Why sir”… “how should I know sir”

    “Ask Security to find him

    You are getting younger by the day”, he added

     

    The Emissary almost wet his pants from excitement

    He was speaking to Dr Carruthers

    of Guggenheim fame,

    of Holocaust Memory fame,

    of Smithsonian, Special Portfolio for the Arts fame

    and not forgetting Shadow Minister of Culture

    of the Grand Madam’s  

    Pending Administration fame.

    And the man it was rumoured, was the most vitally/ sole/ important king-maker for

    even the Nobel Prize in Literature that the USA was struggling hard to win!

     

    “We have our Dr K”

    “Is there a book?”

    “There are fragments”

    “Brilliant we will hire help…and?”

    “Not only is Dr K, Dr K

    But her re-rendition and revision has been perfect” “

    “No funny insect legs?”

    “No a beautiful metamorphosis, quite allegorical and true!”

    As stories go these days, to avoid being labelled anti-national

    Stories have to have an upbeat ending

    Or do they?

    Here fiction demands

    as much respect as the VC does for example who,

    might be offended

    or perhaps the Registrar

    or redeem once more the original Dr K

    and return him to the ChaiWallah

     

    Dr K

    who

    could be offloaded to the US

    We could have her quite distressed and understandably so

    with her ego slightly reconfigured

    if you please

    as she takes a brave step into the unknown

    that was of course after Dr Carruthers shakes her hand with a

    rather sweaty shake to confess that

    his First Lady was trumped and that the Nobel people rushed it

    and gave Bod Dylan the Nobel, yes

    the guy who does Frank Sinatra covers

     

    We can also guarantee her a swift and Honorary Doctorate from a College

    But can we leave it vague? Shouldn’t we say for example a Baptist College?

     

    We can have her leave the USA to disembark from the Delta Airplane from Atlanta Georgia

    to touch African tarmac at OR Tambo International

    clutching a letter from a Registrar for a Mandela Rhodes Chair

     

    We can have her arrival distressing:

    Her luggage is not found and

    there is no one to receive her as

    the taxi blockade of the airport for some

    obviously important reason is

    very effective that Highveld morning

     

    A few months in South Africa

    Would be good for her

    As it does compete as the most gullible land in the known universe

    And her ascent in the land of the purest fiction

    Would be irreversible …pure Agni quite sweet

    pure postcolonial fire

     

    But with things turning radical though

    Shouldn’t Dr K stay put

    So India at last could

    prize more fiction?


     

    Ari Sitas is a South African sociologist, writer, dramatist and civic activist.

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