Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, essayist and curator based in Bombay. His seven collections of poetry include Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems (Penguin, 2006), Central Time (Penguin/ Viking, 2014), Jonahwhale (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2018; published by Arc in the UK as The Atlas of Lost Beliefs, 2020, which received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Summer 2020) and, most recently, Hunchprose (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2021). His translation of a celebrated 14th-century Kashmiri woman saint’s poetry has appeared as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). He is the editor of Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 2012). Hoskote has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP), University of Iowa; writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich, Theater der Welt, Essen-Mülheim, and the Polish Institute, Berlin; and researcher-in-residence at BAK/ basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. His poems have been translated into German, Hindi, Bangla, Irish, Marathi, Swedish, Spanish, and Arabic. Hoskote curated India’s first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2011) and was co-curator, with Okwui Enwezor and Hyunjin Kim, of the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008).
for Ravi Agarwal
What if the white mare dragged down by a flabby bridegroom
and underfed by her hungry syce
had the same name as the child ferrying bricks in her head pan
at the kiln?
What if the bat practising a dive behind the shuttered windows
of the Natural History section
could ask the elephant grazing in the parched scrubland
which would not be one of the brightly painted names of the god
tucking his trunk in as his fans see him off at high tide
a departure viewed from the Towers of Silence by a tribe
of scrawny vultures contemplating their journey’s end?
What if you tried to prise a password out of the stuffed orangutan
the taxidermists have enthroned as a totem at the zoo?
In all these names you’d recognise the lost and forgotten seeds
that a sleepy child dropped on the mossy ghats
as the pilgrims from the stars newly arrived swept past
one full-moon night in vermilion and brocade
Who could have told them they would meet us again
stripped of our gaudy masks our carrying voices muted
as skeletons on display
in a distant planet’s Museum of Cautionary Tales?