God on Display

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

This is what happens when you

go to the museum. You see yourself,

stand before your glass-cased past. They tell you

who you were, and where you’re going


nowhere. A cross frames the doorway, shadows over

Vishnu’s calloused, metal feet.

Shiva would smile if he could see through ash.

Nataraja would dance if he weren’t bolted to the ground.


They tell you: Our lord is one, and yours are fixed here like so many stars.


A painting of a maiden colored

gold with full walnut breasts, locked

in a pale man’s embrace. Next to acrylic

goddess, her head held high by metal chains.


They tell you: We have your mother and her mother, and soon you too, within our walls.


Display labels read tribal, primitive, folk, historic,

Exotic. Everything else is ancient.

Everything else is B.C. Not from Mumbai, Kolkata,

but Harappa, Mohenjo Daro.


They tell you: You stopped living, long before you were even born.


Man on Display

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

I don’t want to write about India.

About sari-clad matrons arriving

On Indian Standard Time

With husbands who wear blue Bata chappals in the house.

About Bollywood blockbusters with the heroine

In a wet sari and heels, running around the trees, her

Paunchy lover licking his lips in anticipation.

The blue-skinned, many-limbed gods with eyes like fire,

Playing flutes, charming snakes out of baskets.


And I don’t want to write about the elephants,

Peacocks and tigers and bears along the road to Agra.

The Taj Mahal gleaming white with goats shitting on its steps.

How many positions are in the Kama Sutra?

Enough to have bred millions of men,

With matching pencil-line mustaches and

Paan-stained teeth. Millions of women

With breasts like walnuts, hair black like sheets of tar,

Skin like gold, feet-tinkling anklets and mehndi-covered hands.


And I don’t want to write about N.R.I.s.

Engineers and doctors and the guy at the 7-11,

With body odor and last names long enough

To fit three lines in the phonebook.

Except Patel. And Shah. The taxi drivers.

The bhangra team. The garba club. The Bharatanatyam teachers.

Can you teach me yoga? Sit Indian style, and say Ommm.

Do you know the owner of that Motel 6 where they use

Ketchup packets filched from McDonalds instead of Heinz?

Watch TV; see that home-schooled four-eyes win the spelling bee.


No. Ask Kipling. Ask Forster. Ask Nell Freudenberger.

I don’t want to write about that India.

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is an assistant professor of global Anglophone literature at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is also a journalist and occasional poet, with bylines in a range of public and scholarly venues including NewYorker.com, L.A. Review of Books, Guernica, Public Books, The Caravan, and Himal Southasian. Ragini was editor of India Currents from 2007–2009 and wrote an award-winning, syndicated column for that magazine from 2001–2016. She holds a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley. For more on Ragini’s writing, research, and teaching, visit www.raginitharoorsrinivasan.com.
Published March 15, 2017
© 2017 Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan