Vasco da Gama Lands at Calicut, 1596

He had been navigated here
        by a Madagascar Moslem from Gujarat
Otherwise he'd not have known
        the first thing about it

Our girls ran in terror
        Hiding their bare breasts
        from his men's lascivious eyes
        Soon under the palms they were opening their thighs

Vasco da Gama fell on to my shore
        And kissed my sand
Soon I had some Portuguese on my tongue
        And blood on my hand

Vasco da Gama remembered his God
        And I forgot mine
Soon the spices filled his lap
And boys, his bed

Crayfish and crab tugged at his heel
He wiped the seasalt and seaweed from his hair
He kissed the feet of the Zamorin
Who was pleased to offer him arms and men

Soon the sea coast burnt
from Janjira to Cape Comorin
I still feel its light
        Though men have forgotten its heart

The palms    the palms
Coir and copra and toddy and pearls
The astrolabe    the sextant    the star    the Cross
Vasco da Gama had his pick
Namboodri soon became Catholic

Vasco da Gama planted the Cross in my heart
Francis Xavier took my bread and my beard
My countrymen had both conquerors speared
The coffers of Portugal ran silver
        And the Mandovi red with blood

Magnolia, frangipani scented by moonlight
Waft with our women with hatted men
The locked sun of orange
The unlocked mango sap

The landlocked heart of India
running with lovesap
Some women immolated themselves in the sea
Some immolated the men they married

Hearts broke like China plates
Smashed on the tiled floor
Books began burning like never before

Cinnamon    cardamom    cloves    coconut    allspice
The Chinese nets of Calicut
Catching a silver catch / And souls to save
Soon Vasco da Gama was smouldering in his grave

St. Thomas sacrificed on the temple mount
I was the Brahmin who gave him a shroud
De Nobili heathenised at Tambaram
I was the child memorising his grammars

The printed word wrote a new history
My name and language were nowhere in it
I look into the mirror    I'd lost my face
It took me four centuries to return to grace.

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