Calcutta, my love

Gentle readers sometimes ask, and a few asked yesterday, where they can find my works prior to the inauguration of this Idleblog. The answer is generally, I don’t know. There is much on clippings, collected mostly by my late father, and discovered in his files when he died. I had no idea, until then, to how much trouble dear papa had gone to collect every word of pieces which I casually threw away. I keep all that now, from filial duty; but have not the technical means to digitize it, nor the time to exhume, given the great bulk. I leave fate to fate.

Much exists, since the later 1990s, in the computerized memory banks of the publications for which I wrote, to which I no longer have access. In almost every case, anyway, the copyright belongs to them — even if they never got around to paying me. I am constitutionally unable to retrieve the rights to my own work. This is because I cannot bear to deal with the present holders.

Or to push myself on publishers, for that matter. If any seriously wanted a book from me, he would find me and make an offer. From experience, I ignore vague suggestions. Most of what I wrote was journalism, only for the moment. The poems and more pretentious literary works are not of the first order, and deserve to die.

As I mentioned in a Thing column the other day (here), the public libraries are divesting themselves of all printed matter not in immediate demand. The university libraries, too. It seems to me the height of insolence to print anything new, when the works of e.g. Homer, Aeschylus, Pindar, &c, are (as in the case of Toronto’s Central Reference Library) going to some landfill in Indiana. (I’m still trying to establish which.) That is where we should now look for the heritage of Western Civilization.

What follows is a short patch transcribed from one of my Calcutta notebooks. Or rather, I transcribed it four years ago on this website, and bring it forward, shorn from the context I gave it then. Let it stand for everything I wrote from Calcutta.


A little man came by me in the shadows of the early morning light. It was raining. He came by, through the slime, under the dissolving colonnade of an old Raj building. He was less than 5 feet high, a wisp maybe 80 pounds, maybe 60. And his wife was thinner & much shorter. I think less than 4 feet high. He was holding her hand, she was slightly behind him, her head was turned away in a cloth; she is blind, I realized. Only he looked at me: human eyes.

O God have mercy.

He was leading her along the street. Their children are all dead — somehow I knew this. The depth of experience in those eyes; it is a perfect love. They live out here in the open, in the rain, in the slime, in the gutters, with the rats. They eat what they can find.

O Christ have mercy.

He is leading her by the hand, his bride; he loves the mother of the dead children. O how did they die? He loves this filthy little woman, who has no eyes! He is Jesus, I think. Surely he is Jesus. He is leading his bride through the streets by the hand!

O God have mercy.