This Be the Pukka Verse

Daljit Nagra

Ah the Raj! Our mother-incarnate
Victoria Imperatrix rules the sceptred
sphere as she oversees legions of maiden
‘fishing fleets’ breaking the waves
for the love of a ‘heaven-born’ Etonian!
Smoke from cheroots, fêtes on lawns,
dances by moonlight at Alice in Wonderland –
no the viceroy – the viceroy’s ball!
Lock, stock and bobbing along on
palanquins to gothic verandahs where dawn
Himalayas through Poobong-mist,
the 12-bore or swagger stick topi-and-khaki
bobbery shikar, Tally ho! for the boars
in a dead-leaf hush and by Amritsar
what a bang!bang! bagging the flamiest tiger!
Jackals, panthers, leopards, blackbucks
and swanny bustards, pig-sticking, Kipling,
Tatler, Tollygunge, High Jinks and howdahs
for mansion-whacking banks, and the basso
profundo of evensong, frog song, poppy pods,
housey-housey and hammocks under the Milky Way …

Tromping home trumps – here come the cummerbund
sahibs tipsy with stiff upper lips
for burra pegs of brandy pawnee,
pink gin and the Jaldi punkawallaaahhhh!
on six-meal days with tiffin and peacocks
and humps and tongue and the croquet and polo
and yaboos, oh Ootacamund, and the sabre-
curved moustachios twirling for octoroons
panting in gunna-green fields and ayahs
akimbo and breathless zenanas behind
bazaars where the nautch and the sun never sets
when mango’s the bride-bed of lingam-light,
in a jolly good land overflowing with silk and
spice and all the gems of the earth! Er
darling, it’s not quiiite the koh-i-noor
but would you … (on a train that’s steaming
and hooting on time through a tunnel) Ooo darling
a diamond! You make me feel so alive.

shikar a hunt
burra large
pawnee water
gunna sugar cane
zenana women’s quarter
nautch dance performed by young girls