Ladies and Gentlemen Lunch is Served

By Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca

The well-groomed student
Formal yellow jacket, white shirt black pants bow tie
Starched white napkin over his left arm
Announces lunch at the College of Catering
Where I teach English in a pristine environment,
‘Ladies and Gentlemen lunch is served.’ He says
No pistol by his side, no baton thrust into my ribs
No barking command for immediate compliance.

A flash of white sarees, black pants and white shirts
Move in animated chatter
Professional dress as per the code
Rushing up the stairs to the dining room
Following the tempting aromas.
Taking our seats quickly, we study the menu
Devour the three course French meal
Served to us in style, the company delightful
No food fights necessary, portion sizes are generous.

A walk around the campus
Works off the meal and it’s back to work.
With no guards or dogs to chase us
The walk is leisurely
The hot Bombay sun the only thing at my back
I imagine the barbed wire around the campus
My imagination cast back to prison walls
Only beautiful trees and flowers bloomed happily.
Here by the friendly gate.

Borowski lived history, I read its horror
Dazed people stumbling out of cattle cars
Stripped naked headed for the gas chambers
Unaware of their gruesome destination
Unlike me headed for a sumptuous meal.
What evil could devise this violent plan?

I want to give away Borowski’s collection
With the haunting title, but to whom?
Everyone wants to read something edifying
So many are in denial
Survivors don’t lie, make up stories.

The plateful of food before me now could feed two
I put some back into the pot, remembering
The children starved by hatred
The women beaten violently
The man calling out to his God
His mouth dry, his thirst unslaked

When white smoke emerges from the chimneys
Here in the winter landscape
I see the blackened sky
The birds fly frantically for fresh air
Trees turned to the color of ash
Some birds disappear and I weep
When I can’t see them.
The six million blur my vision.

What violence prompts people to herd others
Like cattle over a cliff?
Violent thoughts stirring in a violent mind.
The camps an invention of cruel machinations.

A crowd of pilgrims trampled on a bridge
Crushed by one innocent push
Spiralled into the river below
Their journey to worship
At a holy shrine thwarted
This journey the deliberate torment of hell.

What violence urges change the color of red blood
To the color of inhumanity in the arteries
What heart beats with sounds of violence
Psychology proposes answers
It will not return the six million.

I cry out to the oppressors with Borowski
*Your country — a stock market transaction
and hoarded sacks of grain.
My country — the gas chamber
and the Auschwitz flame.
*Two Countries – Poetry of Tadeusz Borowski (wordpress.com)

Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca has been a teacher of English, French and Spanish in educational institutions in India and internationally. Her poems have been published in various journals and anthologies, including the Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English, The Journal of Indian Poetry in English by Sahitya Akademi, and others. Her debut collection ‘Family Sunday and other Poems’ was published in 1989. Her. A collection ‘Family Sunday and other Poems’ was published in 1989 and a chapbook ‘Light of the Sabbath’ in September 2021.

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