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The sacred litany!

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Dec. 26th, 2007 | 11:42 pm

This poem is from Arundhathi Subramaniam’s first collection On Cleaning Bookshelves. If you haven’t read her poetry yet, do that. Her second book Where I Live is the one I like more. It carries numerous gems within. Both books are published by Allied Publishers, Mumbai.


Advice To A Four-Year-Old On

Her First Day Of School


This is the sacred litany --




Right-hand margins,

pin-drop silences,


(without ruptures in the joineries),

sharpened HB pencils,






Pink-and-white girls

who can play fairies in end-of-term plays.

Symmetrical girls

who don’t stick out at odd angles in the march-past.

Geometrical girls

always equipped with compass boxes.

Cultivated girls

with dictions manicured by militant horticulturists.

Musical girls

who chorus good-mornings in orchestrated D minor.

Softspoken girls

with tones so hushed it’s pardonable they don’t curtsey.


Streamlined girls

who don’t run into awkward lengths in 4-line report cards.

Ornithological girls

who prefer wrens and martins to day-dreaming.

Respectable girls

who prefer daffodils to Venus fly traps.

Down-to-earth girls

who know that boys are extra-terrestrial.

Dumb girls

who believe that Pavlov’s dog will have his day.


Now repeat.

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