This Be the Pukka Verse

Daljit Nagra

Ah the Raj! Our mother-incarnate 
Victoria Imperatrix rules the sceptred 
sphere overseeing legions of maidens’ 
“fishing fleets” that break the waves 
to net the love of a heaven Etonian!
Fetes on lawns with mansion whacking 
banks or dances by moonlight
at the Viceroy – the Viceroy’s ball! 

The burra pegs of brandy pawnee
and pink gin in barrack rooms
that require the doolally scram on Jaldi 
punkawallaahh! for six meal days 
with tiffin with peacocks and humps 
and tongue for the breeches for the topi-
of-khaki and swagger stick bobbery 
shikar. Tally ho! for the boars in a hush 
and by Amritsar what a 12-bore howdah 
double on howdahs for bang!bang!
bagging the flamiest tiger! Panthers, 
leopards, blackbucks and swanny 
bustards, and Kipling or Tatler at Tollygunge. 
Lock, stock and bobbing palanquins 
for Hill Station gothic verandahs 
where dawn Himalayas through Poobong
or Ooty mist, and the basso profundo 
of evensong, housey-housey and hammocks 
under the Milky Way . . . Then waking 
to twirl those vintage sabre-curved 
mustachios for zenanas behind bazaars 
where the girls give a breathless nautch 
whilst ayahs are snookered by sahib’s
sport where the off-shoot half-breeds 
are vagabonds and mad dogs in a jolly 
good lingam-land, where the sun
never sets, overflowing with silk and spice 
and all the gems of the earth! Er 
darling, it’s not quiiite the koh-i-noor . . .
Would you? On a train that’s tickety-boo 
hooting on time through a tunnel. A
diamond! Darling, I feel so whole.

Daljit Nagra comes from a Punjabi background. He was born and raised in London, then Sheffield. He has won several prestigious prizes for his poetry. In 2004 he won the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem with “Look We Have Coming to Dover!” This was also the title of his first collection, which was published by Faber & Faber in 2007 and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the South Bank Show Decibel Award. Nagra is on the board of the Poetry Book Society. He has judged the Samuel Johnson Award 2008, the Guardian First Book Prize 2008, the Foyles Young Poets Competition 2008, and the National Poetry Competition 2009. He has also hosted the T. S. Eliot Poetry Readings 2009 and is a regular contributor to radio programs.