The poem narrates a common experience. At every tourist place you will meet a self-appointed tourist guide like the old woman in the poem. They need money and will pester you. They even promise to give you some service in lieu of the money you give them. Generally tourists give them something to get rid of them.
The poem begins with a commonplace experience, but ends in a revelation. The old woman is not an ordinary woman. She is the representative of the degradation of humanity. She has bullet holes for her eyes. When the narrator looks at her, he is shocked by her pitiable condition. It appears as if she is going to fall apart. The main theme is about keeping what is important in perspective—in this case, an old woman and her heritage—the land from which she comes.
A tourist visits a hill. There he comes across an old woman. She grabs his sleeve and wants fifty paisa. She promises to take him to the horseshoe shrine. But the tourist has already been there. He tells her to let him alone. She is persistent and keeps pestering him. For a price, she will take what seems to be a sightseer to the nearby shrine. The man is not interested: he has seen the shrine before. However, the woman is insistent; the man wants to dismiss her because she is an old woman. The poet uses a very simple common image-a beggar, in this case, an old woman, who is found begging outside the horseshoe shrine . In India this is a common sight as common as our reaction to a beggar besieging us pleading for alms. This sight is particularly common around holy places and pilgrim spots. They can be extremely persistent driving one to the point of irritation if not annoyance ‘like a burr’. Such is the plight of the poet.
The poet turns to face her, about to end their association; ‘with an air of finality’ to ‘end the farce’. He conjures up an air of firmness to do so but her question stops him in his tracks….”What else can an old woman do on hills as wretched as...