Station

Post
Image
Photo of an Indian railway station by Erminig Gwenn on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo of an Indian railway station

Six years ago, I began to write a poem I call ‘Station’. It details my experience with the railways in India, more importantly, the people at the station. Every time I travel on the train, I add a stanza or maybe five more. Whatever the case, it’s still not quite finished and the reason is simply that my mind and heart are plagued every time I go to the station. I write about the children begging and acrobatic performers, the blind men, the women with no hands or feet, the ordinary people sleeping on plastic sheets on the platform… but you see, this story doesn’t end. There are millions of people on the trains and at the station every day.
 

Excerpts from an original poem-

Station

-

On the bridge that goes over the trains,

I saw two boys with torn-shirts, pants that barely

covered their scrawny brown legs and cold

fire in their eyes. One of them had a knife

with which he played music on the metal

railings of an out-of-place escalator that joined

the sad over-bridge to the teeming millions

on the ground.

 

I wondered if they were the same pair

I had seen fight a war of blood saliva and

black bead eyes.

 

The older boys came to ask

the one in red for the knife

that was his instrument.

They slap his face for fun,

while the other stands watching,

breathless with red perspiration.

 

As I walked down the stairs to the platform,

I found my eyes searching for the woman with the

elephant leg, and I found that the empty

space on the side of the stairs disturbed me as

a breeze whispered gently,

humming the song of a forgotten beggar.

 

That night, as I sat to read my midnight novel,

I found myself among a group of men and women

with American luggage and pretty bottles of

clean water. They did not look around as they

waited for air-conditioned boogies and

comfortable destinations...

 

...

Under clouds of smoke mist and

hot air of a coming monsoon,

we lay on a plastic sheet

on top of the bridge

by the side of a no longer functioning

scanning machine.

 

With our packets of lays and

newspaper wrappings of fried onion rings,

we wait for a delayed ride

to a place where we could forget

the smell of human vomit

and polluted rain.

 

Half-past midnight, we finally found

our mini-pillows of sweat and brown stains,

coarse blankets and newly pressed not-so-white sheets.

 

There is no complaining on the train.

 

It does not matter that the sky is warm outside,

the humidity causing frightful sweats

and waves of lethargy.

It is cold under the metal fans and air-conditioned

coaches of the journey that we embark on...

-

A longer version of this poem was among the commendable mentions of the annual Indian Wingword Poetry Prize 2019. 

Poetry
India