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-
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
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
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.