Thursday, February 4, 2016

Prem Chand's People Metropolitanized; A poem


For a change from Prem Chand's stories this poem of mine might interest you.

Prem Chand’s People Metropolitanized

In this great metropolis
aspiring to be a world class city
I have found a safe walking stretch
undisturbed by the city’s unceasing traffic:
A hundred and fifty metre long dead end of a road
flanked by a thin green belt
and a high boundary wall of a housing society.

It’s peopled but peaceful.
Half the road is unauthorized parking
for about two dozen taxis and trucks;
the drivers lazing or gossiping around their quiet vehicles.

One side of the pavement is a junk and garbage dump
for the Metro project, the MCD, the neighbourhood:
piles of unserviceable boards, poles, pipes, plastic sheets,
discarded plastic bottles, buckets, chairs, toys, bags...

The other inhabited by a dozen labouring families
working for the state of the art Metro project.
Their jhuggis raised from junk cobbled together:
bricks, board, corrugated iron and plastic sheets. 
In front, on the road, their neatly built mud-washed chuhlas,
small stacks of firewood, perhaps picked from the green belt.
Rickety charpais, and  jhoolas slung over tree branches,
worn-out plywood pieces nailed and hammered together to make patras.
Discarded plastic buckets and bottles to store water
brought from somewhere I’m unable to guess.

Dark-bodied men in their soiled dhotis, pants, or undergarments
sitting listlessly in front of the jhuggis, after the day’s labour;
one splintering firewood for a chuhla.
The women thin, emaciated, undernourished,
clad in saris unwashed for ages, it seems  
baking chapatis, or grinding chillies on the grindstone,  
fanning themselves or their babies with pankhas,
or sitting immobile, or gossiping,
keeping  their eyes on their grimy-faced  children,
playing on the road, their courtyard, with messy discarded toys,
or cricket with make-shift bat and stumps of junked board.

Walking in the middle of the road,
I feel like an intruder into their private space.

But who are they?

Suddenly a thought occurs to me:
Have Prem Chand’s  Halku, Ghisu, Jhuria, Budhia, Hori,
Dhania, Mangal, Dhukhi ... migrated to the metropolis
in search of pastures new, and become urbanized ?
Proud citizens of this great city,
bringing with them their labour, their hands and feet
and exhausted bodies, their only assets,
and mortgaged them to their new masters
the new Thakurs and zamindars
to build  the ultra modern facility, the Metro,
to the honour and glory of this great city
and this noble country!

In the meanwhile,
this stretch has become a regular haunt
for my evening walks,
their silent questioning  eyes notwithstanding.