being brown

The death of a poet.

Dilip Chitre died last night.

I studied him, all those years ago in college. My own personal favourite was Arun Kolatkar, ofcourse. But there was one Chitre poem that stands out in my memory.

Father returning home

– Dilip Chitre

My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart. His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.
He hurries across the length of the grey platform,
Crosses the railway line, enters the lane,
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.

Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man’s estrangement from a man-made world.
Coming out he trembles at the sink,
The cold water running over his brown hands,
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him. He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.

The poem is evocative of a loneliness that has come to the father in the dusk of his life. He has been alienated from his children, people around him and the world around him. He is alienated through space and also through time. He is alienated from his ancestors and from his grandchildren, from the people who crossed the Khyber pass to settle in the subcontinent. His alienation is complete and irreversible. Sleep and dreams come as sweet relief from a world that’s indifferent to him.

There is rich imagery in this poem that I find fascinating. One of my favourite lines is

“ Now I can see him getting off the train

Like a word dropped from a long sentence”

I can almost see this in my minds eye.  The import of a long sentence is  rarely lost with the omission of a word.

Indian writing in English has always fascinated in me. It is one of the ways in which I can assuage my subconscious grief at not being able to read literature in the vernacular. So the role Indian writing in English plays in my life and writings has been critical. It encourages me to write in this foreign tongue and make it my own. And it challenges me to find near-perfect translations for typical Indian idioms. Both of which have been crucial in sustaining my interest in reading and writing.

This is my tribute to all those Indian men and women, who have written in English and managed to communicate their special Indian experience to a larger world audience

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2 responses

  1. Ayun

    Those lines- a word dropping out of a long sentence- are truly beautiful. The poem is beautiful, of course, but your succinct analysis was lovely too.
    Make the foreign language your own.

    December 10, 2009 at 5:58 pm

  2. Amma

    you know, that’s how I feel everytime I get off at Andheri station; or rather when I am pushed out of the train by the crowd

    March 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm

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