Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | January 8, 2013

A Poem: At a Train Station in India

“At a Train Station in India”

I.

At a train station, somewhere

Anywhere

in India

mobs of people everywhere,

sitting, smoking bidis, staring blankly.

Dogs fight in front of the entrance.

A cow wanders unmolested through the interior,

dropping dung on the floor, mooing loudly.

A boy paces across the platform,

past the men urinating onto the tracks,

past the rows and rows of families

lined up in as orderly a manner as anything else I would encounter in India—

this is where they will sleep tonight—

with his tea kettle, calling out rhythmically

the unofficial anthem of India:

Cha – chaaaiiii.”

Varanasi

Varanasi

II.

The ride to Varanasi is short.

I sit by the window

and watch the uninteresting scenery of the Ganga plain,

watch the people defecate in their fields.

A little boy with no legs scurries down the isle,

sweeping the garbage off the floor.

His head remains down,

conveying his diligence,

his total consumption by his task,

his humility, his inferiority.

He sweeps quickly,

only looking up to ask for money.

The chai man steps over him.

Cha-chaaaaiiii!”

III.

On a train from Varanasi to Calcutta,

There are two people sleeping in my bunk,

refugees from overcrowded third-class.

I show another passenger my ticket—

I encounter no train workers during the whole ride—

and he helps me get them to move aside.

The long ride is made worse

by minor stomach problems.

I ride with a family of rough, friendly Kashmiris.

After nearly twenty-four hours, I arrive in Calcutta.

IV.

Calcutta is the city of my dreams.

As much as I have dreamt of ancient ruins,

empty beaches and mountaintops,

I have dreamt of Calcutta.

An Aussie in Apia—a man who made his living installing ATMs in third world

countries—

once told me it was the worst place on Earth.

The poverty of Calcutta captured my imagination,

the only place on Earth

where rickshaws are still pulled

by men on foot rather than bicycles;

a place where people live on the street,

not solitary individuals,

but entire families.

And they live there with such dignity!

They clean their dishes;

bathe, with soap, in their underwear on the corner.

Calcutta is indeed the city of my dreams.

V.

There is something about Indian poverty

that makes it seem worse than any other.

India’s poverty, like everything else there,

is more.

More of everything.

The poor of India are not only poor,

they lie in the street,

bleeding and dying.

They are not merely sick;

they are lepers.

VI.

As I set out one morning in search of work,

there are men in their underwear,

lathering their bodies with soap,

bathing on the corner.

Women wash clothes and dishes.

A leper tugs at my sleeve;

I give him some change.

Another man lay on the corner on his back, moaning,

his body covered with boils.

There is a small cup next to him.

I cringe as I step over him,

and cringe again,

ashamed at my discomfort.

VII.

Further along a group of children

play on a pile of garbage

Dirty, but somehow impervious

to the stench,

seem somehow to float above it.

They smile.

Theirs is not the expectant smile

of the rickshaw driver,

but the smile of pure joy.

I remember there is a slum in Calcutta called “The City of Joy”.

I walk through the slums,

past the smells.

The smells of India!

Bidis and incense,

cow dung and curry,

Pictures of the place are always insufficient

because they cannot capture its smell.

Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple

VIII.

I ride on to the Taj Mahal,

which the great Indian poet Tagore

called a great teardrop.

Indeed, it does look like a giant tear,

falling up,

from the tormented land, into the endless, burdenless sky.

And India itself recalls a giant teardrop,

falling slowly from the Himalayas into the Indian Ocean,

the crying earth matching a crying, dying people,

flowing from the confusion of this land,

where sense and order are always sought but never attained,

into the great, simple ocean,

where salt and water and life do not feel the need to be

separated, ordered, understood.

I sit peacefully and write in the shadow of the Taj Mahal,

waiting until it is time to return to the train station.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

IX.

Indian tea is not merely chai,

But masala chai

Mixed.

I ride on to Haridwar to study with a Sadhu

Who teaches me little,

But asks me often for money.

He is sick

From drinking holy Ganga water

“God is Ganga,” he says.

Haridwar is a holy city.

Each night, the people come down to the Ganga

at the Hari-Ki-Pairi Ghat

and leave tiny boats with candles floating down the river,

candles carrying wishes.

I am not sure,

but I guess the wish rests in the flames.

If the candle reaches the sea,

the wish is fulfilled.

I stare at the army of wishes,

doubting any will make it.

I think of all that has been put in the river:

Dead bodies and garbage and wishes.

Plastic bags float alongside holy candles

in this holiest of rivers.

It is purely Indian, like chai:

Masala.

India, 2000

Originally published in Handprints on the Womb

Puri Sunset

Puri Sunset

All Photos taken by Theodore Richards

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