The Express click clacks into Howrah
on a nippy silver-grey morning.
Steel wheels squeal to a stop.
Flurry of activities off the track.
A torrent of humanity in the city by the Hooghly River.
Indeed this is the City of Joy
where beggars brandish their sores and shake off the winter.
The strong smell of beedi.
from people huddled
around tea and food stalls.
Packed buses and battered trams
hurtling past old, crumbling buildings.
Half-naked people inside unused drains
Stray dogs, squatting pissers,
dark factory chimneys.
like the interchangeable name,
the sights of the city change
from English grandeur
to Bengali geniality
with equal ease.
Waterloo Street, Jackson Lane, Elgin, Dalhousie Square
Dharmatala, Bowbazaar, Tollygunj, Belighata,Chowringhee.
Palatial mansions, British memorials, monuments.
The Royal Calcutta Club serving English cookies and afternoon tea.
They clamour for space
among brisk crowd, reckless traffic,
sadhus, street hawkers,
handcarts drawn sometimes by horse
sometimes bare-chested men–a poverty striptease.
A forced but passionate mixture
of the East and West is Kolkata,
Where Bengali babus with tastes of
the English gentleman
complain about life in a dying city,
talk about Tagore, Marx,
the metropolitan problems—
they recall the heyday of the Raj,
and gulp down a rich pudding at Flury’s,
talking about Kolkata’s destitute and starving.
The indifferent human maze on the streets, lanes, buses, trams, the metro.
The various degrees of human degradation at Kalighat.
Blessed Teresa’s home for the hungry, the naked, the crippled, the blind.
The flesh-trading labyrinthine ghettos.
In Kolkata, a perfection-seeking youth
learns the bitter lesson
that life is not a textbook, all shimmery.
It is to learn from those
who find bits and pieces of happiness
amidst their destituteness, dispossession
From a frail little granny wearing
a wrinkled sari, siting near a culvert
smiling, combing the dark tresses
of a little girl looking at passersby
with cool eagerness.
It is to take heart
from the fact that
there are lives in this city
who show how to squeeze
from their private misery.