On a Chennai Suburban Train
written by: Abraham Patrick
The sudden violent clatter of a drum chokes
the cluttering rhythm of the suburban train coach
cutting into passengers loud and lousy chatter
slicing the muted monologues of monotonous matter
and drowning the whining whirl of fans overhead.
A drum beating frail sareed woman
and a pony-tailed girl of six or seven
with ruddy lips, cherry plump, well-fed,
polished nails and toes, silken dressed
and made up face, take centre stage.
She sings and dances to a popular Tamil number
muffled by the beating drum and the train’s clatter
then some flips and somersaults again and again
balancing her petite body on the jostling train
mechanical, vacant like the speeding train.
Her act done, the drum becomes silent, calm
with a bowl in hand, she asks for alms
most part freely with two rupee coins
manipulated to charity by naive innocence.
Alms collected, into the exit aisle she retreats.
Both fall silent waiting for another station
for another coach and begin all over again.
As she waits, she drifts into a dream to linger
prying the cracks in the wall with her little finger
a short interlude to dwell in childhood.
Her fate to be a breadwinner child
and miss the sparkle of childhood wild.
Or lucky to miss the fuss, groomed
in the sterile uniformed classroom,
coerced into adulthood too soon.
A doused lamp among a million snuffed out lamps
by senile wars, clawing poverty and exploiting vamps.
Her body, doomed, like other lasses, in the womb
to be bartered across counters gloom
buds nipped, never ever to bloom.