By Debarshi Mitra
In my memory it is still an almost empty platform, although rationality dictates it couldn’t have been. After all, it was a busy Monday morning and surely no inch of Sealdah station could afford that luxury on a weekday. But every now and then when that old memory resurfaces it’s always on a semi deserted platform that my grandparents are standing, waiting for us (my mother and I) to take off to a new city, their spectacles misty and lips trembling as they waved at us frantically, desperate for a fleeting glimpse.
It was not as if that it was to be the last time I saw them. Far from it, it was after all a family ritual to go back to Kolkata every time the summer holidays commenced. But perhaps retrospectively speaking of course, even then 9-year-old me realised in an instinctive way that it wasn’t really going to be the same, that subsequently I was destined to go back as an outsider, a temporary guest although valued nonetheless but still someone whose life is gradually seeking a new anchor, a sensibility that is now being shaped by a different city both geographically and culturally.
On the night before the day we were scheduled to leave Kolkata for New Delhi, my mother abruptly woke me up. In a voice of apprehension and concern, she asked me whether I really wanted to go to Delhi where my father was already working. Burdened with this pivotal question, I was for some time at a loss of words and then suddenly blurted out that I did.
Looking back I always wondered what prompted me to say what I did. Was it just pragmatism alone? I’m now inclined to believe that it wasn’t so. Perhaps there was a selfish motive too, one of exploration, an impulse already so strong that I was prepared to sacrifice the familiar, the affections of cousins and grandparents and the camaraderie of my friends for the prospect of finding myself confronting the unknown.
In the ‘Rajdhani’ my mother was uncharacteristically silent that day. She kept gazing at platforms outside while the ‘Rajdhani’ sped past them, past the paddy fields and the temples, the streets and the factories, the garbage piles and impoverished men in decrepit houses. I did little to break the spell of silence. For my part, I was wondering about what the outcome might have been, had I said that I didn’t really want to go. I felt then what I felt later in my life on only a select few occasions, that I was in the midst of a significant moment, experiencing a turning point in my own life, the awareness of having made an irreversible choice and therefore having myself exposed to all its myriad implications.
Almost 15 years since that train journey, I have, I think with some degree of success, embraced the city I live in. I think of it as my home. In some ways I’m complicit in its malpractices and misdemeanour and owing to some inexplicable reasons I have begun writing poems and publishing them. It is as if I’ve been possessed while writing them, driven by an invisible force, compelled by lines crowding my headspace.
There is only one poem that eludes me, one that speaks of the inescapable melancholy of watching at night paddy fields through a train window or flickering yellow lights of hutment dwellers in pitch black darkness while speeding past them at 120 kms/hour.
Even to this day on my train rides alone, I try to compose that poem. I think of rootlessness and rootedness, and whether it is a geographical condition alone. Aren’t we all after all displaced in time? I know there are no easy answers to these questions but I’m not looking for them either. On most nights alone I think of a moss grown platform, moonlight on paddy fields, or of eyes behind misted spectacles.
Debarshi Mitra is a 22-year-old poet from New Delhi, India. His debut book of poems, Eternal Migrant was published in May 2016 by Writers Workshop. His works have previously appeared in anthologies like Kaafiyana and in literary magazines like The Scarlet Leaf Review, Thumbprint, The Punch Magazine and Leaves of Ink among various others. He was the recipient of the runner up prize for The Wingword Poetry Contest. He was also the recipient of the 9th Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Travel: Cities, Places, People’, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, academic, Kolkata, India.