Those who have plenty of rooms and things
in their houses made of bricks and cement
are stranger to —
the family of five
living in a rented one room.
The family of seven
living in a tent of tarpal and bamboo sticks
smaller than your garage.
They come to the city
of windows, roads and souvenirs
with the inheritance of bare hands that know to toil
so they can send envelopes home every month.
Many days, they work more hours
to earn an extra hundred
to buy a pair of socks for their children;
winter is coming.
Many nights, they sleep less hours
eating stale food from apartments they work in
or the crumbs of yesterday.
Saturday nights, sometimes, are delightful for their children
with leftover pizza, fries, and brownies
from madam’s Friday night party on the 25th floor.
One night, the prime minister announced a lockdown with just a few hours’ notice,
and migrants became jobless and homeless.
No jobs. No income. No trains. No buses.
No insurance. No assurance.
Fathers carrying daughters on their backs
mothers carrying a bag with all that they had, and
little boys carrying a night’s meal and a marred bottle of water
they set off to walk to their towns.
Home is 400 miles away,
they walked relentlessly for days.
They were lonely and exhausted
and slept on the tracks,
the cargo train crushed them
No one came to take them home.
No one asked their names.
This country has no rooms for the
Their days are heavy —
heavier than the weight of their bodies.
and nights are long —
longer than a familiar elegy.
I wonder – PM Cares fund? Government? Corporates? Opposition?
Or the obedient ones applauding on their Pinterest balconies?
they scrub every corner of your house on festivals. repair the wheels of your car on a highway. settle the creases off your linen pants. shoulder your corpse till it merges with the soil. open doors for you in the office. peddle a rickshaw to take you inside the small lanes of a local market. make tea at the kiosk you visit everyday to crib about work-life balance. raise your baby while you are out. run errands for you on a sunday. work day and night constructing the building you live in. pick garbage from your doorstep. deliver organic groceries at your address. make delicacies for your house parties. come to mend your fences and wires. look after your garden so you always get to see a piece of spring.
Strange how numbers matter only two times –
during elections and counting deaths.
For the rest, how does it matter?
The government is busy burying its conscience, and
everyone else is too busy making hand-made blindfolds
while they are robbed of the promises they believed in.
Who cares for the lives that are marooned?
The man in the video is collecting spilt milk.
Families are resting on pavements.
A young boy on television is crying.
They have walked miles – hungry and penniless –
and home is still far away.
The last time they ate was last afternoon
when you were in the middle of grieving the lockdown over wine and FaceTime
their pale face splashes a colour of exhaustion.
their scraped shoes long for the sight of their village.
We wake up to days
with (only) minor adjustments of routine
and they slip into the shards of
poverty and negligence.
How we leave them wretched
to be crushed under pandemic,
famine, and trains.
Arsheen Kaur writes and photographs everyday life, and lives in Delhi and Toronto. She works in the development sector and her areas of interest are feminism, society and culture, love, environment, films, and family structures. She is an AJK-Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia graduate. You can find her @arsheenhere on Instagram and Twitter.
Featured image credit: Alex Plesovskich/Unsplash