This is a country for the rich

whose work we willingly do

The summers are so hot

We inhale the Sun with the dust

and drown it in us with hot black tea

The rains wash and rewash us

Yet we never get cleaned

Mould grows in our clothes

One of our pair of footwear floated away like a rubber dinghy  with a destination to nowhere

We climbed storeys to live in

And were helped by the water which cooperated to create small rivers

over the roads that had baked our feet

Last week came sudden

sheets of water that  last year was absent

Longing for the outside we stared at the liquid curtain

enclosing  us inside

There will be no work, no pay today

The contractor wants to protect

His cement stock, he is indifferent

To our getting wet, that too we learned

The old man we call “ Tau” sighed

His eyes were wet thinking of dry fields

Of the growing despair in his village

Three years of drought carried off the old

Killed the cattle and drove the youth away

To cities where slums are built with dreams  still intact

 

Somewhere between the Sun and

The water, we learned to build a frail world, fresh fish curry with rice

made us happy Semi-safe hooch

made us happier,as did news of the birth of a second son, whose picture was shown to all, passing around

The mobile phone made us all feel

that there was a family

waiting  back home for us

We wanted to show our mothers and

Wives, the sea, as soon as the kids

were grown up enough for

such a long train journey

Maybe our thekedar would let us use

The servants quarters or the garage

that we ourselves built last, with leftover materials but excellent labour

As we toiled at our last project

We had a life, harsh, no doubt

But still it was money sent to our village

Despite failing crops, mounting debts

Most of all the hope that tomorrow

would somehow be better

 

No one knew that some virus

Was sure to kill, we did not believe it

Many things came, grew and left

In the relentless winds of our village

Some died, some fell sick

The village God and the village vaid

Cured them on the invisible

Prescription of Providence

Our contractors came, told us to go

And left quickly, thrusting a soiled

Five hundred rupee note at each of us

The ones quicker on the uptake

“Borrowed” that from our pliant fingers

Where do we go, how do we leave?

Who will stay back to watch over our

Meagre belongings, which would

Certainly disappear

If left unguarded even in the tenth floor

We sat around in a daze

Then spoke to each other, all of us clueless, the mobile phones

Of our contractors were switched off

The various leaders never ventured out

Except to appear behind microphones

To spout their concern about

The wellbeing of people, who

we realized much later was us!

 

The local population which was always

Suspicious of us, now denounced us

To be carriers of the deadly virus

As if poverty and displacement

Was the womb that bred it quickly

We saw numbers on our TV screens

We first called, then sent messages

Finally took to sending one message

From one phone to one village

To tell all that we were okay, undead yet

We walked due north, with no maps

No food, no water on the pitiless

Summer days, no transport

No choice, no option but to leave

To a home which grew more distant

With our dying hope

Some kind people gave us water

The plastic bottles they gave us

Were more precious as we filled

Them with ditch water, sometimes the odd

common tap which still gave water

not just rust and gurgles

Hunger grew and grew and finally

Died in us, we passed vehicles

Of officials with tinted windows

We stopped looking up with hope

At the sound of motors not meant for us

We carried the most tired ones,

Put them down and encouraged them

With words and finally left them to die

We remembered their names

To tell their families to say a prayer

That elusive hope who had camped

with us in our makeshift rooms

Had left suddenly, without a word

Now who do we pray to and why?

Step by step we trusted our feet

that moved us from nothingness

to that highway of the country

Whereon long vaunted Progress

Will finally ride in, arm in arm

With prosperity reaching even us