Long Walk to Nowhere
There is sickness in the air
Cover your face and stay at home
Lock down everything for a month
Only worry, to keep us company.
We do not know.
Only cops, with lathis in hand.
We are only labourers and migrants-
Outcasts and unwanted after our work is done.
We are the illegitimate children
Of a penthouse city
With its head in the skies
And feet in the slums.
The pavement makes a poor house
The sidewalks are no shelter
Monsters prowl the streets at night
Taking the women, the money, the kids.
And so we walked
With our riches on a sack
Balanced upon our heads
And strips of clothes around our face
Back to our homes 900 miles away.
On a chilly dawn we woke and walked.
Through the burning sun we walked.
Through the forge we walked.
Through the hazy sunset we walked.
And through the balmy night we walked.
While the leaders reclined
And relaxed in their AC rooms
While they watched reruns
Of old TV Shows
While their kids tested out
Their culinary skills
Against the tired eyes
Fighting the pain and ache
Resisting the inky weariness
In the early hours of the morning
We sat and rested our bodies
And ate dry bread and roti
And while our spirits ran on home
We stretched out for a nap.
The railroad tracks make a poor bed
But it seemed the hard concrete
And the cold steel
Were made of the softest down.
Jacob laid his head on a stone
And saw a ladder up to heaven.
In our stupor drugged with fatigue
Fatigue stronger than morphine
The railroad seemed a long, long ladder
That stretched out into the infinity.
The yellow lamp of the freight train
Was but a halo of the blessed
We heard the song of angels
In the long hoot of that whistle.
On that long walk to nowhere
We boarded life’s railroad to heaven
On a freight train that clanged its way up
Up through Jacob’s ladder.
*Lathi– a long, heavy bamboo stick used by Indian police as a baton
*Roti– a round flatbread native to the Indian subcontinent
Note: On March 24, 2020, the Indian Government had announced a surprise lockdown in the wake of the CoviD-19 pandemic, suspending all transport including road, air and rail, and all industry and labour, exempting only essential services. The Police enforced the lockdown by lathi-charging anyone who stepped out without a satisfactory reason. With no work, no money, no food, and no adequate place to stay (many used to sleep on pavements or in front of shop-shutters), thousands of migrant workers walked or bicycled hundreds of kilometres to go back to their native villages. Many were arrested, some died of exhaustion, and some in accidents. On 8 May 2020, around 16 migrant labourers who were walking back home after being stranded without food or work during the nation-wide lockdown in India, fell asleep on the railway tracks, assuming that it was safe as all bus and train services had been halted. They were run over by a freight train in the early hours of the morning.