First Letter Home From A Migrant Worker In Mumbai

photo of trash lot on shore
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Dear Mama and Papa,

 

Despite our differences

It has broken my heart to leave our village

To leave you so very, very far behind

 

This astonishing city holds many challenges

Yet, you may rest peacefully

I am happy, safe and well

 

I am writing to tell you of my first great accomplishment

Please excuse my lack of modesty

But I am absolutely sure

Almost sure

You will be beacons of pride

 

I have visited Chowpatty Beach

And stood shoulder to shoulder

Amongst the elite of Mumbai

On the most celebrated and prestigious

Rubbish dump in all of India

 

For a poor village boy

It is truly a sea of inspiration

No well, no river

But an ocean of plastic bottles

Stretching further than the eye can see

Farther than the mind can dream

 

I am so grateful for your sacrifices

Your lifetime of simple meals

Fruit, veggies, dhal, chapatis

To give me this opportunity

This golden wandering

Through potato chip packets

Ice cream wrappers

Even paper plates

 

This isn’t just trash

This is cash

And you know what?

I couldn’t resist removing my sandals

To feel Lakshmi’s love

Dusting my feet

 

 

 

And the sea

The sea harbours such indescribable smells

No outdated salt

Or bygone fish

But bouquets of industry, progress, exports

I’ve heard it said they’re channelled

In a pipeline from Malabar Hill

To serve as a reminder

Such beautiful pollution

Is attainable for us all

 

Mumbai couldn’t be what it is

Without Bollywood fantasy fiction

I have heard a most entertaining fable

About a mythical palace called Antilia

A palace of such treasures

It could not exist on this earth

I believe it serves as an inspiration

That no matter how great one wealth

There’s no harm in coveting more

 

Back in the real world

I am enclosing three hundred and twenty rupees

A small contribution

But Chowpatty has strengthened my resolve

To become more than you or I

Ever dreamed I could be

I am also enclosing half of a paper plate

I took as a souvenir

I was tempted to take two

But wish my successes

To be tempered with the humility

You have instilled in me

Please show it to my siblings and cousins

As the oldest, I need to be the strongest of role models

 

You have brought me up not to take without giving

So I dropped my bus ticket on the sand

May it serve as a symbol

I am a man of the modern worls

A capitalist, a Mumbaikar

 

Your loving son

 

 

 

Sweeping

The Sikhs’ magnificent Harmandir, or Golden Temple, is the centrepiece of the temple complex in the holy city of Amritsar. Tourists are welcome, and when i visited, I saw the following act of humility which on the surface looks small, but which is imbued with huge significance.

Auntie
Respected, Rich
Humbles herself

Auntie
Knowing what pride precedes
Hitches her sari above her feet

Auntie
A forward thinking lady
Descends the stairs

Slowly

Clears her mind
Cleans God’s house
For the pious
For the tourists
For the peasants who spend their lives
Swallowing dust

Not born to be a cleaner
She sweeps
Bare-handed
Right to left
Right to left
Gathering tiny piles
Of unholy dust

Each movement
Physically
A speck of dirt

Each movement
Spiritually
A broadstroke golden universe
Of love and hope

Sweeping
Unkind thoughts
Sweeping
Everyday sins
Sweeping
The one thing
No rug is big enough to cover

Outside
Sweet water reflects
Ten heavenly smiles
Nanak to Gobind

Inside
The eleventh
Pauses its reading
And bookmarks
The purity
Flowing in and out
Of four open doors

Untouchable

On my recent trip
To Gujarat

I took
Numerous
Pretty photographs

Of Modhera
Palitana
Dwarka
The White Desert

And other pretty places

But

The image
I can’t delete
From my heart

My hard drive

Is of a ragged street child
At Vastrapur Lake
Who stepped out
From the promenading crowd

Raised
His left
Index finger
Into the stifling
Late afternoon

Air

And drew
A rectangle
To take
An imaginary selfie

With me