Landless Labourers

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The unpredictability of a migrant labourer’s journey and this cyclonic juncture of life find a confluence in this poem.

The mid-day sun mocks

the motley bedraggled group

on their haunches, at the Labour Chhakka,

beggared for work, for a paltry daily wage,

minus the commission

of the self-styled gang of contractors,

 

— at their mercy, every day.

 

It is too late for a full day’s wage.

I cannot stop my long sigh

drawing exasperation from him;

once we owned land, near the coast,

toiled hard for hours;

joyful as the crops prospered

till that day the winds howled

and the sea waves rose in protest,

we fled into the night.

The Super Cyclone of 1999

ravaged our coast.

Homeless, penniless in a new village,

unwanted, so we built a mud room

beyond their scornful stares.

We strove to earn a daily wage.

 

No land to farm, we carried stones and bricks

to construction sites, endless hours

and life passed us by, for fourteen years;

till the winds howled again as before,

and the seas waves rose in protest,

we fled again into the night,

stranded again, cursed our misfortune.

The children older, furious at their plight.

Cyclone Phailin the radio said,

Climate Change, they said,

again, and yet again, uprooted thousands like us.

We made our way to a city,

strangers, unwelcome migrants,

they hissed, as we sat apart,

lost again, to Mother Nature’s fury.

Landless labourers, they mock us still,

as each day we sit and wait,

beggared for work, for a minimum daily wage.

 

Our frugal lunch, khichdi,

 

has turned bitter in the mid-day heat.

“Come” he says, standing tall,

and I quickly fall in step beside him.

“We will go home today”.

So, we walk to the bus stop and wait,

ignoring the hunger in our bellies,

filled with this unquenched thirst.

I stare at the landscape that floats by as

the bus continues its journey,

to where we once lived.

Three hours later, here we are

and stand in awe

the once familiar land, bears no crops —

and the sea has surged closer,

barely two hundred steps away!

 

I catch my breath, my heart is still —

No succour here, there will be no return.

 

Last May, Fani destroyed our homes.

No work for daily wages, we stayed still

in a circle of acute despair.

And now I sit, today,

waiting for Amphan to strike.

We will be whipped by its fury

and beggared by want.

More humiliation on our weary souls.

Our brothers and sisters

from other states,

are coming back to their villages,

some walking home, then a train

chugged forth, even a bus or two.

Some died on the way.

I worry for their future destinies

together with ours,

Intertwined at the Labour Chhakka.

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