Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II



Victoria Terminus.  Named after a Queen whose Raj
has long since ended, it has since been re-baptized 
to honor a more local royal line who gnawed at the
 thick haunches of Empire from the forts and battlements
 whose ruins stud the mountains of the state.  In any case,
neither history has really managed to secure purchase 
on the name.  VT we all call it, just the initials unmoored from
 the name, VT from where long-distance trains spoke out 
to traverse the distances of our sub-continent.

I am not sure why it was the fashion for facades
of colonial railway stations to mimic the lineaments
of Gothic cathedrals.  It stands amid the welter of Bombay 
traffic, its expanse of weighty stone and soaring buttresses
proclaiming its monumental, sacramental status within 
the geography of urban sprawl.  Its thin spires reach tentatively
upwards to touch the pregnant swell of gray monsoon sky.

Even the interior conveys a sense of church; the ornamental
grill of the ticket window suggests a concealed cassock rather
than a harried clerk selling tickets, provokes an impulse 
to confession.  Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  Shrive me,
absolve me. as you sell me my ticket to Poona.  The pale light
filters through the stained-glass windows, an occasional beam
floats across the high dark expanse to touch a transfigured passenger
like the Holy Ghost.  Even the noisiness and clamor seem to flatten out
to hum, the sound of a invisible choir chanting at a distance.

Something about the hunched, patient posture of those 
waiting for long-distance trains reminds me of prayer.  You can
almost hear the whispered words rising like incense, wafting
to the high dark ceiling, reaching out for intercession.  Please
let the train arrive in time, please get me out of here.  Please,
please, let the train be late, postpone the hour of my departure.
Please let her reach her destination safely. Please let him return 
again. Return to me. Return soon.  You can almost smell the sorrow
of impending distance, the scent of anticipated loss, hear the
silent liturgies of aching, breaking hearts.

Eyes gaze dully at the metal of the empty tracks, where
A train will too soon pull in, too soon pull out, carrying
Away those who matter, into the distance that stretches 
beyond the limits of eye's reach, into that vanishing point
where parallel lines meet.