Once upon a time, a 5 a.m. monster that would screechingly halt
By the local railway station, next to my childhood home
In Calcutta, used to be my mother’s morning alarm.
The memory of that goods train thundering past our abode,
Rocking its flimsy walls is vivid still. Who’d have thought
That a day would arrive when 16 hapless factory workers
Sleeping on the lines would meet one such monster
Never to wake up this time? Images of their bloodied bodies
Scattered on the railway track fill the morning papers.
Crushed under the merciless wheels of an unending curfew.
Homebound on foot, hungry, penniless, and confused.
Some say they might have tried to kill themselves in distress.
But why would these men, only a few hours’ walk away from the station
To catch the train home, throw themselves to death?
The truth is the train of our national economy runs on their gore –
The blood and sweat of nameless labourers sacrificing life and limb,
To keep our dipping economic graph forever chugging along.
Rumours of their recklessness are just to hide that embarrassing fact:
That we’ve got blood on our hands.
© Vidya Venkat (2020)
[I wrote this poem in response to the news of the death of 16 migrant labourers in Aurangabad, who got crushed under a goods train. The monster train is a symbol of our systemic exploitation of the labour of the migrants that keeps our economy afloat at an enormous human cost. Watch me read out this poem on Rattle Magazine’s poetry live show on May 17.]