Introduction

Written by Dilip Chitre, this poem paints the picture of an alienated man returning home from work. The speaker in the poem is this man’s child. The speaker observes his father and describes him as a lonely figure who leads a monotonous life and is burdened by responsibilities.

Poem

Stanza 1

My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart. His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.
He hurries across the length of the grey platform,
Crosses the railway line, enters the lane,
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.

The speaker begins by describing the daily routine of his father. On his way back home after an exhausting day, the speaker’s father travels on the late evening train. He does not engage in any conversations with the other commuters in the train. The silence and the unseeing eyes of the speaker’s father show that he is a lonesome human who finds little joy in the company of others. 

The soggy shirt and pants imply that his job requires a lot of hard work. The father’s muddied raincoat and the dilapidated bag also mean that his own mental and physical state is in a terrible condition. Burdened by the load of work and tired of leading a life of monotony, the speaker’s father is a classic example of the modern man caught in the clutches of a meaningless existence and deprived of all spiritual joy. 

Stanza 2

Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man's estrangement from a man-made world.
Coming out he trembles at the sink,
The cold water running over his brown hands,
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him. He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.

Back to home, the father resumes his same routine of drinking weak tea, eating a stale chapati and reading a book. The speaker observes his father contemplating about the paradox of man’s existence. “Man’s estrangement from a man-made world” here refers to the paradox of man’s existence. Though humans have themselves created their society and chosen to toil each day, most humans remain aloof and alienated from this world that is their own creation. 

His body too seems to be giving up on him as he trembles while walking and has greying hair on his wrists. He is deprived of familial joys because of an emotional rift between him and his children. The speaker’s father is thus a tired man deprived of happiness and weighed down by the unchanging nature of human life. No hopes or joys come his way and he is burdened by the monotony of a dull life. 

Conclusion

The subject of this poem is a father figure who can be equated to any man in today’s world. His life routine can be paralleled to that of any modern day human living a meaningless life in midst of a spiritual crisis. The poem is as much a depiction of the mid-life existential crisis of a hardworking father, as it is a comment on the modern man’s dilemma over his meaningless life. The modern man leads a life with no spiritual or emotional fulfilment, which drains out all his zest and zeal to enjoy life.