Those who do not know history climb the Thar Express,
not its brumal roofs,
as hibernal winds destroy distance,
cloud specters over chullah smoke.
From barren trees,
dusk falls beneath the international train,
blood seeping into benumbed fruit.
The engine noise suicides at Zero-point station —
final point of immigration – perforated edges of identity,
season tickets of contraband memory.
The air nippy along the ears, long checks of passports. blue. green.
A stinging wait for visa in sunset gale,
freezing through smokes from Bidi No. 30,
smells of kababs, and parathas under warm blankets.
On the other side lies a dragnet of overused British-laid rails, for trade.
She peels Sachu’s verses from a locket
over her frayed neck
– an unused key of a rusted trunk
thrown into a well
of hewn ancestors. Years ago.
She quenches starlight in Sachu’s suras: Where crowds are, there I am not.
Those who do not know history, click images of the sun-rouged galaxy,
blood thawing in skies,
chocolate-biscuit wrappings fleeing to artic metal floors
of a carriage of new border-crossings
in old silence of one million basal sighs
disemboguing… ten million permanent scars.
She now translates the sufi’s verses.
Our bond was created for a reason. Slumber has created illusions.
Endless ones from endless books. Moving to fervid cores.
Smuggled agony in an Amritsari museum for refugee-things.
Sindh did not remain, a Sindh mail connecting…
At Munabao, the TC pokes bags, inspecting vegetables in a hotcase,
pulling down beddings, opening suitcases.
Everything is a weapon: a one-year-old child,
a cone of boiled groundnuts,
almonds from a tin, skittering….
The road to Sachu is fraught in old Gurmukhi,
words slipping over postmodern tongue.
I was sitting by the roadside, when the path became clear.
No one wants its cipher to enter Mehran’s alluvial plains,
the Indus River, the Thar desert, the Kirthar Mountains.
Sachu himself was in search of peace. For long.
To forgive the hangover from an inflamed life.
Freezing joints, the train trundles cries, wired borders, mass troops, customs officers.
She will go to Karachi, Hyderabad in Sind, Quetta
in this train for the poor, where everyone carries temperate gifts:
coconuts, elaichis, pressure cookers, paan, cashew.
Many don’t fill forms or know to signature.
They rely on one family-member’s passport for all.
A married daughter who misses chow mein from Hyderabad, India.
A childless Bhilwara millworker travelling to see his nieces.
A Kashmiri shawl merchant visiting his father’s grave.
An Indore jeweler’s parents live on both sides.
A Bollywood hopeful who loves India, more than her parents.
A Nalanda tailor adopted by an Indian uncle for a better life.
A clerk from Palanpur…
A peanut-seller questioned about the limits of
the South Asian Free Trade Agreement.
As the train stalls, time in limbo, she translates Sachu —
If I interpret love for all times, a hundred resurrections will pass; and yet my
commentary will not end.
She waits for momentum now, in any direction:
the savoir-faire of time,
the explicit march of reminiscence,
or just plain exaltation: a levitation.
An alumna of Iowa’s International Writing Program (2015), and Charles Wallace Writer’s fellowship (2017), ROCHELLE POTKAR is the author of The Arithmetic of breasts and other stories and Four Degrees of Separation. Her poems The girl from Lal Bazaar was shortlisted for the Gregory O’ Donoghue International Poetry Prize, 2018; Place won an honorable mention at Asian Cha’s Auditory Cortex; Skirt was made into a poetry film by Philippa Collie Cousins for the Visible Poetry Project; War Specials won 1st Runner up at The Great Indian Poetry Contest 2018.
Winner of the 2016 Open Road Review contest for The leaves of the deodar, her story, Chit Mahal (The Enclave) appeared in The Best of Asian Short Stories, Kitaab International.
Rochelle was editor of the Goan-Irish anthology, Goa: a garland of poems with transcreations by Gabriel Rosenstock, also, of The Collected Works of Joseph Furtado – Golden Goa! and Songs in Exile.
Her reviews have appeared in Wasafiri, Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, Asian Cha, and Chandrabhaga.
Her latest book Paper Asylum is a book of haibun and prose poetry.