The Ballad of the Labourer’s Daughter

Have you seen the nests they are building with everything we left behind?

Can they see our broken homes from their heights?

Do they not feel the resentment plastered on their walls?

Can they not smell your sweat flowing in their drains?

Or feel my mother’s tears wetting their streets?

Those happy faces I see through the glass windows

Seem like ghosts stuck in the peepal tree rooted in your stories

The crane came in the night

It always comes in the night

Raising its head like a snake ready to bite

This wall that lies ruined was the face of our fort

You built it yourself brick by brick

“That way our house will be just as strong as the tower next door”, you said.

It was a tiny palace behind the castle, but it was ours.

On days when you’d be too tired to tell bedtime stories

We made up stories out of the crevices in your hands

Those scars you won in a battle

Those scratches were from crawling through the trenches

Your bony fingers were hiding your superhuman strength

My father was a war hero everyday

In the mornings you’d be gone before our dreams ended

I never once wondered if you’d dreamt anything at all!

Our school was beyond the railway tracks

You would help us cross them every day

A shepherd flocking his herd

“They’re making another building, next to school” I’d say

You’d just smile and say

“That’s for you to stay in when you grow up”

I’d look up and wonder

All that hard work just to be locked up in a tower?

In the nights when our palace was silent

I’d hear your whispers through the walls

I’d touch them so your words would flow through me

Your stories of everyday valour

Some nights I even heard your laughter

It was rare but when it came

It beamed like lightening through the walls and touched my heart

The night the crane came in

You picked me up in your arms

You couldn’t see but I was staring at my books in the corner

My only friends at the time

I tried very hard to hide my tears on your chest

You thought it was the heat of the night making you sweat

I didn’t know then but my dreams that night were my best

The hum of the machine pierced through the night

As if singing a chorus to the lament of our crumbling walls

You held me tighter with each thud

You were turning yourself into my fort

Suddenly I heard nothing, not my mother’s sobs or the crumbling walls

I looked up and you were smiling down at me

“Time to build a new nest”, you said.

Sketch by Daniel David Talegaonkar

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