The Rickshaw Puller of Calcutta By Saima Afreen

The Rickshaw Puller of Calcutta

Sunset was never his home
He lives in his two hands
Two feet.

The wooden vehicle is his soul
Its handles whip the thick dust
In arteries of New Market
Flushing streamers of Christmas trees and soft jingles
On silver screen of New Empire Cinema Hall.

His skin and bones were shown there once
In Do Beegha Zameen.

It doesn’t matter to me
How he maps his two yards
Paddling through Monsoon gurgles
Of Ripon Street, Burra Bazaar
Past a fat cussing woman who tosses
A five rupee coin in the gutter of his soul
The stink is of a green chilli, a tiny onion
A handful of sattu.

He kneads the maps of villages in Bihar,
And cements the cracks
In his face
Silent. Neutral. Unmoved.
The haze of too-green trees tires him
The flush of red on Calcutta Corporation buildings
Leaks from his feet.

He runs, streets flash past his blood
Tea-shops zoom in with their china
A masthead flattens his picture
Muddled, wrinkled.

His face was always a lantern for lonesome passengers.

They bury his story in two inches column
The dawn wakes up to the lost song
Of a brass bell in bony palms
Now pinned to cold stars
Dripping on a Wasim Kapoor canvas.

Do Beegha Zameen – A famous Bollywood movie on sad plight of rickshaw pullers
Sattu – Dry, roasted, powdered grams that serve as meal for the poor in India
Wasim Kapoor – A famous artist of Calcutta who painted a series of works on rickshaw wallahs

By Saima Afreen


Saima Afreen is an award-winning poet who also moonlights as a journalist with The New Indian Express. Her poems have appeared in several national and international journals like Indian Literature, HCE Review, The Bellingham Review, The Stillwater Review, The McNeese Review, The Nassau Review, The Oklahoma Review, Staghill Literary Journal, The Notre Dame Review, Honest Ulsterman, and Existere among others. She has been part of literary festivals and platforms such as Sahitya Akademi Poets’ Meet, Goa Arts and Literary Festival, TEDx VNR-VJIET, Prakriti Poetry Festival, Betty June Silconas Poetry Festival (New Jersey) and Helsinki Poetry Jam. She was awarded Villa Sarkia Writers Residency (Finland) for autumn 2017 where she completed the manuscript of her debut poetry book ‘Sin of Semantics and Other Poems’.

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