Bengalis on platforms at Venice Mestre

a poem by Madhucchanda Sen

The train ride was long
But longer was the waiting for it.
The night descended on a lonely ‘Binario Uno’ (or was it ‘Binario Due?)
As we waited for the overnight train to Rome
with a ‘Chilometrico’ ticket in my pouch.
The Venice air was still about us.
The excitement still alive; that we had been to Venice!
The smell of the water and clothes lines over it,
from the Jewish Ghetto still lingered,
The sound of the wings of the pigeons fluttering
over San Marco still resounded,
The dreams of The Bridge of Sigh still haunted us,
As my eyelids became heavy, as heavy as my head
felt against his neck.
He nervously kept awake – watchful, as his tired
wife felt safe in this strange land.
Two men sat too close smoking and clattering
away in that lyrical language,
Which made him even more nervous as he tried
to keep me awake.
‘Allora’ the train came!
And he hurriedly woke me up.
And in that half dream, half reality we saw him
and we heard him and we felt him.
The young, the dark, the thin face,
The deep dark eyes as deep as the waters of Padma,
The trembling voice as fragile as a small
togor tree in the monsoon wind
The heavy load that he bore on his shoulder
as heavy as the sadness in his heart.
The anxiousness in his voice as anxious as the
lonely kokil on the first day of the Spring.
The words floated to us with their unbelievable familiarity.
It was Bangla, that he spoke! And so did his mates
Dark figures in the Italian moon running along
with the train with sacks of umbrellas
‘Aah! Hurry up!’ said their leader.
Exasperated by their clumsiness…
‘But where where?’ ‘In which compartment?’
‘Brother please…’
Their hushed voices whispering out their
alarmed cries.
We stood inert as their leader pushed them inside,
as he tumbled and nearly fell.
And then I thought he saw us: two familiar forms
in the unfamiliar darkness
He looked at our embarrassed eyes
with his sad and urging look.
His eyes told us that our eyes had told him
where we came from.

He hadn’t come in search of culture,
Venice wasn’t the city of Love for him,
Whether facade of San Marco bore traces of an
oriental connection mattered little to him,
He hadn’t read about Shylock or Cassanova,
He hadn’t heard of the glass from Murano,
He had never even been to a museum,
He hadn’t longed to be in the Renaissance land.
But there he was in front of us with
his bundle of umbrellas…
Umbrellas for Italian bella’s.
With no roof over his head!
It took us long – quite long to reach Rome.
As we woke and fell asleep intermittently,
huddling together
In our romantic dreams of togetherness
and of educated amazement.
Two respectable tourists – in search of
the Italian culture.
Not far away he huddled with his mates,
With fears of what the next day would be like,
Too tired with the burden of uncertainty to even
dream of his ma’s kindly face
A lost Refugee – in search of some unknown

The gray morning mist covered the wet platform
as we got off.
We couldn’t see them any more.
But we could see the golden hair of our friend
welcoming us at the end of the platform
We rejoiced with delight – our quest for
the Roman culture.
And yes! We forgot him.

(Morrissey’s song
‘Bengali in Platforms’
always strikes a strange chord inside me.)