On most evenings, I encounter a group of daily-wage labourers on their way home, after a day’s hard labour in the heat of the unmerciful tropical sun. As I glance at their faces and figures, there is something of them that holds on to my mind, refusing to leave.
Something unspoken that is communicated.
Something that I attempt to define in my words here…
It is late evening, but my day is far from its close. On my task list for the day, there are still chores that need to be ticked off. As I encounter cars and bikes recklessly overtaking each other, I realize that I am in par with the world around me-
Rushing, and heedless to the voice of the setting sun.
I slam the brakes as the guard at the railway crossing levers the gate into closure. Minutes tick by, and a train eventually shows up, its engine screaming. I see passengers looking out of their windows- people travelling to definite destinations. I wait restlessly, counting the bogies, desperately trying to read the destination painted in block letters on each bogie. As the last bogie disappears from view, I find myself glaring at a stretch of railway tracks that seem to chase this bogie, now a miniature figure in the distance.
The slanting rays of the sun fall on the tracks, and I catch sight of sun-burnt bodies walking on the track. There are men and women, young and old. Some are carrying spades and hoes, while others have cloth bundles on their shoulder. A day’s hard work peers from their faces, against a backdrop of chronic struggle.
I hear them talking about the day- the labour of the day, the injuries they sustained, the meal they shared, the betel leaves thereafter, the fight they picked up with the mason, and much more. They talk in shrill chaos.
There is the profound absence of ‘tomorrow’ in their conversations.
A woman laughs aloud at a joke, while a child wails, crying for a sweetmeat. An old man walks with slow strides- a stooping figure clinging on to the support of a walking stick, his frail structure concealed by a torn blanket that he has wrapped around himself.
Only a face coarsened by life remains exposed, and eyes perhaps lost in the sheer truths of reality peer at the ground with unshaken steadiness.
On the horizon, I see the sun beginning to set. The railway track stretches out infinitely, as if tracing a path leading to the setting sun. And on the tracks, these men and women pace steadily, like dismantled bogies of a train, on a journey to the world of the setting sun.
With dusk, the sun seems to play games. It blurs the image of these figures in the distance, almost transforming them into illusions. Have they reached their destination?
Perhaps yes. One night, I see them scattered on a heath, talking and laughing as a pot of gruel cooks on the fire. As they eat from their poor bowls, the sound of their excited voices and laughter resonates in the silence, and I see a world far removed from the world that I belong to.
The world defined by the confines of four walls of a mansion, with only the sound of television- a sound that breaks the silence of the mansion, but fails to penetrate the lonely silence of the heart.