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Nov 22, 2018

Father Returning Home: Dilip Chitre

Bijay Kant Dubey

My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart. His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.
He hurries across the length of the grey platform,
Crosses the railway line, enters the lane,
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.

Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man's estrangement from a man-made world.
Coming out he trembles at the sink,
The cold water running over his brown hands,
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him. He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass. 

Father Returning Home as an autobiographical poem by Dilip Chitre brings in the memory of his father tarvelling home, returning back to from the workplace just as a daily commuter leaving for in the morning and coming back to during the night-time. Through the image of his father, the poet actually wants to reflect upon the time-spirit, our society and culture. How the conventions, trends and traditions, norms and nomenclature change in due course of time and are in a flux? The image of a father waiting to board, alighting from, coming home with a bag, going to, on the platform, in the train, hurrying down, are the images and pictures of daily commuters, daily passengers which we often come across. His thoughts and ideas are those of a commuter swapping in between the home and the workplace. The modern times are hard times and to sustain under such is not an easy job.

Father Returning Home by Dilip Chitre is a picture of a father boarding the train to reach the workplace and returning from at night by the late night-time train which is but his routined affair, day-to-day business, he going in the morning and returning from after the work. So, as a result of that very coming and going, he often remains away from the home leaving it all. Even when he comes, who cares for whom? The family members remain busy with their own activities. The poor father has all that to do and to attend do. When he leaves, he is but a lonely and when he comes, he is but a lonely man. What there in the life of a daily commuter? Life spends as thus in commuting in between, shuttling between the home and the office. When he boards the train for the return journey, one among the commuters he stands in the compartment lit with the yellow light burning dimly, suburbs slide past and he unaware of it all lost into the thoughts of his. With a bag full of books, he alights from the train on the platform during the monsoon night. His clothes have wet a bit. The black raincoat and the chappals too are stained with mud. But apart from crossing the grey platform, the railway lines, he takes to the lane to lead to and to reach home.

Father Returning Home by Dilip Chitre is a picture of a father going to the workplace and returning back to as a commuter commuting daily which is but modern life, the compulsions of it difficult to be denied. The poem is not merely the picture of Chitre's father, but everybody's father. It is a specialty of the poet he can turn the commonplace things into a beautiful topic of deliberation. The humdrum and nuances of daily life seconded by a queer monotony punctuate this modern urban life of ours as some sort alienation and exile, angst and bewilderment have already a sway over us in this way or that way. The course of life too is not the same. Things keep changing, taking an unexpected turn in this age of displacement and dislocation and we are bound to be as we are helpless on this point. A commuter's life-style cannot be fixed. Today here, tomorrow where? Life runs keeping in view time, distance, routine, workload and distance. Father in the train boarding and going, returning back, standing in the midst of the commuters and the yellow lights burning dimly, the train stopping and he alighting from, hurrying down, crossing the railway line to be back home, these are the pictures of life which but a daily commuter can say and feel about. 

There is so much to mean it here as well as so much left to our conjecture. His getting off from the train is like a word dropped from a sentence. There is none concerned with his getting down, dropping down from the train with so many bogies and so many people dropping and getting down. In the crowds, who to care for whom? 

The opening lines of the poem tell of the things connected with the life of a commuter commuting in between the office and the house which is but taxation:

My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes

How have we got dislocated and disconnected? Apart from the description, there is something of our family system too in it. How do we pretend? How pragmatic and pontifical is our social hierarchy? Such a thing used to be in practice in our older joint family systems too. The aged and the old used to live in the outside adjacent bungalows. But it is difficult to be an ascetic, a hermit. The Vanprastha withdrawing from the world and handing over of the responsibilities to the younger ones may be also the talk of the discussion.

The shirt and pants of his father are wet and soggy, the black raincoat stained with mud and the bag stuffed with books. Let us see him:

His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books

The below-quoted two lines from the poem tells of the change in situation as for father retuning home, a word dropped from a sentence:

Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.

Is the toilet the place of meditation and reflection for the modern man? Man’s estrangement from the man-made world is the thing of discussion herein. How much estranged has he become from life and the world? Man-made world has the limitations of its own. 

He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man's estrangement from a man-made world.

Father Returning Home is a picture of a father returning home just as a commuter leaving the station in the morning and coming back by the night and similar is the story of his which but he paints and pictures in this poem; is an image sketched and drawn in words reflecting on this come and go of modern life and living. When to share with him? What care has he got from? He comes as a loner and returns back to the workplace as a loner loning on the ways of life. Our modern life too has become so busy and fast that there is no time to see anyone. We too have become so much self-centred.

A father's picture recollected by a son, seen from far just as a man going as a wayfarer, traveller, passer-by; a pedestrian, commuter and in this shuttling in between the house and the workplace which but is the order of the day, modern life and living life will pass away as thus.

His children refuse to share the hearty talks with him, the sullen children of his the jokes and secrets with him. How much have we undergone? The modern life is so centred that we have no time to take and share with.

His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him.

An old man, what has he to share with; a commuter, what has he left with to enjoy in a company if his daily routine of life is otherwise? Listening to the radio, dreaming of  his ancestors, thinking of the way through which the Aryans made an entry into India, he sleeps down.

He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.

The title is just and appropriate as far as the description and the narrative are concerned. The poet describes not only the coming and going of his father, but of everybody whosever is a commuter split in between the workplace and the house. The other thing too is this that our attitude to the old too has been pragmatic. In the modern age the situation has worsened and we need to build the old age homes to rehabilitate them as for the changing scenario.

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