Long summer drives in hot Ambassadors,
Pressing noses to burning windows
For afternoon views of cotton plants
That gradually turned golden-brown;
Waiting for the Frooti halt at sundown,
Asleep in the backseat by the time night fell.
Those green indicator lights. That sweet gasoline smell.
The drowsy, nondescript village whose only claim to fame
Was a decrepit railway crossing.
On the left, a fledgling paddy crop,
On the right, “Caution: 22,000 volts”.
Waiting for the distant brown spot
To grow bigger: maybe some “Belgaum-Gorakhpur Superfast”
Which at that moment seemed undeserving of that last
Watching the wheels of the carriages endlessly roll.
The honking vehicles, the smell of petrol.
The dilapidated, “ceased to operate” toll booth,
With its defunct list of “Hon’bles”.
The cars whizzing past with unrestrained glee,
Each now an exempt dignitary.
The racing trucks, every overtaking a cliffhanger
For the smaller fry in mortal danger.
The dead dog, the overturned state transport bus,
The calf that never returned to its mother,
The fleeting glimpse of another’s trauma.
The bloody entrails, the diesel aroma.
The eerie silence of the starry night,
Faint glows in the east and fading moonlight,
The pit stops and pee stops at the crack of dawn.
The icy dew condensed on the windshield,
The morning tea at the edge of a wheat field,
The groggy truck driver with papers in order
Pleading with grumpy policemen at the state border.
The much-dreaded, much-awaited return
Home, back to the daily grind-and-churn.
The all-important quarrels to ring the doorbell.
Those childhood sounds. That gasoline smell.