The train, like a pakhawaj drum, kept time with Adinath's obsessive thoughts
as he sat pensively in dark suit pants, clean shirtsleeves and socks.
The business meeting in Agra could determine his family's wealth -
so much depended on him, too much depended on him.
Narmada rocked back and forth, a murmuring bundle at her breast,
her contended babe and the smell of her milk helped her ignore the squalor and dust.
The child, Nalini, depended on her, there was no one else in her world,
with cardboard and plastic for a home, a dirt floor and rags for a bed.
Adinath scoured his notes fearful of missing some crucial point;
his mother said “If work were prayers, Adinath would be a saint”.
The men in his family believed that hard work brought success
and the wealth to do good deeds - compassion was the core of their faith.
Narmada wept softly; last night the leper’s life had passed.
His suffering had taught her empathy, she had seen behind his mask,
beyond his silence and distance; ashrams could not teach as much.
She wept tears of regret for her brief moments of disgust.
Adinath pictured his pious mother filtering water from the jar
in accordance with her beliefs that no one should cause harm
to any form of life; the greatest or the least –
she believed all creatures have souls. Adinath followed this creed.
Narmada’s shanty clung to a hillside beside the Varanasi line;
like hundred’s of others around Kanpur, a great city now in decline.
Her husband, a railway gangman, died doing his low paid job;
Narmada was left destitute, forced to live like a Dalit.
Adinath’s train, passed endless villages, fields of rice and lotus ponds,
crossed the Ganga at Allahabad, turned North West and hurried on.
Sleep of a very different kind came to these two in northern India,
Adinath rocked in a speeding train, and the impoverished Narmada.
Waking to grey morning light and the sound of a train rolling by,
Narmada stepped from her rubbish and rags and looked up into the eyes
of Adinath. From his window he surveyed the scene of suffering
and the girl in a torn sari; his decision determined both destinies.