Father Returning Home – Dilip Chitre
Dilip Chitre is one of best known poets, independent India has produced. He wrote in both English and Marathi which was his mother tongue. Apart from writing poetry, he dabbled in painting and film making too. Most of his writing is centered on Mumbai where a lack of security or a sense of belonging and alienation were problems encountered by people who came to the city in search of livelihood.
The theme of this poem is modern man’s estrangement with the manmade world. Ironically, the manmade world teams with people but man grows more and more remote from those around him. This estrangement is reflected even in his relations with his family. When the old man comes home after a tiring day at work, there is no one to care for him or engage him in conversation. The tragedy of the old man is not unique but one that is seen commonly in cosmopolitan cities.
The shabby old man is the archetype of the individual who faces alienation in society. This is a common theme in literature all the world over. When we first see the old man, he is travelling home in the crowded train sandwiched by other silent commuters. Dressed in soiled clothes marked by the dirt and squalor of the teeming city in the intense conditions of the monsoon, the old man watches the city flying past. The description of the old man emphasizes his weariness and isolation. He is well beyond the age to work but he plods on as he needs to earn money. His departure from the train is also unremarkable, “like a word dropped from a long sentence”. No one notices his entry into the house as he is left to drink his tepid tea and eat his chapatti in silence. Even his thoughts on man’s estrangement in the modern world have to be in the privacy of his toilet without an audience. He has a family but they do not bother to bring any mirth or joy into his life. It is only when he sleeps that he has animated dreams; he dreams of his country being run over by the conquering hordes of nomads.
The narrator of the poem is the son of the central character, the old commuter, who seems alienated from those around him. The narrator describes his father with brutal honesty that is not tinged by sympathy or feelings. The father travels by the late evening train squashed between masses of other commuters all wending their way home. He is wet and dirty and well beyond the age to work but he has to plod along during monsoon rains which render roads into pools of slush. The city speeds past his yellowing eyes which register nothing. The son seems to hover behind like a ghost as he watches his father get off the train. His exit is uneventful like, “a word dropped from a long sentence”.
Even at home his isolation does not ease. He has to drink weak tea in silence while munching on stale chapatti or bread. Even the profound question of man’s estrangement in society has to be pondered upon in the complete privacy of the toilet. These thoughts cause him to shiver when he comes out. Though he has children, they do not make any attempt to bring mirth to his life. It is only when he falls asleep listening to the static on the radio that there is some animation in life. His dreams are full of the images of conquering hordes that overrun the country.
Societal alienation is a theme Chitre returned to time and time again. Though the narrator is the son, the tone is sharply unsentimental. The language used is contemporary. The vivid phrases help us visualize the picture of a shabby uncared for old man wending his way home. In this teeming city he is friendless and at home too this loneliness finds an echo.