Listen to Sudhanva Deshpande recite the poem

Illustration: Labani Jangi, originally from a small town of West Bengal's Nadia district, is working towards a PhD degree on Bengali labour migration at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. She is a self-taught painter and loves to travel.
PHOTO • Labani Jangi

Illustration: Labani Jangi, originally from a small town of West Bengal's Nadia district, is working towards a PhD degree on Bengali labour migration at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. She is a self-taught painter and loves to travel.

I am a labourer, not a liability

I am just a labourer.
A helper, not helpless
I am also human.
Your skyscrapers stand
on our slaughtered slums.
The walls of your dream homes
are coloured in our sweat.
Yes, I am a nationalist,
a champion of growth.
This metro rail
That sliding highway –
My toil, my blood
is everywhere

Yes, I am self-reliant
I sell sabzi in a cart
Momos on the footpath
I clean the dirt inside your homes
And outside too –
I go down your toxic drains

I sell my right to live
Yes, I am poor
I sell my sweat
You see me these days –
those hordes on the street
I run hither thither
beaten
broken
destroyed
dying
hungry
thirsty
restless on the roads
that lead nowhere
You kick my belly
and break
my fragile sense of self

You are benevolent people.
You allowed us to go home
You are generous people
You allowed us to die
You are so kind
When we said
we would leave
you stopped the buses
We took to the railway tracks
You let the engines run over us
Why did you do that?
Maybe because I am poor

You are sensitive
I know
You are watching the scenes
Watching us walk
With melted sun on the roads
Walking in thousands
You must pity us
You must feel bad
Your eyes must be sad
Thinking of tomorrows

But do not worry.
I am a labourer
Not a liability
I am a human being
just poor.
Trust me,
when things get back to normal
I will come back.
How would you progress
if I didn't come?
How would the cities expand?
How would the country run
like a bullet train?
Of course I’ll come.
I will make roads
I will make bridges
I will make buildings tall
I will take the country forward
with these very hands.
I was a labourer
I am a labourer
and labourer I shall remain.

Audio: Sudhanva Deshpande is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, and an editor with LeftWord Books. 

Anjum Ismail

Anjum Ismail is an independent writer based in Mohali, Chandigarh.

Other stories by Anjum Ismail