Father Returning Home: about the poem
Father Returning Home by Dilip Chitre is probably the most famous poem by this Indian poet. It is an autobiographical poem where the poet shows the loneliness and world-weariness of an old man in the modern society by depicting a picture of his own father returning home from work.
The poem is a true account of the poet’s father Purushottam Chitre’s life in 1957 when they moved from Baroda to Mumbai. The poem is expressive of the poet’s feeling for his father at a later stage. He realized how neglected and uncared-for his father was, even after being the lone bread-earner for the family.
But the poem ‘Father Returning Home’ has gone beyond its autobiographical significance. It is now an account of any old man who does the hard work for his family but leads a monotonous life where no one is there to take care of him, to converse with him or to understand his feelings.
The poem consists of two stanzas of 12 lines each. It is written in free verse with no particular meter or rhyme scheme followed. And the lack of rhythm is symbolic of the poet’s father’s uncared-for life. The language is easy and simple but full of symbolic expressions and poetic devices like simile. It is in first person narrative where the poet-speaker narrates how his father returns home and what he does thereafter.
Dilip Chitre: about the poet
Dilip Purushottam Chitre (1938-2008) was a notable Indian poet, critic, painter and filmmaker of the modern era. His father used to publish an important periodical Abhiruchi, and perhaps it had a great influence upon his career. Dilip himself went on to publish one named Shabda along with Arun Kolatkar and Ramesh Samarth. He was one of the most important figures behind the “little magazine movement” of the sixties in Marathi. His Ekun Kavita or Collected Poems were published in the nineteen nineties in three volumes. He also edited An Anthology of Marathi Poetry (1945–1965). Read more about him at Wikipedia.
Father Returning Home: Line by line analysis
My father travels on the late evening train
The poem begins with the speaker’s description of his father’s travelling home. The father is travelling in a late evening train after finishing his work for the day. ‘Late evening train’ may indicate how long the father works so that it regularly gets that late for him to return home.
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
The father is standing among the silent passengers in the yellow light inside the train compartment. This line is indicative of his sufferings during the journey. After working so hard, he is returning home standing on the foot-board, as he doesn’t get a seat there to relax. The ‘silent commuters’ are not friendly enough to converse with him or among themselves. The yellow light is not the best thing either to promote any cheerfulness. All these things further intensify his agony and make the journey monotonous.
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes
The suburbs are sliding past the moving train. But the poet’s father has no intention to look at those. He is unmoved by these scenes, for he has seen those many a times and finds nothing new or interesting in it. So the sliding landscapes also add to the sense of monotony.
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart.
Now the poet makes us know that it was a rainy day. His father’s dresses are all wet with the rain water and the black raincoat is damaged with mud. The bag he was carrying was stuffed with books and he was struggling to handle it.
These lines are again indicative of the difficulties poet’s father has to face during his journey. It gets even worse in the rainy season. The black raincoat might indicate the lack of colour in his dull life. Again his bag full of books hints that he was an educated and scholarly man, not that unimportant that one would think from his ordinary routine journey.
His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
Now the poet gives us an impression of his father’s age. His eyesight is dimmed by his old age. The father looks homeward with his low vision through the humid monsoon night. The gloomy atmosphere also adds to the dullness of his life.
Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.
The poet’s father gets down from the train. Here Dilip Chitre has used a fine simile in comparing his father to an unimportant word in a long sentence. This is quite unique. He says that his father gets down just like a word dropped from a long sentence. The poet indicates how unimportant his father is to the crowd in the train. It does not really make any difference whether he got down or not. He is not that relevant to the rest of the world.
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.
After getting off the train the father hurries towards his home. He crosses the grey platform and the railway line and finally enters the lane. His ‘sticky with mud’ chappals can’t prevent him hurrying onward.
The poet has used the word ‘hurries’ twice to bring in a sense of escapism from the dull humid atmosphere, grey platform and muddy streets where no one would care for him. He just wants some solace at his own home.
Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
The second stanza of the poem Father Returning Home begins here. In this stanza the poet depicts the isolation of his father in his own home.
The poet sees his father reach home again like the other days. Then he sees him drink weak tea and eat a stale chapati. The poet hints at how nobody cares for him even at home. But the man does not have any complain with his tea or food, as he is used to it. As we see, he rather concentrates on reading a book while having his tea. He has probably given up on expecting more care form his family members.
He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man’s estrangement from a man-made world.
Now the speaker’s father goes into the toilet with a thought of how men become isolated from the man-made world. And this line nearly sums up the theme of the entire poem. The father is indeed aware of his estranged situation and hopes to find some support in the family when he hurries towards his home. But the hope is diminished as he reaches and finds the same indifference there. Moreover, the toilet might act as a symbol of how small his world has been. The toilet seems to be the only place the man has to go to contemplate over his loneliness.
Coming out he trembles at the sink,
The cold water running over his brown hands,
The father comes out from the toilet and goes to wash his hands at the wash basin. The speaker observed him trembling at the sink when cold water was running down his brown hands. His trembling might be due to his old age, the coldness of the water and also the fearful thought of his isolation from the rest of the world.
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
A few drops of water clinging to the grey hairs on his wrists may have some greater implication. Water generally symbolizes life and grey hairs stand for the old age. So, the old man’s life is just holding on to his old age. This life has no significance to anyone else.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him.
Now the poet goes on to talk about the old man’s relationship to his family members. His bad-tempered children refuse to share jokes and secrets with him. That said, they don’t share a close and friendly association with their father. Rather they regard him as an outdated, unwanted burden, though he seems to be the only earning member of the family.
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.
We are in the final stage of the poem where we see the father going to sleep listening to the radio and thinking of many things like his ancestors, his grandchildren and of the Aryans, the people entering the Indian subcontinent through the Khyber Pass in the ancient time.
The sound of the radio is even noisy (static), giving another reference to the old man’s miserable life. However, his dreaming of his ancestors and grandchildren gives the impression that he finds some solace in thinking about his past and future generation. It is an attempt to escape from his mundane routine-life devoid of human contact. Again, his thought of the Aryans may indicate that he is thinking of how the society has changed since the ancient times when they had come here. Now this modern world has no place for the elderly people, has no one to think about their loneliness or care for them.
Thus, the poem ‘Father Returning Home’ by Dilip Chitre sympathises with the old neglected people in our society. No doubt, his message is well delivered here. This poem has given the poet a lot of respect and popularity through all these years.