Poems by Mohsin Maqbool Elahi
Train to Pakistan
Each year during our winter school holidays
Abbo would take Ammi, Aapa, Bhai and me
From India to Pakistan on the N.E. Railways.
Passing our exams was a reward for our journey.
For Howrah Station we would catch a taxi.
Coolies would carry our luggage to our bogey.
Excited passengers all around us we could see,
As the train started gathering speed gradually.
I loved sitting next to the window;
Aapa and Bhai loved playing cards.
The engine from time to time a loud whistle would blow
On receiving its signal from a flag-waving guard.
Bandel, Bardwan and Dhanbad railway stations
Came in quick succession.
The train moved from city to city, station to station.
West Bengal disappeared as Bihar came into the horizon.
Sometimes I would spot engineers on hand-pump trolleys
On the parallel railway tracks.
And sometimes a cargo train with its chain of bogeys,
Carrying coal, iron ore and food sacks.
Various birds could be seen sitting on telegraph cables,
And sometimes monkeys swinging on trees.
Fabulous fireflies flitted as if fairies from favourite fables.
The night skyline was dotted with lit-up factories.
A.H. Wheeler & Co. bookstalls could be seen at every big station,
Selling dailies, Time, Life, Filmfare, Shama and Khilona,
The novels of Fleming, Chase and Robbins for lovers of pulp fiction,
And Railway Time Tables and The Illustrated Weekly of India.
Sometimes the engine’s belly was filled with coal and water
So that the steam-train kept on running most smoothly.
At dusk the guard held a lantern which was a switch-over
From his daytime flags; a job he handled dexterously.
During the night arrived U.P. with Mughal Sarai
Where turbaned waiters holding thalis served us dinner.
Soon our sleeping berths we were ready to give a try;
An unfolded holdall over two trunks was my sleeper.
Somehow on trains I was an early bird
Contrary to usual norm.
Cries of “Chai garam! Garam chai!” could be heard
At each and every platform.
Lucknow Station reminded us of its rich culture and Nawabs,
And of their beautiful Begumaat, zardozi and chickan.
Soon Ammi served us parathas and Shaami kabaabs;
While Bhai wondered how he would look in an achkan.
Several junctions crossed our journey’s path;
Aapa, Bhai and I were amazed by the numerous lines.
A huge steel bridge ran across the Ganges’ path;
The flowing water dazzlingly shimmered in the sunshine.
We were quick to befriend almost all passengers,
And shared our life stories and food with them.
Whenever came a tunnel, some showed their worst fears.
But for their phobias, could we really blame them?
Flying soot from the engine’s chimney would make me cry.
At times, migratory birds could be seen homeward bound.
In quick succession, station after station went past by;
So did villages with verdant fields all around.
Sometimes a train would whiz by on the opposite tracks,
Making an ear-splitting thundering noise.
But I loved each and every clickety-clack
As if it was music made by my Japanese toys.
Abbo would get off on some stations to get tea or water.
Sometimes he would scare Ammi when he did not show up;
Soon he would turn up with a naughty laughter
That immediately made all of us cheer up.
After two nights came Punjab with Amritsar and, finally, Lahore
Where we boarded a tonga to meet our relatives.
Each family wanted us to be their guest, leading to furore;
However, we calmed them down, knowing their good motives.
A couple of days’ rest and we re-continued our journey,
As we boarded the train towards Karachi.
The greenery soon vanished; that’s life’s irony.
Sindh was a sea of sand, which was all we could see.
The temperature rose and all tongues could taste was sandy salt;
Our throats were parched as the train trudged.
Ultimately, at Karachi Cantonment the train came to a halt,
Bringing back a smile to our faces as our relatives we hugged.
These childhood train journeys I will forever cherish,
And they will forever remain fresh in my mind.
I am sure from your mind too they will never vanish,
And you will agree that Abbo was one of a kind.
PS: This poem was written for my elder sister and elder brother for their birthday last year in September.
September 7, 2015.
All rights reserved by Mohsin Maqbool Elahi.
Good Old Hollywood is dead
Good old Hollywood is dead;
It makes all film buffs so sad.
Then films were a work of art;
Warmed the cockles of your heart.
Stars amazed you with their acting;
Some dazzled you with their dancing.
Each a master of his art;
They stunned you right from the start.
Directors pulled all the strings;
They took stars under their wings.
Moulded them into the best
By putting them to the test.
Gone with the Wind, Ninotchka,
The Wild Bunch, Hud, Lolita,
North by Northwest, Papillion,
The Good Earth, Lili, The Train,
The Sound of Music, The Fly,
The Blue Max, The King and I,
The Birds, Roman Holiday,
Funny Girl, The Longest Day,
Bullitt, Breakfast at Tiffany’s,
High Noon, Jaws, The Sand Pebbles,
Shane, and Singing in the Rain
Were watched again and again.
Tracy, Bogey, Grant, Clift, Flynn,
Gable, Grant, Dean, Wayne, McQueen,
Stewart, Newman, Brando, Quinn
And Lancaster were all King.
Turner, Bacall, Garbo, Loren,
Havilland, Grace, Audrey, MacLaine,
Crawford, Lolo, Monroe, Katharine,
Kerr, Hayworth and Davis were all Queen.
There will never be another
Houston, Kazan, Ford, Hawks, Capra,
Hitchcock, Peckinpah, Wilder,
Spielberg, Kubrick, and Wyler.
If colour films were majestic;
Then black and white ones were classic.
Cinemascope was a treat;
For tired minds truly a feast.
May 2016. All rights reserved by Mohsin Maqbool Elahi
Muhammad Ali: The Greatest of All
Boxer Muhammad Ali first found fame in Rome
In the nineteen-sixty Summer Olympics.
A light-heavyweight gold medal he brought back home.
He sang, was a poet and good at card tricks.
In each and every arena
With his steely blows, his rivals shook.
He moved like a ballerina
While avoiding their powerful hooks.
Blessed with outsized charisma and wit,
Muhammad Ali, the “Louisville Lip”,
He had a sharp mind, stamina and true grit.
“I am the greatest,” he would often quip.
Against imperialism and white supremacy,
Muhammad Ali took a firm stand.
All his opponents found his views to be too hazy.
He was surely of a fiery brand.
The champ was a giant of American history;
He did more to change race relations than M.L. King.
He boldly defied being drafted in the Army.
His true words: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
Three years did he spend in jail
Being wrongly punished for his beliefs.
Leaders could not end his tale.
Ali’s release brought his fans much relief.
Three-times world boxing champion.
When Ali shuffled, fans went absolutely crazy.
His title bouts were bound to stun;
He would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
Now blacks had a role model to look up to.
Africans went wild when he visited Zaire.
All Muslims wished he would visit their state too!
Hearts all across the world the boxer set on fire.
Ali was inspiring to the young;
Always compassionate to the needy.
He was good-humoured and strong.
To give his best, he was ever ready.
One of his best interviews, he gave to Michael Parkinson.
“I told my Momma: ‘Everything bad was black. The black cat was bad luck.
If I threaten you, I’m going to blackmail you. The ugly duckling was black.’”
How uncanny that he died of a disease called Parkinson’s!
June 6, 2016. All rights reserved by Mohsin Maqbool Elahi.