DHARNI 2
Behind the Iron Bars
by Vandita Dharni

Every morning I wake up to a familiar clattering sound. It’s the sanitation worker with the black mask. I wince—he always arrives a tad early to collect the garbage.

I flinch at the iron bars that distance me from the macrocosm as I watch him, and yet I don’t, vanishing into its folds. Then in a fleeting second, he reappears, offering biscuits to a black stray dog that eyes them hungrily—well, so do the ravens that perch on a tree above him every day. I know why he does this, for black is always lucky. The garbage van trundles towards the B-2 block where the road forks near the containment zone of our sector. The containment and non-containment zones are distinguished by yellow and black bags used for waste disposal, later transported to a compost yard in Sector 38. Pending electricity bills and crumpled clothes peer at me while I pour a cup of black coffee that has been brewing with my musings.

I often peer into the black bag he carries from a neighbour’s yard each day—the same vegetable peels, crunched paper balls, and household trash. I hear him instructing co-workers about safety guidelines and black bags that must be handpicked from collection bins and yellow bags which contain biomedical waste that needs to be segregated.

Our area has now reported twenty positive cases. The fences frown with boards restricting entry. He also collects trash from these locations. A week later, I notice him coughing incessantly. The iron bars of my heart bleed into ink that reads: “Two sanitation workers in the yellow bag area have tested positive.” My black coffee brews with thoughts whether black is still lucky or not.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There has been an escalation of Covid-19 cases in the city of Chandigarh, with the toll rising to 1092 active cases, according to today’s statistics. Twenty-two cases in my sector have been reported so far, and no fresh cases have been detected for a few days. We adhere to the norms of social distancing and venture out only if it’s really necessary. During these challenging times, I have been confined to my home most of the time and do my work online. A lot of people who provide us with essential services have impacted me, and one such worker is Charanjeet. ¶ This particular sanitation worker has always been very positive and does his duty with a smile. He picks up refuse every day without fail, as do the other sanitation workers in Chandigarh. His family lives with him in Derrabassi, a tiny village on the outskirts of Chandigarh, and he has to support them financially. India is a progressive, yet poverty-stricken country, and Charanjeet is making both ends meet to give his family a respectable life. He had a bout of viral fever recently, but thankfully it was not Covid-19, and is he is back on his feet now, which is a relief for all of us who really salute front-line workers such as him.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Charanjeet’s photograph was clicked outside my gate by me and is used by permission.

DHARNI 1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vandita Dharni is an acclaimed poet, scholar and, a gold medalist from the University of Allahabad, India. She has a Ph.D.  degree in American Literature from the same university. Her articles, poems, and stories have been published in many journals, including Criterion, Ruminations, GNOSIS, HellBound Publishing House, as well as International magazines such as Immagine, Poessia, Synchronised Chaos, Poleart Albani, Sipay, Fasihi, and Guido Gozzano. Her books include The Oyster of Love,  Rippling Overtures, and Quintessential Outpourings, and she is the proud recipient of the Poetic Galaxy Award 2018, the World Poetic Star Award 2019, and the Rabindranath Tagore Award 2020. Her work recently appeared in Our Poetry Archive.