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Breaking Stones

Beside a road in Allahabad,

I saw her

       breaking stones.


No tree to give her shade,

A dark skin,

Firm, tightly-cupped breasts,

Eyes fixed on the ground,

Thoughts of the night before

Going through her mind,

She brought down the heavy hammer

Again and again, as though it was

A weapon in her hand.

Across the road—

A row of trees, high walls,

The mansions of the rich.


The sun climbed the sky.

The height of summer.

Blinding heat, and the loo blowing hard,

Scorching everything in its path.

The earth under the feet

Like burning cotton wool,

The air filled with dust and sparks.

It was almost noon,

And she was still breaking stones.


As I watched,

She looked at me once,

Then at the houses opposite,

Then at her ragged clothes.

Seeing there was no one around,

She met my eyes again

With eyes that spoke of pain<br.

But not defeat.


Suddenly, there came the notes of a sitar,

Such as I had not heard before.

The next moment her young body

Quivered and as sweat

Trickled down her face, she lifted

The hammer, resuming work,

As though to say,

       I’m breaking stones.



[1935] Translated from the Hindi by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.