Father Returning Home by Dilip Chitre expresses the generational separation between a “father” and “children” through vivid visuals that build a scene that is heartbreaking for the “father.” He is unhappy in his life, and the connection he desires with the “children” he loves is denied by those very “children.” Given that the narrator is one of those “children,” a deeper level of devastation can be discovered with a closer inspection of the poem, one that indicates the “children” also can suffer from this generational divide. If one of the “children,” after all, feels the need in later years to express such a morose story of the “father,” the possibility that the child has endured guilt well into adult years from the scenario is strong.
In the end, the poem addresses the heartbreak of the “father” as its core element, but the choice of narration reveals the pain of the child as well. This simple poem then is a representation of the pain endured on both sides of the generational gap. You can find the full poem Father Returning Home here.
Father Returning Home Analysis
Lines 1- 7
My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Is falling apart. His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
While the focus of Father Returning Home is the “father,” the first line reveals that the narrator is his child, though no information is given about the child. Contrastingly though, the intricacy of details provided in these lines is so compacted and effective that elements of the “father[‘s]” condition are quickly noted. The reader learns from the first line that the “father travels on the late evening train,” which indicates that he has no personal method of transportation for his journeys and that the hour of that journey is “late.”
A monotone atmosphere, furthermore, is created in Line 2 because the “father” is “among silent commuters,” meaning there is no will, desire, or energy to carry a conversation. In addition, this “silent” quality reflects a level of alienation between the “father” and his surroundings, and that alienation will be a prominent concept within the remainder of the poem. The notion that “his unseeing eyes” are not taking note of the physical surroundings the “train” bypasses furthers the sense of alienation, and the image of him on the “train” with “soggy” clothes and a “black raincoat [that is s]tained with mud” combines for a downtrodden and morose visual. Even “his bag stuffed with books [i]s falling apart,” showcasing that no element of his current state is in good condition.
Beyond these physical details of attire and supplies, the idea that he is “in the yellow light” adds a specific feel to the situation since a traffic “light” that is “yellow” means the driver needs to slow down or prepare for a pause—a decision that is structured to be out of the driver’s control. From this, the reader can infer that the “father” is tired, and that he feels trapped in his life due to a lack of control.
The final line of this set shows the “father” feels no real comfort in returning to his house since “[h]is eyes dimmed by age [f]ade homeward through the humid monsoon night.” This blend of concepts showcases his lack of comfort in “home.” In connection to the “homeward,” there is “fad[ing],” which indicates further “dimm[ing]” than what “age” has already brought him, and “the humid monsoon night” is a visual of heaviness, dampness, aggression, and darkness. When all of this is linked to “homeward” notions, there is no reason to believe the “father” is eager for his “home[coming].”
Now I can see him getting off the train
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.
Line 8 shifts gears so that the reader is not just hearing the narrator discuss his “father[‘s]” schedule, but rather reading a first-hand account of what the narrator sees of his “father” once he leaves “the train.” Regardless of how little the “father” has been interested in his return voyage “home,” his rush to leave “the train” and hurry “homeward” is notable within these five lines. In fact, he is rushing “[l]ike a word dropped from a long sentence.” This concept, when analyzed with the understanding that the “father” has been crammed on the “train” with other “silent commuters,” is a representation of the relief found in stepping away from that congestion of people. Just as “a long sentence” can feel much fresher and clearer with the removal of “a word,” those within the “train” likely feel refreshed and more comfortable with a lesser number of “commuters.” Since the “father” as well is no longer in such cramped quarters, he likely feels similar relief, despite his lack of excitement from “homeward” thoughts.
The fast pace within the “father[‘s]” steps could be taken as a note of eagerness about “home” that contradicts his earlier “monsoon” mentality. However, as it has already been noted that he has “mud” on his clothing, the reader can infer quite easily that the rush of his steps as he “hurries onward” is caused by poor weather rather than excitement to go “homeward.” The notion that his steps are taken along “the length of the grey platform” reinforces this idea because the visual feels dreary and bland, much like the boring ride he has experienced on the “train” and the “humid” mentality linked to returning “home.”
Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
The cold water running over his brown hands,
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
This series of lines in Father Returning Home depicts a bland list of activities the “father” partakes in, like “drinking weak tea, [e]ating a stale chapati, [and] reading a book.” The “tea” being “weak” and the “chapati” being “stale” create an unpleasant atmosphere even while the “father” is tending to his own needs, and they support the idea that the “father” feels unhappy and alienated from the world around him. Even while catering to his basic needs, his life is not pleasant or enjoyable, and this speaks to his “estrangement from a man-made world.” Ironically, the “world” that the father currently resides in is of—at least in part—his own “ma[king]” as he goes forth to earn a living for the child watching him. As much as he works, and as much as this “world” is “man-made” by his own hands, he still feels “enstrage[d]” from it.
The idea that “he trembles at the sink” indicates how unstable he feels in his own life, regardless of the stability he is providing for his child, and it reveals that he does not know true respite when he is shut away from the “world” from which he feels “estrangement.” What is worse is that even the “water” coming out of his sink—“water” he likely paid for—cannot give him warmth or comfort since it is “cold,” and the ending image of this set of lines includes his “greying hairs on his wrists.” Whether these “greying hairs” are due completely to “age” or to his strain from work and the mundane, life has taken its toll on his appearance.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.
The alienation of the “father” continues as “[h]is sullen children have often refused” to interact with him. This information shows the “father” has, in fact, more than one child, and it also creates a line of division between the two generations within the household. The notion that the “children…refused” to include the “father” indicates the “father” wants to be a part of their “[j]okes and secrets,” and that longing makes the division more heartbreaking since what the “father” truly wants seems out of his reach. Since the “father[‘s]” discontent outside of his “home” is connected to a mundane life he lives to provide for those “children,” there is a level of helplessness within the scenario. He is miserable as he provides, and he is miserable with those for whom he does the providing.
So, rather than focus on what is, the “father” “will now to go sleep” with “static on the radio” and “dreaming [o]f his ancestors and grandchildren.” There is no goodness to be had in his current life with his alienation, but oddly, he finds closeness in realizing he is a small speck in his family’s history, just as “his ancestors” were and his “grandchildren” will be. Ironically, it is by extending beyond his present state to those he never know that he feels comradery to combat his feelings of alienation.
This does not mean his “children” do not love him. Instead, it speaks of a classic disconnect between generations, one expressed from the perspective of a child through observations of the “father.” Those recollections from the child end with feelings of sympathy for the “father,” which hint that this child has grown and is looking back on mistakes of youth. Should the child carry such regret as to merit telling this story so long after the fact, perhaps the theme of the work is that both sides of this generational gap suffer—the “father” in the moment, and the “children” with memory.
About Dilip Chitre
Dilip Chitre, born in 1938, was an Indian poet and artist as well as a translator, meaning his contributions to art in general and the written word specifically are vast enough to make him a versatile poet. As the two-time winner of the Sahitya Academy Award and a World Poetry Congress speaker, his accomplishments extend beyond his list of written works. He passed away in 2009.