Happenings On The London Underground tells the story of a character called Mr. Patel. Mr. Patel left his home, one would presume in India, and is now living in London. It details a ride on the London Underground and how he feels day to day knowing that he left behind his home country. Nair does a great job of making the poem almost a nostalgia piece with lots of “nods” to various locations around London. The poem is quite quirky and in places has a slightly humorous undertone.
Form and Tone
The poem is quite a reflective piece. It clearly isn’t autobiographical as the poet is not called Mr Patel! It is separated into six stanzas, although the first and last of these is only one line long and is almost a refrain giving the poem a balance and symmetry. The poem is written in free verse and each of the stanzas (one and six aside) has a different amount of lines. There is no rhyming pattern throughout the poem.
Happenings On The London Underground Analysis
It happened on the District Line…
This first stanza helps to set the scene, or at least it does for anybody who has travelled on the London underground. The district line is a route that travels right through the heart of the city of London.
Note how alliteration is used in the very first line. This gives the description an upbeat kind of feel although this somewhat belays the tone of the poem which is quite wistful in places. We are introduced early on to the poems main character: a chap by the name of Mr. Patel. Given Nair’s own heritage and the Asian sounding name I think it would be a sensible assumption that Mr Patel is probably of Indian origin. When it references dreaming of sunshine it may well be referring to India.
What I find interesting is that he seems to be holding his sandwiches close to his heart. Why is that? Could it be that he is nervous about taking the underground? It can be quite an intimidating experience after all and that level of intimidation could well be enough to make somebody long for something else. As the poem continues it throws that concept into doubt. It says that Mr Patel is trying to escape from issues at home. But which home is this referencing? His London home or his original home? It isn’t really clear at this juncture but what is clear is that Mr Patel seems to have a lot of the same worries a typical Londoner would have.
At the start of this stanza we see the first “name drop” as the tube moves past Westminster. Obviously whilst you are on the underground everything looks pretty much the same. So this doesn’t really help to set any kind of scene and is perhaps in the poem to help give the poem a sense of nostalgia. The nostalgia kick continues as several other prominent London landmarks are namedropped, Earl’s court and Petticoat lane, which is famed for its bustling market.
In the final two lines of this stanza an interesting idea is portrayed as the voice from the public announcement system is described as being the mysterious voice of god! I don’t believe for a second that the narrator actually believes that it is gods voice which does raise the question why it is described thusly. Perhaps it is because the voice appears to come from the heavens? Maybe the narrator is making a joke? What is also significant about this line is the mentioning of god. Religion features heavily in the poetry of Anita Nair and this poem is no exception to that rule.
In this stanza I think that Mr Patel has probably exited the train as the scenes he are surveying seem to revolve around a duck pond, and a rather disgusting sounding duck pond at that! This is probably another land mark in London but I have to admit I don’t know London well enough to tell you were this place is (If anyone knows please feel free to comment!) Clearly it is a place that is quite inspirational as we see in the fifth line there is usually an influx of artists keen to use the area.
In the line following this it is revealed that it is a cold day by the fact that Mr. Patel is wearing mittens. Perhaps this is another reason why he is missing home? The cold is making him miss warmer climes. Interestingly the narrator takes on the voice of Mr. Patel himself in the seventh and eighth line, questioning the decisions that have led him to living in London.
In this penultimate stanza we see Mr Patel completing his journey by taking the tube home. He is described as being in reverie which is an altogether nicer state then in the previous stanza where his head was full of hard to answer questions. However it is revealed that this reverie isn’t as positive as the word would suggest as the beggar boy that distracts him helps him to escape what would appear to be quite negative thoughts.
The twists and turns here are strange. It would appear that Nair is suggesting one thing but then it is revealed she means something else entirely. In the end though when Mr Patel reflects on the day he does so positively, perhaps the meaning of the poem is that Mr Patel isn’t entirely unhappy, it’s just when he has time to reflect that he can’t help but ponder on whether he made a good decision to come to England.
It happened on the district line…
This acts as a refrain from the first line. It gives the impression of the narrator repeating themselves as if to emphasise their point. It also helps add a “story-like” feel to the poem.
About Anita Nair
Anita Nair is an Indian poet who has lived most of her life in her native India. She is not exclusively a poet and has written works of fiction as well. The influence of this can often be seen in her poetry which occasionally walks the fine line between poetry and prose. Although she is just fifty years old Nair has a lot of material available and this ranges from poetry collections to short story collections. She has also been well recognised for her work in literature winning several awards and being nominated for several more.