The poem is about an old man, who has got a family but his children do not look after him. With age he has grown weak, yet he persists in carrying out his everyday chores uncomplainingly. A radio and his dreams about his ancestors and grandchildren are perhaps his only source of consolation.
Basically, it’s about an aged “man’s estrangement from a man-made world,” more importantly, from his own children.
The man has grown old but hasn't found any relief from his tough physical day-to-day work. The rainy season seems to make things more difficult for him. Yet he endures all without a sound. His description arouses pity within us,
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart.
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.
When he’s back home nobody comes to the door to receive him or utter a comforting word. He prepares himself “a weak tea” and feeds himself with “a stale chapati.” Then,
He goes into the toilet to contemplate.
What he contemplates we are not told. But this image of the old man in the toilet brooding over his neglected state, perhaps over his thankless children, fills us with a strong sense of pity and compassion for him.
What’s most pitiful about his state is the fact that even though he’s got a family and children, he lives a life of utter neglect in his own home, among his own children.
But there’s something that’s special about this old man. It’s his strength of mind and endurance. Neither he complains nor does he curse anybody. Silently he carries on without expectation from anybody, only dependent on himself.
The only place where he finds solace and happiness is his dream world. The dreams of his grandchildren and his ancestors are his only refuge from the insensitive world that surrounds him.
He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.
Thus, the subject of this poem is a neglected old man who like an unacclaimed hero endures all the physical pains brought upon him by his age and the mental ones given to him by his thankless children.