A writer trembles in a coat that’s too thin On frosty platform that's foggy and dim. Flickering tungsten lamp shivers along. A shadow wearing an overcoat long Approaches him, “Need a cigarette? Ten-thirty today is running quite late.” “Some six years ago I had called it quits But sometimes I give in,” Writer admits. “I am a salesman,” Shadow clarifies, “That was not free. Had you thought otherwise?” Writer is intrigued, asks, “What do you sell? Is there something else to warm me as well?” Shadow replies, “If you insist my dear I sell nostalgia as souvenirs— One tele show in a box-set complete Of nameless suburb with wide-angle streets; One fading polaroid—discoloured greens Of nameless old man, and one in his teens. “One lonely guide of this planet we’re on Penned by solitudes of men who are gone; One used vinyl of songs that were farmed With feels imported from post-war Vietnam; One worn cartridge for a console acclaimed— Twenty-first century Metroidman game. “Five for the cig, and thirty for my words,” Shadow demands. “Dear, I find it absurd! When did one's company come at a cost?” Writer's displeasure feels colder than frost, “But I am curious. You might get paid If you can tell me where your stuff is made.” “Look for a train, smoking just like you are Bound for lost times that are obscured somewhere Where humans have walked, where cultures have thrived, Where living have died, yet still have survived Earnestly packing the passions of dead In bygone objects they wrap and embed. “The living, the dead—they gather ’round pyres. Yesteryear’s tales are told by suppliers. Memories are sorted, marked and arranged For production. In a land that’s estranged, Dear sir, my beloved factory lies. Making nostalgia for modern lives.” Shadow concludes and then extends his arm. Reluctant Writer puts cash on his palm, “I don’t believe a word but I’m afraid If I don’t pay, you might leave me for dead. Thanks for the cigarette worth thirty-five! I don’t think your train will ever arrive.” “There!” Shadow points to a fog-piercing beam A ghostly train unfurls, smoking out steam. An unbeknownst warmth in Writer uproars— Unknown yearnings of unacquainted yore. “Ride is not free—”, Shadow spells it out clear “You must pay with your memories, my dear.”
Notes: This poem was originally published in Unicorn Magazine (India), issue July 2021. It was accompanied by six photographs that I had captured during my travels. The editor also decided put me on the cover.
The following text was appended to the poem in the printed version—
About the poem:
The poem is an exploration of the idea of retro-nostalgia. Oftentimes media, advertisers, and influencers piggyback a product on a bygone culture that the consumer is not truly part of. Yet, the consumer feels like they have been pulled into that culture for reasons they cannot fathom. What is in it for those who were actually part of the culture that gave rise to the nostalgia? What if they are gone? I wanted to explore those questions and give a narrative spin on the thematic element.
About the author:
Sauvik Biswas is a musician, traveller, and a comics geek. He is an explorer and a storyteller at heart. He has been writing songs and performing with his band Dark Project for a decade and a half—publishing a couple of albums, singles, and extended plays in the process. He likes to travel—often as a solo backpacker—and document his experiences on his personal blog—sauvikbiswas.com