The Stone-breakers’ Song

The four slim women,
Pound the stones into pieces
And scatter them around
On the construction site,
Heads covered in scarves,
Bangles rattling on frail arms,
Singing a throaty song:
On this burning April morn,
Here we sit,
The four sisters
From different regions,
Breaking the stones with
Our hammers swift,
Under the hot sun and
Swirling clouds of stinging dust,
Feeling no pain,
Heat or cold,
As we are absorbed fully,
In this back-breaking job,
If we do not do it,
Our kids sure starve,
And that we will not allow to happen,
As their poor mothers working hard,
We get easily tired, then
We take a short break
To catch our breath,
Under this caring banyan tree,
Growing in the compound of a
Nearby gated building,
—And thank God they do not charge for the shade of the tree—
We sip water from the plastic bottles,
Rest our heads on our bent knees,
Caressed by the warm breeze,
For few long minutes;
When hungry—
Dry chapattis are passed on
As our rich meals.
The fat women from the nearby buildings,
Alight from the fancy cars,
Look at us and often smirk,
How you survive such harsh sun?
Does it not burn your black skin?
We do not get full sleep, although our A/Cs are always on,
Here you sit, hammering and humming a pleasant song;
We smile and say to these women with mascara
And costly foreign perfumes,
You go to gyms and try hard to shed those extra kilos,
In order to look pretty and slim; but fat melts not,
Despite the best gyms;
We are the daughters of Mother Nature,
Nurtured by the fierce sun-god,
We work the earth that willingly
Yields to our touch;
We do not faint easily as you do
And make homes for you,
Where, despite all the luxuries,
You folks cannot have peaceful sleep,
Your kids ask for French Fries and pizza,
Ours are happy with simple meals,
The illiterate females
Contribute to the kitty more
Than our abusive men,
And feel contented in
Sleeping under the tree,
Even on summer days,
When it is scorching heat
And outside—
Scalding 45 degrees.

This entry was posted in Poetry on by .

About Sunil Sharma

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 22 published books: Seven collections of poetry; three of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award---2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015. Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA: For more details, please visit the website:

4 thoughts on “The Stone-breakers’ Song

  1. Louis Kasatkin

    The allusion of them not charging for the shade of the trees illustrates perfectly and unambiguously the acute and pressing social and economic dichotomies that determine and describe the daily lives of stonebreakers.With the likes of Swift and Orwell in its narrative DNA,this surpasses formal boundaries of mere reportage-style and value-neutral poetry and becomes documentary and critique.It is 24/7 newsfeed with an indelibly humane,moral conscience.

  2. Sunil Sharma

    Thanks, Louis, for correctly understanding its deep moral tenor and linking this portrait to an illustrious literary heritage. To me, poetry is all about articulating the Unsaid and making visible the Unseen to our middle-class readers and to subtly disturb their typical smugness, certainties, insulated existence and, myopic vision of the world outside their curtained windows.

Leave a Reply