I Am Not Homeless

Old woman and respect

She haunts me all the time
I close my eyes
And her battered image
Looms large before me…

Unkempt hair, soiled clothes
An eerie, emaciated figure
Always at the bottom of stairs
Sweeping the floor with her stole.

Always cleaning…
Cleaning the dust from the footwear
Kept outside the Sikh temple,
I visit sometimes.

Never does she enter
To pay obeisance
Never does she miss that, though
Never pays attention

As she rubs her forehead
At the bottom of the stairs
Again and again…
A thousand times, it seems.

I look at her each time
A thought reverberates…
Who is this lady…
Why is she so desperate?

I sit at the bottom of stairs
To attract her attention
She looks at me
With empty expression!

I mustered all the courage
To ask: are you homeless?
She muttered, under her breath
I have two sons!
© Balroop Singh. (2010)

Inspired from a real life incident, I wrote this poem to calm the turbulent emotions within me.

My culture nurtures and upholds strong family values. Anyone who doesn’t respect and care for parents is looked down upon. The responsibility is often handled by the sons but daughters too have taken up this task since they are becoming economically independent and traditionalism is giving way to modernisation.

Thanks for reading this. You can click on Sublime Shadows of Life by Balroop Singh to read more such poems. If you are a poetry lover, Emerging From Shadows would inspire you to read more!

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Please share your valuable reflections, they are much appreciated.


51 thoughts on “I Am Not Homeless

  1. Dear Balroop, you have touched me to tears this morning with your beautiful and heartfelt poem. How well I understand that you needed to write about such an important event and such a deep question.
    Through your poem I think the picture of the woman will follow me and somehow I wish to help.
    But.. She has two sons. I do understand the importance of this, so she is not homeless.

    1. Thank you so much Miriam for understanding the emotion that lies embedded in these reflections. I saw this lady long ago but could never forget the haste with which she cleaned the floor and the stairs outside the temple and the way she kept bowing her head, as if she were crazy but that is what happens when your own dear ones abandon you!

  2. This is probably one of your more sadder and sombre poems, Balroop. It sounds like the woman in your poem has lost all that she has, all that she has worked and hope for. I do notice you used quite a few exclamation marks in this poems – and it sounds like the woman is incredulous at where she has ended up, that she can’t believe at her misfortune. I hope this woman gets the help she needs and finds her way to a more comfortable place to be and stay. Like you, my culture prides strong family values and you got to be there for your family no matter what.

    1. You are right Mabel, I don’t share sad poems here and this one was written in 2010, just to calm down my own reaction, which was bursting forth for the inhuman acts of some people. I happened to watch just this one but there are many more languishing on the roads…such is human apathy!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts dear friend. Stay blessed!

  3. A beautiful poem. What a sad and desperate situation for that woman, and so many others. When something like that disturbs you, it is proof of how interconnected we all are.

  4. Balroop, a powerful, tragic and ultimately haunting poem. Your deep emotional response is evident from your words and I feel the intensity and bewilderment and sorrow behind your writing. The woman’s despair and desperate situation is brilliantly conveyed in your words and my heart goes out to her…with every word you add to the image of her and soon it is as if I see her myself, am sitting on the step, talking to her. The last line is like a punch…she has family but where are they? Not with their mother? Not looking out for her? Is this worse than being homeless?

    A poem that will stay with me for the rest of today and long after. Xx

    1. I am glad you could catch the intensity and sorrow through my words, you possess an empathetic heart of a poet, Annika. This haunting face has not erased from my memory though many years have elapsed since I saw this lady but this is one face of humanity, which people choose to ignore. Many thanks for feeling the anguish that I have tried to squeeze in, I appreciate your presence on the step, near me. Love and hugs dear friend.

  5. Sadly, there are many such stories. I can’t imagine how can people do this to their own parents! Seems some of us have become barbaric, even beyond what some animals are.

    1. This is a universal problem though some people are mentally prepared to face the worst and end up in old-age homes…whatever the place or the reasons! People tend to justify!!

  6. Your post has highlighted one of the burning issues. The problem of sons leaving their parents is becoming more common than ever in India. Not going into specific reasons, while prima facie it’s a more of running away from responsibility there are other issues too like becoming more westernised and adoption of western culture, selfish thoughts and so on. I also feel that with changing times parents should also adjust and adapt with new generation. When we live together, we all are responsible for adapting and adjusting. For those that run away from responsibility, I’m sure karma has its own ways!

    1. When sons leave their native place, do they think of those who raised them? Very few…and they get encouraged from the worst examples! An oft-repeated story and people turn their face away or tune off! My life…the common refrain! Yes, Karma has to step in eventually! Thanks for sharing your view arv.

      1. I get the point. Someone today told me that biggest difference that has emerged over a period of time is that people have become far too occupied and detached. While earlier people would socialize and therefore there were many avenues for the old generation to be occupied which has ceased to be these days. Also, in bigger cities with distances and time, the old generation finds it difficult to socialize and meet people of their own age. Often overlooked, but this is something that a lot of old people talk about.

      2. Detachment is not easy, probably it is for those pursuing their aspirations and new interests but ask them to detach from the new attachments they find to understand the difference. It is easy to shift the blame…circumstances, career, lack of time…excuses abound when one decides to shirk responsibility. However, whatever we give comes back.

  7. This is haunting, Balroop. I think we all see someone like this in our towns/cities and it is disturbing. So sad, that she doesn’t go into the temple. Her answer to your bold question is even sadder. In her mind, she cannot be homeless because she has two sons. I wonder if her sons are no longer living?

    1. Probably she has been inside the temple for too long or has been disappointed with the reactions? Isn’t it amazing that nothing could shatter her faith in God?

  8. This post was so sad and tugged at my heartstrings. B. The most pathetic part was the last line. 😦 Thank you for sharing this. ❤

    1. Thanks Diana. Nobody can close an eye at such a place, where people sit inside and seek solace or pray but she didn’t do that…I could understand her agony.

  9. A very sad and heartfelt poem Balroop. We have so many homeless people now in Cambridge and I often pass by and sadly wonder why. This woman in your poem has lost the love of her sons so indeed her heart is homeless. A tragic picture conjured by your poetry.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thought Marje…losing love is more painful than losing a dwelling as the craving eventually eats into one’s desire to live.

  10. Beautifully poignant Balroop. Sadly homelessness is a major issue worldwide. In Ireland maby people list their homes with the recent recession. They could not pay their mortgages when they lost their jobs. I so hope for positive change. 🌼

  11. Such a sad poem Balroop.. I wish this tradition was carried out here.. Unfortunately Parents are often whisked away out of sight into nursing homes.. But it is so very sad that people should find themselves in such circumstances,with no one to look after them or take care of them… ❤ One that tugs at our hearts..

    1. Sue, I appreciate your concern. Modernisation and western influence has been playing havoc with this age-old tradition of caring for the elderly but the right values, if instilled at the right age do help.
      Thanks for sharing your perspective dear friend. Love and hugs.

      1. I am sure it is happening world wide more and more dear Balroop.. Unfortunately here Nursing homes are Big Business, and the focus is not so much on the care.. as in the Profits made..
        Sending LOVE my friend xxx ❤

  12. Lovely thoughts, Balroop. I’m glad you added the afterword note, as many are Not from cultures that take care of their elders. Living in Hawaii, this care is natural to most all local people, many living 2-3 generations to a house. Those from ‘outside’ who moved here bring their cultural distances with them. It’s strange, too, as I was just contemplating these distances yesterday while listening to some old Hawaiian music. The music unique to these islands speaks of love, particularly that of family. It brings up feelings of sadness at what is often missing in the solitary lives of many cultural transplants. ❤

    1. Many thanks Bela for sharing your view regarding cultural compulsions, some of which are frowned upon by Generation X. However, love for those who bring us into this world and rear us to the best of their ability, can never be relegated to background. Sadly western influences have crept into the minds of modern generation and individualistic goals dominate! Nice to hear that you respect this tradition of care for the elderly and live amongst such a community. Stay blessed dear friend!

  13. That’s such an interesting poem. I find myself caught in ambiguity. Is she saying that since she has two sons she cannot be homeless? Even if she doesn’t have a home? Or asking why aren’t they taking care of her?

    1. This poem is an indirect comment on the erosion of family values and this woman seems to be the victim. Unable to fend for herself, she has probably pinned all her expectations on God. Sikh Gurdwaras (temples) serve free food to all.
      If you think it is not the duty of the sons to take care of mothers, then she is homeless.

  14. Beautiful poem, Balroop, with a heartfelt message reminding us to look after our elders. Let us not leave them homeless but instead care for them as they did for us as children xx

  15. Nothing can state the agony of a mother, this poem of your does so to assuage the lurking anger we all get when hear such real life stories. Yes Balroop, here in India we value the family and the value and the tradition of maintaining the family tradition than anything else, I agree things have changed and are changing rapidly with the migration and career on move. Two sons and still mother is left to find her living and nobody to care for her and one can see the deeply captured emotions, after all a mother always wants their children to happy and they can do anything for the happiness of their children…unfortunately the sons more often than the daughter don’t understand this side of the story, yes life is more than just money and career. The picture speaks volumes and thanks for sharing such a profound poem and it keeps us thinking…

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