“Sssh, go back to sleep,” Bheema shushed the baby in the middle of the night. It was hot and humid and she felt equally uncomfortable squashed between the children. She was wondering when it would rain.
“Aji, it’s hot,” whined the three year old. “I can’t sleep.”
“Sssh. You’ll wake the others. ”
“But I can’t sleep,” he insisted.” Why can’t we get a fan?”
“We don’t need a fan. It will get cooler when it rains,” she reassured her little grandson.
He shut his eyes and snuggled closer. She felt him wriggle against her bony chest before going back to sleep.
Bheema sighed. It was a rough night following a rough week. They were getting the fields ready for the paddy planting. She had worked alongside her husband making the bunds to hold in the water. Then they prepared the soil making it squishy and squelchy to hold in the seedlings.
And now that the planting was done, all they had to do was wait for the rain. The heavy pelting rain that made the paddy grow.
But it was a week now since planting was over. Yet there was no sign of the rain. The young seedlings had begun to wilt. If it didn’t rain soon they would have to re-plant or worse still, face the prospect of drought.
Day after day the village baked in the hot unyielding sun. The few clouds that hovered over the village miraculously vanished by nightfall. Every morning the villagers looked upwards hoping that it would rain. But the sun just shone stronger, determined to dry out the last drop of moisture in the earth below.
That day, in fact, the village had a meeting to discuss what they would do if the rains failed this year. It turned out to be quite a raucous meeting with everyone putting his two penny bit. Bhika, the oldest man in the village who had seen many monsoons fail said that Jari Mari, the village goddess was hungry and wanted the blood of a rooster. In fact, he had already identified Barki’s rooster, a proud specimen of fowl that strutted vainly outside her hut crowing loudly at all hours of the day. Lots of villagers hated the rooster and would have loved to see him dead, but not Barki. He was her pride and joy. There was a lot of discussion over that and eventually, the sarpanch had to intervene. She told them to wait for another week. Then all hell broke loose. each one had an opinion and voiced it. But no decision was taken. Finally, they all left the sarpanch’s house. Exhausted and disheartened.
Bheema put out her hand to check on the other grandchildren sleeping beside her on the rough cow-dung floor. Luckily they were fast asleep. On the only bed in the small room, her husband Ladku tossed fitfully, uncomfortable in the stuffy little room.
She knew what he was feeling. It had been a hard year for them. Their older son had just got a job after two years of waiting and was already facing the possibility of a layoff. Their younger one was still in college. He refused to take a job in the fields and wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a school teacher. ” I want to get a nice Government job,” he told his father each time he suggested he take a job, ” if I get a job in the education department, I will get a pension after twenty years. And I will also get healthcare benefits for me and my family.” Ladku was not convinced. He did not trust the government.
How could you trust a Government that passed a crazy law that prohibited Adivasis from selling their land? And how could But how could you earn money from a land which had no irrigation? How could they fill their granaries with rice that lasted the whole year long, when they had no means to grow crops?
And to add to his problem, his married daughter Nutan had returned home with three more mouths to feed! It was bad enough that she was widowed at just twenty but what was worse was the way the in-laws refused to look after her and her children.
Bheema waited for the baby to relax and quietly got out from under the thin sheet and went to Ladku. Touching him gently she signalled for him to get up and step outside. It was a long time since the two of them had slipped out for their mid-night tête a tête.
Slowly and carefully making their way outside the mud hut, Ladku and Bheema crouched in the small sit out. The trees were still under a starlit sky. The odd bat flew around but the rest of the village was asleep. A hundred miles outside of Mumbai, the largest and most modern metropolis of India was this tiny little Adivasi village with twenty houses, strangely stuck in a time warp. It looked the same as it did for decades. Unchanged. A group of huts made with rough bamboo walls and plastered over with red earth.
Ladku and Bheema sat in companionable silence. They were married for so long that they could communicate without words. She looked at his rheumy eyes. The cataract was getting ripe and soon he could get it operated at the local hospital. But just now there were more pressing things to think about. The rain or rather the lack of it.
He lit his homemade bidi and looked up at the sky. The red glow glinted in the dark and Ladku could see no sign of rain.
“Will you get a fan?”
“ When it rains“, he said, “I promise I will get a fan. I’ll also get my cataract done”pre-empting her next question.
He took in a deep drag and looked away in despair. This year would be a tough one.
Suddenly there was a slight rustle of leaves as a breeze cooled the air. There was a darkening of the sky and the scurrying of dogs. Ladku looked up hopefully as the smell of wet earth suddenly assailed his nostrils. Holding his breath in disbelief, too scared to voice his thoughts, he held on to Bheema’s hand. There was a flash of light followed by a rumble of thunder and finally the first drops of rain that spattered on the tiled roof.
Husband and wife sat still, too scared to move. To scared to breathe even.
They were worried that the spell would break and the rain would stop. But it didn’t. There was one drop and the next and the next and the next.
It finally rained that night.
For those who don’t know
Adivasi is the original settler of the land.
Sarpanch is the village head man who is elected to represent his people.
Bidi is a rolled-up tobacco leaf cigarette.
I am participating in a monthly blog hop hosted by Corinne, Shalini and Parul at The Frangipani Creative.
I received this tag from Holly Jehangiri who blogs at A Fresh Perspective. It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Vinita who blogs at Void Thoughts. There are 42 of us on this Blog Hop and it will be spread over 3 days – 6, 7, 8 September 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop and prepare to be surprised!
Because words do matter.