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Come and listen to the wailing and keening filling the tepid air, rank with the stench of a hundred unwashed bodies crowded under the wilted yellow thatch. Look at the withered shape lying on the dusty floor, its emaciation mercifully covered by white. When the hot wind blows through the door, it is I, as neighbor and friend, who must bend down and cover the exposed head, with the dark mottled skin around the neck.
Squat next to me on your haunches, and you will be privy to the red rimmed eyes of his widowed wife who sits besides him, face bowed under the faded cotton sari she has drawn over her head. Her look of anguish, of questions unanswered has lost its impact, amidst hundreds like it that you and I have seen. Nor will the rivulets of tears and snot running down the brown faces of his children, laying tracks of clean skin as they wash away the grime, pull at our heartstrings.
Those dark eyes, as countless others, have scoured the heavens as dried split lips beseeched the gods in vain. But the only water they have seen, for the fifth year in a row, is what cascades down their cheeks, and splashes into the parched earth.
The land was ripe for the bitterness that we sowed. Look at what a good harvest we’ve had.
Our trees are still strong. The branches do not break with our weight swinging on them. Our bodies are light. Skin and bones, devoid of hope, but weighed down with hopelessness.
I will coil it and slip it under my turban when no one is looking. It hung in the well, tied to the bucket, before he took it. It used to hear the cool wind, the sound of the laughter of the women ringing out while they filled water, their soft songs about the future.
There is no water anymore. The wells are abandoned, their bottoms dry. The rusty pail lies on the ground. There is no laughter. There are no songs.
I have looked it over carefully. It took his weight, and the weight of his wife’s helplessness, his children’s hunger. It took the weight of the dead seeds, the desiccated stalks, the bloated carcasses, the mounting debts, the moneylender’s threats, the government’s empty promises.
It has not frayed.
It will do. Besides, I am even lighter than he was.
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