“My boy, where do I bury my dying jute plants? The canals, the ditches and the rivers are dry as a bone. There was not a cloud in the sky,” the old peasant, lean, bare-bodied, lungi-clad, wizened, blinked at the sea blue sky and sighed.
“Uncle you’re thinking of your jute plants! Look at the fields—miles after miles lay parched under the merciless sun. Earth cracked. It is monsoon, and there is not a drop of water for months! Villagers are worried. If there is no rain, plants cannot be buried? How can they repay their lenders? How can they stuff empty stomachs at homes? ” The boy moaned and scratched his left leg.
The old peasant spoke nothing. Both of them sat silent for a while under an acacia tree, smoked, and looked thoughtful.
“Nephew, at my youth rains poured for months. Ponds, canals, rivers were filled to the brim. In two thousand one we ferried boats on roads. Water was everywhere! And fish! Nobody caught them! Why do you know? We were tired of fishing. Fish are squirming at your steps, on your sides, in the kitchen, in the yard. And we relished big fish, small fish, dry fish, fry fish, smashed fish!” The old man seemed to be lost in his old golden days. His eyes were moist and they glittered.
“Uncle we are born in evil time. Yesterday I hear in the haat that very soon our earth will dry and we have to buy water the way we buy petrol now. Brother will fight with brother for a drop. Is it true?” the boy tensely asked.
The grey-haired, misty-eyed, farmer had no reaction. He flung the dead butt of his bidi and sat silent. A while later he began, “Yes, my boy that’s true. We will have no water, no oxygen, and no land. Our earth will be hotter. There will be cyclones, floods, droughts, quakes. Birds and beasts and insects will extinct. People will fight not for religion but for a slice of land or a drop of water or a fresh breath.” The old man lowered his head and coughed.
The boy killed a pestering gnat with his napkin. Meantime the sun began to set. The fields were golden. Soon it would be wrapped with the quilt of darkness.
“Uncle you need not be worried. Your days near end,” plainly assured the boy. “But mine… I’m young and unmarried. Is it not a sin to depart dear earth without drinking a cup of elixir of life?”
The aged peasant looked calmly at the boy and said, “Time is too short. Taste it quickly, my boy. But don’t rush after houris this time. You have already ruined five years and you are yet to pluck a flower, scented or scentless! By the end of this month I want to see a flower in your yard! Fulfill my death wish! Of late, sleep eludes and at dead of night I count your unhappy hours! It pains me much, my boy.” The old man beamed.
“No back foot, no backward glance, my boy. You don’t know what I know! I mean the secret of life!” he plainly put.
The boy sat silent by his uncle’s side. A gust of wind blew, and the leafless dying plants bowed as if to hail them. A throng of golden sparrows flew over their heads. Both were thrilled. And they praised the God.
A silence followed.
“Let’s go home. The sun is setting. Uncle, wait a week, and if it rains, your plants will have a clean burial,” offered the boy and he jerked up and gaped.
“The sun has not set yet, and you feel sleepy!” the old peasant was furious and he blared.
“I need rest. Before the cocks crow I’ll have to find a flower, scented or scentless, wild or nurtured, leafy or leafless, rooted or uprooted. You are my sole saviour, and I can’t violate you. Let the fields parch, let the earth dry, let the glaciers melt, let the sky be holed, let the birds and beasts die, let the man-made calamities shake earth, let millions die in hunger and war, let racial clashes escalate, let the air be oxygen-less! I don’t care, I don’t care. My mind is fixed, and morrow I marry!” the boy briskly folded his lungi, fastened it to his waist, and hurried toward his hut.
Evening descended on earth. They scented its darkness.
“Why are you leaving me alone? Take me along. It’s dark and my eyes fail. But what shall I do with my plants if it does not rain? Where shall I bury them? How can I skin them?” the old man babbled and his legs were unsteady and hands wobbled.
“Uncle, I can’t fix what you’re gabbling…rain, plants, bury, skin, dead….I know old age has its folly! Let’s hurry home. You are almost close to the grave. You need rest. And I need a flower.”
“Yes, my boy, I need an unending rest, and you…an odoriferous flower!”
They silently departed the fields of soughing, dying jute plants.