Man’s Greed, Mother’s Pain!
by Gitanjali Maria
(Kochi, Kerala, India)
It is a very hot and sunny day, thought Saroja as she slowly walked back home, after purchasing vegetables and groceries necessary for the household for the week. The sun was beating down on her harshly and the tarred road reflected back the heat, and she who was between the two, felt herself burn in the summer heat. All the days now were equally bad and it was still another full two weeks to go before the monsoon rains were due. She quickened her pace, walking past apartments and commercial complexes touching the skyline, trying to shield the vegetables in her hand from wilting in the sun.
Reaching the doorsteps of her modest thatched home, she called out to her daughter-in-law to come and collect the purchase as she sat down on the steps, tired and sweating. After a brief rest, she went up to the well in the house compound, attached the bucket to the rope and lowered it into the well. She still preferred drinking water directly from the well and not from the tap. Some habits die hard and she was too old to change. It took a long while for the splash of the bucket in the water to be heard. Saroja looked down into the well, with tired eyes, and counted the rings till she reached the one touching the water surface. 18th ring…The water surface generally stood at the 15th ring. But this year the summer was too much and the rain gods had not smiled yet, not even for a brief while. With much effort she pulled the pulley with the bucket of water. Panting she caught the bucket with water as it reached her level and putting in on the rim of the well, caught her breath. She then removed the bucket from the rope, raised it with great effort to her lips and gulped a few mouthfuls of the warm water and splashed the rest over herself, trying to cool down the heated up sweaty skin.
“Amma, don’t waste the water. The municipality water has not come for the past two days and we all are dependent on the well water. So, don’t waste it by splashing it off,” her daughter-in-law called to her sternly.
“Doesn’t say anything when the boy uses two full buckets for his bath. Can’t even have water to drink”, she mumbled, afraid that the daughter-in-law may rebuke her again. She looked around at the plants she had planted. There were almost drooping dead. They had not been watered for more than two days now. She was forbidden to do that too.
She once again sat down at the steps near the entrance to the verandah of the house watching people on the road go by their daily chores. Trucks and cars rambled along the road unceasingly, often raising a cloud of dust that clogged her vision. The fisherman Saju came, calling out, "Sardines, mackerel, pearlspot, prawns…sardines, mackerel, pearlspot, prawns…”.
“Saju, come in," her daughter-in-law called to the fisherman from inside.
“How much is for the prawns,” she asked.
“360 ma’am for this variety and 400 for this one”, he said pointing out to her the different varieties.
“It’s too much, I’ll give you 300 for this,” she countered.
“No ma’am, can’t sell for so low. There isn’t much prawns left in the river is what the fishermen say. That’s why the rate is so high.”
“Ok…take one kilo of mackerel”, she said. And as an after though added, “Keep a quarter of the prawns also, after all the master of the house as well the little boy likes it.”
“Ok ma’am”, he said and she went in again to get the money.
“Amma, how are you doing? “, he asked smiling, looking at the old lady sitting, leaning on the pillar.
“All is fine, Saju. So hot it is now. Can’t even sleep properly”, she replied.
“Yes Amma, too hot these days. TV channels say that the monsoons will be
late this time and little too. The river has almost dried up. You can see the parched bed at some places. God only knows what’s happening”, he said, eager to share whatever news he had.
“Ha, God help the people and this place”, the mother sighed.
The sultry weather and the cloudless sky gave no hopes for early rains. Even the birds and the trees seemed to understand that the rains were far from near and that there was not going to be respite from the heat anytime soon. It seemed as if they preferred instant death to the excruciating heat that was killing them day by day.
The mother’s mind wandered listlessly as she thought of mundane things, mumbled prayers and slowly dozed off. In her dreams she saw green dense forests, blue lagoons with fish darting under its placid surface, rainbows and the grassy hillocks. She smelt the fresh damp air and she felt herself fifty years younger.
She was the young bride coming into this rustic village. The people, neighbours and friends, threw flowers at her and her husband as they welcomed the new couple. Her husband had many acres of paddy fields and also worked on these fields along with other workers and family members. She worked hard on the soil, alongside her husband. And the harvest was good, year on year.
She saw the lush green hillocks to which her husband and she often ran off to escape the prying eyes of the elders of the house and others and to have some private romantic moments together, amidst the songs of the cuckoos and the cries of the squirrels.
“Amma, why can’t you go in and sleep. You are embarrassing us by sitting and sleeping outside. Go in and use the cot.” She was rudely jostled awake by her daughter-in-law.
She looked around. There were no squirrels and no cuckoo singing. The only sounds were from the blaring horns of vehicles passing by and the concrete mixer working furiously to crush gravel for the 23 storey building rising opposite their house.
She sighed and remembered that there were no more hillocks and no more patches of forests. The hillocks had been levelled for the black smoke-blowing industries to grow and the trees felled to make way for building so huge that they almost touched the sky. And man was the conqueror having scaled heights that almost reached the heavens of gods. But their foundations were also as deep as the depths of hell. The large meandering river that flowed through the heart of village too had been diverted for use at many of these places and the ordinary man was left high and parched.
After her husband died, her sons too had sold off the agricultural land to owners of factory and to construction companies. In return, some got employment in those factories while others were allocated 1000 square feet apartments in the sky-rises. Her youngest son, with whom she stayed now, too was expecting to move out to one such apartment soon and she was to be sent off to some old age home in Benares or Kashi.
The village had grown to be a city and so had man grown to be more heartless than the beast. All that there was in the village and the farms was plundered to make way for the concrete jungles. And man continued unbothered his life of luxury and extravagance even as the coffers of Mother Nature started drying up. She had seen it happening in her own house and elsewhere.
Man had taken things like rain and sunshine for granted too often and for too long. The limits were probably crossed long ago but a Mother’s patience had endured so far and so long but probably not any more.
And she walked in, half bent from the years of toil in the fields and kitchen, even as her energy ebbed, in the scorching heat that the Earth was reeling under. ******