“Hot,” Nagesh thought as his bare feet kicked up the dust from the road that made his brown body two shades lighter, “is such a ‘feeble’ word. Old Madri should have said scorching or fiery. Hot--only three letters and one syllable,” he said loud almost with contempt as he walked in the bright sun to the river’s edge.
“Be sure to give it a good drink,” Nagesh said imitating Old Madri’s cracking voice, now addressing the plant he carried. “A person with a college degree should use better words. Perhaps ‘a good dousing’ or ‘saturation’ at the very least she could have said ‘irrigation.’”
Nagesh put the lily plant down at the side of the Ganges, the holy river, and stood up. Shading his eyes from the light of the sun he looked around and thought: “Three fortnights, six long weeks, since the last liquid precipitation and no rain in sight.”
All around him except for right next to the river’s edge was dust. The cows, sacred animals, moved aimlessly along the bank, drinking when they felt like it and resting when they didn’t.
Few people had come to the river that morning. Not because their homes, not more than quickly assembled huts, were more inviting than the cool water of the Ganges, but because there were few people left in Nagesh’s village. It had never been a big village, not by anyone’s standards. Even the Peace Corps volunteers had almost not come.
Now, all of the young men and women of working age, fifteen, had left in search of jobs in the capital, New Delhi.
“Two more years.” Nagesh shouted to no one in particular. “Two more years and I, too, will flee, dash, not amble, from this desolate, unrelenting, barren stretch of Krishna’s land.” His unintentional mention of the god Krishna caused him to look quickly over his shoulder to see if anyone had heard and then look up to see if any punishment was being sent from above.
All was hot, sunny and quiet except for the murmuring of the river as it passed over his naked feet.
This job, watering Old Madri’s plant, was not much, but it was all that was available in the village now. And, while the pay was poor, a few rupees a day, it had one enormous fringe benefit for Nagesh. Each day on his return from the river, after Old Madri had inspected the plant, he was allowed one hour with her books.
Though he had seen them dozens of times, his large brown eyes seemed to explode each time he opened the chest where they were kept., So many words covered by such fine paper. Too proud to ask, he often wondered for what class at college Old Mali had purchased them.