Saturday, June 07, 2008

Welcoming the baby

He had made up his mind. His knotted hands trembled as he clutched the precious seeds in the palm of his sweaty hands. He had heard his son and daughter-in-law whispering in the dark, a few days back. ‘Where do we put the baby?’ The utter helplessness in their voices had put the idea into his head. At first, he had wished it away. Unbidden it came, again and again. Pushing its way to the surface of his consciousness; until he was forced to acknowledge it for what it was – a master solution.

As his feet trudged over the cracked earth, the heat waves hit his face and made his weak eyes water and blur. He walked on resolutely. The faces on the way were grim. Not a single drop had fallen from the skies for days. For months. He passed by a crowded house. The wailing had just started. He forced his mind not to think. To imagine how it be. Soon. Now they would lower the body. The wailing would start. The beating of the chest. The thumping of the drums. The rhythmic death dance. A few flowers purchased on credit and a few wild flowers thrown in for free. Then, the government would step in. An official would come - usually a thin reedy man with a trembly voice awkward in his responsibility. He would give a cheque after a short speech, which would be drowned in the wailing. Then the family would feast. Eat after maybe days. There would be a few photographs taken. Sometimes, the local politician would join in, if he felt it would add to his mileage.

His face or behaviour gave no clue of what was running in his mind. He wiped his dry dusty feet on the dry dusty mat and went in. The poor girl was almost done. Well into her pregnancy. His eyes shifted vaguely trying to avoid looking at her helpless face. She served him the meagre portion of the gruel.

In the night, he woke up to the dry heat and moans of labour. His daughter-in-law was trying her best not to disturb him by stifling the cries of pain. He knew the time was right. He put the tiny pellet into his mouth and then lay down again. The last he knew was the wail of the baby as it came into the world.

At dawn, they found him dead. The precious seeds for the next season clutched tightly in his hands. The house that could only hold three people had a place for the baby now. The wailing started. Both, from the new born baby and for the dead.

The rains came, as they started the death dance.