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A Village By The Hawthorns

Updated: Feb 15

By Meghna Mallik

You wake up on a checkered blanket, once upon you. Laid just some hours prior to your last snore, it somehow went twisted round your sister’s right leg, then your brother’s left, and finally past your hand in the tightest grip even a cuff would worship. No mosquito trespassed but once, past the puffy pink mesh that hovers over every bed in the house. Even the palang in the guest room where 5 men you never met in your life—and would never want to see again—snore and whistle like the harvest on the first day of monsoon. All the ladies—unmarried and settled—sleep in the same single room on the one singular bed that had the blankets unscathed as yet. They provide each other comfort, and security, to escape from the quiet guard of their husbands until there was no more light. And at last, you. Long, streaming hair muffled into a helmet, toes clenched and hands to attention; because Mummy said your brothers need not be disturbed after the long day of lollygagging they’ve had.

When morning yawns, all wake up. You have to. Only one bathroom has survived all purges, plagues, weddings, alliances, and the usual attack of the chilli achaar, and so that is the one you all line up for: in the spirit of acting unbothered, the most patient receives the longest time frame. Breakfast smokes somewhere in the depths of the poorest natural lighting, the “soup” faces the broiling magic of the jeera tadka, and the weakest stomachs in the house, having splurged themselves out on the chairs that once used to be regal thrones of the elders, demand and demand and taunt their portion of adrak-wali chai. But let’s pan out for a second, because we also need to narrate what you have been doing all this while.

You’ve skipped breakfast, because you’re a strong 8-year-old that has everything to prove for absolutely no one to notice. You run up to the back of the house, past the junior veranda, into the shared backyard that has been the joint housing politics of three families since the 1900’s. You first went there to make friends, and you now go there still, make do with those friends. It’s pretty barren, layered concrete on the walls, decks, and overall flooring, with the occasional sand reefing every now and then because it always lands a magical natural touch. Your group of 4 then abandon the brick-tiled concrete battleground, and race off to the pond that scurries around the edge of the main house. The pond was a lake once, then an ocean, which now has simply rendered down to an excess of fresh and workless greenery—that no one wants to have anything to do with.

Meanwhile, the newspapers that came exactly at 6 a.m. (supposed to come at around 11 a.m.) have been shed abandoned at cranky tables heaving their last breaths. Plastic chairs are now being placed with the littlest regard by the entrance of the pokhar, because who doesn’t like to feel the master of a pond in a village that exists beyond the compasses of a map? Here, what takes place—for lack of a truer description—is a pyjama party, extended into the morning because last night was spent arguing over the dal with no salt. Men representing all parts of the village, in fair and hierarchical election, gather to discuss and deliberate over matters that affect the domestic welfare of the families (singles been disrespectfully disbarred) in the village-jan. You don’t know what they ever talk about because Mummy said that that was all you needed to know.

Evening fades in rather sporadically, and Mummy is nowhere to be seen. The ladies all disappear, and you don’t know where. You feel eerily that you should stick to one place, in case they come back, but the butterfly within you wants to still go out and chat with your cousins under the longest tube of LED light that barely hangs off the stilt of a metal rod that someone left after construction work, the light which hundreds of flies call their home. You recognise as one of them. Out of earshot, there is a slight humming of the backwards Indian male, a species no other has been able to decipher since their dawn, and is too busy or tired to. Still, you’re smitten by the idea of the power they hold, the care they don’t reckon was ever their own, and the comfort with which they have always exercised their existence, even with all the hushed buzz that they shan’t ever hear.

Dinner was, as they say, nice. Every day, in every household in the vicinity, with the same regular people, dinner is eaten. At a time when trees out shadow the abundance of crop in all the land, and the sky looks brighter than any star that died to illuminate the universe. Some call it pollution, some recognize it as a means to survive. A time when huts shine brighter, and brick residences cloak their superiority throughout the village sleep. When snakes are not afraid to come out, because the real ones aren’t. When turtles retire to their shells to escape the death of the day, because the real ones still keep cooking. You have been taught that the tortoise outruns the hare in a race of patience and steadfastness, when in reality, it was only the hare that wanted a race in the first place. You would expect harmony, being the kid that you are, but the definition you’ve been taught thus far celebrates the occasional scream. You laugh with all of it, because the others do, and you cry with them, because no one else will.

You don’t wish to go to bed at a time as early as 2 a.m. at night. Why? For the sake of being dramatically understanding of the fact that you will be 9 next year. And so you’re off, with the same dusty clothes that wore the day throughout, with the same dried up sweat that you toiled that last game of bat-ball with, the sabzi that quite mysteriously landed on your breast-pocket because it was thrusted upon you when you refused to eat it, and the wet feet because Mummy made you wash the germs off it as you approached the bed. You climb onto it, and do not expect a bedtime story, as none of the other kids do. It is awfully steamy in condition, but you all put on two whole blankets because the queen of all mosquitos has launched a patrol on the house for the night.

You had wanted to see Dad at least once, but he was with people Mummy didn’t want you to be with at any cost. “Maybe tomorrow,” you smile and shut your eyes for the two hours left until dawn. This is your home, you think, and that this is your family, as you were once convinced.

By Meghna Mallik

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