Indian Tales: So, what did you do over the weekend?

“So, what did you do over the weekend?” Mike asked, as a matter of fact.

It was one of the top questions from a standard list asked by Americans on a Monday morning in office. It is not asked with a serious intention of really knowing what you did over the weekend. It is just a question asked to make sure it has been asked. I loved such questions. It helps you to have a conversation with someone that you otherwise don’t have much to talk about. You can even ask this to someone you hate!

But this particular question always made me nervous. When you live in California, the weekend question is all about who you are! You are a software programmer at Google. Doesn’t matter. You are the Vice President of a startup that is making millions every week. Doesn’t matter. It was your weekend answer that made you. It couldn’t be made up. That would have been easy. It had to be true and it had to be intense. Surfing in the Bay…Trekking along the Pacific coastline…Skiing on the Sierra Nevada…You get the idea. The most physically intense activities top the charts and bragging rights with colleagues in meetings. Things could be less intense too. Like watching television. But then it had to be a game that you were watching and the local team should better be involved. If you watched at home, it had to be with friends invited over barbecue. If you went to watch a game in a stadium, the entire story had to be told with tailgate activities, game statistics and player strategies all laid out as a series of personal opinions and observations.

As you can see, it wasn’t that difficult to answer that question. It was a nightmare for me though. I never did any of those activities as an adult, forget doing it as a kid. The Bay waters in Northern California are very, very cold. I tried dipping my legs in the waters once. I don’t understand why no one gets it. There are sharks too. Salty water on brown skin mixed with heat from the sun makes for a very sticky experience. Why bathe in it? Good conditions for skiing are possible when everything around you is very, very cold. I watched television though. But, I kind of just watched television, if you will. I didn’t intensely live and breathe it. If players played well in one team, they became my favorite for winning that game.

I began innovating in this department so that I didn’t look like I wasn’t cool over the weekends. I also tried avoiding the question if possible, by going for a stable cop out, “Didn’t do much, was busy with the family? How about you?” That was it! Right back at you! At times, I made a visit to the Hindu temple. But it was like going to church. You just do it. You don’t talk about it. I read books. That turned out to be good up until I realized that folks who also read the same book started asking me a lot of questions about the character, the author, the intent and the message. There, yet again came the uneasy part. I didn’t read books to talk about them.

“So, I went to visit Muir Woods with the family. What about you?” I said it, finally.

“Well, that’s wonderful. Liked the redwood trees? Is this your first time there? I’ve never been there before!” Mike said.

That was it. It worked. For now. Up until the question came up again a week later.

There was a catch though. Doing touristy stuff while being a local wasn’t something you could pull off every week. That night, I lost sleep on a particular thought. Did I never do anything exciting in life so far? Something that had an adrenalin rush? Something that was risky, not safe, but was still fun? Was athletic? I thought long and hard. It went on for a couple of hours. I went back to my childhood where there were no skiing lessons to take, no surfing lessons, no family outings in the woods or any place other than a nearby store to buy groceries. Ah, buying stuff. The thoughts rushed like waves in an ocean.

How about, boarding a running bus that refuses to stop even with you waving hands violently while standing at a bus stop. Well, it requires a lot of coordinated running and a focused ability to pick a small gap to place your foot on the board of the bus while holding on to a small piece of metal at the top or end up pulling someone else’s hair. Miss anything and you accelerate into a vehicle in front of you that you missed watching. Jeez! I had a survivor example of athletic ability.

Then of course, getting down a running bus as the driver expects all young men can just get down no matter what and he doesn’t need to waste energy or the brake oil to come to a complete stop. Getting down with a sideway glance while timing it right so that you don’t get hit by another bus speeding on the other side. Maintaining balance and poise so that whoever is watching, which is usually nobody, end up being amazed by your cool moves. And of course, keeping your feet in motion while touching the ground so that science doesn’t make a fool out of you. Check!

Holding two bucketsful of water instead of one so that you save time and take more volume of water to fill in and refill within a stipulated period of time before it is all gone and you wouldn’t have any water to take a bath for the day. Good muscle coordination, extreme balance and dedication so that the water doesn’t spill and go to waste. Firm footing so that you don’t slip and fall while holding a bucket in your hand. Rookie mistakes avoided. Check!

Standing in queue at a shop, a bank, a bus stop, a movie theatre, a temple and using your hands, shoulder power, legs and a foul mouth to stop every person who breaks a queue from not doing it right in front of you. Avoiding being socially insulted by a lowlife, who may be a rich neighbor, from taking your spot. Sizing up the opponent that you threaten with unfulfilled consequences for violating an unknown law around standing in queues with decorum. Avoiding the big sized women and the drunken men by being alert while spreading your hands to prevent others from taking your place. Wow, tears ran down my cheeks. It was a bit too much to take for me. I was impressive and I didn’t even pat myself on the back or appreciate myself for this in the past! Strong character. Check!

Running after a football in a soccer game. Competing with ten or twenty other friends who also just hope against hope that they get to at least touch the ball with their feet. Doing all this while playing on the street where you get knocked down by a passing vehicle or bit by a street dog. Kicking the ball with the singular motive of hitting it wherever it needs to go and even then, somehow manage to score a goal even if it was a self-goal and in the ensuing commotion you just signed up for the opposite team and hence scored it right. Integrity and dexterity in the face of utmost unwanted commotion for something as trivial as a game. Competitive and competent sportsman. Check!

Study for school examinations in failing light that flickers due to voltage fluctuations that happens due to power pilferage. The tube light, an extended piece of money saving tubular structure, fusing out, following which you keep rotating the hot tube up until it automatically lights up again. Keeping a candle on standby but not wasting it as it has to be used again when it really matters. Keeping the bugs and mosquitoes at bay while studying mathematics. Mental focus, acumen, amateur electrician skills. All check!

Bicycling hard on a road while being chased by street dogs that just want to have fun biting humans. Using wisdom in avoiding streets that have a pack of dogs active with a history of biting. Keeping eyes and ears open to warnings from fellow riders and walkers about what streets to avoid. Keeping away from rowdy elements on the street who get into fist fights just when you are crossing them in your bicycle, potentially getting you mixed up in the fight or have your bicycle taken on a free lease. Locking your bicycle and then keeping the key safe so that it is not lost while always having a corner of the eye watching out for the bicycle so that it is not stolen, since locks are for suckers. Doing cardio exercise on a bike under extreme mental stress and threat of physical harm. Check!

Taking cash to buy items in a shop and remembering the mental calculations to be done on the spot so that you don’t get cheated and your money taken away by a cunning shopkeeper. Keeping the one-rupee coin handy so that the shopkeeper doesn’t shoo you away saying he doesn’t have the exact “change” to give, thereby making me sacrifice round off errors. The elaborate circus of money management in life. Check!

Huh, the thoughts were still racing, but I realized it was quite impressive. I did do a lot. It just happened as a matter of fact that I didn’t bother to recognize it with any value in life. This gave me a great boost to my dwindling ego. I felt a newfound energy in feeling better about not doing much now as I had already done a lot in the past. My body took a lot and I think it was fine to take rest watching a game of curling on television without being judged.

A week passed by and the customary question came up on a Monday morning. I saw Mike walking up to me. This time, I took the initiative. I just joined a gym nearby home and went there for a day. I was confident that I would never skip the gym. I can talk about the workouts I did with the help of an overenthusiastic sales guy who doubled as a trainer, eager to convert my membership to an annual plan.

“Hey Mike! Good Morning! So, what did you do over the weekend?” I asked with enthusiasm in my eyes and preparedness in my mind.

“Didn’t do much, was busy with the family? How about you?” Mike said, casually walking away while still looking at me.

That sounded familiar. I smiled back at him. Was it all in my head after all!?

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Indian Tales: Grandma’s Gift

This story goes back thirty years but so are the power of memories. They last longer than the thought of what you had for dinner last night. Summer holidays start with great hope during the school years. From the time the bags are packed, to the time the train is boarded and the destination is reached, there is excitement in every nerve of the body. However, soon as the summer heat picks up and the deadly routine of just yet another day sets in, even the holidays start feeling long and boring. You wish for change even when you swore just a few days back that summer holidays must be there forever in a kid’s life. Thus, starts the journey of deceiving our own minds that we carry on as we age even as adults!
This one particular day was different though. My grandmother, my mom’s mother, had been building up the surprise for a few days. She was the most hardworking woman I had ever seen, always busy doing some work or the other, never stopping to rest until darkness set in the village. Prathipadu is a tiny village in Guntur district. Getting there was easy as red buses offered services from the town to the village with good frequency.
“What gift do you want me to buy for you?” she asked me in private.
It was my birthday a few months back and she wanted to gift me with something I liked. My grandmother never gifted me anything until then and the excitement was palpable. What do I say?
My mom warned not to ask for anything expensive. I didn’t know what I could get to have in the village. Maybe I could ask for a bunch of glass marbles to play with? I was never good at playing that game, unlike my uncle, but I loved the colors and random designs of these marbles. I wanted to collect as many of them as possible although my mom declared that we wouldn’t be taking it back to Madras, the city where we lived in. Maybe I could ask for the calendar cards that had photographs of Hindu Gods. The size of a playing card, it had the elaborate picture of a Hindu God on one side, with a tiny print of the English calendar on the other side. It was the latest craze even in the village and everyone had their personal collection to boast of. Gold and silver rings or chains were out of question. My grandparents lived a humble life and weren’t rich by any standard. When I couldn’t figure what to ask for, I froze and my thoughts wandered.
My grandmother was anyways not too curious to know what I really wanted. She already had something planned in her mind. It helped. I didn’t know what to say either. She instructed me to take bath and get ready. She wanted to take me to the place where the gift would be bought. Taking baths regularly during holidays was as difficult as waking up before ten in the morning. I loved waking up early though. But, taking a bath was a different story. After a quick bath, I put on a shirt and shorts and stood ready at the door with my slippers on.
My grandmother was prepared too. Tying a few bundles of money at the end of her saree, she carefully kept it out of sight and we proceeded to leave. She held my hand as we walked on the street perfumed with a coating of fresh cow dung mixed with water and sprayed all over. It was meant to keep the streets fresh. Once you get used to the smell, you actually start enjoying it. I wasn’t sure where she was taking me but I followed her lead. For the first time, she took me beyond the four streets nearby her house that I was usually allowed to play in. We went to the edge of the village that adjoined the main road that connected to the towns. My curiosity grew and I was eager to see my gift. A lot of tiny shops adorned the busy road on both sides. I could see clothes, utensils, plastic ware and many other things that the shops in the inner streets of the villages didn’t offer. This could be my day!
She tugged me sideways as I paced my steps forward. We took a left towards a utensil store. It could be a quick chat with the shopkeeper who seemed to know her. It wasn’t to be. She planned to buy something for me in the utensil shop. I frowned. I had no idea what I wanted but I was sure I didn’t want a stainless-steel utensil as a birthday gift. I played along as I knew it wasn’t turning out to be great! She asked the shopkeeper what kind of a gift would suit me. The shopkeeper started pulling up tiny plates and glasses to fit my size. That was not exciting either. But my grandmother wasn’t satisfied. She wanted to gift me something that she liked. She asked for more options to be shown. I lost interest by then and starting watching the traffic pass us by on the road. One particular plate caught my grandmother’s attention. She immediately asked the shop keeper to pull it up for her. She examined it from all sides for the slightest scratch or dent. She loved it! She turned around and asked me if I liked it too.
It was a stainless-steel plate made in the shape of a banana leaf. It had the imitation of the leaf’s veins and was cute to look. I, in fact, liked it very much. I never saw any plate before that in the shape of a banana leaf. Most of the plates were either circles or rectangles. This was different. It would stand out from the crowd. Yes, I wanted it! I nodded my head in agreement. Immediately after that began the laborious art of Indian bargaining. She was an expert at that and used her energy reserves to full effect. I got tired but was now admiring my plate from far. Many bargaining efforts end up as a no-sale. I didn’t want that disappointment. I tugged my grandmother and nudged her to buy it. She complied as she could see the eagerness in the face of her first grandson. She dropped her demands with the shopkeeper. She then asked him that my name be imprinted on the plate at the back. I never saw a name being carved on a steel plate before. Lo and behold, the village shopkeeper had an electric machine that did the trick. I watched carefully as my name was etched in Telugu. I loved my plate even more. She got it packed in newspaper and off we went.
My grandmother didn’t express her love for her grandchildren the way the typical Indian grandma did. There were no long, wet kisses and big, squeezy hugs from her. She kept her distance while admiring her grand kids from far. She always talked about us with others but not much with us. She must have had her own stories of love and hate. But that day I realized that she loved me and was eager to express that love through the efforts she made to buy me a gift. I still keep the plate with me to this day. It has traveled along with me to all parts of India and the US, too. It stays in my prayer room at home. Memories built with the simplest of acts and the most obscure of gifts last longer! I had mine to keep. God bless her departed soul!

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Indian Tales: The Call For Water

In the 80s of India, one could have had a more resourceful life living in the villages than in the so-called cities. Growing up in one such city, Chennai, was no easy challenge. It had the dubious distinction of being a metropolitan city, one among four other cities in India where something related to development happened in an otherwise laid back country. Chennai however was less crowded and more manageable a city back then, compared to its peers.

This didn’t mean that Madras (as it was called then before being renamed to Chennai) had it all great. A perennial and persistent problem was the access to clean water. To solve that, the local government came up with a system that provided water only during a stipulated time frame. The tool used for accessing the water was a manual hand pump. The time frame chosen was four in the morning every alternate day for about an hour or more.

When you are about ten years old, you sleep well. By that I mean, you sleep more and more as someone tries to wake you up. The desire for getting even a few additional minutes of shut eye is one of the greatest desires a kid of that age has. I had mine too as the sound of water overflowing from the released high pressure valve begins to kindle your senses at four in the morning. This was followed by the overzealous neighbor and his sidekick, his son, starting to pump their hand pump with loud strikes. The pattern of sound is one of the most depressing event of your life, especially when you have to wake up to its inviting music. The neighborhood’s goal is to maximize the volume of water that comes from the pressure that slowly keeps dying until the slackers don’t get any. The more you pump water for yourself, the less the other neighbor gets. Hence, the chimp like strikes on the hand pump by my next door neighbor.

There were two large cement holders in which water had to be pumped and filled in in my home. It then had to be filled in colorful buckets that were all lined up in a sequence for easy transport into the house. This hand pump, painted in cream yellow, had it owns age-related problems. The rubber bracket that enabled water pressure to hold, would give way if not handled with love. You pump too hard, and the whole metal handle could be yours to keep separated from the pump. If you take a break from constantly pumping, you give away the water pressure you have maintained in your pump, and donate it to the neighbor who has worked hard on pumping his own. Water lost by you is water gained by someone. Since all the families in the neighborhood loved each other, we made sure that we never let the pressure fall in our pump. This gives an idea of the privilege one had living in a city, the urban India of the 80s that great journalists like Sainath P have hammered mercilessly in favor of the poor rural counterparts. Indians were all like hippos in a drying river bed. You should get the idea of what that looks like and means!

My mother woke me up at around five or a quarter to five if things looked bleak. This usually meant dad was not at home working on the pump already or the pace at which my sisters were filling the buckets was not helpful in maintaining the competitive position once gained to get water. There was no stretching and snuggling around on bed, which anyways wasn’t available for me as the only twin-sized bed was enough for just my two sisters to fit in. I slept on a mattress laid on the floor. It was all action the moment the eyes opened. I was faster than a wildebeest calf in getting up and running, just after being born a few minutes ago. Once you hold the now warm handle of the pump, the idea of sleep is lost anyways for good. There is something about holding a pump by its handle and hitting it at a special angle to start regaining the lost water pressure and then maintaining that symphony by calling out for the next empty bucket to be ready for you and getting it right under the nozzle and keep chugging along until the final call came from inside that there were no more empty buckets or even utensils to fill.

At around that time, there are a group of kids and women who come from the lesser privileged part of the street on which I lived. They lived in one room houses while I lived in a three room one, each the size of a matchbox. They didn’t have their personal hand pump exclusive to their home. This made you realize what luxury is all about and that wealth is anyways relative. These kids came with their empty buckets and asked around the houses after sensing that the water is still available and is being unused. My next door neighbor’s son somehow could never find a reason to let go of his pump and his pumping action. The water had to be pumped even if not needed for the house as the pump was still giving water. Sometimes you just get used to the act of doing something even if it produces meaningless results. Finally, as always the government intervenes. As dawn breaks, the pressure is gone, the water is down to a disappearing trickle and the mighty hand pump finally gets to rest in its state of complete uselessness, at least until it becomes valuable again.  Water makes you desperate and disciplined in life. Madras had a great lesson to offer everyone so early in the morning.

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Indian Tales: A Weekend Road Trip

The state highway leading out of Bengaluru crisscrossed through narrow busy city streets. It was about six on a sleepy Saturday morning. It is generally considered taboo among the Bangalore techie crowd to wake up this early in the morning. If one did wake up, it was considered even more odd to drive a car rather than go for a brisk walk, sucking up all the unsettled dust from last night’s traffic into your lungs. I was driving alone and still within Bangalore limits. A highway, road, street or a cut between two buildings are all considered the same in my beloved crowded city. Can’t complain as the flow of immigrants into the city is the highest, possibly next only to Mumbai and Delhi. Even people from these two major cities emigrate to Bengaluru. Such is the power of the city that offers diverse employment, good weather and a chance for people to lead a better life in the future while suffering in the present. It is better than their past and that is all that matters.

There is a certain happiness in the heart that comes from doing things that you can only dream of doing on a regular day. Driving with only a few vehicles alongside you is a privilege. When you do so while crossing the infamous barrier called ‘Silk Board junction”, the heart bursts full with pride. I still used my Google navigator so that I didn’t miss the directions for taking the service road that cuts towards Hosur. These service roads tend to be tricky business. You never know you are on one until the Google navigator lady lets you know so in her crisp American accent. She has singlehandedly helped in giving a lot of respect to the road construction talent of BBMP’s contractors. I was supposed to meet my guide at a spot before the flyover began.

My guide and I didn’t exchange much information prior except for calling each other and talking in Telugu. We were meeting for the first time. I described my car and he described his dress. He identified me first. The young chap hopped  next to me and we were soon on our way atop the flyover. Everyone overtook everyone on this stretch of the road. It catches on like the flu. Even I was overtaking a few vehicles in front only to end up charging their competitive spirit as they started showcasing their hunger for speed. I only had a Hyundai i10, a humble car that gave up before me on competing at such levels. The battle was one-sided. The highway cut across a few more roadways as it chugged along towards Anekal. I knew I exited Bangalore as the roads got better. It felt like I was actually driving a car for a change. We had already cut through a turn and were on the highway that took us towards a few village roads. This was no scenic ride. There was nothing much to see except for a few people lazily brushing their teeth in the open.

I was headed towards Tamil Nadu. A village over there to be precise near a town, Thally. Thally is interestingly called as the Scotland of the East. Nobody knew who gave this title except for the person who put it out there in Wikipedia. On checking later with a few locals, it came to my understanding that this place is colder than Bangalore. There could be a better story, but I wasn’t too interested in it. Thally isn’t too far from Bangalore, but is on the other side of the border in Tamil Nadu. A huge lake welcomes visitors to this town. Massive banyan trees dot the landscape on both sides as my guide asked me to take a right turn and then cut through a smaller highway headed towards Jigani. The air-conditioning in the car was switched off. Normally, I turn it on as I roll up the windows while driving in traffic. But, this leads to suffocation and hence the air-conditioner. The air was  much fresher and had the rural smell of cow dung and earth. Curious onlookers fixed their gaze on me. In villages, many people sit on the side of the roads doing nothing. They wear clean white clothes with a colorful towel on their shoulders. They keenly watch the happenings of the day. A few board crowded buses headed towards the major towns.

The locals were used to strangers buzzing along in their vehicles on the Jigani stretch. They still wanted to make sure they knew who was passing through their village. Rose farms with beautiful pink hues could be seen to my left. They are sold to markets in Bangalore, my guide said. A few kilometers further on a peaceful highway, he led me to a sharp turn on the road. I thought I was about to ram into a house nearby. It was a village road. I just had to keep driving. I braked hard as a young kid crossed my path. The guide asked me to just keep driving. The kid didn’t care much either. He just knew when to pace his steps faster. Further ahead, a goat was lying in the middle of the road. On both sides were houses and the gazes of curious onlookers increased. I wasn’t comfortable with the attention. But, the people were friendly. They called out to the goat and it reluctantly gave way to me. I thanked them in English. They stared back at me in amusement. As I crossed the row of houses, the car began to wobble more and more. The village road ended after a two hundred-meter stretch from the main road. It was now technically a pathway that kind of existed there. My guide just asked me to keep driving along. I was worried about the tires as rocks kept getting crushed under the car. An old man was walking his cattle in front and had the right of way. The guide honked on my behalf. The old man signaled the cows to step aside. Cows and human beings were at their laziest best. In the village, nobody was in a hurry. The people knew there was another day coming up tomorrow. As we drove along, the guide asked me to take one more turn towards the right.

“Where to?” I asked, confused.

“There sir!?” turn!!

I still couldn’t figure where to turn. All of a sudden, he let out a shriek and yelled,

“There, here! Now, turn!!!”

I just followed his lead. Lo and behold, there was indeed a small pathway that cut to the right. You could never see it unless you knew it existed there and turned. I was excited. This road was so narrow, it could accommodate just my car. I asked my guide what if another vehicle came from the other side. We would be stuck. Such panic attacks happen to the average Bangalore driver. He looked at me with a bewildered smirk on his face.

“Sir, do you think anyone would come driving in a car on such roads?”

He smiled. I agreed. It then struck us both on the significance of the statement he just made. He immediately took the first initiative.

“Sir, in the mornings nobody comes here. The village people take time to begin their work. They mostly use two-wheelers. They  just wait on a small stretch and let us pass through. The big tractors will be a problem. But, let’s not worry. They won’t be here in the morning.”

My guide wanted to go on. But, I signaled to him that whatever he said made sense. He wanted to feel always appreciated. He talked about his own village and how he left farming to take up this real estate job for supporting his family.

“Sir, there is no money in farming. We find better jobs to do mostly in the cities. Helps us keep going. What do you wish to do sir?”, he asked.

“Farming”, I replied.

We rolled a few yards, hit a big sharp rock right in the middle of the road, climbed over it somehow and then stopped. We don’t park in village roads. We just stop on the road. People are patient enough to wait in case you block their path. This was unlike in Bangalore where usage of crude vocabulary is the norm to resolve such issues.

My guide showed me a plot of land. It was dry and the soil was a rusty red. In a corner of the land, my eyes caught sight of an ant hill. There wasn’t much to see in a barren piece of land. However, I stepped down a slope and walked. It was exciting to walk barefoot on mud.

“Are there any snakes or other insects that can bite you?” I asked my guide.

“Why not sir? You will certainly find them here”, he said.

He didn’t get the intent of my question. I put back my slippers and started walking.

“Now, what about water?” The adjoining lands seemed to have borewells, but this land had just dirt and nothing else. A mango farm opposite the land looked healthy. The leaves were dark green and young fruits were hanging down the ends.

“Water you will get sir. You have to dig a borewell. There is plenty of water here”, he said with confidence.

That was reassuring. I checked on who were the owners of the adjoining lands. My guide was unaware of that. He basically didn’t know anything about the village or its villagers. He just knew how to take someone to the land that he had to sell.

“What about that piece of land? Is that also part of the same parcel of land you are offering?” I asked out of curiosity.

“No, sir! That belongs to someone else. They will also sell one day. Not right now!” he said.

“Why is this land being sold? Doesn’t the farmer not want the land?” I asked out of curiosity, realizing that I was a stranger to this place trying to buy land.

“What’s the name of this village?” I asked, suddenly realizing that I didn’t care to ask where this land belonged in.

“Sir, we need to check the land records for that. The village names all keep changing every hundred meters.” He said as a matter of fact.

“Don’t worry about the owner of the land. This is barren land that no villager has used since decades as it sits on rocky hilly terrain. The villagers think only a fool would buy such land”.

I nodded my head in agreement. It again took a while for us to understand what just happened.

“What I meant was they don’t appreciate the utility of converting barren land for agricultural use. You can bring technology and make it great. They don’t trust technology much. Sir, but, the locals are friendly. They are finally happy that people from cities are coming and trying to do something good for the rural areas.” he belabored his point.

I smiled at him. I always wanted to test my hands at organic farming. I wanted to harvest vegetables and fruits on a land that I could call as my own. Using my own two hands, to till, plant seeds and to grow green life. I wished to eat healthy food that you could produce on your own, share the surplus with the village and do good for India, for humanity and for your ego. Such thoughts always crossed my mind. I could make it a reality.

“So, can I grow vegetables on this land?”I asked my guide.

“Why not? This is barren, dry land. You can grow anything on it, sir.” He said in a convincing tone.

I was convinced. It was either his voice or the blazing heat of the open sun. It made me listen to him with keen attention. Back in the city, we tactfully avoid the sun, over here in the village, you just get baked.

“This looks good. But I have to think further about buying the land. Why don’t we head back and I will let you know about my decision”, I said while picking a bottle of water from my car and quenching my thirst.

Just then a person who looked like a villager passed by. The good thing about these villages along borders is that people talk in three tongues. I asked the villager in Telugu if water can be found if we dug a borewell on this land. He stopped his bicycle and parked it on its stand. My guide was also curious to know what the locals said so that he could adjust his facts for future clients.

The villager asked me to repeat again. This time I tried in Tamil. He picked it up immediately. My Telugu didn’t work for him. My guide didn’t know Tamil though. He now turned to me for translation.

“You see all the farms on all sides of this land? Do you see the Eucalyptus trees right next to your land? Do you think anyone would have left this acre of land idle if there was water to grow something?”, the villager asked with a serious look on his face.

“Well, the huge mango farm seems to be doing just fine nearby. So, I thought maybe it will work?” I said with a sheepish look on my face.

“That is on a slope. That slope ends just right here before the land. Even rains can’t help you.” He warned to my obvious discomfort.

Even my guide picked the gist of what was happening. He tried to assure me. We thanked the villager and wished we never met him. My guide sat in the car.

As I was about to sit, the villager called me by the side and said, “Let me know if you want to buy the land that sits next to the tomato farm further ahead. I will give it for less than what this guy is offering. What is this guy offering this land for anyways?”

I smiled and said I was visiting the place just checking on things and didn’t go that far in negotiating a deal. The villager asked me to call him and I said yes and drove away. He didn’t give me his number. I didn’t take his nor gave mine. I wasn’t sure how we imagined calling each other. It didn’t matter. He didn’t look too eager to sell me anything.

“What’s ahead of us if we keep going on this road? Does it lead us back to the main road?” I asked.

“Who knows sir! We just have to try. Google maps doesn’t help here.” he said.

I drove along hoping to avoid the horrible conditions we came through. We passed along a narrow-abandoned stretch of thatched houses that were made of mud walls. It looked like a small dwelling that once existed on the periphery of the main village. I wondered who lived there and why they left the place now! The villages here had varying shades of affluence and poverty. I wasn’t sure what I could achieve by being a stranger among them. I drove along as the car passed along a road that led to an Israeli mango research station. It was reassuring to see that there were initiatives in place to help some farmers.

We soon caught the main highway and were on our way towards Bangalore. The journey seemed tiring now. I was eager to go back home. My guide pushed me to make a quick decision as apparently there were many buyers from Bangalore looking to buy land. They do farming, build farm houses or sometimes keep the land idle. I wasn’t sure where exactly I fit in. The heat of the pre-monsoon summer made me realize it wasn’t easy business growing crops. I decided to take my time. I was at least lucky enough to make such choices. For a farmer, there isn’t any.

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