Winter was a favourite season with the young: when the sugar-cane grew high; when one could be hidden from view within a few feet of entering a field; when lovers could meet clandestinely within the embrace of the thick curtaining cane.
Chandhu, tall, broad-shouldered, his facial fluff turning into a beard, met Rukhmoni clandestinely there. They made eye contact there; they made hand and lip contact there; they clasped each other and made full body contact there; and after their fifth or so contact, Rukhmoni emerged from there with a light step, a radiant smile, and deliciously pregnant, though still unaware of it.
Bhis Singh was the village chowkidar: Well respected and one of the few people paid by the Sarkar. Other than him, there was the Dak Babu and two Police Sepahis who lived in two roomed quarters on the northern side of the village.
Being the keeper of this small but farm rich community was Bhis Singh’s prestigious job. His word carried a lot of weight and he could direct the police to take action against anyone he thought was ‘out of order’. People watched what they said in his presence. Bhis liked being revered, but he also liked the camaraderie of sitting together with the village folk and discussing with abandon just anything that came to mind.
Rukhmoni was his teen aged daughter, Suti his son (four years younger), his wife, Gauri Bibi and his brother, Padam all lived together in a modest village house.
Suti, back from school, dropped his bag and jumped up onto the unplastered brick wall and swung his legs kicking the wall with his heels in rhythm to a tune in his head. He looked across at his uncle who sat hunched on a low cane morah chewing beetle-nut like a cow chewing the cud (he even waved his head about in time to his chewing). His sister, Rukhmoni, would soon be back from weeding their five acre holding that had a full head of paddy at the moment. She was four years older than him and was turning into a well rounded beautiful woman. Even at this tender age her budding feminity was a pleasure to behold.
On arrival she brought out steel tumblers of hot tea for Father and Uncle Padam, who smiled at her and patted the side of his bench inviting her to sit beside him, but she declined saying she had chores to do. She didn’t like him stroking her hair whenever she came close…she was not a family pet.
Rukhmoni was in Senior School now but attended class only on days when her presence was not required at home for field work. It was understood that school attendance for girls would be low in schools situated in an agricultural area. Boys however were expected to be regular at school.
Women did all the light chores in the field. If the weed infestation was heavy the men would help out. Bhis (father) would then limber up, stretch, straighten the unruly band of cloth serving as a turban and amble off towards the fields where his wife and daughter were at work. Padam would follow desultorily carrying a large khurpi, a resigned expression, and a limp from a fall that no longer hurt.
The family would spend, on occasion, the day in the field, snacking on chapattis and achar and drinking tumbler-fulls of cool well water. Suti’s job was to collect all the dug up weeds and heap it at the far end of the field; it would be re-spread as cover mulch once it dried.
They worked crouched and hunched with the sun beating on their backs. If the neighboring family too worked on the adjoining field, a lively and shouted conversation would ensue back and forth. And if Chandhu, Suti’s school mate, was there as well they would happily trot back and forth, both boys carrying armloads of weeds to the far end.