I hope it rains at least today,” Velu thought, as he opened his eyes. Velu was a farmer.
The sun was beginning to rise, glowing crimson like fire. Velu scanned the sky. There was not a cloud.
“It doesn’t look encouraging,” he muttered to himself and got up.
Rain or no rain, a farmer wakes up early. Velu worked hard. His piece of land never failed him. Season after season he cultivated it, harvesting jowar one season and dal the next. Throughout the year he worked, never thinking of rest or taking a holiday. For nearly six years it had been so, ever since he had got his own piece of land.
But this year turned out to be different.
At the end of summer, the rains didn’t come. Velu and his neighbours waited, but their waiting didn’t end. Days, weeks and months passed, and still there was no rain.
The fields lay untended, the earth hardened, crusted and cracked. The barren land looked forlorn and the farmers lived entirely on hope. Every day they hoped that the rains would come.
Someone said, “We ought to sacrifice an animal. A goat. That will please the heavens and the heavens will send down rain.”
Velu didn’t agree. He said, “The rain came all these years without any such sacrifice; I can’t see how killing a goat will bring rain.”
He decided to go to the weather office in the city and talk to someone. But the people at the weather office said they couldn’t really tell him when the sky would gather clouds and bring rain. “We are at a loss ourselves!” they exclaimed. “So many favourable conditions but still no rain. Very odd!”
Velu, too, was at a loss. He walked back to the village, tired and dejected. He was thirsty and the dust made him cough and sneeze. He decided to rest for a while.
He saw a large tree. Its shade was cool and inviting. As he sat down, he noticed that an old woman was also sitting there, sheltering from the sun. Her skin was wrinkled, but her eyes sparkled when she smiled. She looked at Velu and her smile grew wider, her wrinkles deeper.
“What are you smiling at, Amma?” Velu asked. “Without the rains, there’s nothing to smile about.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right,” the old woman said, the smile leaving her lips.
“I wonder what I have done to deserve this,” Velu began. “I have worked hard and honestly. Yet I am being punished. Without the rains I can’t till the land. If I don’t till the land no crop will grow. What will happen to me? How shall I feed my family?” he asked, somewhat bitterly. He wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular, but the old lady thought that he was opening his heart to her.
“Perhaps you have worked too hard,” she said.
“What do you mean? Can anyone work too hard? I have only done what any hard-working farmer would do. I shall work and never rest until I am too old. This is the first season in five, no, six years that I have not sown, nor ploughed. Oh, it is hard not to be able to work…” said Velu a little angrily.
“But my son, that is what I am talking about. You have strength now. You can work without a break. But have you thought about the land? The earth works, too, when you plough, and sow, and plant. The earth has worked for years, centuries, in fact, thousands of years. The soil, the land, the earth… shouldn’t someone let the land rest a bit?” the old woman said, softly, smiling.
“Rest? Let the land rest? I don’t understand,” Velu looked at her, a little puzzled.
“Yes, my son, that is the difficulty. You don’t realize that the earth is old… But Nature is a mother to all of us. To you and to me. And to the trees, the water and the soil. She takes care to give her children the rest they need…”
Velu began to understand.
“When the rains don’t come, you are dejected. But in that way the land is left alone. The land lies undisturbed, staring at the sky, resting… And when the rains come, it will spring back into activity, fresh and ready for your crop. Go home, my son, Nature knows a thing or two… go home,” she said, and got up.
She walked away. After a while Velu, too, got up and walked homeward. He thought about the land, his beloved piece of land, which, if he were to believe the old woman, was perhaps breathing peacefully, taking a break from the constant, ceaseless year-round cultivation.
“Perhaps she is right,” he thought, as he approached the village. It was already evening. The sun was low in the sky. And… what was that? Velu felt a cool breeze on his back. Then he felt a tiny drop on his shoulder. He looked up. Yes… the clouds were gathering in the distance. It was growing dark. Soon there would be lightning. And thunder. And sweet, fragrant rain.
Velu ran home, laughing and happy.
First published by National Book Trust, India