001: At 4, a train tears the tympanum and shoots forward, clutching in the gaps of rib-like seats — garrulous passengers. The mist is swallowed by a swab of hot, black smoke. Under a rattling asbestos roof, a bride wakes up, arranges the flimsy folds of her sequinned saari over tender, brown breasts, swallows the stinging ache of copulation with spittle, before setting on her haunches by the kolpaar to scrub last night’s meals off aluminium plates.
002: Butterflies have been molesting blossoms of dawn: an upright stalk of carrot fleur noted a day ago has turned to tuber. The scent of fertilization swamps the air.
Soon it will be mid-spring.
003: Dollops of shimul on stark, leaf-shorn boughs applique the afternoon sky. The land has been scavenged by breeding, poverty — where there were mounds of grass sloping tenderly to a jet-black pool, there are shanties and pig-excreta now. Children with mud caking their buttocks run amok through piles of dented utensils, goat offal. Young mothers chide and are chidden, their thin arms sticking like insect appendages on the sides. The fuchsia-fleshed shaapla is gone. The palash no more torches the eyes with its flame-coloured plumes.
Only packets of loose earth roam with bird-like candour.
004: Later as they trudge home behind the cattle, clouds of dust pottering like winged love letters at their cracked feet, they do not have a name. Someone talks of fleshing a katla fish. Someone talks of fever and gangrene, ek mutho chaal. Others whisper how their vaginas, now exhausted, hang like shrunken aparajita flowers within the anatomy — undesired and useless after seasons of chaffing. A wild-haired girl with almonds for eyes crosses her scraggly legs almost antiseptically, like an irreverent spasm.
005: Stars hang like clusters of fire-candy, dying in the orb-eyes of preternaturals who roam the khaalpaar all night. Their silver anklets chime in branches and boughs, in the geometric dyspraxia of bamboo groves, asking — the syllables heavy with pain — a few sprigs of tactile love.