‘A conservation begins from the economy’s individuals,’ Abhay ruminated and rolled over to the other side of his bed. The moonlight crested at his face from the window, and he squinted his eyes, before covering them with a pillow. A low guttural sound escaped from his mouth at the inability to find a comfortable sleeping position because his teacher’s words continuously nagged him.
He sat up straight, discarding the pillow on the floor. “What’s wrong with me?” Abhay muttered, peering around his dimly lit room before his gaze settled outside the window—it’s a serene and starry summer night. Owls hooted on trees; birds slept peacefully in their cages, hung in house courtyards. At a distance, the musicians played folk music, spreading the melody of their tune in the entire village. A silent breeze flew by, and the windmill rotated faster. Behind it, the entire Jaisalmer Fort intimidated the skyline and sparkled auburn even if the present condition of the city wasn’t affable.
“I wish I’d the power to save you,” the fifteen-year-old whispered staring at the farms scattered in the Golden city. They looked blurred yet to Abhay their image was as clear as the lavender growing in the gardens of the city.
Tonight, the cattle sang the song of despair to him, expressing the way they’ll meet their death with the scarcity of water. For years now, he’d inhaled the fresh scent of mud at dusk and dawn as he meandered along with his father, who bred the cattle. It’s now a whiff of his childhood.
‘Who should take the blame for the demise of our home?’ mused Abhay with frowns covering his forehead.
It’s been over a year; the Indira Gandhi Canal’s closure and their village faced the drought period. His father attended the Panchayat meetings, and informed, almost half the city is on the verge of a breakdown. Residents accused the Public Health Engineering Department of their carelessness, and the district collectors begged the State government to hand over the responsibility for the water supply to the PHED. Their requests met the deaf ears and the innocent public continued to suffer the consequences of delayed schemes from the warped minds.
“Why are they sitting on a higher post when they can’t even improve our lives?” He mumbled, scraping his lips. They’re drier than the fields. “I’ll never cast a vote for any dumb man,” he announced his future course of action when he reaches the age of maturity.
Abhay stretched on his bed, restless, he got up and began to pace, hands cupped around his parched throat. ‘He must control his desire,’ his mother instructed when she placed the lid on the last bucket of water. They got the storage earlier in the week, and now it’s six days the taps didn’t hiss, nor he put his palm under it to experience the cold liquid wetting the dirt-stained hands. The use of water was minimized and apart from emergency needs like cooking and washing they barely touched it. He drank twice, while his parents survived on a glass each.
“Control,” Abhay chanted repeatedly, his feet moved towards the kitchen, and eyes lit up in merry as they landed on the bucket. Before he quenched his thirst, his gaze traveled to his parents sleeping in the veranda, and he remembered their words: ‘Self-control comes to those who practice it in distressing hours.’
Abhay stomped his foot on the ground and marched back to the room. Disposing of the shirt, he laid on his bare chest and glared at the ceiling fan. Through tongue, he moistened his lips and breathed heavily, tasting the saliva as if it were that velvety drop he craved to drink.
“I’m not thirsty,” he pacified himself, and a faint image of a glass of water surrounded his mind while he capitulated to a peaceful slumber. Soon, sweat beads formed on his forehead, and he pressed his lips into a thin line to battle the burning urge.
Darkness hemmed him in its frightening stupor.
When Abhay opened his eyes, he stood in between the village center. Desperate gaze scanned every nook, longing for a magical potion.
Villagers sat near the town pump, making ruthless prayers for Almighty to hear their pleads. They looked devastated. Still, their melancholy did not stop them from doing what they could, but it wasn’t in God’s hand when the system proved as a failure. The sun hovered over their heads; their sweaty bodies glistened, yet no one moved inside a shelter.
“Move back to your houses. You’ll fall ill,” he shouted at the squad. They remained immune to his worried calls, so he screamed more until his voice no longer came out, and his sixth sense alerted, he’ll hemorrhage if he loitered near the ambassadors of this superstitious show.
An itch arose in Abhay’s esophagus. He coughed, holding his neck, and moved further on his quest. The smell from the open drain filled his nostrils, and his nose crumpled. Concealing a hand on his mouth, he made a right turn, coming across a tattered hut—Old lady laid on the floor, unmoving. Bees danced around her body. On impulse, Abhay touched her forehead and pulled back as her head burned in fever. He scanned the surroundings and found an earthen pot; retrieving it, he peeped into it and spotted the contaminated water the Granny has consumed. Flies swarmed in it.
“How can she drink it?” Abhay pondered aloud and eyed the grandmother. She squirmed in her deathbed, lips slurred against her will, but he heard the frequent pleas for tea.
“Is it typhoid or malaria?” The incapability to come up with a reasonable solution prompted Abhay to pull at his hair, and he exerted to recall the chapters he studied, on the causes and effects. ‘How many more lives were jeopardized? Why was no one taking action to save them? Why the lives of powerless villagers not a concern for the government?’
Unable to control the mayhem, Abhay sprinted through lanes to the well far away. ‘It must have something for us,’ he thought, hoping it wouldn’t have dried out, and ditched them like the authorities.
On the way, a boy of Abhay’s age crashed into him, body infected with huge red moles, swollen eyes searched for an easy cure.
“How long until we become a corpse?” Abhay’s lips quivered. “A week or a day? Or maybe, the next hour will become the end of the entire Jaisalmer?”
On the road ahead, the stinky bodies of animals came into Abhay’s view; the plants on the porch of the houses had languished, comparably as the city had emaciated. ‘What’s left were only the sand structures but even they’ll stop glowing when the life in them was gone.’
Abhay glimpsed at the farms; the livestock sat unfed and their gloomy shadows called to him as much as the suicidal action of his friends. They drenched their bodies in the drain which flowed from the broken sewer line and pooled around the harvest. At one time, for play’s sake, they took the resource for granted. Heedless of its use, they splashed it amidst one another, and passersby on purpose. “Now, it’s all gone like the peace of the old days,” a snivel broke free from Abhay’s mouth; his hand raised to haul them away from the madness, but he’s not in charge to dictate when he ached for the gift.
‘It's destiny's call when even the kindliest of mother cow pushed her cowling and satisfied herself first from the pond, then how can humans suppress their yearning?’ Abhay reflected as he ambled under the sun, his skin scorched red while eyes displayed the apocalyptic vision of his beloved city.
Wherever he looked, he met a profound defeat; and at last, when he reached the well after an exhausting journey, a shiver ran in his spine to encounter the camels’ cadavers, one of them clenched the bucket rope in between his teeth.
Abhay wrenched at the rope with difficulty, pushed the bucket down, but he couldn’t hear the splish-splash. No jewels shone today in that well, which has been serving them for an eternity now. He yanked the rope upwards with his might to get the scraps of mud, stones, and remnants of a hopeless life.
“Ahh,” he cried, falling on the dunes. He could have cast a spell to rescue mankind only if learned wizardry.
A gust of sand slapped him. His pupils dilated, the earth spun in circles, and his body tapped the land. Prior, another journey, he watched the Flag of Harmony on the Fort fall over and vanish.
“No…,” Abhay woke up from his nightmare, breathing uneven.
‘I won’t let this happen to my family,’ he confirmed, rubbing the fragments of sweat.
‘Desperate times call for exasperated measures from the public.’ Abhay rose to his feet, seized a paper and pen, and began to write his furious complaint letter to the Prime Minister, titled, ‘A city without water.’