A cobbler had squatted on a corner of the town square in Malavalli, not even an arm’s length from the traffic lolling before him. With neck and shoulder he clasped the stick of a black, tattered umbrella that sheltered him from the April sun. He was cutting a piece of pelt into tiny bits to stock up for slippers he was expecting to come in for repair that day. The constant traffic was slowed by pits and bumps and large stones that had come loose from the metalled square. Dust flew everywhere, a lot into the cobbler’s face, close as he was to the source of it.
We were headed toward Talakkad.
Out the square and out of town the dust lay low. Everything was pressed low by brutal heat that bore down from above. Equal heat rose up from the tortured earth. At ten in the morning not a soul was at work in the fields, but when we passed an occasional tree with a wide-enough canopy, there we saw people, lying in the shade, or engaged in gossip, some even playing a card game. Not a cow was in sight, or an ox, and in Bannur, not one of the sheep for which Bannur is famous. That town beat me, made me think how a place so withered spawned sheep so full and wholesome.
The granite blocks that serve as survey markers on the fields are now painted a bright blue. It’s a new practice, those stones have been naked and discreet all these years that I’ve known them. The paint was fresh on all of them, and they stood bold and erect in their brand new coat. Also bright was the green on the long leaves of corn and cane, and the world still looked rich where these crops awaited harvesting.
It was possible to savour beauty in spite of the ever-trickling sweat that harassed face, neck and back. We swigged water a lot.
In the evening, on our way home, the world had cooled and though we felt sticky, we were dry. We paused ahead of a long narrow bridge across the river Kaveri whose path lies a few minutes out from the village Mullur. It is a very wide path of the once-great river, midway here in its course, a dried-out path in which two or three thin, bashful streams had survived. They were scurrying onward to the Bay of Bengal, some three-hundred kilometres down. Speeding in low crevices they looked like they wished not to be seen. A riverbed with no river on it: It seemed moist, and at dusk it was the colour of rust and deep shades of grey. The sight and I pushed back at each other, but as we moved on I wished those gangly streams good luck.