Hello all. Posting after almost a two week break that too a fiction piece, enjoy. *crosses fingers*
Raj’s luck always played a cruel game with him. It began the year he was born, 2014 was the last year there were seasonal rains. Post that the rains had been so erratic that predicting the rainfall was the new trend for gamblers and bookies around the world. Not knowing, how and where it would rain had slowly put the entire population of the world put in an itinerant state. The year 2030 had people moving from one place to another in search of water, luck playing a major part in finding a good spot to settle for a few months. The cities on the coasts were better off though. Having devised a plan to utilise and recycle the sea water; they were never short of water supply. Living in these cities had a huge price attached to it, so people who could not afford it, were essentially Nomads. Raj belonged to a close knit tribe that had only known this life of temporary dwelling. On this count Raj felt he was unlucky.
Raj however was, gifted with a unique and special ability. His family belonged to a long line of Dowsers or Well Witches. He had the ability to find water and as a consequence find the land that they could settle on. Raj thought that he was lucky on that count, because his unique ability put him amongst the most sought after people on the planet. Every tribe had a dowser as its head, and Raj’s tribe was no different. Raj was the head of the tribe and before him it was his Father who had led the tribe and after him it would be his son.
Raj was young when the responsibility befell upon his shoulders. His father had passed away suddenly and before he could realise what was happening he was named the head of the village. Raj was trained from birth to handle these very responsibilities, but he was a reluctant leader, a person whose logic and practicality ruled his decisions and mind always won the battle with the heart. He would rather be happy being told what to do rather than do the telling. Raj slipped into the role of the Tribe head with a sense of maturity and responsibility and also with the help of his elder sister Riti. She was the one who had an ear on the pulse of the people. It was she who helped him take the balanced decisions he was commended for, Riti was the one who helped Raj be known as a just, mature head of tribe even at his young age.
This moment in time though, was testing every ability and sense of judgement he had and he was finding it hard to deal with the situation. After much suspicions and discussions he was forced to presume one of the tribe, one of their own for wrong doing. Saurabh his reservoir manager had also come to the same conclusion; their water supplies were dwindling faster than estimated. The problem had come to their notice at the last camp site. When they had realised that the water supply there was over faster, they just thought that their rationing system needed updating, and moved to the new place they had scouted a few days earlier than what was estimated.
This place had a well with water for over six months. They had kept a closer scrutiny, on their system, this time and Raj had monitored the rationing personally along with Saurabh. Three and a half months down the line the water was almost over and Raj was sure someone was stealing the water from under their noses. The rationing system was fine, what was lacking was security.
“Another month more”, Saurabh had said, “and then we have to move.” This was fifteen days back and Raj was no closer to finding out who was responsible for the dwindling water supply in the well.
Raj was facing a unique dilemma, every person here was dear to him, every person was like family, but being the decision maker he had to take a decision that was good for the tribe and fair to everyone in it. Raj did not want to point a finger at anyone in his small tribe and accuse someone who was as close to him as family. He had paced the entire night, thinking about what needed to be done. His options were limited; Riti had clearly pointed that out to him in their discussion. “Was it time to make radical changes in their way of life?” that was the question he had to find the answer to, and his decision would change the fate of their entire tribe.
Riti was the centre of the entire hustle bustle around her; she was the reason for the oncoming Exodus, and the only one who could see the order amongst the seemingly disordered chaos. The ladies scurrying around packing household items, the men lugging around the tents and other supplies, the animals being rounded up, hurriedly all being signs of what is to come. “Everything is going on schedule”, Riti thought. Suddenly she caught sight of the birds fluttering around the well, in search of water. Riti felt that the birds knew their fate better than what the tribe knew theirs, the birds knew home.
‘Home’ one word brought a flood of memories that were few but vivid. The lake that served as the life line for their village, the birds that came to drink water, the children who played around the lake all memories that were long forgotten, etched in her mind from the perspective of a five year old. The tribe was so used to this life of constant moving; the constant travelling, meeting new people on their journey, no boundaries countries or a lot of differences. The air in the tribe was like her mood though. Most did not like this uncertainty and they were craving for a place to call home a place to dig in their roots, a place to stay forever whatever the price may be.
Riti knew there was a problem with the water rationing. She had overheard her brother talking to Saurabh, and knew just how grave the situation was. The water supply dwindling so fast was a major concern and raised so many questions. As expected, Raj had called Riti for her advice, her brother did that often. He respected her for the way she felt about the people. He was the practical one and sometimes tended to overlook the feelings of people. When he knew a situation would make him be overly practical, he would ask for her opinion and he did just that last night.
She knew many people in the tribe wanted to stay near the coast. There was a technique cities near the coast used to recycle sea water and have unlimited supply for now. Staying near the coast came at a price, they would have to give up their rights and live by the rules of the tribe that had already inhabited the area. They would lose their identity, but gain stability. She had talked to Raj about it, they had also discussed the problem with the water supply and whether they should try and find the culprit, but that would clearly divide the tribe. She told Raj clearly, “You are faced with a difficult choice. Either you find the person responsible and throw him out of the tribe, but that will create a serious mutiny. People are getting frustrated with this life. Or you can decide that it is time to stop moving and settle down without having to ration water, and erase the existence of this tribe. The choices are clear and its time you make one.”
For once she was glad not to be in her brother’s place. She wondered though should she have told him the truth, given him all the information that she had. Would it have helped him make his decision easier or tougher?
Nirja looked at the child and knew what she had brought upon the tribe; the child belonged to another tribe and was left behind during a move. When she had seen him at their last settlement, he had not had water or food for days; she couldn’t abandon him, uncared for and thirsty. She had taken him in, and the whole tribe paid for that decision. She realised that when they asked them to pack their things earlier. She was biding her time waiting for Raj to realise that she was the one he was looking for. Nirja wondered what Raj would do when he found out what she had done.
She knew the risk she was taking; she knew the price she would have to pay. She would lose her place in the tribe; causing water wastage amounted to treason these days. And being left alone in the desert without a tribe to care for was worse than death. She was worried all the more cause two nights back someone had seen her and the boy take water out of the well. Every time someone called her she thought it would to accost her for stealing water. She was just waiting for the inevitable as she wondered whether anyone would understand that she could not leave that kid alone.
But last night gave her hope. Nirja overheard Raj and Riti talking, when she had snuck out to get some water for the boy. And when she heard, that settling down was being discussed she felt that there was a silver lining. Maybe giving that kid shelter was a good thing after all. Settling near the coast would give her the stability she always craved for and that also meant that she could own up to the kid, to having him here with her, granting him shelter and more than anything water.
Stability also meant that Raj and she would finally be able to build their lives together as a couple. They had been engaged to be married for four years now, but Raj’s duties as the head was the reason they never got married, until now when their lives could change forever. When she heard Riti tell Raj of the other option, she wondered what Raj would decide. But above all she asked herself whether freedom was the right price to pay for stability.
The tents were packed and vehicles were loaded with all their belongings. The tribe packed and stood ready to hear what Raj had to say. This was how they announced it every time, today was no different. Raj came and stood in the middle of the crowd. Raj looked at the place, now it was just a piece of dry land, nothing to suggest that a whole tribe of people were living there up until a few hours back. It was time to announce his decision to the people.
“Elders, Brothers, Sisters, Friends and Children, as you all know we are moving, there is nothing surprising about that. The disconcerting part is we are moving early, because our water is being stolen. That is a reason that is totally unacceptable to me, you and anyone here. It is also distressing that it is someone amongst us…”
He heard the crowd gasp and mutter at this. He looked around, hoping that the commotion that had begun would die down, but people were restless and the initial shock wrought on their faces giving way to anger.
He asked the people to calm down and continued, “The fact that someone amongst us is responsible for the situation makes me sad. The fact that one of us would risk the lives of every person in the tribe makes me angry; like I am sure it would make a lot of you angry too.”
He could see people nod their heads in agreement. Everyone looked at each other with anger and accusation in their eyes, a doubt creeping up in everyone’s mind as to who would commit this act of treason. He saw each man and woman look at the others suspiciously, scrutinizing every person, trying to figure out the perpetrator.
Raj looked away and sighed, Riti had been right, it wasn’t the choice between doing the right or wrong thing morally, it was between doing what was right for the tribe, for his people – keeping them together or letting them drift apart. He looked at Riti, his face not betraying any emotion, but Riti was scared at what would happen. Riti looked at Nirja, who was petrified by now. Suddenly Raj looked up, he had made his decision “No! This is not what I want for us. We have been living together as a tribe forever now, we have grown up together, and we cannot turn on each other. So I have taken a big decision. We will settle down near the coast.” The murmurs that started took a while to die down.
“The city of Mumbai is quite close to where we are right now,” Raj continued “That is where we will go. All the money that we have gathered over the years will be used to help settle everyone. What is left afterwards will be put in a bank account and lent on interest and that account will be controlled the same way it is done now. We have enough money to ensure that everyone has a comfortable life there. We all will have to live by their rues, but there will be some sort of stability in our lives. Anything is better than a life that forces one of us to steal water from the others.”
The crowd dispersed, as Raj had expected not everyone was completely happy with the decision, but everyone had accepted it. Some elders had come and commended him for taking a good decision, while most had protested. Raj knew that Riti was very pleased with him because he had thought of the tribe above anything else.
Nirja remained standing where she was at. When Raj had started speaking she was sure he was going to take her name, dread had overcome her as she saw the tribe react at the news of water being stolen. Nirja still did not know whether Raj knew the truth, and where their relation was at, “Is he about to take my name,” was the thought running through her head. She was mentally getting ready to plead her case when Raj announced his decision. Nirja was left confused and rooted.
Riti watched everyone disperse, excited to get ready for the impending move. As she began to walk away, Riti saw Nirja standing at a side, unmoved. Riti had decided not to tell Raj what she knew, about Nirja and the stowaway. She did not regret her decision one bit and Riti slowly walked up to NIrja and said, “Don’t bring the kid out until we get to the city. Once we get there you will have no problems.” Nirja was stunned as she saw Riti walk away.