Beads of sweat trickled down Sakpal's brows. He and three others carried the frame holding the body briskly through once-fertile barren fields. But the burden of a son's corpse can't be lightened by a few more shoulders.
None of them chanted. They probably realised the futility. Prayers hadn't gotten them rain since fifteen months now.
People here were dying either because of thirst, or by famine. Those who couldn't take the pain committed suicide.
The sweltering heat had claimed yet another victim, this time within Sakpal's family. Ganu was his only son. He was merely eight.
But Sakpal didn't cry. He only mumbled curses under his breath. He didn't fear DIVINE wrath anymore. He was certain HE wasn't listening.
Getting the wood and the shroud for the cremation was quite a struggle. Even while his son's body lay out in the open, ravaged by flies, he ran a few errands for the Sarpanch to raise money, when his pleas for a loan fell on deaf ears. But he didn't blame the Sarpanch. The Sarpanch atleast responded with a refusal.......his God, though, never said a thing.
Sakpal had dreams for his son. He had sent him to school, where kids of the 'better-offs' studied. Other poor farmers laughed at his "folly" and taunted him. But he wanted his son to have an education, and probably get a job in the city. Ganu would have taken them out of this village, to some place far away, where life would be better. Some place where God listened better. This village once had fields. Everyone produced something. And everyone was content. Not anymore. It hardly rained since the last year and a half. If at all it did rain, it would only be for an hour one day, and then nothing. The rain gods were teasing them it seemed.
His dream now lay motionless on his shoulder, dry, fly-infested, and slowly rotting. Ready to be consumed by a pyre. He felt uneasy. His head reeled. His loss was probably only now beginning to sink in.
They reached the crematorium grounds. As directed by the priest, the wood was arranged.
The body was laid on top of the heap.
Prayers were offered.
The corpse was walked around.
The pot was dropped.
The torch was lit.
But then it happened.
Sakpal wailed out in anger.
The others joined him in angry protest.
Because, as if to add insult to injury and deny a dead child his due passage to a 'better life'....
P.S. - This story won the 5th prize at "The Rain Drenched Contest" on The Writers' Lounge Blog. It featured in the top 6 posts, hence winning a "Super Six" badge :) Here it is.