100 (the santal woman hurries up)

THE SANTAL woman hurries up and down the gravelled path under the

shimool tree; a coarse grey sari closely twines her slender limbs, dark and compact; its red border sweeping across the air with the flaming red magic of the palash flower.

Some absent-minded divine designer, while fashioning a black bird

with the stuff of the July cloud and the lightning flash, must have improvised unawares this woman's form; her impulsive wings hidden within, her nimble steps uniting in them a woman's walk and a bird's flight.

With a few lacquer bangles on her exquisitely modelled arms and a

basket full of loose earth on her head, she flits across the gravel-red path under the shimool tree.

The lingering winter has finished its errand. The casual breath

of the south is beginning to tease the austerity of the cold month. On the himjhuri branches the leaves are taking the golden tint of a rich decay.

The ripe fruits are strewn over the amlaki grove where the rowdy boys crowd to pillage them. Swarms of dead leaves and dust are capering in a ghastly whirl following sudden caprices of the wind.

The building of my mud house has commenced and labourers are busy

raising the walls. The distant whistle announces the passing of the train along the railway cutting, and the dingdong of the bell is heard from the neighbouring school.

I sit on my terrace watching the young woman foiling at her task

hour after hour. My heart is touched with shame when I feel that the woman's service sacredly ordained for her loved ones, its dignity soiled by the market price, should have been robbed by me with the help of a few pieces of copper.