He went far off in search of clouds. Wandering through lanes and streets, he reached the bare earthen well. And then he walked towards the unpaved road. A grass cutter, balancing a bundle of grass on his head, was coming from the other direction. He stopped the grass cutter and asked, “Did the clouds come this way?”
“Clouds?” asked the surprised grass cutter, as though it was a bizarre question.
“Yes. Clouds.” And when the grass cutter still looked blank, he walked on, disappointed. Later he asked a peasant, who was furrowing his field, the same question. “Did the clouds come this way?”
The peasant did not understand either. Startled, he said, “Clouds?”
In fact he asked about the clouds the way most people ask after a lost child. Perhaps, to him, the clouds were like lost children. He asked everybody he met, but no one could give him a satisfactory reply.
That morning, he had asked his mother first. “Ammaji, where have the clouds gone?”
“Who’s gone? Where?” Ammaji asked him incredulously, in a tone that made it obvious she thought it was a silly question.
“The clouds? Are you out of your mind? Wash up quickly, eat your breakfast, and go to school.” Ammaji’s response left a bitter taste in his mouth. He washed his hands and face, finished breakfast, and dejectedly started off for school. The moment he came out of the house with his satchel slung across his shoulder, the same question seized him again: where did the clouds go? And that reminded him of the previous night, when he saw the clouds swelling and heard them thundering. However, by the time he went to bed, the sky was completely clear and dotted with stars. The air was still. He was restless because it was very hot. He finally fell asleep, and then, God knows why, he suddenly awoke. Whatever the actual hour was, it felt like midnight to him. On the far horizon, the rumbling clouds were gathering. In the flashes of lightning the clouds looked darker. It seemed that a downpour was imminent. But at that point he did not like the idea of rain because it would mean having to get up and go inside.
He closed his eyes and gradually became oblivious to the storm brewing in the sky. The next morning there was no sign of rainfall in the courtyard. [End Page 81] He was surprised at first, because he had seen the clouds tumbling over one another, and then disappointed. Where had the clouds gone? Perhaps if he had not fallen asleep, he thought, the clouds would not have disappeared without a shower. That shower would have been the first of the season. While he had slept, the clouds came in full strength and left without a single drop of rain. The monsoon was passing by without even a drizzle.
He looked up at the sky again. Not a speck of cloud. The sun blazed right above his head. Straying from the path that led to school, he wandered into the harvest field. Walking on the small dykes, he went quite far. He felt irritated, and his throat was dry. After passing through several fields, he spotted a tree with dense foliage. Under its shade, a wheel turned in the well. It was like chancing upon an oasis in the desert. Once under the shade, he put away his satchel and washed his legs in the water flowing from the wheel. He then washed his hands and drank his fill.
This soothed and refreshed him. He looked around and saw an old man sitting nearby on a tattered morrah, smoking his hookah. He turned towards the man a couple of times to say something, but hesitated. Eventually, he mustered enough courage to ask, “Babaji, did the clouds come this way?
The old man looked at him closely as he smoked the hookah. Then he said, “Beta, the clouds wouldn’t come in secret, would they? And when they come in full strength, both heaven and earth will know.”
“They came last night, but no one seems...