The old farmer put his sickle down and devotedly looked at the large pumpkin. Orange and peppered in shades of green, a little yellow here, it sat in all its pride and majesty on the soft reddish earth amidst the vines that ran amok, climbing onto the thatched roof of his little hovel, lemony green against the brown of the hay on the roof. The villagers never stopped telling him about the price it would fetch or that they had never seen a pumpkin larger than this one. He would smile in pride at their adulation but secretly pray to the Gods and Goddesses to protect the pumpkin against the wrath of the evil eye. Yet he never stopped dreaming about the tidy sum he would make which he could, then, use to cultivate myriad vegetables, sell more; possibly he would be able to change the thatched roof to a tinned one that would make monsoon nights less harsher; likely he could buy a calf and when the calf would grow into a strong cow he would sell the milk. He expectantly looked at the pumpkin as though the gourd contained all the solutions to his predicaments and happily surveyed his cultivation. Orange carrots and pink turnips, washed off the soil, looked appealing, tomatoes blushed a scarlet red and French beans lay demure silently revolting the separation from their leaves and stems. The face of a demon that he had painted on a blackened tin sheet, an overseer of protection against all ills, smiled its demonic smile at the farmer and brought him back from his reverie. He picked up his sickle and carefully detached the pumpkin from the vines. A sudden evening breeze gathered momentum and looking up he noticed the silhouette of distant grey clouds threatening to swallow the sky whole. He contemplated a heavy downpour and, dismayed, wondered were it to rain the next day how would he make it to the neighbouring town to sell his produce? He brushed off the grey doubts and hurried lest the impending rain hinder his work. Bundling the vegetables into a wicker basket, he covered it with a ragged jute cloth while the pumpkin found a single bag all to itself.
That night the rain lashed hard scarring the face of the earth, puddles overflowed into little rivulets, lightning cut across the dark sky in blinding shades of white and thunder roared like a hungry lion. The farmer barely slept and kept checking on the vegetables like a worried parent doting over his sick child, sheltering it with the meagre clothing he had to keep the unruly rain water seeping in through the drenched hay thatching.
It was towards the wee hours of morning that the pelting lessened and the first rays of sunlight peeped through the fading grey cloak. Precariously balancing the wicker basket on his head and hanging the satchel containing the pumpkin on one side the farmer walked through the soggy earth towards the only road, much dilapidated, connecting his village to the neighbouring town. The sweet melody of dawn chorus was slowly conjuring life into the sleepy village. He took long strides lest the rickety bus arrive any minute and he miss it. But the bus took longer than usual. Aimlessly he kept waiting for more than an hour and when patience evaporated he decided to walk. Sometimes hurrying, sometimes taking slow measured steps he walked on. The sun shone brilliantly, baking the clay and sweat gathered on his brows. Anxiously he kept walking, anticipating, calculating, ruminating. His arms and shoulder ached under the weight. Much against his wishes, he thought it wise to sit for a few minutes and munch on the puffed rice and jaggery he had wrapped in a little bundle but before he knew it he was fast asleep. It was almost midday that he woke up and much to his annoyance found a couple of squirrels merrily munching at the carrots and turnips. Aghast he sought the pumpkin and was relieved to find it unharmed. Shooing the rodents he summed at the loss but thanked all the stars and planets that his prized possession was safe. He began again, walking faster, sweating, muttering, cursing. A shallow river had to be crossed, he recollected. However the stars had decided to conspire against the farmer for the river was turbulent after the downpour. Cautiously he waded through the muddy waters; the pebbles pierced his soles while the hastening silt made him wobbly, all the more with the load weighing him down. A little distance he cajoled himself but as he stepped onto the bank he lost his footing and fell downright. The basket fell with a heavy splash and the river quickly carried away its contents while the pumpkin began sinking. He cared less for the other vegetables and salvaged only the pumpkin. Gasping for air he examined it and sadly saw the scurrying tomatoes and beans, green and red against the ochre water. The few turnips and carrots sank into disappearance. The pumpkin is safe and that is enough for me, he reflected. Tired, hurt, melancholic, he walked the last league of his journey and arrived at the town market.
It was a sight to behold. Vegetable and fruit vendors screamed the best possible prices, customers argued, a group of women threaded golden marigolds and white jasmines into beautiful garlands, the smell of hot jalebis and samosas, arranged in pyramidal heaps, found admirers in little salivating children, the sound of indistinct music and the claims of a village doctor’s litany blaring through a loudspeaker created a complete hullabaloo. The farmer managed to find an indistinct corner, beside a mangy beggar, with his lone pumpkin. Bushed with the walk and mighty disappointed with all the loss he had incurred he stared at the pumpkin, his last strand of hope. Seconds became minutes and minutes added up to hours and futilely he awaited upon buyers. Some stopped by, poked at the pumpkin, quoted loathsome prices and wandered off. Dusk was approaching fast. While the other vendors counted the money they had made, he stared at the pumpkin sitting peacefully oblivious to his thoughts. His meditation was often interrupted by the cries of the beggar who beseechingly looked at anyone who would spare a coin into his empty bowl and also surreptitiously stared at the pumpkin with awe and hunger. The market slowly began emptying of men while stray cows commenced their raid upon discarded vegetables. Sadly aware that the pumpkin would find no buyers, he decided to leave when a woman suddenly stopped by quoting a price far more than he had imagined. Jubilant and beaming with joy he began dusting the pumpkin. Asking him to wrap it the lady mentioned she would be back in a jiffy finishing her other deals. Blessing his fate he noticed the empty beggar slowly rising to leave and fade back into an emptiness he came from. Not knowing what took over him he handed over the pumpkin to the beggar forcing a smile. Sceptical yet finding the gesture too good to be true, the beggar quickly took it lest the farmer change his mind and displaying his toothless smile dashed off leaving behind the farmer who watched him hop and prance swirling the dust off the road carrying his hope.
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