The air is thick in the heat of a July afternoon. Acres and acres of rice field, squares, rectangles, swelter below as the sun glints into the eyes of the brahmini eagle soaring overhead, climbing higher and higher on hot circles of humid air, the heat opening spaces in the thick air for invisible water vapor rising from hundreds of ponds and rivers and paddy fields that dot the dark green landscape. A moorhen calls intermittently from shadows of the jute field, by the clumps of lantana brush that line the thatched huts along one edge of the rice fields, marking time like a muffled grandfather clock, here, here, now, now, lulls the rice fields into a somnolent haze.
At this hour, further south, summer heat drives into the sky more moisture-laden air from the brightly lit Bay of Bengal; and up north, the dry air from the Himalayan foothills, dusty and hot, sweeps down the Gangetic plains. The three air masses meet over the Bengal delta in the late afternoon, as the rows of farmhands swiftly gather bunches of delicate green rice saplings from the wet loam and replant them in knee-deep water, to outgrow the weeds, to draw nourishment left over by slimy filaments of anabaena, to dance in peristaltic waves in a distant October breeze—golden dreams on an acre of land—a new piece of fabric for the tiller’s child to dance with the drums. In rhythmic repose, the farmhands swing from right to left, lifting a bunch of saplings then replanting them with deft hands into the water, one, two, three…the sun beating down on their dark skin, sweat rolls down their bent backs.
As the three air masses collide high above their rice fields, massive piles of cumulonimbus roll forth, brilliant white with little dark interiors; they begin to rise rapidly, billowing in the wind, the eagle now a black dot against their bright forms; they reach higher and higher into the stratosphere, an anvil forming on their upper reaches, the cold rarefied air of the upper atmosphere squeezes the moisture out of the white cloud, billions of tiny dust particles begin to provide the surfaces on which moisture from the ponds, the bay, the rice fields, condenses, each a scherazade’s teardrop, the Precambrian dust of the high plateaus surrounded by dolphin’s breath and santhal women’s sweat, increasing in size from nanoliter to microliter as they rapidly succumb to gravity’s pull, forming fast moving dark puffs, move in layers at the tail end of a cooling breeze that now begins to flow over the rice fields, first slowly then rapidly, the sun is now obliterated by the dark forms, ominous, edged with menacing lightening that arcs across the western sky. Thunder rolls. The farmhands raise their bent backs to search the horizon; the cool air descends fast creating rapidly advancing pressure waves, the heads of the coconut palms begin to sway in unison, first gently then swiftly along the horizon’s edge, the ripple reaches the jute fields, the water on the pond begins to dance, the waves of wind stalls on the left as they move to the right, then again the left sways while the right stalls, a flock of white egrets disperses formation against the shear wind, the lean cow, in antelopean fear, its tail held erect, gallops over the bewildered dog.
And then the rain. The hard beating rain. The warm rain that pours forth from the darkened sky, that gushes in torrents. The farmhands take refuge under the mango tree and the rain drums down, the horizon obliterated by the mist of water vapor. The cow, dogs, goats, men and women, ghostly in the mist, soaked to their bones, shiver under the tree while the rain makes the dream of the rice fields come true.