It is hot in Betweenpatti.
It’s hot even in the cool of the morning when we do our yoga on the roof before the ball of fire rises and the milkman’s bicycle loaded with milk cans clatters down our drive. Our cows spray scalding urine on the green-barked silk cotton trees that shade their shed. Our jathi chickens are hot too, but they don’t mind, not when there is a whole day ahead of them to scratch through the dung piles and peck the kernels of paddy scattered when the padappukaran and his men created the most fragrant rice straw stacks in the world. The mother chickens, huge and black and cranky don’t let the crows anywhere near their brood. We bought chicks of this breed from a man living isolated in the hinterland where shady men come to buy his squawking wares for illegal cock fights. My nostalgia for things past was given a rude awakening when the rooster murdered his son with one peck to the skull, spilling his brains. And one of the hens bit four of her nieces and nephews to death. No Old MacDonald Had A Farm, this.
The 12th standard kids have finished their exams and are waiting in the heat for the results that will determine their fate. Murugan, our farm hand, wants to put his teen-aged kids into a computer course while figuring out what to do next. He can barely read and write, but has heard from the neighbors that kids must learn computers to get ahead. Murugan signed up in the local computer center in Bodi. They gave the kids a fake entrance exam and said, congratulations, you have passed with 60%. Normally we would charge you 15,000 but in this case, only Rs. 6000. Special rate. (Each child, that is). Murugan doesn’t have the money. He can barely pay the bills as the cost of living soars, but he’s willing to go into debt if it helps the kids make it in the big world. His children won’t have to take care of cows and dig in the earth under the fire star. They will get real jobs under fans. He doesn’t realize that the computer center will take 200 kids, teach them each 3 hours per day with very little computer time, and very little practical knowledge. In the end they will each get a colored certificate printed with their own names and everything. It will say: WINDOWS, Basic, Dos, Cobal, Java, Microsoft, Tally, Linux. Their future will be assured. 6000×200= 12,00,000. Twelve lakhs these people run off with for three months of sub-standard work! Like the crows waiting to pick off the chicks the minute the black hens let down their guard.
We’re going to help Murugan figure out a better way to protect his chicks. Cheap and best. And the kids will actually learn how to start and stop a computer and use a keyboard and a mouse and do file save and write letters and do spreadsheets and email. But what about all the other poor families who dream big dreams and are so ill equipped to navigate the mazes between the haystacks and the manure piles?
It is night. It is still hot. The crows have disappeared, replaced by owls and serpents. The cows pant in their sleep, necks bent back at impossible angles. The chicks aren’t gathered under their mothers tonight. They don’t need down comforters in this weather.
Murugan’s daughter and son toss in their mosquito-ridden sleep, waiting for the electricity to power the fan for a few moments of cool in this summer season of waiting.