It starts getting really hot in Rajasthan by the end of March and as the air gets hotter, it forms heat waves which become unbearable by the beginning of May. The scorching Sun and the dry air suck the life out of humans as well as the birds and animals.
If my memory serves me well, the scene of the story must be of earlier than 1991, before we started building our current home. In the afternoon, our grandmother used to force me and my brother to sleep so that we don’t roam around and catch the heat waves. We on the other hand preferred to play under the Neem tree, which was in the same place where we have built the drawing room now.
The birds, specially the parrots were fun to watch when they drank water from the water pot hanging by the Neem branch. There used to be membrane like thing with strange shapes running randomly, which could be seen in the bright Sunlight. Airplanes used to fly shining brightly and leaving a white trail, which I later came to know were clouds. The planes must have gone to land in Delhi. It was almost unimaginable for us that real people sat in those planes. If they really did then we’ll sit in those planes and go to Delhi, my brother used to say!
I told my grandmother that I see some strange shapes in the distance which come down on the earth and disappear and it goes on. I still don’t know what these were, but she got a new idea to keep us indoors. She said that those were ghosts and they’ll catch us if we go out in the afternoon. I don’t remember listening to her. I’m not sure if watching ghosts or was it that watching airplanes fly in the sky more fun.
The matka used to survive for a week and then it won’t keep the water cold for any long. It was always fun to drink water from the new matka as it has a totally different taste in it. The water used to be brought by the ladies over head from the wells nearby. My mother used to bring two matkas over her head and one small one (matki) in her hand to avoid many trips to the well.
The matki used to be kept over matka and it used to become quite high for us, so we used to struggle to reach up it. One day I left it uncovered as the lid fell off and I could not reach up to matki’s mouth to cover it. My grandmother saw that the matki doesn’t have its cover, she scolded me and asked not to leave it open. I thought it may be because insects might fall in the water. But the reason she gave was totally different. She said that there might be someone’s mann – the restless soul, which might come to drink water from the matki and get into it. How was it possible? I asked. Then she explained, suppose you are having a tight sleep and feel thirsty. If you are lazy and don’t want to get up to drink water. Your soul will come out of your body. It'll get into the matki to drink water and quench its thirst. Now, if someone covers the matki, the poor soul may get trapped in it. In that case the person’s body will be without soul for some time and he or she may die!
It’s obviously quite tough to believe it now, but it was perfect explanation. After that, whenever I used to go towards the matki, I used to think whether there is a soul entrapped in it. Once I even brought my friends. We climbed on a chair and opened the lid to see if there was really any soul inside it.
It’s not summer yet and there are no pitchers nearby. But sometimes I feel as if my soul has left me and it is entrapped in some matki somewhere. What if someone has put the lid on matki’s mouth? Will the matki realize that I belong there itself and bring me to life by quenching my thirst? Will there be someone who’ll come and remove the lid and take my soul out of the matki?
*On a lighter note, M.Tech junta in IITs is called Matka / Matki and the B.Tech junta is called Bhatke, which means restless souls!