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A Summer Afternoon

Little can compete with the atrocities of the Indian summer.

Endless kilometres of land lie parched in the sweltering heat; where there once was verdant greenery now grow straggly brown plants, struggling out of the crevices on hard brown ground, choking in heat-induced suffocation. Cows forage for food in the tiny patches of green that have braved the merciless rays of the white-hot sun blazing in colourless skies. The normally hardy, mange-infected stray dogs are now docile and acquiescent- they seek the relative coolness of tree shade, their usual numerous ferocious scrums restricted to situations where absolutely necessary- it is just too hot to scratch or fight. Enervated birds chirp listlessly at noon, sequestered in their leafy canopies till the sun begins its descent and they can go grubbing again. The butterflies flit out only when they cannot help it any longer; where do they get their nourishment from, now that flowers are only sadly faded, drooping shadows of their former healthy selves?

In the little market across the road, the one-roomed shops have their shutters firmly drawn down against the heat. Even the small Hanuman and Shani temples in the vicinity have been closed and locked up- god or insect, the summer is uniformly unsparing in its ferocity. The area will begin to buzz again about six in the evening, when the owner of the tea stall puts out four rickety stools on the pockmarked remains of the road in front of his shop. His regular customers settle down with their kulhads of cha in one hand, cigarette in the other, dressed in cotton shirts and kurtas, and gossip the evening away, even as the mound of discarded earthen cups nearby piles up steadily.

The evening might bring respite from the sullen, dead hush that lies over the quietly sleeping town, saved from being sepulchral only by the vast, wide, dusty yellowness that pervades the thick languor. The stir of life, the only fresh breath that billows through comes from hope and anticipation, from the collective sigh of the owners of the keen eyes that look towards the horizon, divining or actually sighting that elusive grey rim.

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