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Stretched Shadows upon the Hill
by Arati Shah-Yukich, Lehigh Valley Greens
No matter her aching body, she is up early. Last night's beating is history now. She looks on at the drooling mouth of her man, whose stench makes her sick all over again. She wonders if the others have already begun their hunt for twigs, dry roots, dry leaves. She will have to send her older daughters to fetch the water. She wants to find those bushes. She worries whether she would find them there. It has been a while since she saw them last.
She remembers her mother putting the paste of the leaves on aching bellies. She casts a glance at her two sleeping children from outside. She sighs, for her six-year old will be alone with her baby brother for a large part of the day. He has been crying a lot lately, now that her milk is dried up.... She must hurry if she wants to return well before dark. She walks on. With the veil covering her eyes, she has reduced herself to be her own two feet with the terrain so familiar sliding underneath.
Every day those twigs seem to have gone farther and farther. She is puzzled. She sighs. She slips into her past as someone very tired and cold would slip under a comforter on the couch. As a little girl, she used fetch the fodder and firewood almost outside her village. She and her friends, all on the same mission, would play hide-and-go-seek among the trees before coming home. Today she is unusually anxious. What if the place where she hopes to find the bushes is a private property now? If only she could get some sapplings, she could plant them. Why, she could even sell the paste.
By tomorrow he would have travelled 12,000 miles from New Delhi to New York. Among the noises of champagne glasses the elegantly dressed men have just made a deal. They have called it General Agreement on Trade and Tarriffs. All those who put their chips on the table have an equal chance at the jackpot, so they say. The important thing is to abide by it. Once you sign in, you've got to play by it.
"Come on now, what do you have to lose?", they are prodding him. "And think what you will gain! Thriving businesses and industries, booming economy, higher standard of living for all! How could you hesitate at the chance of eradicating poverty? No, we don't say that GATT is magical or easy. Man, you've got to make compromises here and there. You've got to move your arms if you want to bring the food to your mouth. They want jobs, don't they? That's why they put you in your office. GATT would get you exactly what you would like for your constituency. Efficient state-of-the-art industries, and multinational corporations. Here is a chance for the country such as yours to bypass all the cycles of development and truly achieve modernity within a decade."
Under the influence of champagne he is holding that immortal pen. He has them all now, suspended at the tip of his pen like a small inkdrop. He has gotten hold of the time, all in his powerful fist, and he is going to stretch the time according to his will. He feels giddy powerful. He has turned inward. One more time he consults his calculations, visions, position, and circumstances. He has opened the game-board of mental monopoly and has begun to see for himself how it would be.
He dusts away those animal-trodden, one-lane highways and puts in four-lane ones. He sees those squatting, betel leaf-chewing, good-for-nothing fellows get up. He sees them now, dressed for business, waiting in lines for the buses which run on schedules. He sees the fellows buying cooking-gas ranges. Their wives and children are no longer trampling the forests for fuel, fodder, and food. He recognizes that the poverty is the number one enemy of the environment. He sees that the stroke of his pen would mean life or death for his constituency. He feels his deep loyalty for his people. He holds the pen tighter still.
Her hills and her twigs are up for sale. She does not know it.
She has a bout of excruciating stomach cramps. She stops and plops on the ground. She curses the shadows of her feet always teasing her, prodding her to keep pace with them. Her eyes see shadows of the bushes even though there are none around. She knows what that means. She closes her eyes, but that is worse, for she sees the bushes in her mind being stretched until they are as thin as a spider web. In her mind she is still trying to put her foot on the ground before the shadows of her feet touch the ground; for she must return home before her shadow is shrouded by the night.
He is back home from the US, well-inspired and resolute to do genuine service to his country. With him have come all sorts of systems which are being installed in his office without a moment's delay. He is in touch with the other GATT members in various countries through telecommunications. He and the GATT members around the world are in daily contact with each other. Nanosecond networking fills him with a same sense of marvel and power. He has ordered a map of his constituency to be brought before him. He has pondered over it alone for a few days. He has checked his database. He has it all figured out.
Her hills and her twigs are up for sale. She does not know it. She is still searching for the shadows of the medicinal bushes. Even if someone told her, she would not understand how someone could buy and sell the bumps and dents of her hill, shadow and all. This is a critical moment for her. Her destiny would depend on the ability of her muscles to stretch completely and cover her entire self over the hill like a mother protecting her child from a danger by completely covering the child with her sari in a one protective embrace. She knows that that is the only way to hold down her twigs, bushes and shadows.
Her nickname is Poverty. She lives in villages from the desert of Rajasthan to the mountains of Asam, from the snowcapped mountains of Himalayas to the white-foamed shores of Kerala. Let's wait for a puff of wind which may lift of her veil so that we may find out if her real name is Sita or Kali.
Sita is the daughter of the earth. Kali is the symbol of power which destroys evil.
Arati Shah-Yukich is active in the Lehigh Valley Greens in Pennsylvania. She has a Ph.D. from M.I.T. in Radiological Sciences. For the past eight years, she has spent most of her time raising her two boys, teaching, and performing Indian classical music.