Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 10, Part 1
"I am Bisakha", the woman formally introduced herself to Damini. "I am Damini", the young girl replied. The two women -- one young, the other middle aged -- walked back into the settlement. Weaving through hutments, they came to a small courtyard. Some women sat talking and passing a smoke around. In the stark landscape, the colorful clothes of the women stood out. The easy laughter belied the toughness of their lives. Bisakha, holding Damini's hand, walked into the group. Some women made some space for Bisakha and Damini to sit. The smoke was passed to Bisakha who took a long puff and passed it to Damini. Damini did not want to smoke so she passed it along.
"This is Damini", Bisakha said, introducing her to the group. "She has come with Filo." "Where are you from, Damini? Your clothes are so different", one rather young woman asked. "I am from a place called Earth", Damini replied. "It is rather far away and very few people from Earth come here." "No wonder, you speak differently and wear different clothes", an older woman in a bright green dress replied. "How do you find our place?", another older woman asked. Damini was not sure whether she meant Aipotu or this settlement. Very diplomatically, she replied. "It is different and it is interesting." The women broke into a fit of laughter, cackling like a group of excited geese. "She is being coy, is she not?", Bisakha asked, smiling. Damini felt a little embarrassed. "Well, maybe I should reword my answer."
"Now, that has left us more confused", the woman in the green dress complained. "Where did you speak with God, and who is Aris Turtle?" Bisakha smiled. "Let her be, Auntie", she chided the old woman. "In a new place she sees things with fresh eyes. Ours have grown old and we must sometime rely on the eyes of the young. Yet, she will learn from our wisdom. That is the way of the world, is it not?"
"I do not know what world she speaks of when she describes our land", the young woman replied. "My eyes are young yet and events I see are not colored by filters of wisdom. And yet, I see a very different land."
"That's not correct grammar", the older woman interjected. "Oh, come on, auntie", the young girl answered with obvious irritation. "You know what I mean." Another young woman who had been sitting quietly all this while piped up. "I am not as good with words as Maya is (obviously referring to the young woman who sang her doggerel), but I agree with her. When the people from Poke came and offered us money to move out, we should have. Despite us not agreeing with them, they come every week with tankers, offering us water. But, like absolute morons, we refuse. We obstinately stick to our foolish ideas. We will stay in this land, our traditional land, we claim. Well, we keep sitting here as life dries out of our souls."
"If you want the water that the tankers bring, why don't you take it?", Bisakha asked the young lady. "You know that there are no constraints on families taking water from the tanker. Most of us do not want it, so we will not take it."
"My father is living in the past, just like all of you. An old fossil that lives in glorious times that existed who knows when. Who knows whether such a time even existed."
Damini was all confused by this discussion. Here were people arguing vehemently on some issue that she had no clue about. Seeing her frown, the old woman in the green dress turned to her and said, "A few hundred miles from here is a large city. There is a company called Poke that makes beverages of different kinds. Those beverages are unhealthy, but that is another issue. For years now, that company has drilled deep bore wells into the land here and has been pumping out water. Subsequently, the water level here has dropped remarkable. There is hardly any water in our wells that are not quite as deep. While we are not able to get water to survive, Poke is able to draw water to make beverages, which it sells. The question is who has greater rights over water? A small community who needs water to survive or a large company that needs water to make more profits? Once we began to protest, the company began to put pressure on us to move. They said they would pay us. They also began to offer some of us jobs in their company and bring tankers over to give us some water. Ironic, is it not -- we cannot get water in our own land but this company takes water from here for their own use and brings back a few drops for us to use -- like throwing a dog a few scraps. In fact, now they are trying to get the politicians to change the laws so that companies can own water and sell it to people."
"But, why don't we move?" Maya asked again. "They are willing to give us land, money and jobs."