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Peals of carefree laughter run in the wind like dandelions gently blown at by the lips of a child. He thrusts his legs forward daring the makeshift swing to sway higher, as his sister calls caution from the side. Never letting his legs dangle, he flies in childish abandon until the branch gives and he crashes to the ground with a resounding thud.
‘Run!’ he says to his sister as he unties the rope from the fallen branch and launches off behind her.
At night, he spies the sky through the tiny holes in the roof, watching the clouds drift towards the town. ‘All good things go to the town’, his father says. In his dreams, he is a rich man. Having travelled to the town on a cloud, he lives in a mansion and has all the rice he wants, to eat. He also has a garden, with a metal swing where his sister plays all day, reaching for things beyond her height.
Just as dawn breaks, his parents’ heavy whispers wake him from his slumber. As he stirs, the conversation stops abruptly, and his mother rises, mumbling soft prayers to the skies.
He lies on the comfortably hard ground, pondering upon his father’s woes. The rain has evaded their village for two months now. The crop which they sowed and tended to all summer, is disappearing slowly and they have no money for new seeds, much less for pesticides. Their last crop had failed, and he had seen his father lose a part of himself as he pleaded with the sahukar for money. But now even the moneylenders refuse to loan before their previous debt is paid.
‘Anmol, go fetch water’, says his mother, handing him the rusted vessel. He drags his feet to the handpump and gets in line for the water. The handpump squeaks and belches with the effort of drawing water from dry ground. Anmol carries the tumbler carefully, mindful of every drop as he returns home.
Later in the day, as he runs around with the other kids after school, the sky rumbles with thunder. They assemble, praying in their hearts for the miracle they all await, hope threading every vein in their bodies. As the first drops fall on their upturned foreheads, they dance with wild joy. All kids run to their fields to watch the first rain with their families. Anmol finds some of his father’s joy return with the rain, making their future seem more possible, more real.
Anmol is one of several children whose families await their fate to be decided by the clouds. Their situation is worsened by the oppressive moneylenders and middlemen, ensuring that most of the farmer’s hard-earned profit never reaches his pocket. Their only hope is to rely on free education for their children so as they become more equipped to provide for the family as they grow up. While government schemes for the benefit of farmers and rural dwellers exist, they aren’t implemented fast or well enough for them to reap many benefits from the programmes. Rural India’s struggle with poverty and hygiene continues and has a long path to traverse before its woes are fully cured.