by Suman Sastry, Workshop 15
The harsh Indian summer had brought everyone to their knees. It was a sweltering 48 degrees Celsius in a small village called Kailasha during April of 2023. The world had still not fully recovered from the aftermath of the deadly virus. The blistering sun was not making life any easier.
Harihar, a playful and joyous 7-year-old, belonged to a family of professional musicians settled in Kailasha. He was being trained by his grandfather, whom he fondly called Thathu.
Harihar hated the summer, even though his school was closed. He had suffered sun stroke earlier and knew it was better not to play outside with his toddler sister.
He loved the rains. Every summer night, he slept dreaming of the arrival of the monsoon – the smell of the earth, the greenery all around, savouring the hot mirchi bajjis made by his amma, jumping in puddles with his sister. Ah! what a life.
One bright day, the heat made it completely unbearable for the little one. Thathu, in one of his previous classes, had taught an ancient hymn praising the rain God. He had mentioned that this hymn, when sung with absolute devotion, could bring torrential rains even in a desert.
Harihar put this new-found knowledge to use. And lo and behold, it got cloudy. The rain came pouring down with all the healing it had to offer Earth and its inhabitants. It was a welcome relief.
Harihar could not believe himself. He went about running and jumping all over the village – screaming with joy. He jumped and proclaimed that this was all due to him singing the hymn to appease the rain god. But no one paid any attention to his words. His Thathu too brushed away the claims.
This blessing of nature continued for the entire following week with daily rains. Thathu had never seen such a drastic change in weather since he was born, and that too, in early May. The next day, the curious grandfather spied on his mysterious grandson and followed him after lunch.
Harihar took the winding path through the yellowish-green paddy fields and reached the ancient stone temple of Lord Shiva. He offered his prayers in front of the radiant idol. Then he sat in a meditative posture beneath the Bodhi tree inside the temple compound.
He looked up at the sky with immense devotion. He closed his eyes and folded his hands into a Namaste and started singing the hymn in his melodious voice.
As soon as the song was over, it poured heavily.
After their dinner that night, Thathu narrated the event and that he did not have doubts any more. However, the family agreed that Harihar should not repeat this performance for a few days. They wanted to make sure that the rains were not due to any low pressure in the Bay of Bengal.
Everyone carefully watched the sky for the next week. There was not a drop of rain. The green cover which had started cropping up across Kailasha dried up.
The weather was back to being unbearable.
The family got together one evening and felt it was time for Harihar to prove them wrong. Thathu lovingly looked at his confused grandson and coaxed him to sing again. The next day, his family accompanied him to the Bodhi tree. Harihar repeated his performance.
And there was rain, this time with lightning and thunder as if the rain god was clapping with appreciation.
Word spread far and wide. People thronged to get a glimpse of the miracle rainmaker. Some came with scepticism. Some came with gifts and offerings in their hand. Some came with greed in their eyes. There were stalls of all kinds set up in the village to cater to the needs of the visitors.
Kailasha residents wanted to mint money from all this hoopla. Every news channel had their vans circling the previously unknown village. They were trying to cash-in on this breaking phenomenon, with a hashtag of #KalyugKaAvatar. Harihar’s family was jubilant. They had found the winning ticket to possibly one of the biggest lotteries.
But amidst all this chaos, everyone forgot about the star of the moment and never asked what he was going through. The young musical genius had got scared of all this attention. His tender mind was not able to take all this pressure and stress. Suddenly, there were so many expectations. He had no time to relish the rains.
Harihar stopped smiling and became dull. Thathu could sense his grandson’s suffering.
One evening, Thathu took his grandson away to their secret spot on the banks of the river at village outskirts. The setting sun painted the sky with a unique hue of orange, yellow and pink. They sat amidst blooming mango trees looking at the narrow stream of water. Smell of fresh green grass beneath them was enchanting.
Harihar started throwing pebbles and was engrossed in the waves that it created.
Thathu then whispered the words of wisdom which Harihar listened to in rapt attention. Tears rolled down Hari’s eyes. He immediately hugged his grandfather.
The next day, Harihar repeated the usual steps of his performance, but this time he excluded the secret ingredient – his unwavering devotion – from the performance. There was not a drop of water from the clear blue sky. This continued for the next few days.
No matter how many times Harihar performed, there were no rains. The crowds dwindled. News channels lost interest. Residents of Kailasha and Harihar’s family were disappointed as their bubble of fame and fortune burst.
But there was a smile on the faces of the grandfather and grandson duo. They hummed the now-famous hymn while walking towards the river bank with a couple of dark clouds appearing out of nowhere following them into the sunset.
Suman Sastry attended Short Story Writing Workshop 15 (US workshop 3).