All about the soil

'How many hours will it take?'
Rebati asked the conductor of the bus.
'Where you said, you will be going?'
The conductor asked. He had rolled a paper and with it he was trying to poke his ear.
The bus was just like a bus should be in this part of red soil. Filled with people, labourers, chicken, goats, and children on hips of women. They were all swinging and twirling keeping in exact timing with the twists and twirls the bus was having on the dusty road.
'How come people stay here?'
Rebati thought.
A few minutes ago a little boy had tugged her saree and soiled it.
His nose had something dropping out, slimy. Rebati almost wriggled with nausea.
'Bad decision...'
Rebati thought.
'I should have driven to here...but this papa of mine, he would never allow me to go anywhere driving...take the driver...Pooh! Uncle had grown old...he can't even see properly and the way he drives, as if he is trying to follow a snail! How many times asked papa to replace that driver-uncle, but he wouldn't budge...'
Rebati was fuming inside.
She felt drops of perspiration gathering on her forehead and nosetip.
'Where's those tissues?'
Rebati brought one out of her purse.
After a swipe it was a relief.
Recently she had made a makeover at a well known parlour. Cropped her hair to suit her face. Made a few curls.
'All will be wasted in this dust...but this assignment...'
Rebati's boss had asked her to collect samples of soil, from a village, some twenty five kilometres away from the heart of the city which would be used by their company as a sample. They are doing samplings of soil before they would be putting the data into a base. It would be part of a statistical survey.

The people who were sitting or standing by her were largely indifferent to her.
Rebati noticed that.
Only some urchins, with no clothes on their upper torso, were occasionally looking at her and giggling.
She didn't mind that.
After all she would just go to the place, collect the sample and turn back straight home.

'What about calling Subir and having a bit of telephone chat?'
Rebati thought.
But he might be busy.
'Okay then, let's try someone else.
After all this stupid journey by a bus through a dusty terrain.'
Rebati thought.

After half an hour the conductor called.
'That's Ballavpur...'
Rebati was elated.

She scraped through the crowd.
Rebati looked around as she stood by the road.
'Where's the village?'
There was no sign of any hutment.
Only vast paddy fields on both sides of the road.

A lone electric tower structure stood in the midst of the paddy field that seemingly stretched to the horizon.
It was only ten thirty or so.
The sun was not really beating down, but after that journey by that bus with people almost jutting out of windows and the door, Rebati was feeling a bit clumsy.
She brought out her another swipe.
It turned blackish red as soon as she wiped her face with it.
The soil.

A man was driving a cycle van through the road.
'Excuse me, can you tell me where is Ballavpur?'
Rebati asked.
'Go down that way...'
The man showing her an embankment through the paddy fields, went away.
Rebati again made another turn of cursing which started with her papa and ended with her boss.

As she was walking, somehow, due to absentmindedness, she slipped.
And she fell into the field itself.
Now she had soil all over.

A boy who was with a stick running a cycle tyre, saw her.
He pulled her up.

'Where are you going to?'
Rebati said, almost in the brink of tears as she was.

'Come with me...'
Rebati followed the boy.
He took her to their hut.
A mud hut with straw roofing overhead.
Rebati was uncertain about entering the hut.
Then a woman came out.
A woman who was frail but sturdy.
'My mother...'
The boy said as he told her mother about finding Rebati in a paddy field.
Rebati informed her of the assignment.
The woman took her to their well.
She pulled pails of water and helped her to rub the soil of her saree.
'It will dry out before you would be going back...'
The woman told her in bengali.
Rebati started talking about her assignment.
It would be of no problem, she was assured.
She could take as much soil she could from Ballavpur.


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