Varsha 2020 Issue, Stories - Gautam Sasidharan



Burning Dreams

By Gautam Sasidharan


Those were COVID times, along the highway…


The man saw the mirage. It was a tea stall and he could hear some noise from there. A truck was parked alongside the road in front of the stall. He hurried to the tea stall in desperation, with the child on his shoulders, hope beginning to poke its head. Upon reaching, hope felt it is better to keep itself under the hood.

The sun was on its downward trend and the tea stall owner was stirring an open mouthed aluminium vessel in cautious measure over the burning wood. He had settled on the smaller vessel considering the few sitting inside. His stirring was continuous not wanting the milk to get stuck to the bottom of the vessel. Neither did he want the brown liquid to spill out in over enthusiasm. Besides was a pan, from which fumes were emanating and dissolving with the surrounding heat. There was a packet of bread and gram flour brought by the shopkeeper, the last of the stock which would have expired otherwise.

The owner mixed the gram flour with water and other essentials. The smell of hot oil wafted through the space in the tea stall populated by a five of the village men, gathered for a whiff of fresh air. The highlight of the room was the television hoisted on a high platform for better view. It was a 10 inch CRT, employed to invite customers and keep them entertained as they waited for their order to be served. Presently, it was bringing news from across the world about the fast spreading disease called COVID.


The village men sat scattered in the tea stall, unconsciously following social distancing. There was a sudden gush of wind. The electrician amongst them had his reputation at stake, as the screen changed into black and white dots, like viruses under a microscope. Once the gush passed away, the transmission was restored, bringing relief to the electrician.

As the bread turned brown in the hot oil, the shopkeeper’s stomach grumbled. The farmer’s face was in a grimace. The television was now announcing the daily statistics of the casualties.


The owner who was breaking the sweat over the hot pan, under the evening sun, above the parched floor, became conscious of the two sets of eyes staring. He looked at them carefully and, as if woken up from a deep slumber started towards them across the partition and shooed them away.


“God knows who these people are and what deadly diseases they bring.”


The village pujari raised his head hearing the name of God. As it was of no consequence he went back to the television. The man with a downcast face settled down across the road opposite to the shop. He needed to take a break. The child did not want leave his station on the shoulder.


The owner brought the plate with bread pakoras and tea to a table. The gathered huddled together and picked up pieces of the pakora. They sharpened their ears as the FM took seats for the press conference in the television. They were going to announce the details of the fourth tranche amidst the COVID crisis.

After an hour of paying attention they were all exhausted. The tea glasses had stains on the rims and tea dust marked a line where the last of it passed out. Probably, the bread pakora would have passed the innards of the intestine. But one piece in the plate stood out, left untouched since the past hour. So did the grimace on the face.


The shopkeeper speculated “Don’t worry. Something will be done. Don’t lose hope.”


The owner admonished “At least eat the pakora. The tea would be cold by now. Do you want another one?”


It was answered just by silence.


“I don’t know when this is going to end. But I think I will manage with personal calls”, the electrician figured.


“Maybe we should work on a barter system among ourselves” suggested the stationery shopkeeper, the most educated among them.


“May God help us all” were the pujari’s words.


But all this was not registering in the farmer’s ears. He walked out with the bread pakora in his hands, head down, shoulders hunched. He crossed the road and offered the pakora to child over the man’s shoulders. He gazed at the parked truck, laden with sweet lime. Something came over him. He climbed on to the driver seat and moved the truck to the open area besides the stall.


He walked towards the back of the truck, removed the pin and let out the tons of sweet lime on the open ground. He pushed them all out and when emptied, he climbed back in the driver seat and parked the truck a few meters ahead. He walked back to the tea stall, took an ember from the dying fire. He trod with hesitance towards the heap and without any indication lighted the heap.


The dry ones, catching the cue, started burning and passed it on to the juicier ones. A thick black smoke arose over the land in silent protest to whatever has happened and happening.


The man watched the pyre burning the dreams of a farmer. But he did not wait for the pyre to die. He started walking, for he had miles to go before he would stop for the night, and miles to go before he would reach his destination, to claim the migrant amount.


Gautam Sasidharan from Hyderabad, India is an engineer. His stories have been published in three anthologies and try to focus on situations and humans' response to it.


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