So, what happened was, it just stopped raining. Or, to be more precise, the monsoons just stopped coming.
Uncle Vihaan, who spent all day pacing, sipping tea, and working on his solar-powered computer on the veranda, said this had happened many times before, but Daadee said that, this time, it was worse. This was lasting longer and was having much less water than ever before. Regardless, right now, there was no water for the bitter gourds, the cucumbers, the cow peas. No water for the limes, the pomegranates, the papayas, the mangoes. Amma went to the garden every morning and came back later in tears. No water meant no crops and it meant that any food that anyone ate had to be transported in from far away, costing very much more than anyone, especially farmers with no crops to sell, could afford.
What Jayshree noticed first was that the old people were dying. Of course, old people die. They’re old. That’s what they do. But when there’s not enough food, the old women eat last. And the old men, well, men always die first, and the old men couldn’t stand the dry heat, the lack of water, the barely-boiled food that everyone ate when the monsoons didn’t come. And so, soon, the village had no old people who remembered the old ways, who’d lived through drought, who had time to light ghee at the ancestral altar.
What Jayshree noticed next was that the babies were dying. Their mothers couldn’t get enough water and food to nurse them. They were born too early because their mothers ate after everyone else and there wasn’t enough food left over. The dry river bed meant that the nurses from New Dehli couldn’t get to the village to give the shots and dispense the vitamins. And so, the village had no babies to delight the old people, keep their sisters and brothers busy watching them, give their parents hope. And no old people to light ghee at the altars.
What Jayshree noticed last was that the women were disappearing. For decades, without discussion and while everyone pretended not to notice, India and China had produced generations of mostly boys. Those mostly-boys grew up to meet no-women. No-women to inspire. No-women to court. No-women to marry. China had always planned to use the surplus men in a war, but no one else was interested in war and that was hard for China. India began to sell its surplus women off, brides to men in rainy places such as Russia, West Virginia, northern China. And no old people to light ghee at the altars.
What Jayshree did, from the time when she was a young girl who had never known her menses, until she was an old woman who had stopped bleeding on the dark moons, was to record the rain every week on her iPad. It just seemed to Jayshree as if it mattered. And if there were no old people to light ghee at the altars, well, Jayshree would make her record anyway.
Uncle Vihaan charged her iPad every week on his solar panel and she parsed out her time on the internet to make sure that she could record her observations, imagining herself an 18th Century Natural Scientist, while she picked her way across the cracked earth, between the non-existent fields. Even if only a few drops fell, Jayshree recorded it. And, when no rain fell, Jayshree recorded that, too. She grew ancient, caring for her Uncle Vihaan and her Daadee, long after her parents had died and her siblings had moved away, the girls to China and the boys to the mountains of the Eastern United States, medical degrees in hand. Jayshree collected even the tiniest bits of water, often in a pit-style solar still, and often while eating only a handful of desert insects. Once, her sister-in-law, Parvati, visited from West Virginia, where the floods climbed yearly up the ancient mountains, and Parvati brought Jayshree tea, and rice, and dried peaches, and lavender soap, and sliced ginger, and a radio, and 4 yards of silk, and pyrethreum, which kept the mosquitoes from giving Zika to pregnant women.
In the end, Jayshree died old and alone. Her uncle and her grandfather had been dead for years and years. She had eked out her existence alone on a river plain cracked and dried by too many people and not enough planet. But her last act was to record, save, and send her records — the records of a lifetime — of moisture on the plains of India.
When Sushi, Mycelium Magistra of the Twenty-Third Century, came across Jayshree’s records, she sankdown onto silk-covered orange and pink cushions, sipped a tisane from her small gold-glued, pottery cup, and settled in for a long read. Sushi knew that information was power. And someone needed to explain how the Indian sub-continent had become desert.
Picture found here