Looking down, ever down, calloused hands scout crusty soil for the sole pewli she pirouettes—a habit of anxiety belying pretenses of stoicism. We know so we smile, in these final days readily to temper the tide of our true feelings. We laugh through a last meal, a last song, a last conversation; mashed mango and kofta, Open Your Eyes, an unending commitment to the community. Feigned happiness again buries tears along this string of post-college years knotted with such punishing celebration.
This community—teachers, farmers, cooks—is family we will leave. And in the end we remember the beginning. What brings anyone to APV is misunderstood, though retrospect helps explain groggy 3:45am smiles persisting through each day’s three workdays in the classroom, kitchen, and fields.`
A pause in the flower’s twirl, a tug at the petals, a divulgence:
—When rice, I enjoy many people together. First one family work, then others come, then four, five families together. Everybody taking out and tying and joking, talking, and I like. Plowing the field and water and mix and mud and sowing again and throw mud at each other in mouth and…like Holi, I like.
Muddled mosaic tiles of memory; petals amputated, collected in her hands. Pluck…
—All children went forest together to big stone and are sitting there and eating and sitting. We talk about our home, our school. Women and brothers talk me. They know I don’t tell anybody. Some women hide and they fight and they tell me about. They tell everything. Like secret. They trust me.
—I have goat and sheep. I like our cow, very nice, no horns. One day leopard attack our cow and I am crying. Evening time, leopard attack and killed. Many people go to forest not find and after two days I saw the cow dead. I am crying. Many days I am crying. My cow has no horns.
The decent, the diligent, the gentle, and the wise. We are who came here, grown, intellectually and emotionally.
She balls the severed petals and from them crushes fragrance.
—These days I like so much, I learn many things because many volunteers came here. Like, you teach us everything, about other, other, other, other.
Evolution characterizes the APV experience. Investigation through mindfulness focuses life. Too often schools forget the plasticity of inquiry to pursue ordered achievement. We run a school, but we own a methodology, one that begins with introspection and may someday end with awareness and understanding.
—I learn how to live together—most important thing. Here is different places people here. We met and happy. I like home but this time I like home and here both same.
Through ease and ordeal we absorbed the best of each other, daring the other to toil alone. I have never challenged myself so exhaustively for another; every log, stone, and field was hers.
Tracing shapes in her palms, petals drop and hues erode. Her wedding is too soon, as June.
—I want marry; marry important because sometimes some problem and care each other.
Enter society, play its game. We do not reject our fall into urbanity, but balance would be nice. The world jerks us from Garhwal. Detached, we do stir for modernity’s conveniences (electricity! restaurants! ice cream!) but don’t we need so little? Naïve, we anticipate happiness, but aren’t we happy right now?
—I don’t want leave here.
She entrusts me with her sorrow. From afar we will work for APV, comfortable our relationships will tether and retrieve us. But to leave this place is to die a little and in the end all we can do is talk.
Still, things we say leave much unsaid: we are beholden to this community; without it, we would never have met, may never again.
Clouds weep the hillside, dampening her hands, smothering their perfume, shrouding what her shuddering lower lip and clutched brow tell. We mute before an impending storm. All will change—not simply intensify or diminish, but evolve. Our shared, smiling eyes might be aimed—charily—at friends; the salt of our labors may be summoned—painfully—beneath a different sun; and the synchronized, accelerating pulses as one waits for the other (the other hurrying to the one) could repeat— weakly—before our family’s embrace.
A draw from our tumbler suspends water beads from her chin that scatter what rays breaks the clouds. Evolution is perilous. I will remember forest fires, felled trees, and festivals, but those beads? Details—ends devour them and trade the salvage. In new places with new people, we will barter pine for concrete, hugs for salary, smiles for desks.
—He say ‘I can’t get leave.’ That time I not happy, very serious. Now, telling you, I am very happy. He said, ‘if I can’t get leave, what will we do?’ I said, ‘nothing, don’t worry about it, next winter. I can stay at APV for long time, no problem.’ Seriously, then; now, smiling.
She rubs the water from her chin, washing her hands. Her chin rises and eyes into mine she smiles.
—I don’t know what is future.