My hands can still plough the fields.

My hands can still plough the fields.

He was a teacher,
my younger boy
He taught me to write my name
Suddenly for days he lay on the bed
Malaria in the brain, they said

We waited for a miracle
To take him to the hospital
No bicycle, no bullock cart
The primary health clinic was 10 kms afar

It was getting eerily dark.

Soups of lentil and basil and yeast
And prayer by our native priest
But you know, he died: my little prince.
Was this a punishment for my sins?

My taller boy missed his little brother
But soon Aati matured into a robust farmer
Soon the rice field was his bed of dreams
Soon he dreamt of a season of rice in heaps

He laboured, we stocked
And thus ticked the sand clock.

Boom! Bam! Boom! The steel factories howled
“Steel factories over our land!” our Ho Munda kin bawled

“What about our crops?”
“All gone!”

“What about our livelihood?”
“All gone!”

“What about our ancestors’ spirits?”
“All gone!”

Boom! We heard it again, but
Aati ran to see, for its sound was different

Gamcha on his shoulder, the gait of a deer
It was the boom of the guns that we could hear
Minutes, hours slipped through the barrel of the gun
Women, children, men wailed for those long gone

“Where is Aati, my young man?”
“They put his body into a van!”

First, there were no hospitals, no development
Then they said steel meant development
But I lost both my sons.

I am old, I am angry.
I cry. No answer to my unending ‘why’.

My hands can still plough the fields.

Priyanka Borpujari is a freelancer, based in Mumbai, but with her bags packed, ready to hit the road to cover indigenous peoples’ struggles. She is at