Our host is constructing a pond in his organic garden. I have no experience in pond construction, but when your host asks for help, you oblige him or her. All Billy and I had to do was help the other workers move stones into the ditch. I’ve moved stones before, how much harder could this be?
I have never moved stones under the relentless Indian sun, however. It has been cloudy for the last few days, but of course the clouds part for the day that we have to do physical labor. All the workers watched us as we approached. These were not Workawayers but actual local workers. They all seemed genuinely amused at our presence. I could not share their amusement after laying eyes upon the imposing pile of rocks. Calling them rocks is kind—these were boulders.
None of the workers spoke English. The only phrase they seemed to know was “little rocks,” which they kept repeating anytime Billy and I attempted to move a stone larger than a fist. Apparently our host had told the workers to only let us move small rocks, which was humiliating at first, carrying stones barely larger than my head while the other workers hoisted boulders the size torsos over their shoulders. After about half an hour, though, the humiliation turned into gratitude. Walking back and forth into and out of a ditch carrying stones under the vicious mid-day sun in ninety degree weather takes its toll quickly, and had we been moving some of those boulders I think we would have passed out.
This is why people tell you to stay in school, I realized. You see people working crappy jobs and that advice comes to mind, but to actually experience that crappy job, just for a day, is enough to make you appreciate the truth of that sentiment. A high school or college education is no guarantee against moving boulders for a living, but an education makes such an occupation a far less likely outcome in life.
Once I got over the heat, I didn’t mind the work. Repetitive physical work allows my mind to wander, and no one is trying to talk to you while you’re working, so you’re free to be lost in your own thoughts. But if this were my life, day in and day out with no end in sight, things would be different.
The man who I assume is the foreman points and speaks to the workers in rapid Hindi. He has the largest belly of the assembly, and hasn’t touched a single stone, I assume because he doesn’t want to get dirt and dust on his white pants and shirt. He chatters orders and we move back and forth, picking up rocks and dropping them along the inside edges of the ditch.
Our host eventually emerges. I have no idea how long it has been. He tells us to take a break, that there will be chai served for everyone in a minute. I hoped I had misheard him, but sure enough within moments I had a paper cup of hot tea in my hand. This was the height of absurdity: drinking a hot beverage after working in ninety degree weather.
Billy and I retreated to a shaded spot to drink our tea.
Billy. Now I really feel like I’m in India.
Elliott. How’s that?
Billy. I’m covered in dirt and I’m drinking hot tea after doing physical work under the blistering sun. Plus there are cows everywhere.
Elliott. What we really need is water.
Billy. Yeah. I won’t feel embarrassed asking for it at this point. Plus I’ll need to shower.
He looks down at his clothes, which are covered in dust and grime.
Billy. Well, I guess these are my work clothes now.
Elliott. Isn’t today Diwali?
Billy. Oh yeah.
We look out at the barren stretch of dirt where the rocks are piled. Dust mingles with rapid Hindi in the oven-like air.
Billy. Happy Diwali dude.
4 thoughts on “Sisyphus”
Wasn’t familiar with “Diwali” and did some research. Since you are in southern India, you are celebrating Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon Narakasura. You and Billy are the American version of Lord Krishna defeating the rocks.
Sunscreen on that newly bald head I hope, please.
Sounds miserable. And if you – an avid tea drinker – didn’t appreciate the tea, I can’t imagine who would. For some reason I’m picturing the foreman enjoying himself and ready to berate anyone that can’t handle the work – like some mobster dude or something. I hope they have a place for you to wash your clothes. With only a few outfits you can’t have one ruined with dust and sweat. Maybe you’ll be around to jump in the pond – if there aren’t too many sacred cows enjoying cooling off in it already.
Sounds like just about any manual labor you do after this will be cake.