Gamaar, Raj’s younger brother, was crouched by the edge of the wooden fence which separated their world from the sandy desert beyond. Raj could see that he was concentrating hard, and his hands were swiping sporadically at the ground in front of him. Raj wondered towards him, captured by curiosity and lack of any interesting alternative. As Raj neared he could see that he ground in front of his brother seemed to be alive. It was at that moment he saw his brother’s right hand reach down and pick up a part of this moving floor and place it most defiantly into his mouth.
“Gam, what you doing?” Raj started. Gamaar jumped, a clear indication that he was causing mischief. Gamaar did not grace his brother with a response, but stayed frozen, his brown eyes fixed on Raj’s, waiting for him to pass judgement. Raj crouched by his brother and examined the dancing ground. A platoon of ants had formed a regimented line from the remains of a two day old apple core, out under the fence and into the desert. Gamaar again lowered his hand and picked up a single ant, as he moved it to his mouth the swat of his older brother’s hand connecting with his own forced him to drop it.
“You can’t eat that you idiot!” Raj exclaimed.
“Why not?” Came the reply. Gamaar seemed to hold genuine shock and surprise in his voice.
“Because they are bad for you, Maataa said so!” Raj pointed towards his mother threateningly.
“So! I’m hungry and it’s better than eating sand, or the dung of our goat”
“No Gam, you can’t eat any of those, Bapa will be back this evening, he will bring some food then. If you’re really hungry ask Maataa for some chai.”
Gamaar looked down at the ants again, then back up to his brother’s face.
“Raj, I want to be an ant. They get full so easily, I would never be hungry if I was an ant.”
“Yes Gam, that would be good. Let’s take your mind off food. It’s not good to think about it. Shall we play some chess?”
“OK. I’ll get the pieces!” Gamaar’s response was filled with excitement as he ran into the house, this sudden movement startled their goat, which let out a bleat of surprise. Raj trusted his brother to find the appropriate pieces, and so set about making the board. He walked over to the outhouse, which, due to its smell, was set several meters outside the fence. Raj opened the gate and stepped out into the desert beyond, sand instantly engulfing his feet. The sun was at its highest point in the sky, his shadow barely formed in front of him. The walk to the outhouse was short, and uneventful, he kept an eye out to make sure there were no snakes, which there never were, and reached the outhouse in less than a minute. As he opened the door a pungent smell crept slowly into his nostrils, one which he was used too and so did not flinch.
He remembered when his family from the city had come to stay. They had commented on how much it smelt and how they should wish Raj and his family moved to a city so they could have western toilets and live like the rest of the civilized country. Raj’s father was a proud man, and largely ignored such comments, simply blaming their weak stomachs and sensitive stature. “A toilet is a toilet, it is where we expel our waste, it need not be fancy or expensive. I for one tend not to spend more time than needed. I suppose you show your guests to your expensive toilet, so they can marvel at its perfection? You don’t? So why have it then? We have made use without them for so many years.” Raj had hidden a giggle when his father had made this statement. His brother however was not so controlled. Their family had not stayed long that trip, and they had not returned since. Raj had often dreamed of the city. He would go when he went on his pilgrimage in a few years time.
Raj entered the outhouse and removed a small bucket of water collected from the well a few miles away. He returned back to their home, walking over to the crack in the ground he had spotted earlier. He poured the water onto the floor until it became soft, closing the gap with some of the goats droppings. Using a stick he carefully drew out an eight by eight square forming, as his father had taught him, the chess board. Gamaar had just come out of the hut as Raj finished making the board, he had clutched in his arms the thirty-two pieces needed to play. The pieces comprised of carved bits of wood his father had brought back from the camel market years previous. They weren’t as complex as some of the bits Raj had read about, with horses and elephants, but just blocks of wood with little nicks chipped into them. One for the Padah the least important piece, two for the Ratha, three for a Ashwa, four for a Hasty, five for the Mantri and six for the most important piece, the Raja. One set of the pieces had been left in a jug of water and cinnamon to give it a slightly darker appearance. Gamaar and Raj set up their opposing pieces and began to play, squatting above the board, surveying every move.