Counting

The brothers were told to count the Dal. Rav counted Red Dal, Gav counted Green Dal, and Baz counted Black Dal. Each large jar had to be counted daily. They were never told why they had to do this, but if they didn’t, they would be beaten severely.

The Dal jars were of ancient glass with tiny cracks all around them, and golden lids encrusted with gems of appropriate colours. The rubies sparkled, the emeralds were majestic, and the agate mysterious, though their father reminded them constantly, “Don’t be jazzled by the jewels; be dazzled by the Dal.” The jars were arranged on a table, spread with a golden cloth, creating a shrine. Their mother decorated it daily with incense sticks and fresh flowers.

It took the boys from dawn to dusk to count the Dal. Rav was the quickest; his Red Dal was usually done by teatime, and then he coasted. He didn’t tell his father he’d finished because he would only be assigned additional tasks. Gav took longer to count the Green Dal; he usually finished bang on time, and went straight to Dal Dinner. Baz counted Black Dal slowly, and often hadn’t finished by dusk. Their father didn’t allow him to come to dinner till his Black Dal was counted. His mother quietly chopped some fruit to keep him going till then.

Tonight their father said, “It’s a fasting day tomorrow, so eat well tonight. Mother, make them extra Dal Dinner.” How he remained so cheerful was a mystery. Their lives were dull, endless toil. There were no days off, ever! Dawn to dusk was counting Dal.

“You better have done a good job this month,” said Gav to Rav. They all switched jars on fasting days, and checked each other’s calculations. “I didn’t eat for two days last month, trying to tally our totals. Why don’t you just count a bit slower? Take your time like I do, and get things right?”

“I do the best I can, my brother,” said Rav. “If I go any slower I’ll fall asleep, and I’ll end up like Baz – counting in the dark.”

Gav was quiet for a while, and then said, “How does Baz do it? I mean, all he does is count and sleep. At least we get a few hours off in the evenings. But he finishes so late that he never does. Do you think that’s what he’s doing – sort of sleeping on the job?”

The Fasting Days were bad enough, but the Feast of Pulsar was harder. This was when their father tipped all their jars out together at dawn, and they had to have them sorted and counted again by dusk – minus a small batch that was cooked that night for Mixed-Dal Dinner. It was the only day of the year they were allowed to mix Dals. Separating the mixed-up tiny grains represented a difficult task performed diligently, and the breakdown of order and joy at its reformation. Mixed-Dal Dinner was boiled extra-long for extra-mushiness, symbolizing the chaos out of which all things emerged. The boys called it “baby-food”. Their father heard them once and beat them severely. Their mother tended their wounds.

A sort of opposite of this was the Game of Doubling. You started off with a single Red Dal grain on the first square of a chess board. Then you put two green grains on the second square, four black grains on the third, eight red on the fourth, sixteen green on the fifth, thirty-two black on the sixth, and so on. There came a point, usually around the 21st square, when the amounts were too large to continue with, even on the open air, field-sized board they used. Each round grain represented the cycle of life, and the shape of coins, and ever-increasing prosperity. The brothers called it “The Game of Troubling”. Their father heard them once and beat them severely. Their bruises contained all three Dal colours. Their mother healed them quickly with turmeric.

The morning after this year’s Game of Doubling, their father said, “I must leave you for a week on an important errand that cannot be avoided. I trust that you will perform your Dal duties diligently in my absence. I have asked your mother to watch over you carefully. In my absence she is the head of the family.” He looked over to her and she nodded slowly. “My sons, don’t let me down.” He left immediately for the City.

Two days later, Baz said that he had something important to tell his brothers. The Black Dal had become wet.

“What!” shouted Gav. “You let it get wet! How could that happen? These jars have been used to store Dal for hundreds of years, since the ancestors’ first filled them. They’ve never, ever been wet!”

“Calm down,” said Rav. “It was an accident, our brother didn’t…”

“I am sorry, brothers,” said Baz. “It wasn’t an accident. I did it deliberately.”  His brothers were struck dumb. Gav moved forward threateningly; Rav held him back.

“What the hell for?” said Gav.

“You wonder why I take so long counting. It’s not that I’m lazy, or slower than you are. I think carefully about what I’m doing, and I have reached a conclusion.” He stopped and closed his eyes.

“Well, go on then. Tell us. We’re going to get a beating for this, so we may as well know the reason.”

“I think that we’ve counted enough Dal in our lifetimes. Yes it is important to honour our sustenance – to praise and cherish it. But to count it out daily is foolish and slavish. I added water, not to rot it, but to sprout it.” His brothers stared at him, amazed. “Sprouting changes the nutritional profile of the Dal. It becomes more easily digestible; its complex compounds break down into simpler forms; transformed to their essential components. This is what we should be celebrating brothers – the miracle of transformation. Not gloating over huge numbers, or performing pointless tasks. Brothers, will you join me in this revolution of…”

His words were cut short as he crumpled to the ground. Behind him appeared the face of their mother, filled with violence, and also with pain. “How could I have raised such a shameless son?” she said, “A spoilt grain rotting others, who dishonours Dal.” Her blade, so often smeared with juices of onions and apples; was today smeared with her own flesh and blood. She stood there for a moment, and then crumpled herself, crying, “What have I done?”

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One Response to “Counting”

  1. “crumpled herself” threw me, as it seemed she made herself crumple. But then I realized it probably means “she too crumpled”

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