The saddest, I think, is when arms stretch out after the fact, days later, yearning.
Like when the phone rang a few hours ago. "I'm Moin from Barshi-Takli," said the thin voice, struggling to reach me across a pitiful line. "You left your number when you came here" -- true, this week I did so in that village and plenty of other places in Akola and Amaravati districts -- "and I thought you could get me a job. That's why I'm calling. Can you help me?"
I launch into the spiel. (This has happened before). I have no jobs to hand out, nor do I have an inside track on getting any, what I can do is write about what's happening across your homeland so that more people like me read, understand and perhaps act. I have no jobs, my friend.
We visited Barshi-Takli because we heard about a farmer who had killed himself there. We sat with the family, who seemed almost more dazed than sad, and tried to comprehend their tragedy. As it turned out, there were a few others who had died in the village too, recently. So an older man took us from one house of death to another, introducing us by saying we had come all the way here, we were walking about in the blazing sun only to meet these families, so they should appreciate that and tell us whatever they could. We made futile little consoling cluck-clucks with a bewildered widow here, a weeping mother there. One death wasn't a suicide at all, but a man who had got crushed under a overturned overloaded cotton truck. Not a suicide, but he still left behind a wife and three young sons.
And in each house, if they asked I left my name and number, scrawled quickly on small scraps of paper torn from my pocket-pad. Some people in these sad places asked me for money, some just asked what I could do for them now that I had heard them. One mother made her 20-year-old son remove his shirt so I could see his artificial right arm, fitted in Jaipur after he lost his real arm to a thresher. "Who will hire him to do anything?" she asked. What could I say?
And two days after I returned, the phone rang. Moin is from one of these families.
No, I don't have any jobs to give.
When he understood, he didn't hang up. He stayed on the line, asking some more questions. "Who was that lady who came with you? What's her name, where's she from? Can you give me her number? Oh yes, I'll call her in New York, don't worry! Who was that lady who answered your phone? Is she your wife? Is this your number at home? Who else is in your home?"
Many questions. I answered. I chatted. As he did, I called him "bhai" and "dost" and his name. I hung up, feeling empty.