The soil in my hometown is called black cotton soil. It is called so as the soil is good for growing cotton. But other than that, the soil is a disaster! It absorbs too much water and holds it, resulting in abnormal swelling. Naturally, when dried, it shrinks heavily too and develops cracks. It is an absolute pain for the construction industry as foundations sink abnormally and develop cracks if they are built on such soil. We as children hated this soil as we could not use this clay for modeling, for one it is too sticky to work with and two it starts cracking as it gets dried.
The Bigger pain with this soil was in the rainy season. Our town did not have many paved roads then (now’s a different story!), so it used to be an adventure to walk on the unpaved roads with this soil. The patches of firm soil became slippery with a drizzle and made unwary people slip. The patches of loose soil became muddy and sticky and felt as if you were walking on glue! You lift your foot and end up getting only the straps of your slippers back and the sole remaining stuck in the mud! Most often we simply removed our footwear and walked barefooted.
I remember a funny puzzle circling among us children then. The question was when I take a step forward, I slip two steps back, would ever I reach the school? The answer was to turn to your home and walk towards it, soon you would reach the school.
The only “silver” lining to these “dark mud” episodes, was our unexpected treasure hunt! Once during a rainy season, my mom walked back from school barefooted and after reaching home, she missed a heartbeat when she washed her feet and realized that the sticky mud has taken away the toe rings from both her feet (for the benefit of my non-Indian readers, Indian married women also have a cultural burden of wearing toe rings, often made of silver and worn in the second toe of both the feet). Losing these was not good news for a teachers’ family running on a tight budget. It was not difficult to guess the patch where she must have lost them, but it was not possible to go and look for them as what we had there was a long carpet of mud balls and it was already getting dark! I am sure my parents barely slept that night.
The clear skies the next morning gave an idea. As the sun rose the mud balls started drying up and cracking. We formed a “family task force” with the task of following the stretch where she had lost her toe rings and crushing each dried mud ball with a foot to check for the toe rings.
Soon all of us were on the path and following a line allotted to each of us. I am sure I was not excited to do that work but got on the job as an obedient child. Hardly I must have been for few minutes on the job, I crush my next mud ball and voila – a shining toe ring came out! Possibly that was my first experience of being lucky! There was tremendous excitement among us! We got even the other one soon to our happiness!