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Some of them look at us and we look away, pretending we are somewhere else. When they looked at us an hour ago, we thought they were great. We said Hi! to their dusty children and took pictures with them to put on Facebook—“Me and my new village friends!!" But the longer we waited for the bus, the more we began to check if our wallets and cellphones were still there. We curled our toes when they came too close and discussed how malnutrition and a lack of hygiene made villagers dark. Roy leaned forward, his paunch straining gently against his T-shirt. He had spent a large part of last year taking pictures of poor people bathing, eating, and sleeping, posting these pictures on Twitter and encouraging people to RT. This made Roy an expert on poor people and villagers.

“What’s interesting," he says, “is that they are always eating something. So it’s kind of ironic that they are all malnourished."

“I’m not sure they are all dark," I say.

“Trust me," he says. “They are."

He pulls out an old receipt and makes a list of factors responsible for the malnourishment and darkness of villagers.

1. Belief in superstition/idol worship

2. Lack of proper toilet facilities

3. Hero worship culture/Rajinikanth

4. Lack of computer skills and spoken English skills

5. Lack of proper infrastructure

“Infrastructure for what?" I ask.

“For everything," he says, shoving the paper into my hands. He tells me to keep it safely because he will want it later.

***

PROMPT: Letter to a lover who does not like rice

“Why would they pull my hair?" I ask and Roy says they might also chase me through rice fields while singing about the greatness of their farmland and how I need to be taught a lesson in how to be a good Tamil girl.

“Then the dude will slap you and you will want to have his babies," says Roy, as he cracks his knuckles. He starts to talk loudly in Tamil because he says this will stop people from taking advantage of us. He stops when he realizes there is nobody around but me and a cow.

***

A young man passes by and assures us that the bus will arrive in fiveten minutes. We believe him because he is wearing pants and has a cellphone. Roy is confident that we will be home soon and this makes him take artistic pictures of the cow beside a dead tree. He decides he is going to have curd rice and kababs when we get home.

“I used to date a girl who hated rice," he says. “It was very weird for me. I even wrote her a letter telling her it was weird for me that she didn’t like rice. I think she’s in Singapore now."

A woman with a massive handbag stands beside us and asks where we are headed. She tells us she is a schoolteacher and that no city buses stop here. She has a cellphone too, so now we are not sure who to believe.

***

The rickshaw driver initially refuses, then says he’ll come for triple the normal rate. We climb in and decide not to think about the money. I realize that I am still holding Roy’s list and shove it into his hand. He frowns and shoves it back.

“Don’t you want it?" I ask.

“Why, what is it?" he asks with a yawn.

“Nothing," I say, letting the paper slip through my fingers and out the door. We pass silhouettes of cows standing under trees and try to take artistic pictures of them, but we are moving too fast. All we can do is watch them disappear.

***

To submit a prompt (a word, phrase, quote or brief idea), mail Kuzhali at kuzhali.stories@gmail.com or tweet it using the hashtag #kuzhalistories.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

Also Read | Kuzhali’s previous Lounge columns

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