Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!
The old man’s name was Bhupendra; his grandson was Tarun.
They had no other relatives in the village. The boy’s father lived in a distant city, working long hours at a menial job and sending home a little money every week—although Bhupendra suspected that a good deal of his son-in-law’s salary was wasted on palmyra wine and online gambling. Other than a small hovel their chief possession appeared to be the dust-gray female donkey which the grandfather now loaded up with rice, bread, dried vegetables, jugs of water, knives, cook-pots (of various sizes), rope, kindling, a bolt of heavy cloth, and an ancient laptop too slow to run even the most stripped-down window manager.
“Why are you packing so much?” asked Aaradhya, irritated that the day was fast slipping away. “You will be in Reechee and back before half this food can be eaten.”
“Perhaps,” said the old man, tying another pan to the immense bundle on the donkey’s back. “In my long life, I have often found that it is better to over-engineer than the opposite.”
“And the laptop? The batteries alone are heavier than the kindling.”
“You will be teaching the boy. You need a computer.”
“I doubt it can go a few hours without a charge, much less a few days.”
Aaradhya fell silent. How was she to teach Tarun while they walked? In her home town, when dust seized up the engines of the electrical plants (which happened frequently in summer, bringing down the power for hours at a time) her old master cheerfully distributed bundles of paper and pots of ink, lecturing to his apprentices by lamplight in front of a slate wall that he wrote upon with chalk. The nun had only her voice, which would crack within minutes in the dry dirty air. Only a fool travelled with an open mouth on rural roads.
Yet that paled before a bigger problem. Aaradhya had been the youngest of four children and the newest of seven apprentices. She had never instructed anyone in anything. She had no idea where to start. Beyond Anantha’s Fountain her own lessons were a vague blur.
Meanwhile, grandfather and grandson continued to tie ever more onto the back of the unprotesting donkey. It was almost evening before they were underway.
“Teach,” said the old man.
Aaradhya began with the little scraps she remembered learning at her grandmother’s knee. Stories of the earliest computers: towering mechanical contrivances of jointed sandalwood beams rotating on thick axles and strung together with miles of hemp. Ivory-inlaid push-pegs drove creaking AND and NOT gates as big as a full-grown man and twice as heavy, with the gates in turn stacked in tiers a full four stories high just to implement a simple multi-bit adder. Entire temples were built to house the precious workings, with a dozen monks perpetually clambering up and down ladders, oiling, tightening, tuning, repairing, and of course operating the gargantuan framework.
Then she told of the wondrous Age of Brass, at the dawn of the Babaj Empire, where programming was done with clockwork clusters of gears that grew smaller with each passing generation. Strange pale men came from the West to learn this art, augmenting it with their own arcane practices—such as the use of rubies in the mechanism to overcome friction-induced wear, and coiled springs to drive the crankshafts, and the ritual practice of imbibing stimulant-laced beverages before commencing with a day’s work.
Tarun’s grandfather noted the absent expression on the boy’s face. Scowling, he drew alongside Aaradhya.
“Teach,” he repeated. “Programming, not history.”
Aaradhya grimaced. Her BASIC was out of date; Tarun probably knew more of the modern form than she did. Logo? She had forgotten practically every bit of it. Anyway the language could not be taught without the use of a specially trained turtle. Her apprenticeship had been in C with a sprinkling of C++, but the boy was not ready to be thrown into a swamp teeming with Bus Erros and Segmentation Violations and special syntaxes for working with L-values. Java was foremost on her mind these days: it was, after all, the chosen path of the Temple of the Morning Brass Gong. Reiterating the fundamentals of the language would help gather her thoughts, soothe her nerves, prepare her for her interviews. She should teach the boy Java.
While walking in the dark? Ridiculous.
Not to mention that the incessant clanging of the pots on the donkey’s back wasn’t helping Aaradhya organize her thoughts.
“The animal needs watering,” said Aaradhya quickly. “While we can still see the stream. I’ll begin when we’re back on the road.”
This forced them to leave the moonlit road and pick their way down a treacherous weed-choked gully to the meager trickle flowing at the bottom. On the climb back up the donkey put a foot down into an unexpected burrow-hole, throwing her off balance. The huge bundle swayed too far to one side. The beast brayed, the harness rolled, then the bundle went crashing onto the underbrush, pinning the animal. By the time they had calmed the donkey the moon had set. There was no sensible choice but to make camp for the night.
Bhupendra sighed and settled his old bones against the fallen bundle as Aaradhya and Tarun gathered the various items that had rolled away from it. Even by starlight Aaradhya could see the hard gleam in the old man’s eye.
“Teach,” he commanded. “No more delays.”
Aaradhya took a step towards the old man, about to argue for a fresh start by daylight, when she slipped on something smooth and landed fullsquare on a low thorny bush. The next word that came out of her mouth was fortunately muffled by her twisted robes. Feeling around in the blackness Aaradya’s fingers closed on the handle of the offending object: an iron skillet that had come loose from the bundle. It was heavy. That was when the idea came to her.
The young nun brushed herself off. Smiling, she advanced towards the old man and the boy. They were both on the ground by the bundle; she loomed above them. With a wide stroke Aaradhya brought the iron skillet up high, then down hard on her target.
The rock was undamaged, but the skillet rang out like a gong. Both her fellow travellers jumped in spite of themselves. The donkey whined but was tied to a tree and could not bolt.
“School is in session,” said Aaradhya. “We shall begin with Objects...”
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