Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lessons the River Taught Me

It was six in the evening as I walked about lazily along the banks of the river. I had passed by many times on my way to school and enjoyed its blue waters shimmering in the sun. Glistening like white pearls the waters seemed to gurgle as if talking to the fishes, frogs and tadpoles. Not to mention the trees alongside the banks.

Those days I remember I swam in the shallow waters and played with friends splashing the cool water on each other. Sometimes even drinking a handful. It was refreshing. Much better than the piped water at home. We were always late to school whenever we played. Many a time we went by boat. The boatmen would charge only the elders but kids like us would get a free ride.

“Big brother” – one of the boatmen sometimes sang a native song or two when he was in a good mood. And I and my friends looked up at him as our hero. Tall and skinny, the beads of sweat would glisten as they rolled down his forehead and arms. He seemed to row as if he were enjoying it and never showed signs of strain.

One day I found him quiet as he rowed as back in the evening. “What happened,” I pained by the silence. And the sorrowful eyes of the usually cheerful “big brother”. At first he didn’t seem to hear. But when I asked him again, tears rolled down his cheeks. He stopped rowing but the boat moved slowly in the waters as if it understood that the boatman was tired and therefore it had to help.

“My son died yesterday. He was only seven.”

I didn’t know how to react. There was something strange emotion swelling up in me. Grief or what, I didn’t know. But I managed to ask, “why..what happened?”

A long and painful silence followed.

Then he looked at me and said, “he was not well for sometime.”

I didn’t have the courage to ask further. He picked up the oar and rowed again. And I was soon lost in my own thoughts about “big brother’s” sadness. How a big man could cry, I thought. I had never seen my father cry. I was so lost in the thoughts that I didn’t realize that we were on the other bank.

“Raja, come let’s go,” he said.

“Yes..” I murmured and held on to his outstretched hand to jump out of the shaky boat.
Pulling the boat towards the shore, he tied it to a tree. I stood there looking at his muscles work. I seemed so fascinated by everything he did.

He saw me standing there in a trance. “Don’t you want to go home today,” he queried.

“Why don’t you sing a song for your son?”

He managed a smile. “Not today son.” “Maybe another day I’ll take you to my home and make fish curry for you.”

“You like fish curry?”

“Yes..yes” I muttered. My mouth was already salivating at the thought of it.

“See you soon,” I said and disappeared into the woods which I had to cross to reach home. I had to hurry. It was threatening to rain.

Four days later I met him.

Four days later I met him. He seemed much better. He was smiling. I felt nice seeing him as the old “big brother”. I stretched my hand towards him. He lifted me gently and placed me on the boat, close to where he stood and rowed.

Today the water seemed to be a little agitated as water gushed faster and stronger than before. I wondered why.

He seemed to understand my fear.

“It’s been like this for some weeks now. The new factory that has come up is throwing all its chemical waste into this godly river,” he said.

Factory! Yes, I vaguely remember many excited and curious men and women walk towards the factory some months ago. They were talking about a rich man who had promised jobs for many in our village. “They have come to destroy the charm of this place,” said my dad one day. Yes, I remember my uncle too went to the factory.

“Is the river angry at the garbage thrown into it?” I asked.

“She’s a nice lady, you know. She’s a bit irritated. But she’ll forgive. She has a big heart,” said “big Brother.”

I thought about what he said. Forgiving. When I was young the river was fresher and clearer. And often when I sat on the banks dangling my feet in its waters, I have seen the tadpoles at the bottom. The sun would seep into its depth as if playing hide and seek with the river. And the river didn’t to mind it.

The mud and bits and pieces of others things it gathered, it carried along tirelessly. Never complaining. Never burdened. Even the big boats with all its passengers, it had never hurt anyone who came by it. But how can someone bear all this and for how long, I used to wonder.

But the river seemed to joyfully forget its worries and strode ahead. Gurgling and gushing as it rushed its way towards its mother – the ocean.

While at school I always wanted to see the ocean. I wanted to see the happiness of a mother than had such wonderful children who danced and jumped in joy all the time.

Now, at forty something, I long to live by the river. But can’t seem to find one close by.
Rajasekar Raju KS