Saturday, November 01, 2014

An incomplete love affair

The first time I saw her was from the window of a train. Chugging along at 150 kmph in the midst of nowhere in Gujarat. Coetzee’s Disgrace lay forgotten on my lap and music played into the ears, ignored. Distractions. I had my head on the glass window and the world outside flew by in a blur. Fumes from the IRCTC tea cup swirled and fumed and shouted to be consumed. Loud, colourful Gujarati’s chatted in tongues unknown. My deep thought face was glued on firmly as I zoned in and out of semi-consciousness. And then suddenly, there she was. She was like this thin, fragile girl reading a book and sipping a cup of coffee. Alone. Hand on chin. Engrossed. Thin. Fragile. Calm. Short hair sliding and covering her eyes. Slide-Fall-Tuck in-Slide-Fall... But there was something about her. You know when she looks up and shakes her hair and you get a look at her kohl lined wild eyes. Her magnetic, powerful eyes. Her coaxing, inviting, daring you to make a move eyes. Her breathtaking eyes. My wide, admiring, hopelessly lost eyes. The train rushed through a bridge swinging and swaying and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. A few metres past the bridge, half hidden in bushes half showing, was a yellow board with her name on it. River Narmada it announced. I turned around and our eyes met again. “Would you?” she seemed to ask, daring me. Oh, I was hopelessly in love already.

What I wouldn’t give to jump off a bridge and be lost in her at that moment!

The second time. I walked shirtless and shoe-less onto the ghat and there she was again. Flowing. Rushing by without a bother. Untamed. The brutal March Sun bore down on me and red hot cement burned my feet. The Maharaj thrust a metal pot in my hand and asked me to fill it up with water. I walked alone towards her. Little children begged for money as their mothers waited and watched from afar. Hawkers sold coconuts wrapped in sequined red cloths. Maharajs preyed on men offering to help them pray. Women washed clothes at one end of the ghat. Sadhus prayed to the Sun God and chanted sacred mantras half immersed in water. Cows walked along. “Zyada gehre paani mein mat jaana. Tairne jaane waala nadi nahi hai!” The Maharaj’s voice echoed in my head. Do not venture too deep, it is not a river you can swim in. I looked at her and looked up at the Maharaj, head covered in scarf, flustered. “Jaldi”. Faster. I pulled my white dhoti up to my knees and stepped in. First step. Cold. She wasn’t ignoring me anymore. Second step. Cold, fast, shimmering waters played above my ankles. Cajoling, playfully dragging me along. Third step. Knees. Pulling you away. Oh. Irresistible. Fourth step. Wet dhoti. “One more step and I will take you away” she whispered. Her playful kohl eyed eyes. Magnetic, powerful kohl eyed eyes. My tired and weary and teary eyes. I splashed her on my face and filled the pot. “Another time.” I whispered and meant it with all my heart. And she knew I did.

“A bath in Ganga purifies you. A drop of Yamuna’s water washes away all your sins. The sight of Narmada purifies you.” The Maharaj had informed me, full of surety. This I would like to believe.

The third time. Crank-Crank-Crank. The diesel engine on the make shift motorboat spluttered to life. Coughing and panting and struggling to shake off the inertia. The wizened old boat man smiled a toothless smile at me as the engine got up and running and settled to its loud machine gun ratatatat sound routine. And off we went on our quest to get lost in her. Ratatatatat. Finally. “Kahan jaaenge? Kya irada hai?” he enquired. Where to? What intentions? I didn’t know. “Thoda ghumao. Phir nahane layak koi accha jagah jaenge?” I offered. Let us go for a spin and then take me to a place where I can take a bath. He nodded knowingly and started singing loud Gujarati songs. His face was a dried river bed. His beard flowed conically into a beautiful sharp end. His haunting voice rose above her splish splash and the boat’s ratatat.

This is the sangam he pointed out in between. Narmada, Orsung and Gupt Saraswati… We were deep inside her and I was lost. At the Sangam water whirled and whirled and made pretty dimples on her face. Dangerous, inviting dimples. We spluttered to a stop and he dropped the makeshift anchor of the makeshift motorboat and took out his beedi roll. “Ye acchi jagah hai. Main dekh lunga. Aap tair lo.” This is a good place for a swim. I will watch out for you. “Dhik hai kaka!” Okay, uncle. The toothless grin again. The dry riverbed in his face drying a little more. Deep drags from the beedi. The riverbed turning into whirlpools in his cheeks from the effort. Puffs of smoke. The riverbed reappears. Loud singing. I was down to my trunks now. Ready for her. Finally. She smiled and winked and swirled and danced by and our eyes met. Her kohl lined powerful eyes. My smiling excited eyes. I took a deep breath and dived into her.

“I have you now!” she laughed loudly as she swept me away. “Yes you do! And there is no one happier than me about it!” I laughed with her. She pushed and pulled and tugged and tossed. Playfully. Effortlessly. I let her. Her cold embrace ran through me. I could see and touch her river bed. Colourful. Pretty little pebbles littered in a beautiful random pattern. I was breathless. And we laughed together. Euphoria. Breathless euphoria. I emerged far away from the boat and swam back. I had her now. And she had me. Narmada. Feisty. Powerful. Lovely.

This love affair is not over. Definitely not.

~ Vivek Kaimal PGDM2014 Operations

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