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The river

Jagdish Chaudhary |

Lumla was mending the fishing line with all attention. He had been trying to land a catch for some time but somehow it was not his day. A little frustrated, he gave a pull to his angle when the hook got stuck somewhere underwater and the cord snapped. Ruefully he went for a repair.

He was sitting by a hilly stream and the banks on both sides were widened over a short stretch. The pebbles on the bed could be seen clearly at the shallow depth of water and shoals of small fish were swimming with full liberty. Human presence was rare in the area. But Lumla and his friend enjoyed their free time in fishing here. Lumla, just in his teens, liked to spend more time here than in social circles. The place was full of placidity with no other sounds apart from that of the flowing water and occasional cries of birds and insects.

But this morning he was attracted by human voices coming from some distance downstream. Some of the group were standing in different postures on the boulders or partly in water and were busy taking shots with their mobile cameras. The children were in great glee and in spite of the distance Lumla could hear their cheerful exclamations though the words were not clearly audible.

Lumla could easily identify the group because he had first met them three days ago and thereafter became quite close to the children. They had come from Haryana to spend a few days away from the humdrums of city life. The two grandparents kept a watch so that the youthful enthusiasm of the others did not stretch too far to cause any harm. Kishen, the oldest of the three children, was about 16 followed by his brother Sonu and seven-year-old cousin, Mili.

Kishen’s father, the elder son of the old couple, was an adventure lover and was vociferously supported by the younger brother’s wife and children. Kishen’s mother was rather reserved like his uncle. Overall, the young group looked jovial and of a free mixing nature. That was why Lumla could get close to them in spite of the gulf of difference in their status.

***

Three days ago a big blue car stopped beside Lumla on the road.

“Hey boy, can you tell us, where’s Sunrise Resort?”

“Oh, it’s very near. You’ll find a path branching out to the left. Take that.” Lumla looked at them and resumed walking.

The man thanked him as they drove past in a whiz.

In the afternoon, while he was fishing with his friend Madhu, someone called them. As they turned, they saw three children with a young lady standing on the roadside above.

“Are fish available here? Can we come down?”

“Yes, why not?” Lumla shouted back.

With the usual enthusiasm of city dwellers, the sprightly four came down to the stream with exclamations pouring out amid giggling.

“I’m Kishen, this is my sweet aunt. He is Sonu, my brave brother and there’s the naughty Mili,” the elder boy introduced his group.

Even as Mili made a hurt face to look at her mother because of the introductory adjective, Lumla introduced himself. Instantly Mili broke into loud laughter, “Oh, what a name, Lumla!”

But in a few minutes the association warmed up as everyone became busy with something or the other. The few fish already in the basket became a subject of intense observation for Mili and her mother. Kishen and Sonu took more interest in furthering the catch. But as pointed out by Lumla, they realised that fish shied away when there was noise around and all attempts to lower the decibel level failed as the place became abuzz with so many young hearts failing to contain their exuberance.

But unfortunately nature decided to play spoilsport. Thick black clouds covered the sky. Lumla quickly packed up and told the others to hurry back as it would be raining soon. It was not uncommon in April and soon, drops of rain started darting down.

The group climbed up to the road and started running towards their resort. Lumla and Madhu ran to a roadside thatch. They would have to walk for about 15 minutes through hilly tracks to reach home.

Earlier, as a good gesture, Lumla had offered Kishen the basket of fish. Kishen thanked him but politely declined the offer as they were vegetarian. They promised to meet again the next day, having already become friends.

***

But the next day, Lumla and Madhu saw nobody near the stream. They went to the resort to enquire. The watchman said that they had gone for sightseeing in the morning and would return in the evening. The two boys felt a little disappointed.

A day later, when Lumla and Madhu were taking up their position to catch fish, they heard Kishen calling from the roadside above.

In a few minutes the group was near the stream. Today Kishen’s uncle was with them. He looked reclusive but caused no hindrance to the enjoyment of the others. The aunt was highly euphoric by nature and in no time she crossed the shallow water to stand on a rock in a photographic pose. Her husband obliged with his mobile camera. The children too joined in the sport of splashing water. Fishing was given the let-go.

It went on for over an hour when the uncle reminded that it was time for them to return but they did not care.”Have you seen the fall of the river there?” Lumla asked.

“What! A waterfall? Where’s that?” asked Kishen.

“Aren’t you hearing the continuous sound of water falling now?” Lumla asked.

Everybody fell silent to hear a distant roar. Yes, it was there. In fact, they never bothered to check the sound earlier because they thought it to be of water flowing.

“Can we go to see it now?” The aunt asked enthusiastically.

The uncle said, “Enough, let’s get back.” But he had to relent as the little Mili said, “Please, Father, I’ve never seen a waterfall.”

Everyone laughed. Lumla said, “It’s not far. We’ve to walk on the road.”

Soon, they reached the place. Here the stream had a vertical drop of about 15 feet but with the projected rocks, the water scattered.

It was difficult to approach it and reluctantly the enthusiastic members had to restrain themselves to watch the falls from a distance. The aunt had brought packets of nuts in her handbag and now all of them sat comfortably on the roadside slope to rest and enjoy the treat.

Initially Lumla felt shy but was instantly admonished by the aunt.

“You’re like my child and we’re all friends here.” Then she asked, “Lumla, do you go to school?”

Lumla and Madhu both looked a little ashamed. Lumla said, “We don’t have a big school (high school) here. Both of us have attended primary classes. But we’re poor, so can’t go to the town.”

The exuberant aunt immediately sobered and said with great sympathy, “Never mind. You have a future. There’re so many things to do.”

Mili joined in, “Oh, how nice! They’ve no school. No homework like me.”

The graveness of the situation melted away amid laughter. But a sense of sadness gripped Lumla as it was mentioned that the next morning the visitors would start for their home.

Kishen said, “I’ll always remember you. I’ll try to come again during our recess next year. We’ll meet then.” They thanked Lumla for showing them the river-drop.

But suddenly the sky started darkening and the visitors had to bid a quick good-bye to hasten towards the resort. Lumla and Madhu waited to see them disappear round the bend and then they hurried home. Soon it started raining.

***

This morning Lumla thought about going to the resort to see the group off but felt a little shy of the elders he had not yet met and instead proceeded to his fishing point.

A sort of gloominess came over him but he found no reason because the people were only stray visitors and they might not even think of him once they went back. He decided to concentrate on fishing but that proved vexing. Now, when he heard faint human voices and spotted the group a little way downstream, he felt a kind of joy within. He knew if he called from here they might not hear him.

They were surely on their way back and after parking the car on the roadside, they had descended to have a little sport before shooting off. He could spot Kishen’s father who drove the car and also the aunt with the children. He felt a little worried for them because there the stream was narrower and deeper. But anyway, Kishen’s father was there to take care of them.

All of a sudden he became aware of a loud roar coming from the direction of the falls. Instantly he panicked as he remembered his maternal uncle’s description the night before. There had been heavy rainfall in the upper hills for the last two days.

“Oh, God! It must be a flash flood,” thought Lumla. He shouted at the top of his voice waiving his hands frantically to draw the attention of the merry makers, “Paani, paani. Bhaago, bhaago!” But they didn’t notice him.

It was a matter of a few seconds. He himself was at great risk. With all his might, he let out a loud scream and started running up the slope to reach the road. He kept on shouting till he reached the car, which was there on the roadside as he had thought. The uncle was yelling uncertainly unable to comprehend the devastation. The three other elders were still inside the car and were just getting out when Lumla reached there. All were agonised but reality took a few seconds to dawn on them.

There was no trace of the five merrymakers. The river water was now rushing on with high rapidity and at a much higher level, carrying with it uprooted trees, plants and other debris. Lumla clasped his head and dropped to his knees.