CREATIVE NONFICTION : My Pleasant Pal by Swapna S 

Water evokes such memories that were part of not just my childhood/ growing up years, but  till date.
If ever one could put up with Organic Chemistry (I detest it, hands down)-forget those who score centum- thanks to the one of the most plentiful and essential fluid that drives the planet Earth-"Water" . All I had to remember was that the molecule consists of two atoms of Hydrogen and one of Oxygen. Hail you, my H2O. You quench my thirst like No other, you drench me too, like no other. So cheesy, isn't it! 

Paper boats fascinated me as a kid. Rain always played a major role during school days- we awaited the day being declared a holiday owing to heavy rains. Number two - we (sister and cousins included) made boats out of paper and headed to the nearest puddle-either the terrace or the backyard of the house - the boats were flagged off and tadaa, kickstarted our competition. Our hearts sank even as the boats did, whilst the lucky one saw their boat sailing happily sans disturbance. The proud owner of the boat shows off while the rest sport a disappointed look.
Luck was in my favour, when we had a leave declared for four days straight. Guess I was in class VII, if I remember right. Those times were super fun, I say- when mom made lunches that were served piping hot at the dining table (brunches to be precise, I don't blame the rain for letting me sleep late into the day) and we drooled at the yummy snacks, that were homemade and occasionally store bought- the samosas and the veg puffs that tickled our taste buds, ok MINE. This was followed by endless chatter, seated on the steps of our balcony. Nothing pleases the eye than watching the rain swiping clean, everything in sight. It's a double dhamaka when I spotted my bestie/mom's bestie - we gesture them to stop by for a while - all the more merry-a friendly banter about anything and everything.

On a cloudy morning, our dutiful auto-uncle arrived, once the rains ceased. The friend and I, got dropped at our school gate and headed towards the huge mango tree near the assembly hall. We shook its leaves vigorously , enjoying the rain drops kissing our cheeks. We were in no time chased by the tall Gardner anna , who shooed us away . What's life without reminiscing about the silly stuffs and dear friends. They painted my childhood with vivid colours.
A trip down memory lane- a journey with loved ones, I wish I could re-live. As kids, annual exams sucked our energy out and yet what kept us in full enthusiasm were the Summer holidays that were to follow. The family (extended family) always or rather most of the times, picked up temples, the pilgrimage trips to be precise (barring few). Never mind, us kids had our share of fun and laughter.

One such, being our trip to the Hogenakkal falls (a waterfall on the Kaveri river) – we were both amused and scared when asked to set foot in the parisal/padagu (in Tamil-) unforgettable coracle ride that was.The waterfall (5 to 6 falls in all) was just too beautiful, leaving me awestruck. The high volume of water made us view it from a safe distance, seated in our parisal , with water from the falls sprinkling our faces. We relished the instant fish-fry made by a dear paati- the fish that was caught fresh from the river, fried and served hot-all on the river-bank . All along the ride, the guy who rowed the boat, had a dozen stories to share -the crocodile stories that appeared in a Tamil daily- scared the hell out of us. Thankfully we were back from the trip, by the time we held the paper in hand, at home in Chennai and read of how risky it was to wet our fingers as the crocodiles thronged the entire stretch and a family had lost their dear daughter who succumbed to the ravenous crocodile that caught hold of her tiny hand even as she stroked the water with her tiny fingers (beats me even as I type this).  Many years later, the son a little hesitant initially, ended up enjoying the coracle ride at the Mannavanur lake- the backdrop just perfect (green grass bordering the lake , the sky painted a pretty picture of it's clouds and the serene ambience)-even as we wished, we lived somewhere close by the lake. Water has a calming effect on me, like no other.

The family picked a North-India trip, one such summer- to visit the temples that lay amidst and besides the gushing high-current Ganges at Haridwar whose waters could freeze you, drag you down in seconds, the hanging Bridges of Rishikesh named after Lord Ram and Lakshman over the river Ganges that flowed tirelessly, the hot-water springs that stun you in a place as cold as Badrinath that houses one of the beautifully designed shrines. I missed my chance, but the cousins did enjoy the hot showers that were so soothing , given the extremely cold weather.
I chuckled even as I typed this- a bath at the river Tungabhadra in Mantralayam . The Raghavadendra Swamy temple is located on the banks of this river. The family headed to the river to have _Snanam_ (bath in holy river). The river bed had stones that slipped one's foot off in no time. We giggled even as someone fell bang into the river- it was not long since I'd boasted " I was the only one who didn't fall", tcha - I fell down too. The river was super clean- was one among my observations.

The best( from the trip)served for the last- Kedarnath hosts one of the ancient temples of Lord Shiva-at a height of approx 11000 ft on the shores of river Mandakini which is a tributary of the Alakananda river. The high, one gets on seeing the first snow, frozen water bodies and the ice floating(rest aside- the visual magic woven by Maniratnam with the aid of Santosh Sivan in “pudhu vellai mazhai” – for a while) is unparalleled – what we witnessed was nothing short of that movie clip. The sheer excitement saw us jumping out of joy (also we were waiting to get down- too much on a horse’s back, you see) . The palms of our hands turned numb as we filled it with snow- we ran around throwing it on each other and bathed our faces too. It was a feast for the eyes – snow caps adorned the mountains that served as the backdrop- in the foreground was the Shiva temple. The idol – the Lingam was carved out of rock-it wasn’t the usual column-like or oval shaped one . We were told it was formed naturally and seemed like a hump/pyramid.
God's own country wasn't just a visual treat to our eyes but had us drooling at anything served on our plate. The Backwaters of Vembanad lake beckons anytime- we journeyed through it in a houseboat-was nothing short of bliss ( did I miss mentioning about the simply delicious seer fish fry we requested to be served again and the crispy onion pakoras that made for a perfect snack against the setting sun , gentle breeze and tranquility) . The person who rowed our boat (don't prefer speedboats much) at Kodai lake , answered the son in all earnestly, when the little one asked him how deep it was-only to check , if he could swim (we, the parents had our eyes bulging out). The experiences on speed boats at Wayanad lake and Pykara dam was nothing short of having my heart in my mouth. I didn't quite enjoy the swirl nor did the son. The majestic Marina witnessed a sea of movement during the Jallikattu protest, turning heads and it was one of its kind- Glad I could witness it in person, one of the data.  The scintillating sea is oh-so-beautiful, no denials- Few months into our wedding when the husband thought we should stay at a resort by the beach-the Bay of Bengal , baby. The little town of Pondicherry (alright, Union Territory) always welcomed us with arms wide open. It was a hit Sunday morning when we'd just woken up and as per the Itinerary/activity planned for the day- the boat ride that compelled us to have life jackets on. The motor boat propelled through the water over the high and low waves (please to read as only high). One could no longer spot the shore. My heart is sure to have pumped more blood by the time the ones who handled the boat, stopped at a point which seemed liked the middle of an ocean ,to me . Three couples on board of which the men were signalled to jump into the water (with the rope tied and all safety measures in place) . The husband, my husband was hesitant at the start but left with no choice , he jumped into the water. In minutes I could sense things weren't ok and regretted my silly act of forcing him to do so. The boatmen pulled him up and he began to puke. We had to call the ride off, apologising to the others who accompanied us. The sun came down harsh upon us by the time we got back to the shore. The sea sickness that drained all of the husband's energy. He recalls the incident at times and with an impish smile says "How thoughtful of you to make me take that leap, well done".

The distant water bodies you don't get to set foot on, but, only get to see through the eyes makes you sob. One such was the gorgeous lake at Avalanche, where we'd ignored the big warning symbols /boards and descended down the rugged path to somehow reach the lake but the cops came behind chasing us away and elaborating in detail on how dangerous it was to get down there with wild animals often marking their presence there. The lake water quenches their thirst- we were told. The most foolish act I agree, but it was an all cousins trip and we had to go crazy about something.

A vivid and cheerful memory from not so long ago when the son et moi took to bathing the elephants that were walked to the Cauvery river every morning.   The big fellow couched on the river bed just as one would, on the couch. The mahout instructed us at the start- no hard and fast rule , I say. I began to rub the elephant's body, the skin thick as shell. I pulled behind the moment I touched him. The son began to cry seeing my jerk. The cajoling helped.. we both played in the river and once in a while bathed the biggie -wait-did I day bathe? We merely splashed water on his back. Photographs clicked and videos taken. Post the bathing session, the mahout signalled us to step backward. Our big friend rose, leaving ripples in the water. Before he bid us bye, he drenched us-yes, you read it right- he'd obediently (as instructed) filled his trunk with water and splashed it upon us. The little one was both amused and baffled.
When water , rain in particular brought back sweet memories, the floods in Chennai during 2005 (to an extent ) and 2015 made me realize it was not important to savour hot chai bajjis but to also reach out to people who were in need - either in person or cater to their needs. My facebook feed from back then, still sends a chill down my spine , when it pops us every November/December as Facebook memory .   We didn't have power for 4 days straight and ran short of all basic commodities including milk . One wouldn't complain but only feel grateful for the roof above our heads. The neighbours were generous enough to lend us water to bathe (their gen-set worked round the clock; luckily, we had drinking Water in stock). It couldn't get worse with both the mobile network and landlines getting knocked out in most of the city. Not being able to communicate with near and dear ones,to check on their safety, was quite traumatic.  The water level was almost knee-deep in few places whilst almost neck-deep in few parts of the city. Days later, all we got, was to watch the news on television- " people rescued through boats, pregnant women air lifted, a tiny pup saved by the kind-hearted  gentleman, the old couple who were stuck at home,  people who lost everything they had (the cars that floated, Oh boy!) and had to start life from the scratch . The lives lost during the calamity, did humble me down.  There were scores of relief camps and groups working day and night that brought the city up on its heels in no time. Take a bow, you selfless souls . And then the debate went on-  if it was nature's fury or man-made (the unchecked development boom, the rampant illegal construction across the city etc).

Yet, rain does excite me, I long to smell the petrichor, I still wish I lip-smacked bajjis, I do head to the terrace to dance with the son for a bit, I take a handful of pics of the dark grey  sky and  boomerangs of the drizzle, I show it (pictures) off on my Instagram feed but, but, I also look out of the window, utter a silent prayer and hope everyone out there , those without a shelter are safe too. Time has mellowed me down. It's high time I look beyond myself just as the WATER that is the sole important reason for our very being on Earth. If it didn't feed us, what else would?! Be giving, like the Water. Let's not have everything to ourselves. 

A quote by Sir Winston Churchill, my father often shares, believes in, practices -  " We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give". 

The pensive me, will always find my feet dragging itself towards you,my dear Water--however big or small you may be. I pour my heart out and I all I get in response is a silent whisper at times or a loud roar otherwise-both of which, gives me a reassuring hug. 
My pleasant pal, you will always be.

About the Writer 

Swapna loves to pen down thoughts as and when she gets time off from her toddler.
She finds it quite interesting to be observant of whatever catches her fancy and to express it to the best of her abilities. She thanks her Editor-Friends( from the print media) for continuing to inspire her with their creative juices.


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