Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fish


Strange Tales from Tulamula
Fish.

 Syen'dh at village Tulamulla.
River originates in Gangbal-Harmukh and is not to be confused with Sindhu or Indus River. 
The feeling was that of disorientation. As I entered the Island, I was lost in some memory of the place. And then I was lost. I somehow got separated from rest of the pilgrims that included my parents and relatives. None of them were in sight anymore even though we were all walking together moments agao. There was a iron grilled door in front of me, but I didn't if it was the entrance or the exit. Towards right, I saw a security building and for some strange reason assumed that everyone must have gone inside to get registered or something. I felt like staying lost for sometime. I sat down at my old spot, little stone steps next to the footbridge over the stream that surrounds the island .

I walked between innumerable pair of legs to get out of the frenzied melee around the spring. The sight of watching a man standing on a wooden plank over the milky whiteness of the spring, a bridge to the island, a bridge between deity and devotee, it was a unnerving. It was like watching someone rope walk only there was no rope, only a piece of wood. Did the Priest, the conduit on the precariously placed plank know how deep the white spring went? How many meters below the level of flowers? All the pushing and shoving was getting a bit to much. What if I fell into the spring. Holy or not,  I had no plans of measuring the depth of the spring. And one can barely see anything in this rush. I walked between innumerable pair of legs to get out of the frenzied melee around the spring.  I went back to the stream, the devotees were still taking dips in its cold, dark waters. Even the thought of its water scared me. Earlier in the day, I had escaped the compulsory ritual bath thanks to my little drowning incident in the swimming pool of Biscoe. I was still a bit traumatized, even though it had been more than a month now. I told everyone in clear terms that I was never going into water ever again in my life. Now I sat on muddy, half broken and slippery steps that lead into the dark stream. I chose the spot next to the footbridge that connects the island that village. There were people diving into the stream from the footbridge and there were kids my age frolicing in water, swimming. In the pool, other kids had been holding onto a side bar with their both  hands while paddling their both feet. I missed that little detail and started paddling my feet without holding onto anything.  After I was pulled out of water by a Ladhaki instructor, I found myself in middle of the pool and I was still paddling. I had gulped down a good amount of water and had underwater assumed I was going to die. The instructed carried my to the side before the judge of my performance. I pleaded with the teacher to have me pulled out of the pool. I told her that these waters were going to kill me, that I was going to die. She calmly pointed at her watch and said there were still twenty minutes for the period to be over, there was still time. I cried. I held on to those sidebars for rest of the twenty minutes. On the ride back home, standing in the school bus, I vomited green water. My underwear was wet, it hung on to me like an insult. I had completely forgotten that out class was to going to have swimming lessons starting that day and that we were supposed to bring a towel and an underwear to school.  What stupidity! On reaching home I told my grandmother, I was never going back to that monstrous school. I laughed to myself. Swimming is for fish. I noticed little black fish swimming in the shallows where the waters met the stairs. They would swim to the stairs and then swim back. I threw little pebbles at them, just to wake them up, to watch them swim. I always liked fish. I named my grandmother's sister, Machliwalli Massi, only because her house at Rainawari overlooked Jhelum and the first time my grandmother wanted me to go to her sister's place, I wanted to know if I could see fish from some window of the house since it was on the river bank bank. I was disappointed, no fish from the window, even the river  was a bit far from the house, it wan't on the river, but there was some beauty to it, and the name stuck. She remained my Machliwalli Massi even after her family moved to Jhallandar.

I couldn't spot a single fish in the waters of the stream that didn't seem dark anymore. The water was green and grey. And it was clean, totally incapable of inducing fear or even maybe any mistaken nostalgic sense of devotion. It was a mini-canal, with steel barricades at two ends to control the flow of water. 

Later in the day, before visiting the spring, I went for the ritual bath. The object on my childhood fear was now a joke. It's shiny surface offered no mystery. It's recently cemented bed offered helpless all familiar rigidity of modern life that only cement can provide. The water barely reached my chest. I never learnt swimming, but these water were tame, domesticated. Safe. And hopelessly fishless. Not far from me, just outside the woman's bathing section, a cesspool long carved into the stream, an area still greasy and ever stinky, a balding, pot-bellied, middle-aged father clocked his young pre-teen son as he swam laps between the two shores of the canal, creating much noise and splash. Cheered on by his father, the kid was making a lap every three seconds. A crowd was gathering. The fish were maybe moving further away. Maybe poisoned by cement. Where were they? The stream seemed to be too small, the Island, the Spring, time, these all seemed to small. A miniature. Where was the grand canvas of my childhood? Everything had shrunk. 

A devotee praying on one leg. Summer 2008.
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