Sunday, September 13, 2009

The River Within – III

I endured that day to live and tell you the story. As I say this, I consider myself a privileged one to talk about the life, its pleasures, its learning and its end…well, not exactly the end but almost as close as it could get to that.

The rivers within and outside the human mind are always hard to resist. They flow within you, originating from your perceptions, evolve as they practice their art through you and end up, as they usually do, into a sea of consequences mired with wobbling fresh streams trickling out. If controlling them is out of lesser martyrs’ reach, I must admit that I rank among the top of them.

On many occasions, I have been consumed by rivers, both in their metaphysical and philosophical senses. However, the story I am to narrate was an absolute physical experience with a ferocious river, camouflaged only by a calm exterior. The experience could be termed ‘physical’, since it could have ended my worldly physical existence, in its entirety.

Six of us left from Chennai to Trichy, the fourth biggest town in Tamil Nadu, situated on the banks of River Kaveri. She starts her winding journey from Kodagu Hills, (Mercara), in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu before draining herself into Bay of Bengal. When she reaches Musiri, a village in Trichy district, where my friend’s relatives had invited us for a gathering, she attains a very massive yet very deceivingly calm look.

I never imagined that Kaveri could look so flowing, carrying unfathomable quantities of water in those swirling currents of hers. My first reaction was one that of astonishment. Earlier encounters with Kaveri were very mild, I should say, as mild as meekly crossing over her majestic perennial waters every year during the summer vacations, which my father used to send us on, from Chennai to Madurai.

I am a person who grew up with River Cooum in Chennai, to which I am indebted since it had carried my refusals as well with other millions’ and River Vaigai in Madurai which seldom had flow in it, with an annual farcical irony of government releasing a trickling stream (!) of water to facilitate the grand festival of Lord Kallalaghar entering the river in his golden horse chariot. With such inspiring credentials and perceptions, I could not appreciate myself for the view which I was certainly unprepared for.

The small village road laid only with mud and dirt (or was it laid?) led to the bank of the mighty river from my friend’s huge bungalow. The late summer evening sun was bright and parching every leaf and living thing daring to resist its dominance, nonchalantly ushered us to the river.

The approach of stone steps was pleasant, as always to an impending thrill blended with beauty and danger. The shadowing canopy of banyan trees carelessly littered the steps with grayed dry leaves. The calm flowing river surface, though adorned with minute wavelets, conveyed somehow the depth it concealed.

It was revelry all over; all the six guys screeched, danced and sang loudly as there were no discernible souls in vicinity. The river spread out a breeze onto the shore tipped with coolness. I loved the sight of the river, the breeze, shading trees and the lonely steps leading into the water…

Inviting yet surreptitious…

The river was waiting for us and we splashed into the river. Guys who could swim went farther and me with another friend played around in the steps with water at chest high level, feeling the slippery steps often at the feet and hence comfort and assurance. The water was surprisingly swift and cold.

Our wisdom was limited in not noticing the colour of the river which was muddy brown, caused by an overnight downpour upstream. In a sudden moment, vividly etched in my memory to this day and will be till I breathe my last, I was swept off my feet, either by the slippery step or by the force of the current.

It was an eternity which had no coordinates, sense of direction…

Water, tinged with sunlight percolating in all possible directions, seemed pulling me away and away. Eyes, which were seeing blue sky and green trees awhile ago, were seeing water everywhere. The pressure of the water drained out the hearing capacity. I would never know whether my friends, up and above the water, in safety under the blue skies, had ever noticed my absence or my struggle inside the water.

I went up to the surface or that is what I thought I did, but again I was dragged in. I was gasping under the water and at that point, I realized that I am going to die, at this river, which has flown from time immemorial, which had seen thousands of lives lost on its banks in wars, thousands drowning and thousands more losing their lives to its flooded fury. I will be one among them, uncounted, unsung and unheard in millennia to come…

When my senses started dimming out and lungs aching for air, I felt that I was being dragged by my friends to the shore. I do not remember a thing, lying face down on the bank, except for the violent gasping for breath. I could recall the unbearable pain my lungs were experiencing in expanding and contracting to normalize my breathing…

I believe it took atleast another 5 minutes for my breathing to regularize. None of us knew anything like CPR, which could have eased my pain and anxiety.

We left after a while, not talking to each other, consoling hands slung over my shoulders, walking an empty walk.

Before we could turn the last curve on the mud road which could have obscured the river from our view, I just turned and took a glance of the Kaveri. It was just flowing.

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