Sunday, May 13, 2007

River's flow

In the haze of the river-morning, I thought a flotilla of small craft was proceeding downriver. Now, as the sun climbs, I see clumps of leaves, vegetation washed out by the tides, slowly floating past the sand-banks into the inner channel that hugs the hedge. As morning drifts to afternoon, the light brightens, hardens, the shadows are sharper and the leaves more still.

Morning and evening, the light dances on the broad leaves of the mallenda as the breeze stirs the waxy white blossoms. The mango trees whisper around their burden of unripe fruit. Shadows soften equally the garden and the distance across the river. Tiled roofs, brick kilns, haystacks and a temple sit astride their broken reflections along the far shore. One man in a pink vest and a conical straw hat poles his bobbing coracle towards mid-stream. As evening draws in, the other bank fades to a smudge in the half-light.

Only the country boats that chug past are clear. Lives float past as I sit by the window, lives defined by their clothes – colourful saris, the ‘bush-shirts’ and nondescript trousers of office-goers (perhaps some are returning from the long flat house downriver, built by the Dutch nearly 200 years ago, where I went to work for some years), the faded photuas­ and ­dhotis of the men who work with their hands. Bicycles, nets, shopping bags. And the beat of the thumping engines floats up to us some seconds after the boats come into view, like somebody beating clothes very fast at a distant ghaat.

Jackfruit trees seem to generate their own shadow. The bloated fruits hang in the bends of the trunks, the leaves especially dark green, an air of faux mystery shrouding these pretenders that are sometimes vegetable, sometimes fruit. Not fair. Only the mango trees should have that dual identity, sometimes dark and sometimes a glistening green, the fruits invisible in the dark of evening but light and bobbing in the light of day, clustering with a promise of plenty that makes the teeth ache as one remembers summer holidays and chutneys from childhood.

Memories. Of course that’s what this morning is all about. From the brilliant colours of a child’s paint-box –jacarandas a startling violet, yellow and red on the other trees – that recall long summer afternoons roaming round Salt Lake in the ’70s, to the orderly flower-beds and hedges that remind me of the years I worked in this district and visited this place ever so often, and the hum of the AC and the faint brown-paper smell of the carpet that bring back every ‘guest-house’ I have stayed in over the last 30 years.

Memories. Lines of coconut palms, their fronds glistening in the afternoon sun, the occasional crow floating into one with its wings spread and feet outstretched like landing gear. Bringing back memories of aching lonely afternoons as a probationer in Chinsurah, sitting in a little clapboard cubicle with a lazy fan, nibbling at a cold ‘vegetable chop’ and waiting for 3 o’clock when the little swimming pool outside would fill with children and their clamour.

The ­luchi at breakfast and the aromas of lunch on the boil downstairs, gobindobhog rice and mutton curry, bringing back a thousand Sundays in a hundred different places. Family sprawled on sofas and beds, desultory conversations, the television alternating between Tom & Jerry and the news channels depending on who usurps the remote. Retreating to the other room for a pipe, the rich chocolatey tobacco smell evoking my study and my rocking chair in my home 40 miles away.

Back to the present. I’ve made a start on my resolution to write a little something every day, I need a shower and my beer is going flat. More tomorrow. One hopes.

**** ****


scout said...

beer? for shame. and here we thought you were a stout man. :D

gorgeous post. loved it.

Anonymous said...

Happy smile.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

You do this *so* well.

What did you say you do for a living again?

Anonymous said...

i loved it too. Will you post what you write everyday too?

and incidentally, i thought you might like this -

Anonymous said...

ok thats appears truncated...incase you have time and bandwidth to waste ..the last section of the link is -


Anonymous said...

Lovely...You invariably make me so homesick!

satanbug21 said...

reminded me of my childhood in a small rural hospital in north bengal...

eve's lungs said...

very nice , especially since I have been thinking about the river and the jute mill at Titagarh . I especially like that bit about the gobindabhog rice and mutton curry !

First Rain said...

Oh for the luchi and mutton curry!

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Scout - stout by taste and stout by waist, but stout is hard to get 40 miles upriver from Cal.

Anon - smile right back

Chronicus - thankee. As for your question, you shall be among the first to know once I find out.

Anon2 - I shall try to post regularly. Thanks for the link, but the parody was disappointing.

Sunbeamz, SatanBug - nostalgia is infectious.

Eve's Lungs - this was the other side of the river.

First Rain - sadly, the luchi was not with the curry. We made do, however.


Rahul said...

Nice....brings back memories here as well, particularly the luchi and mutton curry

Anonymous said...

Okay, so exakly were r "U" hibernating this summer. ;-). Nice work.