Like a Meandering River

About a woman who returns to her father after a failed marital life.

While crossing the wooden bridge over her childhood river, Lipi looked from her window seat in a public transport bus. Her native village was now part of agglomerations that surrounded a nearby town. The trees which the British had planted were all gone. There were only jerry-built houses of bricks and concrete.

The whole village is a blot on the landscape! Lipi thought. There was no trace of the Singi river beneath the bridge. In its course and on its floodplains there were paddy fields- a swaying green carpet!

In fact, the river never existed. It was not even a river. It was an off-shoot of some big river which while debouching into the plains could leave this thin stream to its own devices.

The river Singi got its strength from the rain water and runoff from paddy fields. Lipi remembered how thrilled she was when her father took her along the river bank for the first time to immerse the ashes of her dead mother.

Since then he had been conjuring up her mother’s beautiful face in the swirl of its water. No longer she would be able to do it- Lipi bemoaned her bitter fate. Twelve years is a long time for any river. Even for a woman.

Lipi was 25 when she was married off to a city hotel owner. In twelve years of her marriage she had not borne him any children. And he wanted his successors. On one blustery day of December when a new-year eve party from Japan came to her husband’s hotel, she cooked the dinner of her life- fried prawns garnished with tamarind sauce. The Japanese party had a good frolic and her husband had a nice harvest. It was the only time he smiled at her. 

They had divorced each other next year. Lipi stayed alone in a rented house and he in his own two-storeyed building. “Life is hell working all day at a shopping mall”, she wrote to her 70-year old father, “I am going back to you papa”.

Her father had written back: I’m still waiting for you on the bank of the river Singi.

The local people called the stream Singi after the fish of the same name- Heteropneustes fossilis- (as her science teacher would inform her later) which abounded in the river. Her father used to say: It is a live fish, my darling. It survives for a long time outside water. One should learn this trait from this fish. Lipi would laugh.

The bus had already crossed the river. And Lipi could feel as if she were being stung by thousand spines of a swarm of singi fish. She leaned against the window glass in pain. Through it she could stll see the fisherman’s boy- her childhood mate- catching Singi fish and teaching her how to put them into a creel. And both touching each other in joy- inexplicable, yet ineffaceable.

No river on the earth could meander so gleefully between them. 

Author: Tarun Kanti Rout

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