Thursday, 20 June 2013

Of the Village by the River

It was a sad, sad sight this morning. All those displaced people camping by the roadside while the river swelled by the minute and threatened to engulf them in a slushy muddy embrace. Many stood staring at the raging waters with lush green tree-tops standing like markers to a village now lost. They squinted at the spot where their village with its well and dainty fields that yielded melons and pulses existed only till last night. The temple, half-submerged looked like a brick red mound with some forlorn red and gold flags fluttering in the wind. With the water lapping and licking the edges of the dome it was only a matter of time before it crashed into the water like the mud houses with thin walls had last night.
The TV cameras were thrust at their faces, panning on to their bare minimum lives. The threadbare and rickety string cots with gold and silver highlights reflecting the dull morning light making everything around look tarnished and morose. It was like a scene from a funeral. Most of what they had was now gone and though their lives were safe but the cattle had mostly been washed away. Now was not a good time to seek an interview but, the fresh and pretty girl holding a large microphone was asking question after question while the cameras rolled. This was easy news.
I spied a little boy holding his toddler sister with a grubby little hand while using the other to clutch the string that was tied around the neck of a small goat. Three kids - I smiled at the pun. But, it was not funny because, they were trying to cross the busy highway. The fast and careless cars zipped past at breakneck speed. I wondered who was waiting for them on the other side - there were tents on the divider too. Was it their mother who was perhaps sitting pragmatically by the fire lit between three bricks and cooking a breakfast for the tired family. Perhaps the little ones had gone to meet their cousins who were parked in a tent across the road. Perhaps, the children had spent the morning playing make-believe games while the elders stared tearfully at the watery horizon that was their home till yesterday.
I saw a tent that looked well taken care of. It had a row of potted plants and a few cows and a buffalo tied outside. The animals looked oblivious of the loss or the noise or even the change of scenario. They munched on hay quietly staring at the passing traffic that looked like chaos stirred up.
A young girl came carrying a bucket of water. She divided the content of her heavy bucket between the potted plants and the animals. They looked like they had always lived there, on the edge of the road with the raging river at the back and the chaotic morning traffic in the front. They had moved maybe earlier when the Army had sounded the first alarm and perhaps that was the reason why they were so well-settled and calm or maybe the lady of the house was meticulous. What would this family be having for breakfast? I wondered.
It was a strange world that had come up overnight. I stared across the road and saw the swish and silvery Metro streak past at high speed. Its body was glistening in the same dull Sunshine that made the sparse belongings of the villagers look like throwaways. The high-rises peeking behind the sky-rail track looked sleepy, like the people in them were still slumbering before hurrying off to another hectic day that did not allow them to worry about the squatters for more than a few fleeting moments as they passed them by in fancy new cars on way to work at remote locations where there was no raging river nor devastated, recently homeless squatters.
And that was the moment I took the turn, leaving them behind with a hurried prayer, realizing I too was one of those who saw but, did not do anything because I too had to hurry on. And so, I shifted gears, increased the speed of my car and sped on across the river and the submerged villages to an ancient location that is now all modern, all chrome and glass, to work.
The Chief Minister moves past in her secure red top

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