“Plop,” goes a pebble into the water. The small disturbance that it creates on the surface is immediately washed away and entombed by the flowing water. Balu looks intently at the point where the pebble just vanished into the bottomless depth of the mother river. He chews on one end of a straw with a thoughtful frown on his face.
Lakshmi’s troubled face is all that he remembers.
“Gangaraju came to meet my father today.” She had said.
“Why?” He had inquired with bated breath.
“He has asked for my hand.” Lakshmi’s voice had trembled in indignation as she said these words. Balu had remained silent. This was always impending but he had not expected it to happen so soon. That the Peddakapu’s (village headman) son had a glad eye for his sweet heart was an open secret in the village.
Balu had looked at Lakshmi’s downcast eyes and had seen a glint of dew take shape in the corner, as her eyes welled up with tears of despondence. His chest had felt heavy, he could hardly say a word. He had not known what to say to her. He had felt hopeless.
Kumaran Balu was a poor fisherman who did not even own a home. It was owing to the charitable disposition of the Kondareddis, that he and his uncle Karri Bhagyam had a thatched hut over their heads for the season. Lakshmi’s father Ramamurthy was reasonably well to do with his cropped fields and Borassus palms. He had rented out a part of his riverside rice-field to Bhagyam at a very nominal price. He had been magnanimous in providing them with palm fronds for thatching their hut as well. Ramamurthy garu was a kind man and liked Balu, and why would he not? Balu was a strapping young lad, mild of manners, respectful and not given to drinking unlike most of the lads of his own community.
But inspite of that, Balu understood very well that this liking would never yield a possibility of his marrying Lakshmi. The Kondareddis had strict rules against marrying outside their community; and given his own lack of financial bearings, he and Lakshmi could hardly survive if ostracized. He knew he had to strangle his feelings and for very practical reasons. His sweet heart may hate him for it, but he had to take the call, for both of them to survive. Despite accepting this practicality, his heart had felt heavy and his mind had been restless. So when his uncle and his friend had called out to him for getting down to work, he had felt relieved.
He had dragged his thermocol raft, gill net and a couple of prawn traps down the embankment, behind his uncle. The old fellow had been too engrossed chatting with his friend to take note of his nephew’s dismal countenance. He would never know; Balu would not burden this father figure in his life with his fancies. At the edge of the river, he had stopped to collect pebbles. He had filled his pouch with small stones before pushing off into the water on his thermocol raft.
“The Godavari is your mother,” he remembered his grandfather used to tell him. He had always believed it. All these years, his mother river had not only fed him and his kind; but had given him peace and had listened to his woes. His mother’s lap had been his only resort in his sadness, the only witness of his mirth. The mother river was the only one who had heard the plaintive singer in him, or listened to his unabashed poetry. The Godavari is the only truth in his life, it is the only thing that he can say as his own; like the very blood flowing in his veins.
He spoke to his mother everyday. He would confide in her,his most frivolous fantasies to his deepest secrets. The pebbles were his messengers dabbed with his thoughts and tossed into the water. He would follow the path of the pebble from the surface till the moment before it disappeared into the depths of his mother’s heart. He took it as a sign that his mother had heard him.
He looks up to the droning sound of a motor boat engine. A tourist barge is passing by. People are waving out to them. His cheerful uncle waves back. The barge moves on spewing ugly waves of froth as it slices through his mother’s bosom. The mother river’s surface froths and foams, as if she writhes in pain. But soon, the erstwhile travails are forgotten; the last of the bubbles from the turmoil has burst. The Godavari is again its serene self, its quite surface burying deep any trace of conflict or pain. His mother had spoken to him. She was right, he would surrender his feelings unto the mother river.
Balu takes out a pebble from his pouch and holds it between his fingers. He closes his eyes and says a silent prayer. Touching the pebble to his forehead, he then tosses it into the water.
“Plop,” goes the pebble into the water. He watches intently as the pebble disappears into the depths of the Godavari. His mother has heard him. He looks up across the vast expanse of water around him and smiles.
“Time to haul in the prawns.” He cries out merrily to his uncle.
This post is in response to the Daily post prompt Surface