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The old man and the river

April 17, 2015

A short story – Amit Deshwal

There is always a dance that only you know how to do; a song that only you know how to sing; and a story that belongs only to you.

And this a tree knows, a river knows it too. They can show it to you if you are ready to listen to them. If you stay a little longer though they might also tell you how nothing outside of you can ever take this dance, this song and this story of yours away from you.

Many years ago I had the fortune of getting to know one such old river. This river flowed through the mountains and I would climb up through the many mountain villages to reach it every morning. Then I would stay there for hours, sitting beside it, sometime with my feet inside, sometimes with a lot more, listening to the innumerable stories and songs, till the Sun bid its good bye for the day. How I loved spending time with this quiet and unassuming river, watching its water flow happily over the rocks, through the crevices towards the sea – a ceaseless journey towards its truth, I believed! In it journey I saw my own journey to truth.

The old man and the river

I remember the day when everything changed – the day when for the first time I feared for the river and in turn for myself. The day when the many people wearing uniforms armed with all sort of tools and machinery were for the first time seen loitering around the river. They said they were there to create something called a dam. They said it would make their lives easier. Day after day I saw the big machines cut, break and blow their way through the rocks, till I could take it no more. I decided to climb higher upstream and find a spot away from all this. Finally after many months or years when the noise had died down and the men in their uniforms had left the place I went there to see what had happened. The whole place looked so different. A huge wall had been built in between and the flow of the river was obstructed. It now looked like some sort of forcefully pacified lake. All sort of thoughts started racing through my mind. What will happen to the river? What if its water that was so free and happy starts stagnating there? What if it gets confined and loses its way to its truth? I felt sad and dejected. The rivers helplessness reminded me of my helplessness and how my life, my journey, my peace and happiness was bound to the outside.

The Sun had set but I did not get up. What was the use anyways? I decided to just be with the river. And I did spend a very long time there. I could say so because in sometime I had my own hut and was also growing my own food there. In the waters of the lake I could see shades of grey in my beard. Yes, I did spend a very long time there, time enough for me to see that something else other than stagnation had started to occur in the waters. At the very beginning it had seemed as if the water was struggling against its bondage, last attempt to break out before it gave in completely. A little closer look over next few days revealed how what I previously saw as a struggle was nothing but slow movement of different parts of water towards their own paths. I looked up and for the first time saw these little droplets flying into the sky above, going in all possible directions. Some I saw were diving directly into the oceans lap. Down there I saw parts of the water, like lonely hermits looking for a cave, slowly seeping into the ground, finding their way to the cool underground pool beneath. Parts of it I observed had already started working with mud and air to create what I understood as life. I saw this and a lot more. I saw what I had previously seen as constraint was no constraint at all.

Over the many years, the river showed me the true nature of freedom, as something that can never ever be taken away from you.

Now I am quite old. The shades of grey have turned into shades of white. I find it difficult to go out and pluck the potatoes that grow in the little garden. As I sit outside beside the river, I look at the water pouring down, water lying still in a lake, water in the taps and gutters, water floating around as a cloud – and I ask myself can anything we do take or give the water its freedom to move towards its truth. Can the process of going around in cycles, learning from every possible state of existence in any way be altered to find a better or worse way?  Will not the altered path become a path itself, a path that belongs to you and is in no way better or worse than the previous one you were taking? I think this old man eventually has found peace beside his old river.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Urmila Samson permalink
    April 20, 2015 18:16

    This is an answer to a mail thread I was just reading. I will post this there! See you in Pune soon.

    Like

  2. April 21, 2015 10:35

    This short story felt like a profound movie. I felt the might and grace of nature. I felt her magnificence in the old man’s gaze. I am moved so.

    Like

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