A Pebble in the River

I had been to Rishikesh during one summer. The current of Ganga was not  very rash. The  Bank was bedded with round pebbles. Though they were lying  under the scorching sunlight, they remained cool. How many days and nights  have they spent under water? They felt cool and smooth like gentle flowers.

Have these stones gained their absolute silence, having consumed too much  this river`s roaring noise? As I held one of the stones against my cheek,  I felt I could hear the river flowing within it.

As I crossed the Triveni Sangam steps, I happened to spot them once again. That was the third time that I saw them during my tour, first at the snow capped Bhadrinath and the second time on the streets of Dehra Dun.

A middle aged man with his seventy year old mother! They were following   the same route as I was following. The man in his green bordered dhoti was  holding his mother`s hand and leading her, saying, ` This way Amma, this way. Just see how the Ganga is flowing. Look eastwards. Walk slowly.

The mother held up both her shivering hands to offer her salutation to the holy river. The riverside was crowded with tourists. As the old lady was climbing down the steps, she was shivering involuntarily, like a leaf shaken by breeze.

She gently freed herself from her son and stepped into the river. She was chanting something, as she was feeling the cool water touching her feet  and flowing further. In a split second, as I was watching her, she jumped into the flowing river. The water swallowed her like a branch of a tree.

Before the bewildered son jumped into the river behind his mother, a man  who was already in the river swam to her and brought her out. She is too old and hence lost balance, said the son and hugged his mother and took her up the stairs. They both sat under the Peepul tree, which stood by the  steps. The mother`s lips were shivering. Suddenly she beat her forehead with her hands and started wailing. Her wet hair was dripping.

` Why did you do this Amma? What crime have I committed?`

better if I die here instead of burdening everybody at home, Murugesha said the mother, looking up at him. Murugeshan covered his mouth with his dhoti and cried out, unable to control his emotions. The mother caressed his head gently and said, what  is the use of your crying? Someday I have to die. Wipe your tears. He wiped his tears, obeying his mother and both of them sat silently drying  themselves in the sun.

After some time, when the son got up and said, lets go, the mother replied in a confident tone, I will stay back here Murugesha. Please  leave me alone and go. He held her hands and begged, why are you  behaving like a child? Please come. She did not reply.

Somebody went past whistling with a whistle made of Peepal leaf. That  sound intensified the grimness of the situation. My heart was getting  heavier like a wet cloth, as I kept looking at the two of them.

Every child is introduced into this wonderful world by a mother. We learn  to walk holding her hands. We get introduced to the other houses, the streets and everything else sitting on her hips. Only a mother`s eyes keep  watch on us however far we go from her. A mother never reveals her desires. They are like these pebbles buried under the river. Only when the  water dries, do the stones get exposed. Similarly a mother`s desires lay  hidden.

Everybody`s birthday, year of birth and town of birth may all be different but place of birth for everybody remains the mother`s womb!

Old age prolongs days. Tomorrow lies very far for the aged. As the age  advances, there are no dreams. As the old people start losing sleep, there  is hardly any difference between nights and days for them. Water is the most beloved thing for them. Ask any old person as to what is the tastiest thing in this world and you will definitely get the answer as, `water`

Old age is a strange custom of one getting ready to leave this earth. If   one has to leave the earth without seeing nature`s wonderful scenes, these  silent valleys and all the beauty of this mother earth, it is like leaving the dining table half way during a sumptuous dinner.

Old age has very strange desires. The sorrow of these being ignored or  unfulfilled is very intense and can never be understood. Just like a child, old people wish to be heard and observed always. When their desire  is rejected, they do not hesitate to cry aloud like a child. You can never see the magnificence of a tree in its seed. Old age is when a man becomes  a seed!

When I saw the two of them at Manasadevi Temple at Hardwar, I understood   the son had pacified the mother. They mingled in the crowd with sandalwood thilak on their foreheads and silk thread garlands. Murugeshan neared me with a smile of familiarity. During our conversation, he said he belonged  to Madurai and as his mother had seen no place other than her village, he had brought her to River Ganga. He introduced me to his mother. She wished  me bringing her wrinkled hands together. I too offered my salutations and looked at her. Her face was beautiful with the wrinkles of old age and  peaceful look. Her wrinkled eyes were filled with tears.

He said, her sight had dimmed nearly four to five years ago. I was  stunned. Despite her sight having dimmed, he said he had brought her just to fulfil her desire. So saying he went to get the prasadam. By the time we came down the hill, I had got closer to Murugeshan.

We walked along the streets of Hardwar chatting with each other. He said  he and his brothers were business men dealing in red chillies and his mother lived all alone in her village, as she did not want to stay with any of them. The brothers met her monthly expenses by turns. His mother`s

old age was neglected like a dry well. He said he wanted to show one of the wonders of the world Taj Mahal to his mother and hence left with his  mother to catch the train to Delhi.

I was standing the darkness of Hardwar. I felt guilty as I thought of  Murugeshan who was going around frantically fulfilling his mother`s  desires. I felt just one pebble had jumped out of the river like a fish.

Though we enjoy the coolness and smoothness of the pebbles we fail to recognise the pains those stones underwent while buried under the water. I  felt like seeing mother who lived far away, immediately.

The unfulfilled dreams of so many lie floating all along the route of  Ganga like flowers. My eyes get wet.

Translated by  Sudha