“ক’লাজল” or Black Water

The water flowed so fast. It sounded and hit so hard. It was as if there was none of the familiar smoothness, softness and liveliness that one usually associates water with. Rains. Torrential rains have done this thing to water. Making it more violent. Making it so potent. Feeding the river that it overflowed its bank. Like an elephant undergoing a period of musth. Except the river was more troubled than such an elephant’s head. An elephant can be tamed. It can be brought under control. But who would dare to tame this dame? The frothing surface was enough to terrify any one.
He didn’t know that a simple fishing trip would now nearly cost him his life. That the river would take out her full might on a small creature like him was not what he had expected. He never thought that such a small river would now actually look as terrifying as he was facing. His small boat was being tossed around by the sudden flooding. He was clinging onto it. As hard as he could. The boat. That small boat was his only hope to survive this.
He has already been in this condition for God knows how many hours. There was not much rain now. In fact he was wondering where all this water came from. The only thing he heard was a crackling sound. Then all of a sudden the whole world seemed to be shaken. Then he realized that his boat was being tossed around like a twig in fast flowing water.
But even with the river trying to separate him from his body his mind was flooded with all the memories he had associated with the river.
He remembered when he had for the first time crossed the river. He might have been three or four years old. It was winter and the river was shallow. But he could not cross it by himself. But at that time he had a better and safer way to cross it. He sat on his father’s shoulders. He caught hold of his father’s short hair or whatever he could get hold of them . His father and his brothers would occasionally go to the other side of the river to cut the long river grass from which they made the thatch of their house. He wanted to go there too. So he was riding on his father’s shoulder. Arguably on the top of his world. He would bend sidewise to look at his reflection on the river surface as his father wallowed across the shallow water. His efforts would be mostly in vain as the water was disturbed and what he could see was the reflection of the light of the sun from the rippling river surface. He asked his father “Why is it called Kolajol?” He never remembered the answer.
He remembered how he had finally crossed the river entirely by himself a few years later. He remembered boasting it to his younger friends and how they looked at him with awe. He remembered learning to swim in this river. How he and his friends would go to the small bridge across the river and then throw themselves into the river. How they would let the water carry them for a long distance and then they would swim back to the bridge. But he still didn’t know why it was called Kolajol.
He remembered when he was fifteen years old and his father had died. The cremation was done on the banks of this very river. A portion of the ashes was thrown into the river and as a ritual of the village a portion was buried near this river bank.
He remembered years later after his father’s death when he was cutting long grasses by the river side for thatching their houses, his mother and his aunts would bring food for him and his uncles. The food tasted so delicious after such a hard day’s work. Each morsel seemed to be sent from heaven. He couldn’t find his mother nearby. He went to look for her only to find her weeping near the mound where he had buried a portion of the cremated remains of his father. He left her without saying a word. He stared at the river flowing simultaneously on the earth and through his heart. Why are you Kolajol?
He remembered the last time he came for fishing here. So many fishes the river had given him. Big white fishes with large black eyes. He could even sell some of them to his neighbours. Every time he would cast the net a larger number of fishes would be caught. He could see the fishes thrashing inside his net and his heart seemed to be doing the same inside his body. There was going to be such a feast tonight. Thank you O’ Black River.
He suddenly woke up. He was lying on the bank. His boat was sundered into two and was lying near him. The river had spared him. Light was peeping in through the clouds now. He could finally see. He examined himself. He suddenly found most of his body covered in entirely black mud. He looked towards the river. The river water was completely black. It was carrying the black soil from God knows where. But it did not matter. He was alive. He could go back to his wife and children. He thanked the river.
He finally knew why it was called the Kolajol.

Dipankar Nath
TIFR,Navy Nagar, Colaba,
Mumbai-400005

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