Many years ago there used to flow a river through this small town. An ancient river, holy and sacred for us for many generations. People called her “Ruhani.” When I was small, my grandfather used to tell me all about this mighty river. Her majestic volume, her pure blue glistening water, her impulsive flow—very rapid at some places and at others, quite slow. Ruhani was part of all my grandfather’s childhood tales—he had bathed and swam in it countless times. He, like so many of his friends, grew up playing their games right next to the banks of Ruhani. I cannot recall even one single story in which he did not mention this river. It was almost as if Ruhani did not just flow through this town, it used to flow through the spirit and minds of the people living here during that time.
When I was young, I used to visit my grandparents with my mother every summer. Our father would come with us to see us off and then we would see him again after a month when he would come to pick us up. I always looked forward to that one month—away from school, away from my usual friends and away from the big city where I lived surrounded by its daily traffic and noise. Living with my grandparents under the shadow of Ruhani, my own life too had become entwined with that of this river.
When I first saw Ruhani, that is, the first time I was old enough to remember seeing it, I felt quite disappointed. Instead of the blue, gleaming, majestic river from my grandfather’s stories, I found myself looking at a smallish stream, with sluggish green water. I had come to the river bank with my grandfather, he stood right beside me as I took the river in. I knew that he could sense my disappointment. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. When we sat down on some rocks on the bank of the river some distance away from the actual stream, my grandfather started narrating another story, a new one I had not heard before.
“When I was your age,” he started, “my younger brother and I used to come right here everyday to play with our friends. Back then the river was quadruple in volume and the water was very clean. This town had not developed till then. It was small village settled around the river. We knew everyone around here. Look over here—if you go straight down this bank,” he said gesturing with his hands, “there was the hut of Chandu the fisherman. His hut was the first of many huts of fishermen that lined this bank. Over there,” he turned his hand to the right and my eyes followed it, “were the fields of some farmers.”
“So were you a farmer, Nana, or a fisherman?” I used to ask him that all the time.
“Neither,” he said. “At that time I was very small, I used to go to school. But my father, your great grandfather, was a farmer.”
“Where is he now?” I really wanted to meet him. I had never met a farmer, I had only seen figurines of them and some pictures. It was very difficult to meet or to even see a farmer where I lived.
“He’s not here son. He became one with the river,” he said with a heavy voice, “I will tell you more about him another time. Today I will tell you the story of my little brother. Do you want to hear about him?”
I nodded my head emphatically. Without any computer or internet TV, only my mother’s phone and my grandfather’s stories were a source of entertainment here. But I liked it this way. I liked his stories. I also liked the fact that someone so much older than I was, actually wanted to talk to me.
“So, as was saying, my brother and I used to come here every afternoon after school to play with our friends. We’d spend most of our time running around on the bank, trying to catch each other or playing some game or the another. When the time came to rest and relax, we’d squat down and collect small stones and shells from around the stream in the sand. The older kids used to swim and the younger ones used to sit on the rocks with their legs dipped in the water watching them. No matter what the season was, Ruhani’s water was always cool.”
“So you and your brother played here all by yourselves? No one would come with you to watch over you?” I interjected.
“No, there was no need because everyone around here knew us. And my parents knew all my friends and where they lived. Many of them were fishermen and their homes were right here in fact.” He said pointing at the place where Chandu’s hut used to be.
“Your friend Bawra, did he play here with you?” I wasn’t sure how Bawra suddenly popped up in my head. I must have been waiting for an opportunity to ask my grandfather about him given that I’d heard so much about him in all his other stories.
“Yes, yes, Bawra and my other friends and my brother, we all used to play here together. Then when the sun would set, we’d go back to our homes.”
“How far was your home from here Nana?” My grandfather had shown me the place before but I wanted to know where it was in relation to this spot on Ruhani.
“Not very far. You see that blue prayer house over there? It was behind that,” he said, satisfying my curiosity.
“But doesn’t Nani call it the yellow prayer house? Is that an old prayer house?” The question slipped out of my mouth before I could stop myself. I had always wanted to ask someone about the yellow and/or blue prayer house—I could never understand why some people called it yellow, and others called it blue.
The expression on my grandfather’s face changed. I had seen that look the year before—when I had posed this question to my mother, the expression on her face had changed too. She didn’t answer me so I went around asking other people. My mother insertcted me a couple of times to leave it alone. But I didn’t listen. Then one day when my father came home, I asked him and to my shock, he slapped me across the face. I think my mother may have told him about my obsession with this prayer house.
“No, it’s the same prayer house,” my grandfather answered, “when we were very small it was a yellow prayer house made by the farmers. Then many years later it was changed to blue. You know fishermen temples are all blue. But for your Nani it will always be the same old yellow prayer house,” he tried to simplify the matter for me but I was still confused. However, I was also felt relieved that my grandfather did not get upset with me for asking. Emboldened by my grandfather’s patience, I asked him another question, “Why was it changed to blue?”
My grandfather looked at me and then at the prayer house. His gaze then got fixed on to the river. It was as if he was looking for the answer on the surface of the water. After a few moments he cleared his throat and said, “Look at this river, son. I have told you many times it used to be so big and strong, the water used to come till right here, where we are sitting.” I looked at him puzzled. “It’s true,” he continued, “and now look at her. I don’t know how she changed, how she became this small. But she did.”
“So, you mean, you did not come to know how the prayer house was changed to blue?” I asked him. Was he talking of some kind of magic?
“No, no, son. We all came to know. But I don’t think we understood why it happened. Anyway,” he tried to bring me back on track yet again, “as I was saying, we all used to play here every afternoon. I was a great swimmer you know. I could swim very fast and go all the way to the other bank in just a few seconds!”
My eyes popped out in surprise. I could not imagine my grandfather swimming. “It’s true!” he said. “When I was your age I had already learnt how to swim. Can you swim, son?”
I shook my head in embarrassment. It was a constant theme with my grandfather, how he could do this and do that and he had seen this and that, everything that I cannot do or see now. “No, I can’t. But will you teach me, Nana?” I asked him eagerly.
My grandfather started laughing. “I can’t swim anymore son. Besides, if we swim in Ruhani now, we’ll get sick.”
I knew there was only disappointment in store for me down this path. Whenever I had wanted to do something my grandfather had done, I was told that it was not possible anymore. One day my grandfather told me the story about how once upon a time when they were small a leopard had come to the river bank to drink water and how all the children got frightened out of their wits. After hearing my grandfather’s animated account of the leopards’s roars and grunts, I begged my mother for days to take me to see a leopard somewhere. She tried to appease me by showing pictures of leopards on her phone, but I wanted to see a real one. Eventually my parents took me to the zoo and showed me all the wild animals including a leopard. During the next vacation when I proudly told my grandfather about it, he laughed and dismissed it. “Is that any way to see an animal?” he asked me. I had no answer to that question then so I didn’t say anything but now I know he was being rhetorical.
Seeing me lost in thoughts, my grandfather asked me, “Are you hungry, son? Do you want to go back home?”
“No, Nana. I want to listen to your story. Please go on,” while saying this to reassure my grandfather I also made a note in my head to ask my mother about swimming classes later.
“Alright. So, like I was saying, I started swimming well by the age of six. I used to swim with my friend Bawra. We both used to race from this side to the other.”
“Where is Bawra now, Nana? Can we go meet him?” I really wanted to complete his picture in my head.
“Son, Bawra is not with us anymore. He also became one with the river,” my grandfather said sombrely.
“Oh.” I was disappointed, “Is he with your father now?” I asked him.
“No, son. Well, I don’t know where he is. He is probably with my brother,” my grandfather replied. His gaze had drifted to the river again.
“With your brother? Where is your brother?” I had so far assumed he must be in some town or city somewhere like all of our other relatives.
“He is also in the river,” my grandfather said in a low voice. I couldn’t imagine this being a good thing at all. Anyone in this river could not be in a better place as my grandfather seemed to be trying to convey.
“How do you know they are together?” I asked him. Now, after so many years, I know that it was not an appropriate question, but back then I was just a child of seven.
Suddenly my grandfather got up and walked up to the river. I followed him quietly, worried that I might have upset him. I was also scared that if my father were to get a wind of this conversation, I would get into a lot of trouble.
But my grandfather did not say anything. He kept looking at the river. Some people on the other side of the bank were queuing up to enter the blue/yellow prayer house. The evening prayers had begun. Their sounds slowly travelled and started to blend with all the other sounds around us. The sun had traversed the full curvature of the sky and was now resting on the other edge of the horizon.
“The sun is about to set, son,” my grandfather said suddenly, “We should head back home. Your Nani and Mummy must be waiting for us. It’s also time for your milk.” He added.
“No, not milk, please!”, I cried out loud, “Can we just finish this story first?” I pleaded.
“Come on now. You know your Mummy will get angry with you. I will tell you the story tomorrow,” he said, clearly trying to appease me.
“No, it won’t be the same story. You always start a new story when you stop in the middle of one. I want to know what happened to Bawra and your brother.” I had to put my foot down here. I had learnt my grandfather’s trick by now. Whenever he did not want to tell me a particular story, he would try to change the subject. I walked back to where we were sitting and sat down to make my stand clear.
“Of course, I will tell you their story. Now, come on, don’t sulk. Let’s go home. We’ll come back again tomorrow and I promise I’ll finish it,” he reassured me and held out his hand. Reluctantly, I reached for it and got up.
We started to walk back home together. The sun had left its post and it was now time for the moon to take over for the rest of the night. The thought of going back home and drinking milk weighed on my mind.
When I was very small, my mother had tricked me into believing there was some mysterious relation between morning and evening, sunrise and sunset and drinking a whole glass of milk. But as I was growing up, I started noticing what at first seemed like exceptions. In my parents and grandparents case, a glass of milk was replaced by a cup of tea, which my mother explained away in her usual smug manner that it would happen eventually with me too when I would grow up. There would be days when I would miss one glass, usually the evening one, when we were travelling and my mother did not seem to get disturbed by that. Very soon it was plainly obvious to me that this strict regimen was my mother’s or someone else’s creation and had nothing to do with the sun, the moon and the stars. But I was still a boy of seven, so I complied albeit unwillingly.
“Did you drink milk everyday when you were small, Nana?” I asked him as we were about to turn into the street where our house was.
“Of course,” he replied probably still thinking I bought the whole sunrise-sunset-milk theory. “When I was your age,” he continued, “I loved drinking milk. I used to have two or sometimes three glasses in a day.”
“Three glasses!” I exclaimed in disbelief.
“Yes,” my grandfather said calmly.
“Then why don’t you drink milk now?” I was sure I had got him with this question.
He laughed and said, “I don’t know, son. One day the glass of milk was replaced by a cup of tea. And that’s how it was after that. I like tea too so there is nothing to complain about.”
I let out a sigh. Tea was banned for me till I grow up. I did not know then that in our times a cup of tea was like a vestige of more elaborate initiation rituals adolescents used to go through centuries ago. A cup of tea was going to be the yardstick of my growth.
We walked silently the rest of the way.
You must be thinking how can I recall the conversation I had with my grandfather that evening so many years ago so accurately. To tell you the truth, I have recreated it here entirely from my memory. I cannot say with entire certainty that it went like this word for word, but I do know that we talked about all those people and things. After all, that conversation with my grandfather and what happened later at my grandparents house, changed the course of all our lives. As I was walking back home, my hand safely ensconced in my Nana’s, I had absolutely no idea that it was our last walk to the river together. I was not aware then that my back had been turned on Ruhani, the mighty river of my grandfather’s life and dreams, forever.
When we reached home, we found Mummy and Nani sitting in front of the television. They were watching a news channel which was blaring out updates after update. From the tone of the anchor and the background noise, I could tell there was something serious going on. My Mummy and Nani had covered their mouths and their eyes were glued to the TV. I noticed that my glass of milk and my grandfather’s tea were already on the table waiting for us. My grandfather rushed in and asked my grandmother what had happened, and then he saw it for himself. His expression changed too. He sunk down in his usual armchair as if to absorb the shock.
“Here they go again,” my mother was the first to comment, “Sometimes I just don’t understand what they want. Why do they hate peace? Is this what being blue means?”
My grandparents sat there quietly, listening to my mother’s tirade. I don’t quite recall what all she said that evening, but she went on and on about blues, the fishermen. On the TV there were pictures of blood smeared bodies lying on the road. There were blue bodies and there were yellow bodies. There were a lot of blue police and yellow police, a lot of yellow and blue people running helter-skelter. I looked at my mother and then at my grandfather. My grandfather looked at me, it was as if he had read my mind. He turned turned down the volume of the TV and said to my mother, “Relax Beta, it’s an unfortunate event, but it has happened. What happens in this world is not in your hands or mine. This much stress will only effect your health, come come.”
“Oh come on Papa, on this day too you will take their side?” my mother said to him directly without any fear. They, the blues, the fisherman, were different from us. We were yellow, people of the earth and soil. That is what mother used to tell me. She told me about the time when blues fought with yellows and did many bad things. So she had instructed me quite firmly to stay away from the blues, as they mean trouble. Although, given that the blues were everywhere, at some places they even seemed to outnumber the yellows, it was very difficult to avoid them.
“I am not taking anyone’s side, Beta. I just want you to calm down,” my grandfather said, unfazed by my mother’s attack.
My mother noticed the glass of milk on the table and was suddenly reminded of me. She summoned me to the table at once. Given her mood, I did not take any chances and sat down on the table at once to drink my milk. My grandmother got up and went to the kitchen to warm up the tea for my grandfather. My mother and grandfather were left alone in front of the TV. Just then my father called my mother and they started talking, discussing what had happened. It was as if my mother found an outlet for her anger, and I heard her say so many things about the blues. Frankly, they seemed worse than ghosts and goblins. I made a resolve in my head to stay away from them forever.
After the phone call, my grandfather, who had been listening to my mother all along, said, “Beta, you should be careful about what you say around him,” he then gestured towards me with a nod of his head. My glass of milk was on the table at that time as I wanted to listen to what my grandfather was saying, but when my mother turned back to see whom he was pointing at, I quickly picked up my glass again.
“No Papa, he should know what these people are like. I don’t want to keep him in the dark. I don’t want him to think that the world is a happy place, a garden full of roses, when it’s not.”
“But this much hatred? What if he says or does something wrong? He has not matured yet. He is still a small child,” my grandfather tried to reason with my mother.
“So now you think my son is going to do something wrong. I just can’t believe this! You were here when the riots over the yellow prayer house happened, right? Did you not see with your own eyes what they did to us?”
My mother was trembling by now, tear drops the size of pearls were rolling down from her eyes. Just then my grandmother came out and made her sit down.
“Relax, calm down. What has come over you?” my grandmother said.
“No Mummy, let me talk. I am so sick and tired of this attitude, Papa’s attitude. How can he still take their side and defend them, after what they did to us, to this family, to my brother?” My mother was by now screaming at the top of her voice.
On hearing this I was shocked at the realisation that my mother had a brother. A number of thoughts raced in my head, “Why haven’t I met him yet? Where is he? What happened to him?” But I knew better than asking these questions at this time.
“Your brother’s death was an accident,” my grandfather said in a hoary voice. I could not believe what I had just heard. I looked at my grandmother, who’d started to cry by now.
“No Papa, it was not an accident. He was killed. He was killed by the blues. Why don’t you admit that?” my mother wailed. “Can’t you see, they hate us! They want all the yellows dead. They killed your twenty year old son. How can you still defend them?”
“Because I have seen a blue take my son’s life and I have seen another blue sacrifice his own life for my brother. I don’t think it has anything to do with being blue,” there was agitation in my grandfather’s voice, he was losing his patience.
“Which friend? Bawra? Why do you think people called him that? Because he was a bawra, a mad man. That’s why he did that,” my mother yelled out. I thought to myself, “So Bawra was blue—my grandfather’s best friend was a blue? Did he drown in the river? What happened to my grandfather’s brother?”
My grandfather got up from his chair. From his face I could see that he had had enough. As he was leaving the room he said, “If you want to live with me, in my house, under my roof, you can never ever say what you just said about my friend,” saying this he started to walk towards his room.
“Fine, I am never coming back here again. You hear me? I’m never coming back here,” my mother screamed at the top of her voice to my grandfather’s back.
That evening continues to haunt me to this day. It all happened so fast—my mother and grandfather had just resolved never to see each other again. It was as if someone had played the climax of a movie first and then it was left up to me to go back in time to discover what exactly had led to this dramatic culmination. The next several years of my life were spent on gathering and tying together the various threads of this story which eventually also became my story. Now I know that there was something visceral about my mother’s hatred for the blues, something that went beyond stereotypes and opinions. And that fateful evening, something inside my mother had broken, some kind of restraint, a kind of dam in her heart that had been there all these years, keeping all this anger inside her. But now that dam had broken and all her anger came out and flooded the entire house.
I just sat on the table, almost frozen at the spot. Tears from my grandmother’s eyes were flowing without a stop. She came to me and hugged me tightly. My mother went out of the house to the lawn probably to talk to my father. Later, when she was feeding me dinner, she told me that we were going to leave the very next day.
Early next morning, my grandfather came to my room and woke me up. He waited patiently for me to finish rubbing my eyes and then asked me if I wanted to finish the story we had left midway last evening. I nodded and got up.
It was still dark when I came out of the house. I found my grandfather sitting in his car. I walked upto him and asked him if we were going somewhere else, other than the river bank. He said “yes” and asked me to sit down in the car.
On the way he seemed lost in his own thoughts and I was also scared to speak given what had happened last evening. So we sat quietly. After about thirty minutes my grandfather stopped the car on a small mound. We got out and looked at the view. There was a big lake in front of us with a huge brick wall on one side. I could not see the other end. The sun across the horizon was just beginning its upward crawl. The water in the lake was a shimmering yellow and orange.
“What is this, Nana?” I asked him, finally breaking the silence between us.
“This is a lake, son,” he said softly.
“And what is that wall?”
“That’s called a dam, son. It holds the river back. This water that you see, this is Ruhani’s water,” my grandfather explained to me. His voice was very tender, more than usual. “This dam is what stops the water from going into the river,” he explained patiently.
“But if they remove the wall, the water will flow into the river and it will be like before again. Why did they build this wall, Nana?”, perplexed by this senseless wall, I asked him.
My grandfather was probably expecting this next question. He said, “I have brought you here to talk to you about this, my son. You see, when they started building that wall, I came here quite often, sometimes alone, sometimes with my friends, trying to understand if the wall was a good idea or not. But it was built before I could make up my mind and then our mighty Ruhani was reduced to a small stream that you see today. Even after that I still came here sometimes to understand why was this wall needed and at other times just to picture what it would be like if the wall were broken and all this water flowed into Ruhani again. However, the answers to all my questions eluded me and continued to do so till yesterday. But then last night I found the missing piece of this puzzle and it all came together. Do you want to hear the story of this dam son?”
I nodded my head cautiously worried that my grandfather was about to sidestep his brother’s story again. But I did not have the heart to stop him. I looked at him with eyes full of expectation and anticipation.
“But first let me tell you about my brother and my friend Bawra. I told you yesterday that Bawra and I, we used to swim across the river?”
“Yes, Nana,” I cried out in excitement. It was as if he had read my mind.
“When I was ten years old, my brother was only five. He could swim a little but not very well. One evening, Bawra and I were swimming in the river. My brother was sitting close to the stream, dangling his legs in the water. I had swam to the other side and Bawra was on the side where we were sitting on yesterday. Suddenly, my little brother got up and started walking on the rocks that were half-submerged in the stream. We did not notice him at first, but then some people yelled in our direction and asked us to stop him—he could slip on the rocks. I started shouting his name, while Bawra started moving towards him, trying to grab his hand. My brother got startled, he thought we were playing some kind of game. He started running. Suddenly, before we could reach him, his foot slipped on one of the rocks and he was in the middle of the river, his body bobbing up and down and flowing down along with the river. I screamed for help. Bawra, who was closer to my brother, started swimming in his direction, hoping to catch him. I saw them both disappear into the horizon.”
My grandfather stopped there, perhaps to catch his breath. I kept sitting quietly, picturing the scene in my head.
“Next day, they found their bodies downstream by the river bank,” he added gravely finishing his story.
I think that was the first time I really understood what death meant. I had seen it so many times, on the television, on the news, in films, in video games but I had never seen or heard about anyone so close to me or my family die before.
We sat their for a few minutes looking at the lake and it’s still water. I tried to picture Bawra and my grandfather’s brother flowing away in the river. Then later their bodies lying motionless on the river bank. Movement and stillness are metaphors of life and death. Like Bawra and my grandfather’s brother, Ruhani was once alive too.
“That day I understood the power of a river,” he continued, “I understood why people are scared of it, why people view it as a deity. Back then, Ruhani was in her full glory, she had the power to give life and to take it away too.”
“So you think the water, the river killed your brother?”
“In a way, yes. But I don’t blame it for it. It is how God designed it I think. It was my fault and my brother’s,” he said remorsefully looking at the lake.
“Nana, can I ask you a question?” Normally, I knew could ask him anything, but I was worried after what had happened last evening.
“Yes, son.” he smiled and ruffled my hair.
“Nana, how did uncle die?” I asked him nervously.
It was as if all of a sudden a number of memories flashed in his head. His face almost twinged with pain. But quickly avoiding my gaze he turned his face towards the lake again, his eyes again resting on its waters. I don’t know how long he sat there staring at the lake silently. Then suddenly he said —“He died because of another strong current.”
I was perplexed by the use of the word ‘current’, “Current?” I repeated the word again to confirm if that’s what he meant.
“Yes, son, a current, and by that I mean a stream, like a stream of water,” he clarified quickly.
“So he drowned in a river too?”
“No, son. But in a way he did. He drowned in the river of hatred.”
By now the sun had rid itself from the last shackles of darkness and was comfortably lodged in what it probably thought was its rightful place in the sky. For the first time in my life I was scared of light—this day meant going away from Nana, from Ruhani, who knows how long, maybe forever. I looked at my grandfather, his face was serene, his gaze unperturbed by the rays of the rising sun. It was as if he was channeling Ruhani’s energy into himself. I knew that this last story was crucial to understanding everything. I was running out of time and I had to make every effort possible to understand what he was saying.
“What is a river of hatred?” I asked him.
“You see that wall son, holding that water back? What do you think would happen if that wall breaks?” I was surprised as he asked me a question for a change.
“All the water would quickly flow out,” I said quite smugly.
“And what will happen then?” he kept poking.
“Then it will flow into the town, and Ruhani will be back to its old self again,” I did not understand why he was asking me such obvious questions.
“Yes, she might be, but there is so much water here that first Ruhani will drown the whole town. And then only slowly would it return to her original volume and path, and that too one cannot say for sure.”
“Really?” I could not believe it. Suddenly the town did not feel very safe.
“Yes, my son. Now you see, much before this wall was built across Ruhani, another wall was built—between yellows and blues. After many years of living together, with our human spirit flowing and mingling freely—like this river Ruhani, like my friend Bawra and me, blues and yellows started looking at each other with suspicion. These walls I speak of, they were not built overnight, they were built over many years, but when the work was done, the blues and yellows had been divided into two different groups. Their spirits were contained much like the water of this river behind these walls.”
I tried to picture these walls in my head. “Can I see these walls, Nana? I asked him innocently. “Where are they?”
My grandfather smiled and shook his head. He said,“These walls are made in our hearts, son. Tell me, when your mother told you not to talk to blues, how did you feel when you saw or met them in school or anywhere outside?”
“I don’t know,” I told him frankly, “I did not understand why Mummy said those things. But I could never become friends with them.”
“See, there in your heart, your mother raised a wall that stopped you from being friends with a blue, any blue. That is the kind of wall I am talking about.”
“And what is the human spirit? Is it like a river, like Ruhani?” I asked him.
“Yes, my son. The human spirit is what flows through all of us, it connects us, it is how we make friends and learn to trust others,” my grandfather said in a matter-of-fact manner. Then his face lit up and he said, “Don’t ask me if I have see the human spirit, son! It’s something you can only feel.”
I felt slightly embarrassed by his last remark. He probably could read my face because he suddenly smiled and said, “Don’t worry, son. I was only confessing that I cannot answer all your questions. But I will always keep trying as long as I am alive,” saying this he put his hand around me and I instinctively placed my head on his shoulder.
“So what happened to the wall between the blues and the yellows, Nana?” I could sense that we did not have much time left.
My grandfather continued from where he had stopped,“Slowly, the same human spirit, that was the basis of the friendship between the blues and the yellows, now became the basis of their hatred. You know how when clean water stands still for days it becomes dirty, in the same way the energy that could be used for friendship and love, had it flown freely, now turned into quite its opposite. This hatred kept accumulating for many years behind these walls until one of the walls, could not hold it inside any longer. It collapsed and a flood of hatred swept across this town. My son, your uncle, drowned in that flood.”
After a few seconds he added, “Did things become normal after that wall collapsed? I don’t think so. They are building even higher walls now.”
“But, why Nana, why are the building these walls?” by now I was truly vexed by this state of affairs.
“To control the flow, son, and to use it and to protect oneself from it. You see, when Ruhani was flowing freely, she was her own master, she was our lifeline, but she could also be dangerous. That is why we prayed to her as a diety–it was an acknowledgement of the relentless power she had over us and our lives. But now we control her and we harness her power and that helps us advance—we light our houses with her power, we irrigate our fields with her water. The same goes for human spirit, those who come to control it, can do a lot with it. If you leave it alone, you have a crazy guy like Bawra drowning himself to protect someone else. It could be dangerous if left on its own. If harnessed, it could be tamed and put to use.”
Suddenly, my grandfather got up, brushed the grass twigs off his pants and started walking towards the car. I had so many questions, but none came out of my mouth. I still did not know what had exactly happened to my uncle—this river of hatred my grandfather spoke of continued to be a mystery for me for many years to come.
When we reached home, my mother was waiting for us outside, with our bags packed. My father had sent a car for us. I knew I would not be able to convince my mother to change her mind. The wall between my Nana and my mother, that I could only sense earlier, was out in the open for everyone to see after that evening. And I and my grandmother were now expected to adjust to this new reality, to this senseless wall that now divided us.
I went up to my grandmother, hugged her and touched her feet. My mother hugged her too. She then went and sat inside the car. I went up to my Nana, he picked me up and embraced me and kissed me on my forehead. When I sat down in the car, my grandfather waved to me one last time and went inside the house. Watching him leave I had misgivings about the future, I did not know when I would see him next. In fact, it turned out to be my last meeting with him. When I came to this house next, after nine years, it was on the occasion of his funeral.
But a lot happened in these nine years. I had found out how my uncle had died in the clashes over the yellow/blue prayer house. I had also understood what caused the rift between my parents and my grandfather. And, I had started drinking tea instead of milk.
My grandfather’s last wish was to have his ashes submerged in Ruhani, or what is left of it. After the cremation, when I came to the dam to cast his ashes into Ruhani’s water, he too finally became one with this river like his father, like his younger brother, like his blue friend Bawra, like my uncle and like so many other people of this town who had lost their lives in one current or another.