HERE I AM and other stories

7. Here I Am

Telugu Original: P.Sathyavathi

English Translation: Rigobertha Prabhatha

          I fell in love with my face when I saw it in the mirror before going across the river.

          I was bursting with excitement, my heart full of the desires of life and youthful exuberance.

          With three colourful bags embroidered with threads drawn from moonlight on my shoulder, and a song on my lips, I stood on the river bank, looking wide-eyed at the rising sun, as though the world belonged to me.

          Just then a boat came that way. It looked very beautiful in the brimming river. The person rowing the boat was handsome, with a lovely smile.

          ‘Will you come with me?’ he asked.

          ‘What are in those bags?’ he enquired.

          ‘My friendships, my interests, my memories, my aspirations, my enjoyments, my skills and other things that belong to me.’

          ‘Well, come along . . . bring all of them with you! Bring the song that accompanies you. Shall I help you to climb on to the boat?’

          ‘Not necessary. I can climb myself. For that matter, I also know how to steer a boat. I forgot to ask . . . what is your destination?’

          ‘I’ll travel as long as I’ve the energy. When I’m tired, I’ll stop. You can get down wherever you want.’

          I thought that suited me. I said, ‘Okay.’

          ‘Welcome to my boat,’ he said, looking into my eyes. I saw the light of hope shining in his eyes. I climbed in.

          At every place the flow of the river was different. I travelled along, watching the blue hills on the horizon, the rich greenery on the banks, the blue sky above and, of course, my friend ‘song’ on my lips. Both his whistle and words resonated with energy. He spoke of his ambitions and desires, entertained me with his humour. He also sang songs. I slept to the gentle sound of waves. I thought, ‘Let this journey go on . . . no matter how long.’ In this state of mind, I welcomed my fellow-traveller – the young man who was rowing the boat, into my inner world. I opened my heart to him just as I had opened my voice.

          Underneath the full moon and in the middle of a full river, our bodies and minds the only witness, we promised ourselves that we would travel together till we reached our destination on the other side of the river. I suggested that we take turns rowing the boat. He looked at me lovingly and said that was not necessary.

          ‘Rest for a while, dear. You look very tired. If you row, you will lose the shine in your eyes,’ he said. I revelled in his concern.

          Just when I closed my eyes for a second while listening to a love song he was singing, he disappeared.

          My song called out.

          He came running.

          ‘Where did you go?’ I asked anxiously.

          ‘Since we have a long way to go, I thought rowing the boat all day would be boring. So I’m trying to invent a machine that will help the boat travel on its own.’
‘What will you do if the device runs the boat? Will you sit and look into my eyes all day?’

          ‘You must live in the real world, dear. Now we are young. But how long can we go on rowing the boat like this? We need rest. We need a comfortable life. Will you sit here forever in the sun and rain, rowing the boat? That is why I am working hard to make some arrangements. Once we reach the other side, don’t we need to build a good house so that we can live a good life?’

          ‘What do you mean by good life?’

          ‘I’ll tell you later, but first let’s eat something.’

          ‘Didn’t you get anything to eat?’

          ‘Until I finish making this device, food is your responsibility.

          Fasten the boat for a while and make arrangements for food.’ I got up, yawning, and tucked in the pallu of my sari.

          ‘Since you are busy, I will go around for some time and enjoy the cool air,’ said my friend song and left.

          Even as I pleaded, ‘Don’t go. I enjoy working with you,’ song left, saying she would return soon.

          Nowadays, my partner doesn’t have the time to listen to my songs. He doesn’t have time to even look at me with love. Whenever I stop the boat to cook, he goes into the bushes and trees to collect things. Now the boat is full of these. He keeps asking me to arrange them properly. In fact, he seems to have made it a mission to collect things.

          I admired his dedication. I adored him all the more for his intelligence, power and affability. I started to take greater care of him. I made it a habit to cook carefully and share his work regularly, making sure that he got enough rest. Since the device to run the boat was being made anyway, I decided to row the boat myself till then so that he got more time for his work. I was happy doing this for him.

          Slowly, the boat got filled up with all kinds of things, including bricks. They were meant for the house that we were going to build after we reached the other side. There was always some sound because of all this . . . it could be the hammer or it could be the saw.

          One day, I remembered my old friend – song. ‘What happened to my song, my friend of long standing? She had promised to return, but there has been no sign of her for so long!’ I started calling out loudly. After several calls she came, but I did not feel that her voice had the same love for me anymore.

          ‘What, dear! Where did you go? You came only after I called you,’ I complained.
‘I can’t stand the sounds your lover makes. Earlier, there was a rhythm in those sounds. So I used to sing along with them. Now they sound raucous. I can’t bear the continuous sound of machines. I am going. However, if you want I will stay with you for some time. Come on, let’s take a walk among the trees . . . I can come now and give you a little relief, but I can’t always stay on your lips amidst so much noise.’ With those words, she left me again.

          The man who had welcomed me to his boat with shining eyes, who had offered his hand to help me get on to his boat, who had smiled all the time, was now to be seen only at meal times. There was no more laughter and conversation. The only thing he did these days was to get materials and spend time preparing them. Recently, I had found that he was working on some new thing. When I asked him what this was, he said it was some kind of weapon to protect ourselves.

          I thought I could not go on with him like this. I decided to return to my previous life. I started searching for the bags in which I had stored my friendships and my memories, but they were not there. I couldn’t find even one bag. I searched everywhere – underneath the bricks, underneath the hammer, the nail box . . . but I couldn’t find anything.

          ‘Alas! What has happened to my friendships, my skills, my experiences, my memories? Where did I lose them? Have I forgotten myself in the love I bore for him and my obsession with him? Did I lose all my wealth in the process?’

          ‘Since we were collecting so many things all the time, perhaps there was not enough space and I threw them away.’ He said coolly, without any remorse. He took me to his workplace and said, ‘All the effort that I have put in has finally borne fruit. Now you don’t need to row the boat; you can relax. You have really worked hard all these years . . . your hair is greying. I didn’t realize your skin has also lost its glow. Now you must start taking care of yourself. I still have some work to do; there are still some things that I need to acquire and find. Actually, whenever I think that we have enough material to build a house and live happily, I feel there is still something lacking. Now, press this button. Throw the oars away. Not just this, I want many things to be done automatically. I am inventing some more machines for this. Hereafter, you don’t have to do any hard work. Just keep pressing these buttons. Now come and press this button.’

          I pressed the button and the boat started gaining speed. I sat down and pondered: My song has gone. My brightly coloured floral bags have gone. I don’t know when I will see my lover next. Now I don’t even have the job of steering the boat.

          ‘What will I do now? I have lost my skills. I will work and help you in your workplace.’

          ‘No, don’t do that. Simply relax and look after yourself. Your beauty seems to be fading. And also, give me food and see to my needs.’

          I saw my face in the water. My lips, which had no song, looked dry. My face, so beautiful when I had got onto this boat, looked dull. The boat moved very fast and its weight increased.

          I don’t know what he was filling the boat with for our golden future – for a royal life. In fact, I had never liked the terms ‘golden future’ and ‘royal life’, even when I was a child. Doesn’t living like a king mean that one is superior to others, not working hard and not mingling with ordinary people? I would wonder why the king was our only model? I don’t like the word ‘golden’ either. Gold has neither flavour, nor taste. I wondered why we desired such costly things at all. My lover using these terms frequently irritated me no end.

          I can hear the loud rumbling of the boat. It seems unable to bear the weight. Where did I want to go when I started this journey? What was the purpose of that journey? What was the destination of my desire? Why did I rush into his boat as soon as he called me? Why was I mesmerized? What is left now? . . . All the shared moments and conversations I had with him are disappearing. Where is that man who cast such a spell on me, the man who attracted me with his laughter, the man who told me to preserve my song and my friends – though he threw them out later when he felt that they got in the way of his work, the man who promised to create a wonderful world for me? Where has that person, to whom I gave my soul and body, disappeared?

          From somewhere I heard a groaning sound. There was no one else in the boat other than him and me, so where was this noise coming from?

          I got up with a start. The boat was speeding, as usual. But it kept requesting us to reduce its load. So we decided to retain only the new things – the ones required for inventing the new machines – and started throwing the old ones out one by one. Out went our shared memories and habits. Now there was nothing old left in the boat. Everything was new and necessary.

          Suddenly, someone laughed loudly. Who was that? There was no one else here other than the two of us and the machines. Then whose laughter was that? And the groan earlier?

          ‘You guessed it right . . . I am the one who laughed. I’m sure you can now guess who had groaned!’ said the machine that was running the boat.
‘Whenever I could not bear the extra weight, you threw things out. I cannot bear any more weight. Now it is your turn. If you jump into the water, I will go my way,’ said the machine after some time.

          ‘Call him then. If I have to jump, then both of us will jump together. Otherwise we will throw all these things, including you, in the river and row the boat ourselves. Before that, we will shut you up.’

          ‘Look! Your lover is stuck in the things he made. He is unable to extricate himself. He cannot set himself free from those things, he cannot free himself from the desire to make new ones. He will remain like that throughout his life.’
‘No, this can’t happen. I will bring him out of it. I harboured a delusion all these days; I was charmed by him from the outset. He told me to ensure that I remained beautiful. Even if he said that, why did I follow him blindly? How could I forget my responsibility? Why did I not rid him of this hunger for manufacturing things? Why didn’t I make him understand from the beginning what my opinions and ambitions are? Why did I lose my bags? How could I be so negligent? Now I want all my things back, including my lover.’

          ‘You can’t bring him out now. Since you lost your childhood companion – the song too, how will you be able to bring him out? I can run the boat only if the weight is not much. Now you have become a burden. The choice before you is one between drowning and swimming. Make your decision quickly. Otherwise, all of us, including me, will drown,’ said the machine.

          I wanted to laugh. Once the two of us are no longer there, what do I care whether the boat sinks or not? But why should I let the boat sink in the first place?
I raised my voice and called out for my friend, the ‘song’. She loved me so much that she immediately landed on my lips and lightened my heart.
Together, we dived into the machines – those endless things he had piled up – not only to search for him and save him, but also to save his valuable inventions.
I tried to save the man who had invited me into his boat and also, my colourful floral bags.

          But above all, I was going there to throw away all the superfluous things and start living a life of fulfilment. I would also ensure that no more useless stuff was manufactured in the future and that there was enough space for rest, romance, love and concern for others. I wanted to fill my bags with values; I and my song have complete confidence that we have the strength to do it.


(to be continued..)


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