I checked my appearance in the mirror and felt satisfied. The sweet face that looked back at me was indeed, enticing. I was about to embark on a journey on to the other bank of the river.I was inexplicably happy that day, perhaps due to my youthful energy, or due to an imaginative mind that always desired for the moon. Armed with a confidence that I could get that moon if I wanted to, I was on the clouds. I picked up my colourful bags, three of them, made with coloured beads, bright flowers and colourful threads. Of course, I wouldn’t leave my friend behind, the ever present song on my lips, would I? In fact, I cunningly extracted a promise from the song, never to leave my lips.
Thus equipped to face the life, I stood on the bank of the river, watching the sun rise, awe struck. A small boat came along. It looked a pretty sight, swaying in the mighty, dignified river. There was a man in the boat. He had a smile fixed on his lips and looked very handsome, indeed.
“Do you want to jump in?” he asked.
“Now, what are those bags?” he enquired further.
“These bags? My friendships, my memories, my ambitions, my likes, my talents and many things that define me,” I replied.
“I see! Ok, jump in. Don’t forget all those bags. You might bring that song on your lips too. Do you need to hold my hand to get into the boat?”
“Of course not! I can get into the boat all by myself, thank you. In fact, I know how to row the boat, as well. By the way, where are you off to?”
“Nowhere in particular. I will row as long as I can and stop when I feel tired. You can get down
where ever you want to get down,” he replied flippantly.
The idea appealed to me and I jumped into the boat.
“Welcome aboard,” he said as he looked into my eyes with a smile. I saw the light in his eyes and felt an inexplicable thrill.
The river flowed silently, displaying all her moods and colours. The blue hills along the banks, the greenery in the fields, the clear sky above, my song on my lips, the lively whistle of my friend, his witty talk, everything made me blissful. He told me about all his dreams, opinions and desires Lulled into a drowsy sleep with his songs accompanied by the ripple of the river, I hoped the journey would go on forever! In that happy, carefree moment I invited the young man into my thoughts and my heart. I shared everything with him, all that I called mine. I felt richer by the experience. I sang in ecstatic abandon. We vowed under the beautiful moon that we shall travel together always.
Up to that moment we had been taking turns in rowing the boat. But then he said, “Darling, you look tired. Your bright eyes are drooping with sleep. Why don’t you take a rest while I do the rowing?” I was proud of the love I inspired in him.
I closed my eyes listening to one of the songs he composed for me. Then he disappeared. I woke up in fright. My song on my lips called him loudly. He returned panting.
“Where did you disappear?” I asked in fright.
“My dear! I realised we have a long way to row before we settle down. It is going to be a tiring, boring job. I am trying to make a machine that will row this boat automatically.” He replied earnestly.
“Oh yeah? What will you do if the boat is going all by it self? Look into my eyes all the time, I suppose!” I teased him.
“My poor baby! We are young now. Do you want to spend the entire life rowing the boat? Don’t we need to settle down? Don’t we need to live happily ever after, like kings? I can’t have you rowing this stupid boat for ever! That is why I am slogging now, so that we can reach the other bank quickly, then build a nice big house and settle down comfortably.”
“What is this comfortable living?” I asked curiously.
“We will discuss that later, but now get me some food.” He became impatient.
“Did you not bring anything to eat with you?”
“No, I am going to be busy for a while with that machine. Here after it is your business to organize food for both of us.” He declared.
I got up yawning. I plunged into work. My friend, the song got bored. It said, “Hey, you seem to be too busy to notice me. I am going for a walk in the woods.” So saying it left me to go for a stroll.
“Don’t leave me now. I find it easier to work when you are with me,” I begged. “Don’t be silly. I will be back,” it replied hurrying out.
Eventually my lover found that he had no time to listen to my song. Nor did he have time to adore me. When I stopped the boat near the bank to cook food, he searched in the nearby bushes to gather some material and filled the boat. He demanded that I organize all that material and clean the boat to make it look nice. He began hoarding material.
His focus and hard work got to me. I admired his determination and strength. He is so strong and loving, I thought happily. I decided to make him happy and keep him free of worries, at all times and by all means. I cooked for him with more devotion; I shared his work to give him some free time and relaxation. I insisted on taking turns with rowing. I did all this with love and sincerity.
The boat started to get filled with different kinds of things. Just for the sake of reaching the other bank and settle down to live happily ever after he accumulated lot of material. The boat also started to be filled with different kinds of noises. Hammering, sawing, drilling nails and all kinds of mechanical jobs made peculiar, unfamiliar noises in the boat.
One day, I was startled when I remembered that my song had left me long ago. “Where did it go for such a long time? How could I stay for such a long time without my best friend?” I wondered. I called my song loudly. It came after a long time, reluctantly. I missed the affection in its voice which was always there.
“Where were you all these days? I had to call you loudly, to bring you here,” I complained. “What else could I do? I couldn’t bear the noises in this boat any more. In the beginning I found some rhythm in his hammering, sawing and drilling. I tried to join them. But slowly I started hating that sound, so I left. I cannot stay in this cacophony. I will come and visit you once in a while, if you want me to,” the song said defiantly. I did not know what to say. “Come on, let’s go for a small walk in the trees,” my song invited me.
“I can only come once in a while to comfort you. I cannot live on your lips any more, I am sorry!” so saying my song left me.
I lost the man who invited me into the boat with brightly shining eyes, the man who offered to help me into the boat, and the man whose face seemed to be fixed with a smile. I saw him only at meal times. All that laughter, that chattering, those songs, that love, everything disappeared. He seem to spend all his time and energy filling the boat with material and machines. I saw him working at something new one day. I asked him about it. He said that it was a weapon to protect us with.
I felt restless. I thought I will open my bags and look at my friendships, memories and my belongings. But I could not find my bags. I searched everywhere on the boat. Looking under the bricks, inside the tool box, under the hammers and every other inch of the boat yielded no result.
“My bags! I have lost them. My talents, my memories, my experiences, everything is lost. Where are they? How could I have lost them?” I wept inconsolably. Did I forget myself in my love for him? Have I lost everything that belonged to me?
He took my grief very lightly. “Oh, don’t make such a big fuss. We must have chucked it out of the boat some day while cleaning. But, first come and see what I have got for you.” He led me into his work shop. “At last, I have finished what I had started. This machine will run the boat automatically. You need not work hard any more. Take rest, here after. Look at yourself. Your hair started to turn grey. Your skin lost its lustre. You can leave the rowing and spend time looking after yourself. Make yourself beautiful as before. I still have some more things to finish. I don’t know if I have accumulated enough things to live happily ever after. Here, press this button. Throw those miserable oars into the river. I am making many more machines like this to make life easy for you. All that you’ve to do is to press the buttons.”
I pressed a button. The boat sped up. I sat down. I lost my song. I lost my beaded bag with flowers. I hardly see my beloved. Now I don’t even have the job of rowing the boat. What do I do with myself?
“What shall I do now? I lost all my talents. Can I work with you in the work shop?” I asked him eagerly one day.
“Oh no! You take it easy and look after your beautiful figure. Cook for me. Look after me. That will be sufficient.”
I looked at my reflection in water. My lips looked dried after the song left them. The innocent sweet face with which I jumped into the boat looked jaded and tired. The boat went speeding, cutting the river. It suddenly seemed to be getting heavier.
I did not know what all things he filled the boat with, for us to live like kings, for a future full of riches. Strangely, right from child hood I hated riches and kings. To live like kings we need to feel superior over others, which I disliked. I detested equally riches and treasures. What can we do with all the treasure in the world, except buying more and more meaningless stuff, I used to think. My beloved harped on those two words which began to annoy me.
My best friends and my song left me and never returned. I lost my man whom I loved above everything else. Why did I stat this journey and where am I going now, I wondered. What is my destiny? Why did I fall in love with him as soon as I saw him? Why did I jump into this boat upon his invitation? I lost all that I shared with him. He mesmerised me with his eyes, with his smiles and with his love. He threw away all my belongings when they annoyed him. He promised to make a beautiful world for me. I surrendered my heart and my soul to him. Where has he disappeared?
I heard a small groan. I was surprised and got up to look. In this boat it is only both of us living. Then whose voice was that? The boat was still running. Whenever the boat complained of increasing burden, he threw away old stuff. He threw away old memories, old habits and everything else he felt useless. Only the machines remained.
Then I heard somebody laugh. I was more surprised. Who groaned and who laughed? “Yes of course, it is me who laughed. Could you figure out who groaned?” asked the rowing machine. It paused for a while and said, “I think it is time for you to jump out of this boat. I cannot stand your weight any more.”
“First let us call him. Both of us will jump out of this wretched boat together. Or even better, we will kill you and row the boat with our oars as before,” I replied angrily.
“Call him? He won’t be able to come. He is stuck among those machines that he made and those he plans to make. He is never going to make his way out of those desires in his mind,” the machine laughed cruelly.
“Oh no! That is not going to happen. I am going to free him from those monstrous machines. All these days I was in a kind of trance. He always managed to convince me into obeying him. Why did I listen to him? Why did I not convince him? Why did I not save him from these meaningless desires? Why did I not hold on to my bags? How did I loose all my belongings? How could I be so careless? I want all those back, I also want my man,” I lamented.
“He is beyond your help now. You lost your song too. Who will help you in getting him out? Forget about him and jump out of the boat. Otherwise I am going to sink under all this weight.” The boat warned me.
Who cares about this miserable little boat, I thought. But I am not the one to give up like that. I raised my voice and called my song. I put my heart and soul into it. Of course, the song was my best friend. It came rushing to my aid. It settled on my lips as always. Together we set out. To get him back, with the things that he loved.
To get back my man who invited me into this boat, to make new beaded bags, to throw away all the rubbish we accumulated in this journey, to keep only what we needed and liked, to live a life fully with some work, some creativity, some imagination, lot of love and to spare some thought for others, to fill my beaded bags with values, I set out with the help of my song. With my best friend on my lips, I was confident of a victory.
(The Telugu original, nenostunnaanu, was published in Andhra jyoti.
Translated by Sharada, Australia, and published on thulika.net, August 2008.)