The Fury Of Alakhnanda
‘In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences’, such true words said by Robert Green Ingersoll..
The mighty Alakhnanda flowed; as if completely oblivious to the havoc that it had created, barely a few hours ago. The dancing water, with the sunrays falling on it, sparkled like diamonds. Who could imagine that this dancing damsel had caused such horrific loss to life and property? No one could ever believe this extreme shift in moods of the river, no one that is, except the ones who had seen it!
Machhli had turned ten, that day! She was waiting eagerly for her father, at the banks of Alakhnanda. Her father Udham had gone to the village across the river to fetch his father, who lived there by himself. Machhli was very close to her grandfather, and he would a part of all the celebrations in the family. He was coming to spend Machhli’s birthday with her and she just was counting the hours, to see him.
Machhli sprang up from the rock that she had planted herself on, from where she could see far into the distance. There was the sight she was waiting for! A boat was coming downstream, and she could make out the figures in it; her grandfather and her father Udham. She climbed on a tree, on one of the higher branches, and stood there waving a beautiful coloured scarf that she was holding. The boat was moving fast and was coming closer and closer. Suddenly she saw some cloth being waved back to her, from the boat. Her grandfather! He had seen her! She quickly turned to climb down the tree when her eyes caught something, that stopped her midway. The boat seemed to gather too much speed and in no time there was a frightening roar of the waves that rose to unimaginable heights, almost to the top of the tallest of the trees. It was a flash flood! The fearsome river was showing all its might and fury. The boat looked like a mere speck, being thrown around by the angry water, and it bobbed aimlessly.
Machhli could not believe what she was seeing. In the next moment though, she had jumped directly on the ground and was running towards the river.
“Dadu! Baba!” Her words were all drowned in that deafening uproar of the river. Without any kind of discrimination, the river wiped along everything that came in its way. Machhli was swept in too by the whirlpool of wind and water, and she found herself being tossed around like a shuttlecock, in its currents. She lost consciousness.
Machhli opened her eyes. Ah, it hurt! Her head throbbed, as she tried to move it to look around. Everything came back to her, in a flash!
“Dadu! Baba!” Why could she not hear her own scream? She tried to sit up, but couldn’t move her legs. Meena, her mother, touched her forehead and held her back on the bed. Machhli looked at her face. She could read it all! She kept looking into the streaming eyes of her mother. Machhli could not even cry!
The doctors said that Machhli was in a trauma. Her legs had got trapped under a boulder while she was being washed away. It was not possible to restore life into them anymore. She would have to walk with crutches.
Meena sat there at the side of the bed, holding Machhli’s hand. The doctor had left, yet every single word uttered by him was echoing in her ears. She so vividly remembered the day Machhli was born.
Udham was an exceptional sprinter from his childhood. He would be the undisputed winner in any athletics competition that he took part in, around all the neighbouring villages. He aspired to be like Milkha Singh, the iconic sprinter of India. He got noticed, and was picked up by the selectors. Udham’s determination and passion complemented each other so well, that he breezed through the initial levels and made his way to the Nationals. The day before his finals, he got to know from a friend from his village that his mother was on her deathbed and she has been calling out for him. Udham was stunned at the news! He hadn’t got a whiff about this crisis, from his father.
Udham took the first train back and reached home to answer her call, for one last time. As he held his mother’s hand and softly called out “Amma”, his mother slowly opened her eyes and then she was gone in a flash, her eyes still wide open. Udham could not take part in the Nationals that year, but his grief at the loss of his mother dulled all his feelings. His father was left alone at home, managing their land and farming. Udham decided to start helping his father. His father strongly opposed his decision, and insisted that Udham continue to follow his dream of becoming the best sprinter in the country. Udham stood his ground and plunged into farming, with his heart and soul.
Shortly Udham got married to Meena, who was his childhood friend. Meena was a dance teacher in a school. In due course of time, when one day Udham got to know that Meena was in the family way, the first thing that he said in joy was,
“Here comes my Milkha Singh!”
“How sure, eh? What if we have a girl? Can a girl be Milkha?” teased Meena.
“Why not? Anyone who is the best in his or her field, is Milkha for me,” said Udham as he took Meena in his arms and danced around. They were blessed with a baby girl, and they named her Machhli.(Machhli is the Hindi word for fish.)
Little did they know that Machhli would live up to her name! She was barely two years old, when she started swimming! Udham recognized her inherent talent. He supported and encouraged her in every possible way and Machhli was growing up to be one of the best swimmers in her age group, in the entire state. She was already winning at the state level, and now she had set her eyes on the Nationals! Udham was extremely happy and proud of her achievements.
“Maa, some water please,” came a feeble voice. Meena jerked out of her reverie and gently helped Machhli take a few sips of water. She realised that she had slept off for a while. She remembered her unthinkable present! Udham and his father were no more. Machhli had lost all strength in her legs, and could not swim any more! God! Was all this real?
Machhli was in the hospital for a month. She often cried bitterly but then, slowly, the crying stopped. Meena and Machhli would talk their hearts out, very often. They kept interchanging their roles of a mother and a child. At last, one bright sunny day, Machhli walked out of the hospital on crutches.
Both mother and daughter started work on putting the pieces of their life together. They were inspirations to each other and, with time and years, they became truly inspirational for everyone all around.
Meena had her own small dance school, where she taught the traditional dance forms to children. Machhli had done her doctorate in Environmental Science. Her chosen topic of research and studies was; The fine balance between the trees and human beings. Her papers on ‘Progress and Nature’ were highly acclaimed, and were studied in top universities.
Machhli and Meena sat on the banks of Alakhnanda, watching the river flow by in all its grace and majesty.
Did Rudyard Kipling have these two in mind, when he wrote this life-changing poem ‘If’?
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-n-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
(Excerpt from “If” by Rudyard Kipling)