The Merciful River
The huge ship was sailing smoothly on the mighty river. The ship was filled with passengers, as well as a lot of cargo. It was a double decker ship and even the upper deck had no space left. Amira, holding her four year old son Aman by his hand, and a bag hanging from her shoulder, somehow managed to stand in that crowd. Aman was fascinated by the seemingly endless river; he pulled his mother to the side and stood there, gazing at the shimmering water. Amira was going to visit her parents, who lived in a small village on the other side of the river. She was going after many months, and so was quite looking forward to it. It was an hour-long journey by the ship.
As usual, there was quite a lot of hustle and bustle on the ship. People chatting, some children playing and jumping on the already crowded seats, the mothers shouting at them, some ladies - maybe they were going to attend some marriage - busy in appreciating each other’s dress and ornaments, not even bothered about their children pulling each other’s hair, scratching faces, and fighting; there was enough to keep anyone engrossed. Amira too was a silent, though interested, observer. There were some five-six youngsters, maybe college students, who were standing next to Amira and Aman. When Amira paid attention, she understood that they were talking about job prospects in the state. They were complaining as to how students from other states came and took over their seats in the colleges, and later got jobs. They thought this was grossly unfair, and blamed it for the increasing unemployment and unrest. They were cursing the government, saying why should they allow the entry of students from all over the country, in their state.
A lady tourist was standing there too, and perhaps was listening to all this animated conversation going on. She barged in impulsively, suggesting that anyone who got seats and job, got it on merits; and hence, how could that be considered unfair? She did not realise that her tone was a bit aggressive, and had an accusing tone, which the youngsters could not tolerate. They got wild in anger, and they tried to drag her and push her into the river. The lady, of course, screamed and fought. And a few passengers also came to her rescue, and pulled her away. But in all the commotion Aman, who was standing at the edge of the ship, got pushed unintentionally and, losing his balance, he fell into the deep, vast river.
Ganja was standing close to Aman. Ganja was a farmer and was childless. He and his wife had been yearning for a child, all through the ten years of their marriage, but to no avail. Standing next to Aman, Ganja was wondering if only this boy could be their son. Such innocence and sweetness on the boy’s face, stole his heart completely. All of a sudden, he heard shouts and saw Aman falling into the river. Without hesitating even for a second, Ganja dived into the river. He could hear Amira screaming for help, and other people shouting, even as he was looking for Aman in the river. Ganja was an ace swimmer. He found Aman drowning, and he leapt, and held him tight. Suddenly something, like a lightning, flashed through his mind. He had Aman now. He could have him for ever. It took a split second and Ganja, with Aman on his back, was swimming underwater with all his might and speed. He swam away from the ship towards an island that he knew of. The screams and cries from the ship gradually faded away, and shortly Ganja reached the shore of the island and fell flat on the ground with Aman. Catching up on his breath, he turned Aman on his stomach and pumped the water out of his lungs. Aman sputtered, coughed and threw out water from his mouth.
Now Ganja was shivering. He had run away with someone else’s child! How could he do it? But then God had not been listening to his prayers. For so many years he had been praying fervently to God to bless them with a child. So he, on an impulse, ran away with Aman. He slowly calmed down. Aman was also coming to his senses. Aman got up and, looking around, sat up. Seeing a stranger next to him, the little boy started howling in fear. He was crying out for his mother, but could not see her anywhere. As the day wore on, Ganja waited for another ship that would come this way. Shortly he saw the ship and, holding Aman’s hand, he boarded it. Aman was exhausted with all his crying and with hunger. Ganja, with Aman, reached his village and took Aman home. Ganja’s wife Vrinda was dumbstruck at seeing Aman and on hearing about what Ganja had done. Speechless, she kept staring at the two of them standing in front of her.
Amira was inconsolable. Aman was gone and she did not know what to do. She screamed, she cried, she tried jumping into the river, but people held her back. She kept beating her chest and wailed and wailed. The ship reached the shore of her parent’s village, and she reached home. Everyone was crestfallen. No one knew that Aman had been taken away. They all thought that he had drowned in that huge river and the man trying to save him, had drowned too. But Amira could not accept that the river that she had befriended as a child, the river that Aman loved so much, could swallow her son. She refused to perform the last rites. Amira became like a stone. And she lost her speech. She just became silent.
Ganja and Vrinda poured all the love of their parched souls, on Aman. Their pure and unconditional love helped Aman to settle down in his new home, and he started growing up there. He did not forget his parents, but time gradually eased the pain and healed his wound. For Vrinda and Ganja, he was the son that they never could have. They gave their heart and soul in bringing him up. But Ganja could not forget the sin that he had committed. Every single night, all these years, Amira’s face would haunt him in his dreams and would silently confront him. He tried various treatments to get rid of his nightmare, but nothing worked. Every single night he would have to face Amira’s eyes, filled with anguish. Ten years passed by. Aman was now a fine boy of fourteen. He remembered his biological parents, and in his heart he was waiting for the day when he would be able to trace them. Meanwhile, Ganja had aged drastically and had become a nervous wreck. Amira chose not to leave him, even for a night. Slowly, Ganja lost his mental balance and a time came when he could not even come out of the house. He always felt Amira’s eyes following him.
Aman had learnt swimming from Ganja, and had become an excellent swimmer. He took part in races and always won them. Once, while taking part in a long swimming race in the river, Aman was ahead of everyone else, by a significant margin. Suddenly, he got a severe cramp in his left leg. The cramp was so severe that he could not move. He tried his best to fight it, but the muscles of the leg seemed to have knotted up. Aman fought hard but he did not know, when he had simply passed out.
As usual, for the last ten years, Amira was standing at the bank of the river. Without fail, every evening, at the same time, Amira would come and stand staring at the river for a long time. Every day, her heart would say the same words,
“Oh, you holy river! Give me back my son, please!”
Then, disappointed, she would turn and go away. That day also Amira stood there, staring at the river, uttering the same words, when she noticed someone being washed in, on the shore. She quickly stepped down from the small rock and hastened towards the person who lay there motionless, on his stomach. As she came closer, she stopped in her tracks. Her heart was in her mouth. Amira kept staring at the bare-backed body. A big mole covered a large part of the back. She let out a scream. After ten years, she heard her own voice. She screamed and screamed and would just not stop. People ran towards her and finding the object of her scream, went there and pulled the boy out of the water. They checked and found a feeble heartbeat. Immediately someone started pumping him hard from his back. After quite some pumping, suddenly water came out of the mouth and nose. The pumping continued till Aman threw up more water and then, gaining consciousness, he lay there exhausted. He then turned on his back and looked straight into a pair of eyes; the eyes were filled with disbelief, wonder and joy. The tears were streaming down unhindered and the lips moved, but no sound came out. Then,
“Aman! My Aman! My Son!” And the woman gathered him in her arms and hugged him tight.
“Aman, my Aman!” She kept on saying. “Oh Mother River! You have returned my son to me!”
Amira kept on holding Aman tightly, as if, he would never let him go. Aman sat there, transfixed, into his mother’s arms.
Vrinda kept calling out to Ganja,“Get up, it is time to eat. You have not had a single morsel the whole day. Aman would be returning any time.”
Ganja never moved again. He lay there with his eyes open, blank and cold.