The Big Pond

There was no river or big water body near Jatin’s house. Ground water pumped using a hand pump was the only source of water, drinking or otherwise, near his household. He had distant memories of a canal which use to flow near their old house which had since dried and was now converted into a suburban pathway. Other than that he had seen ponds, lakes, rivers or Sea only on TV till now or while crossing a river on a bus or train.

He was ten years old already and found it rather strange that he had never visited a water body from a close distance. Last year, in his text book he read the story of the son of a fisherman who use to play on the seashore and collect sea shells. And that made him wonder how much nicer it would be to play beside a big lake or river instead of the dusty ground or streets he usually got to play in.

So it immediately caught his fascination when his playmate Sanket told him about the existence of this big pond in one of the neighbourhood villages. They lived in a suburb which had come up outside a big city, but the area was still dotted with villages here and there. Every village use to have a village pond in old times, and some of these villages still hadn’t encroached upon theirs.

It was not common for Jatin to go and play at any place which was more than a few hundred meters away from his home. So the excursion had to be planned in a way so that the parents didn’t know about it. Visiting it during a school day was out of question as the return journey alone will take a few hours. Thankfully summer vacations were just a week away. Hence, the plan was postponed till then.

Summer vacations started, and so did the heat wave. As his mother allowed Jatin to get out of house only later in the evening because of the summer heat, Jatin was given the option of having another play session in the morning. Usually the favourite pastime was street cricket but soon it became boring to play cricket in the mornings as well as evenings. So, Jatin and Sanket started brainstorming for more pastimes, and the idea of a bicycle ride came back, and where else but to the big pond.

Next morning, as usual, Sanket came to call Jatin for the morning cricket. The morning cricket sessions were happening in a field a couple of streets away from their houses so their parents wouldn’t notice if they were not on the field for a few hours. This morning though, Jatin took his bicycle with him. It was a new bicycle and Jatin was very fond of it. It was common for him to ferry around on his bicycle even for very short distances, so ‘that’ didn’t raise any eyebrows. And off they went.

Within a few minutes they were outside their colony and on the main road towards the village. The village wasn’t far down the main road. Jatin had gone to the village multiple times himself, mostly till the village temple. Usually on yearly Shivaratri festival as the temple was the biggest Lord Shiva temple in the area. He expected the pond to be not far from there. However, the road to the big pond diverted very soon. The road was actually the same pathway that had come up on the dried up canal.

This was peak summers, and typically it gets very hot by 11am on a summer day in North India. Thankfully the pathway was almost covered with tall acacia trees on either side. The shade made the bicycle ride somewhat pleasant for the kids. The temperature itself would have been less by a few degrees in this area compared to the suburb because of the overall green cover. The duo kept on going for a few kilo meters on this track. There was hardly any passerby except for a few village women carrying buttermilk on earthen pots on their heads and shepherds casually bringing their herds back after the morning graze. Although even this sightings became rarer as they went deep. The kids were not scared of the aloofness but rather amused. The tree cover on the either side of the path was giving a feeling of being in a protected zone it seems to the kids.

The road also had a few palm trees here and there along with acacia. On one such tree Jatin spotted a man sitting right near the top doing something. He remembered his mother telling him once that some people collect Todi (a local liquor) from the palm tree by hanging a pot near the top of tree trunk. They hurried their way through as obviously a Todi collector is not going to be a good guy. Two of them together could have probably taken on a grown up if required, but the sight of a big knife hanging on Todi collector’s waist made them pedal faster, without letting him know that they had seen him.

They should have been around three odd kilo meters on the road by now. Jatin was pretty sure the village had been left far behind. What was confusing him was that how can a village pond be so much farther away from the main village? He was seriously beginning to doubt whether Sanket even knew where the pond was, or just had made this story up, but Sanket reassured him that he had been to the pond, and their should be a muddy path soon that they will see diverging towards the pond. Sanket wanted to check with a passerby but there weren’t any in sight, and two kids going alone on a deserted track to a place whose whereabouts they didn’t know would have raised unnecessary suspicions, so he decided against it.

They would have gone a few hundred meters farther when they finally spotted the muddy path. It was too rough to go on riding on a bicycle, so they got down and started walking with the bicycle. The trees farther ahead were much more dense compared to the road, so much so that they couldn’t see what was behind them. The muddy road was also curving to block what lies ahead from their clear sight. In they went through the trees, and the pathway led them to an open area and yes there it was.

The big majestic pond. It was much-much bigger than any Jatin would have imagined. It was huge, almost the size of a lake or so it felt like to little Jatin. The pond and the area surrounding it was covered in trees from almost all sides, giving it a feel of a giant arena or a stadium. This was a more serene and beautiful sight than one Jatin had ever seen. There was a calm and pause about this place which made it out of this world. And this was punctuated by only two kinds of sounds, first the almost constant bleating of frogs which stopped for a few seconds midway and then continued again and second the less frequent but distant shrills of peacocks.

One of the sides of the pond, was covered in green flat leafs. They grew curious as to what they were, and as they started walking towards them, they realised there were some pink leafy things growing over some of these leafs. Oh, they were indeed little lotuses. This was the first time Jatin had seen one in real life, though he had been drawing so many in his colouring books for years. And these were so different and imperfect compared to what he drew on his books, yet so much more beautiful because they were the real thing. He wanted to go and pluck a few, but as he started walking towards them, he realised the land was quite marshy towards that side. It continued to grow softer as he moved closer to the lotuses. There spotted a couple of animals which looked like buffaloes lying almost submerged in the marshy area ahead of them. He had seen in quite a few movies how people get trapped in quicksand and never come out of it, so he abandoned his quest early.

There was still lot to be explored though. The pond was a full fledged ecosystem in itself, a bit of nature and its serenity still intact among the quickly growing noisy concrete jungles around it. They decided to circle around the pond from the other direction, where the land around the water looked comparatively dry. As they started walking, they could see a family of ducks with a mama duck and a few ducklings behind her towards the centre of pond. There was also a pair of colourful looking duck like birds which must have been waterfowls, swimming side by side. A few meters ahead they could spot a stork standing on a leg not very deep inside the water. This could mean only one thing, fishes, as storks stand in water like this only to catch fish.

The bird flew away as soon as it heard them approaching. However them rushing into the water, made it muddy and probably scared the fish away too, because they didn’t find any once they reached the spot. Around one-third of the circle away they saw another stork. So they thought of giving it another try , but this time not through the water, and more carefully, so as to not spook the fish again.

As they were walking, there was another interesting thing Jatin saw, a Sea shell. He quickly picked it up and kept it in his pocket, but then there was another and then another, and then many more. This side of the pond was sandy and lot of seashells, well you couldn’t technically call them seashells may be just shells, had washed ashore. Jatin threw the first one away and replaced it with a bigger better looking one. He packed a few more of the good ones to take back home. As they continued walking, they were almost near the second stork now. This one also took a flight seeing them approach. This time they treaded slowly in water towards where the bird was standing, but no fish even then. They stood there for a few seconds, looking carefully in all directions in the water for the sign of a fish or two but nothing. And then it came, a big bunch of tiny orange and white fishes which just passed through their feet as if they were just few stationary logs of wood, and again and again it went on. These were like little Nemos except their was no black outline to the white strips. And then there were a few more varieties, a black & white fish, an even smaller golden grey herd of fish and a single yellow blue fish which just appeared once and disappeared. In fact all of them did, as the kids started to move to try and capture at least one to take home.

The fish were very quick in water, and they were not. So they gave up on collecting fish, but as they were about to step out of water, they saw a slightly bigger fish like thing move towards them. The difference being this was moving on the surface of water, unlike fish. As it came closer, it appeared more to be a snake, than a fish. Jatin didn’t knew whether Snakes existed in water or not, but it felt wiser to just run away as fast as they can, and apparently so did Sanket because he was running equally fast too. They ran a few meters and then turned back to see if they had outrun the reptile. On the contrary, it turns out the snake was less than half a meter away from them now and it was bigger than any they had seen all their lives. The shore was still a few feet away. They dashed with renewed panic and in slightly different directions now, may be hoping to confuse the creature. They were also hoping a water snake wouldn’t follow them on land or at least they will be able to run faster on land.

Jatin was quicker on his feet in water, as he was barefoot and had left his slippers on shore, so he reached the land first. On seeing this, Sanket panicked even more, almost assuming certain death. At the same time his feet landed on something slippery and he fell down in the water. Jatin who was already on shore, thought if he can throw rocks or stones at the snake, may be that will distract it, and give poor Sanket a chance to escape. Alas, there weren’t any to be found nearby in the fine sand. Just then, Jatin felt something in his pocket, and there they were, the best shells he had collected. He quickly took them all out and started throwing them in bunch of twos and threes just behind where Sanket had fallen down. On seeing this, Sanket also realised what Jatin was trying to do. He gathered his courage again, got up and ran back towards the shore. As soon as he was out of the water the two of them started running towards their cycle, without even checking if the snake was still following them out of water or not. They picked the cycle and continued running till they were out of the muddy path and back on to the canal pathway. Once they were on the bicycle, and their feet firmly off the ground, Sanket actually turned around his head for the first time to see any if the snake was still chasing them but it wasn’t. He also checked around his legs for signs of a bite, or sensations of pain but fortunately there weren’t any either.

Once they were back on the main road, they discussed and agreed not to tell anyone about today’s adventure or the misadventure. Jatin also swore in his heart to not go on such a ride without telling his parents again anytime soon again. So they went back to their homes silently just with a sigh of relief to have it made back unscathed. Not even a single souvenir to show for their perilous journey, as Jatin had thrown away all his shells to chase the snake away.

It would be several years later that Jatin will learn that water snakes are not poisonous at all, and they panicked for nothing on that wonderful summer morning they had spent on the big pond.

Originally published on http://nitin-awasthi.blogspot.in/2016/04/the-big-pond.html