My mother is grieving.
She has lost a chunk of her childhood. Loss is sometimes unnamed. But this loss, she likes to talk about. They’re gone, she tells me.
The water hyacinths and lotuses. There were pink and white lotuses and lavender water hyacinths. We could sit by the side of the pond and wait for the fish to flip. Sometimes, one floundered for a bit on the surface before finding the way back below the water’s surface. Sometimes, we would see snakes and frogs and confuse them for fish. We even confused tadpoles for fish, she says.
She likes to talk, my Mother. She goes on:
There weren’t just ponds. There were springs, that had been fenced in by walls of red bricks, turning them into कुवा that served as community wells. There were three of them at a distance of six minutes’ walk from the house. Father had built one of those for the community. There were two others built by others, who also wanted to be of service to the community.
These were places of doing—there were always women washing clothes. The dirty water was led away by a gutter to meet the canal that irrigated the fields that sprawled as far as the eyes could see. The fields always stayed irrigated, the कुवा always had plenty of water. On days when no one washed clothes there, the water would flow out, clear, clean water that glittered in the sun. Sometimes, its reflection made you squint.
There were fish, and sometimes snakes. Sometimes, a toad. When the water overflowed, the fish would often show up at the brim, stare in fright at the human encounter, plop and dive back quickly into its depth. Children waited to catch them. हिले माछा ! They would catch some, thrust them in a bottle and take them home, but would bring them back eventually because the Horlicks jars didn’t make good aquariums.
There was something soft about the way the water lapped against the walls when women leaned down to draw water out with dippers. Children helped their mothers with smaller utensils. Fathers helped carry buckets full of water home—walking sideways as the weight of the water dragged them down. Some women would bring their गाग्री and fill them slowly to the brim. But there was never a wait. There was always plenty for everyone.
The springs were located 6m from each other, the one at the farthest end, called मुहान, the main source, was bigger than the other two and always overflowing. Young men would dip in the pool. Women only went to that one if the men were not around.
Sometimes, a boy pinning for a sight of his beloved would wait by the springs, hoping to catch a moment of privacy with her—to look into her eye directly without having to say anything. Sometimes, a girl sat on the roof, prostrate, surrendering herself to the sun, in deep contemplation about a life that was momentarily stolen to be free of surveillance. The कुवा were so much.
But people in the neighbourhood planted pipes and used machines to pump the water out to fill private tanks. Then houses started going up in the vicinity. Wells were being dug for each household. The water level started to recede so people had to tie their buckets to a rope to draw out water.
There was never enough water. And their platforms where women formerly sat, washing clothes, became scattered with colourful plastic bags, discarded toothbrushes, soap wrappers, and whatnot.
They are like empty temples now, says my Mother. I hear they no longer hold water. And with that, a chapter of my childhood has also closed.
We decided to abandon the play halfway. It was excruciatingly long drawn and boring. Through much of it, we had sat sighing. In longing for something else. It was during the interval that we ran into one another in the Ladies. How’re you liking it? She asked.
Want to take a walk?
She was carrying a bouquet of flowers in her arms. For the cast, perhaps. She brought it along when we left the theatre. We bought a big bag of fries and crossed the road to arrive at the side of the pond. Kamal Pokhari, the one dedicated to the lotus. We found a little gate that let us into the area, marked off by walls to enclose the pond. There were walkways around it. Some people were walking, too. Brisk walking. And a couple on a date, walking slowly, their fingers twirled in one another’s.
The pond had been cordoned off by a barbed wire fence. But we managed to find a niche and stepped in and sat by the edge of the water. We were so close to the water hyacinths. Closer to the center were lotus in bloom— still, as Kathmandu moved around it in a thousand sounds.
Ah! This is pretty. I’ve never done this before.
That’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Then she extended her arms and dropped the bouquet in my arms gently, like it were a baby.
Yesterday was your birthday.
We smiled at each other and nibbled on the fries. She asked me at some point about my heart. I told her I was healing. Only, there isn’t healing for some wounds.
But we can make it lighter. Therefore, these moments.
And there, at Kamal Pokhari, in twilight, two awkward girls, introverted to the extent of withdrawing from the world, sat in silence a long time, eating potatoes and looking at flowers, until the guard came and told us we had ten more minutes.
Even moments were timed.