A Precious Friend

Water is life and being with water is being with life.
Childhood gives us some unlikely friends who are irreplaceable. This is a story of one such unusual friendship.
After being confined indoors for months because of the brutal winters and never-ending blankets of snow, summer days were like a breath of fresh air in Kashmir back then. We kids had finally found freedom from layers of clothes, from the dampness around, and were bouncing around the house with a spring in our steps and a lightness in our spirits.
I along with my cousins and friends was enjoying this sunny afternoon playing outside our house. Soon we were running around the other houses and the bylanes. Someone in the group suggests going a little farther. And before I know, we all were dashing in this new direction. I had never been to this side of my village. So I am quickly lost in this new scenery around me, small paths paved with pebbles and stones, mud and dust, houses of different sizes and shapes.
I can sense we have wandered quite far from our house, but that doesn’t worry me. Thinking of it now, I feel at least I should have informed someone at home, but such thoughts didn’t occur in those carefree childhood days ?? . And back then the entire village felt like an extension of our own house, where everyone knew everyone and safety was never a concern. (I remember several occasions when I would be wandering somewhere far from the house and someone would just get me safely back home ??. These days such things are unimaginable)
We run through a cluster of tall trees. And I am still so fascinated by all the new sights that I don’t really think or know where we are actually going. Expecting no more excitement, the magic of what appeared in front of me left me spellbound. Just as we came out of the trees, a small pristine stream was flowing by in front of us.
The excitement and the joy I experience on seeing this tiny piece of wonder can only be felt by a child. As an adult, we sadly lose the ability to cherish such simple but beautiful things around us.
Awestruck, I ran on its rocky bed lined with sparkling, clean stones and pebbles and without losing a moment we all plunge into it. Water in the stream is crystal clear, so shallow that we could see tiny fishes and tadpoles. The colorful stones under this water are shining and reflecting the sunlight making a criss-cross of miniature rainbows. The sparkling water and a show of umpteen colors leave me enthralled. As a child, probably I was experiencing such a vibrant thing so closely for the first time.
Soon we all were splashing in the water, jumping across, making the tiny creatures underneath dart frantically. Finding the most colorful and perfectly rounded stone was our treasure hunt. I had no idea of how much time had passed by, in this trivial play. We kept finding new games to play, jumping across the stream trying to see who can reach farthest. No one of us seemed to be tired, neither did this nature’s marvel stopped entertaining us. (It is so true that being around water can bring you so much joy and tranquility.)
All soaked, we finally start back home. By the time we reach back, our clothes had all dried up in the afternoon sun. (Thanks to the bright sun, no one knew where we had been ??)
For me this was the beginning of numerous visits to this stream, she had instantly become a favorite. Malur (as this stream was called) had won my heart.
On one of the visits, I remember getting curious about where the water in the stream came from and started walking on the edges towards the forest to find the starting point. But someone in the group saw and scolded me for wandering so far and warned me never to go that side again. Upset that as a kid, I can’t do what I want to do (there always happens to be someone older than you around to spoil your fun??), that day I promised myself that as soon as I grow up I will walk to the end of this stream (to find the beginning ??).
I remember often daydreaming about this adventurous journey I will take as soon as I am older enough to not need anyone’s permission (which seems to never happen though??). I kept thinking over all possibilities of what I will find there. And once in a while getting scared of “what if it never ends”(Childhood imaginations can be quite outlandish at times)
This stream had soon become a friend to me. Such is the beauty of childhood when anyone or anything could become a friend. And to me, she was as alive as anyone else. We together played endless games without ever getting bored and the love kept growing. While searching for my reflections in the clear water, I felt as if she was my very own stream. I had formed such a special bond with her. I am sure no expensive toys can bring you so much joy, amusement and fill you with such exuberance as this resplendent stream did back then to me.
Until one-day “Kakni” (as we fondly called my grandma) found out where I had been going. After a good scolding, came all kind of scary tales about the stream and the place around (all cooked up to keep kids away from danger). She did manage to make me a little hesitant before my next trips, but not for long. And the adventures continued..
Little did I know that this naive source of happiness will be snatched away from me very soon, and I would never be able to visit this place again. I would never find out how she looks in the starry moonlit nights or when she overflows with water in rains. There was still so much to explore. But I had to just leave without even getting a chance to say goodbye to my special friend.
Decades have passed, but the kid inside me still yearns for one visit to that stream, one rejuvenating touch of her cold sparkling water. One chance to walk along it and find its roots (whilst I have lost mine?? ).
At the same time, I wonder if she is still there, flowing undiluted with the same magical serenity. Or perhaps all these tough times have taken a toll on her as well, bruising and breaching her just like our souls and trust have been.
Seeing her this way would be heartbreaking. And all these negative prospects, stir me up, making me realize that the Kashmir I knew no longer exists, it is only in my memories.
Left with a dilemma to keep my memories untouched, or take a risk of seeing my stream once whatever way it exists now (or worse doesn’t), I am left reflecting in anguish forever.