We were in a train going from Delhi to Jhansi and as we crossed the river Chambal, my four year old son sat transfixed looking out. He had been looking out throughout the journey, but after we crossed this river he turned to his mother and asked, ‘Where is the river going?’
‘A river runs,’ I said, though his question wasn’t directed to me.
Pushkin, my son, looked at me and asked, ‘Why do rivers run?’
Such questions can petrify parents and stun them into silence, but then this must have been an easy one for the old man sitting there in the coupe, reading a book. He noticed our silence, looked up from his book and said, ‘I know why the rivers run.’
Phew! I thought and let my eyes thank him. But he wasn’t looking at me. He was talking to Pushkin and began, ‘Every tree, every plant, every mountain and every rock has a story.’ Pushkin loved to listen to stories and I must add here that we did read stories to him from our vast collection of books at home. But they were all stories of little boys and girls, stories of rockets and cars and locomotives, stories of discoveries and inventions, stories that had goblins and elves and sometimes even demons, stories of Gods, and stories of things that even we found difficult to believe. But Pushkin had this knack to ask questions that always went on to stagger us… and so we were always buying more and more books. But none of these books had any story which could have told us why the rivers run.
Well, the old man asked Pushkin to come and sit with him and told him that story. That was one story that Specky and I too listened carefully and then she whispered to me, ‘You should write down this story in a poem.’
‘You are a poet?’ asked the old man, and went on, ‘Nice. Then I can tell you many more stories and you can turn all of them into poems that children will love to read and remember. But stories will always remain just stories if you never take your child out and let him be one with nature.’
I said, ‘Yes sir, I will.’ And we did take Pushkin to the riverside while we were in Jhansi and he was happy and said, ‘I know why the roots go down. I know why the rivers run.’
These are the first two lines of the poem that I had written and he had already begun to remember them. You can now read the poem that I wrote that was based on the story that the old man in the train told Pushkin… the story that brought us all to go out of our home and go near the river and the trees and the rocks.
Why do rivers run?
I know why the roots go down
I know why the rivers run
I know why even rocks frown
I know what they search as one.
They were once like you and me
And even had a King
Trees and plants walked free
Even rocks stopped to sing!
And this King who was kind
Had two sons growing up fast
They loved to hide and say: Now find!
But the King knew his kingdom was vast.
His sons would run in and then out
And then away from the city too
Until he sent guards who’d shout:
‘Come back, or darkness will say BOO!’
So the King said: ‘I need nurses
Who can run with my sons
And use words that aren’t curses
And who aren’t a dunce!’
He thought of rivers and brooks
And asked them to do this job
They were happy and said: ‘In nooks
We can go and over rocks we can bob
We’ll follow the boys wherever they go
Leave their safety to us, my lord.’
And off they went, eager to show
How they loved this and not really bored.
So from left to right and here and there
Ran the boys giggling away
The river twisted and turned with care
And the brooks never came in their way!
But then by evening the river was done
And the brook too could not run
But the boys, it seemed, were having fun
Until the brook said, ‘Stop dear, have a bun!’
‘No,’ said the boys in a single shout
And the river said, ‘Brook, you follow
You’re younger and stout
I’m older and larger, my fellow!’
And so sometime the brook went on
And then the river sought
From dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn
Until in fatigue they were caught.
Until suddenly, the brook stopped, whirled
‘Where are the boys. I don’t see them.’
Then river was sullen and curled
And together they went to search them.
But no, the boys were nowhere found
And the two went back to report
‘We searched. We went round and round.’
‘This search you cannot abort’,
Ordered the King and so off they went
To search for the boys everywhere
And even trees their roots did sent
And plants asked, ‘Where do we go? Where?’
So the roots went under the ground
And plants up the mountains twirled
The brook then asked if they were found
As the river in desperation swirled
The creepers peeped in homes to see
If the boys had gone and hidden there
And boulders on the top that be
Were lookouts for a vantage stare!
But the boys were never found
And the King was sad and said,
‘Stop the search, it is unsound
The boys will now never be found!’
The plants who went to mountain tops
Were asked to stay where they were
Creepers still are household cops
And trees with their roots do not stir.
‘You,’ said the King to the river and brook,
‘You need to search forever now
Go turn and twist and look in a nook
Or just fall or take a bow
But search on and on and on and on.’
So the rivers and brooks just run
And the roots never see the dawn
Creepers climb up to turn
And look through windows still!
The boulders wait to sight the boys
And rivers sometimes get so shrill
When they see little boys with toys!
This is what has been since then
And nature loves us all
For all the kids, women and men
There is always a whisper, a call!
Well, I did finish writing the poem during that train journey and gave the first hand-written copy to that old man who brought us all nearer to nature. Now I’m sharing this with my readers with a hope that they will sometimes leave the technology trails and go out to breathe in fresh air and wonder what the creepers look for or the rocks say or why the rivers run!
06 April 2014