Water pictures

The evening sun was sinking behind the dark foliage of the line of trees beyond the vast paddy field and the magnificent water of the village lake I was passing. Flocks of birds were hurrying to their nests in the thicket surrounding the field, and I tried to catch a glimpse of their colourful beauty. They had hardly discernible colours on their feathers in the growing darkness and none of them had the brilliance of colours that Bindu’s lovebirds had.

I was preoccupied with mixed feelings about the love birds that had been recently brought by Bindu’s brother and kept in a fairly large cage in front of their house.

‘Look at their colours... they have all the colours of the rainbow....,’ Bindu exclaimed, beaming with pleasure, may be quoting the idea of the rainbow from what his brother had said about the birds.

‘They are very small...,’ Raja living close to Bindu’s house, was saying. ‘What do you mean?’ Bindu snapped absorbing the full impact of Raja’s depreciatory remark.

‘I mean they are smaller than crows or even woodpeckers and kingfishers’ Raja went on with his attack.

‘But love birds are more beautiful than kingfishers or even doves’ Bindu was vehemently defending.

I was watching both of my friends now entangled in a nerve-edging tussle.

‘But a kingfisher can down two of these with one shot...’ Raja went on with a triumphant smile also on his impish face.

I was trying to get at the logic in this altercation between my two friends in terms of the value of the birds involved. Bindu glowered at his friend and tried to substantiate his stand.

‘But they can’t reach the lovebirds.... They are in the cage no...’ adding with determination and also a bit of anger. ‘And if they come here I’ll hit them with my catapult.’ And pointed at his favourite weapon hung on the clothesline.

‘Aiyo... Pav... don’t be a sinner....’ Raja deplored the action mentioned.

‘I don’t hit them in vain.. I even put food for birds... But if they come to attack my lovebirds. Then..." Bindu gesticulated wildly how he would attack with his catapult.

‘My lovebirds’ - how proudly Bindu uttered those words... But I was unable to say ‘My’ with any name of birds. We had a few goats in our home father had brought them, in order to give me their milk when I was suffering from asthma during childhood can say ‘my little goats’ cuddling one of the little ones. But they did not have the beauty of the lovebirds that Bindu had in their home.

That evening I suggested to mother having some birds and a cage too. She frowned and retorted.

‘What dirty creatures they are... putha... see what a bad smell they have in those cages... There has to be a separate person to clean the cage every day....’ and also added. ‘Why you can play with the little, goats... no... see how cute they are...’

I knew mother would never approve of getting a bird cage into our house.... The following morning, when leaving home for school I asked mother for a few coins to buy some water pictures in which I had seen some birds depicted.

I bought a few water pictures of very beautiful birds on the way back home and finishing lunch quickly, put them up using water on the first page of my reading books - ‘Kumarodaya Padyawaliya’ etc.

I cried in glee when the images of birds came up and tried in my mind to compare them with the beauty of Bindu’s love birds. My birds in the water pictures were much more beautiful than love birds.

Every morning at school I opened the reading books when the teacher came to the class beaming with pleasure seeing my birds and went on to read the lessons gladly.

‘Here... Raja...’ I even showed them to Raja seated next to me.

‘Oh... water birds, but they can’t fly, no’ he retorted.

‘You also can’t fly... can you?’ I blurted out giving him a blow on his fleshy upper arm with my clenched fist.

He laughed and uttered a nickname to hurt my feelings: ‘Kurulugoya...’

As years rolled by father took me to a shop in town one fine day and bought me a bike with only two wheels now that I had long abandoned my three-wheeled baby bike. I had already forgotten my fascination for birds while Bindu also had forgotten his love birds as they had one by one died off.

I learned to ride my new bike first inside the garden and then ventured on to the road once I was able to ride well. One day I went to see Bindu living about a quarter of a mile away from our home, riding my bike.

From a distance I could hear the chirping of birds and as I got near his home I could see the bird cage full of love birds again!

‘Father brought some new ones last week....’ Bindu said with pride. I kept looking at them for a while and shifted my attention to my bike. As Bindu was still looking at his birds I rang the bell on my bike to show it to him.

‘Oh.... I didn’t see no... So this is the bike you told me about at school... How much was it?’ he asked with delight.

‘Five hundred... Father bought it for me... And I’ll be going to school on it in a few days....’ I told him puffed up with pride.

‘You can take me also on it’.

‘Will try... I still can’t double up on it...’

I looked at the birds and my old love for them seemed to creep back into my mind again. At once the birds on my water pictures flashed onto my memory and I felt a sudden desire to look at them.

‘I also have some birds in my books....’ I said.

‘Ah yes, yes. I can remember...’ Bindu rejoined. ‘I also like to look t them... shall we...’

So I rode back in a great hurry to see my precious water pictures while Bindu ran after me.

Back home I made a beeline for the old cupboard where my old books had been kept by mother. With father’s old news- papers they were full of dust and with effort I pulled out my Kumarodaya. To my great despair the water pictures had lost their colour on the better part of them while some have been eaten up by moths.

I brought the books to the verandah and showed them to Bindu who brought his hand up to his mouth and observed with wide-eyes:

‘Oh my gosh... what a poor sight... You should have kept them in a safe place.

We walked out of the house and edged close to the lake in front of it. In the setting sun the water appeared brilliant while the reflection of the trees around and the myriad of birds fluttering their wings appeared clearly on the surface of water.

‘There... water pictures....’ Bindu pointed his arm at the water and said.

Suddenly a flock of herons dived into the water and some of them came up in a trice with something tightly gripped in their beaks. Wide ripples began to spread from that spot in the lake and the pictures disappeared altogether from its surface.

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