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Image by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

Flood Prone

The River is called Sorrow because it overflows in devastating floods every year during the monsoons, washing away whole villages and even entering towns, killing many hundreds of human beings, cattle and other animals. Every household that can do so keeps a small boat while the very poor try to put together some kind of makeshift raft with banana stems or whatever else they can to save their lives during the flood season. Walking down a secluded lane in the main town of the area from the official residences to the offices of the administrators and police officials incharge of the administration of the region in the dry winter season, you can see a broad rainwater and floodwater drain punctuated by mini-bridges leading from their gates to the lane. Broad-leaved colocasia and elephant’s ear plants can be seen growing among feathery ferns at the grassy edges of the water-channel , with pink, yellow and purple water-lilies growing in its near-stagnant waters. Some ambitious gardeners have even grown pink and cream lotuses and foxnuts in the pools created by the topography of the bends in the lane. At one edge is a larger pool overgrown with pale lavender water-hyacinth flowers, their shiny deep green ovate leaves knitted in a near-complete cover for the dark water underneath. A cluster of small wooden boats is tied to a strong wood stake struck deep in the swampy clay at one edge of the pond.


Boats bobbing

Among water-hyacinths

Memories of deluge

Image by Jeanie de Klerk


The woman with eyes like those of a cat and long straight brown hair took up residence in the abandoned house allotted to the absentee caretaker of the old estate. A young girl from the nearby village began to work for her. The woman asked for more milk than the whole village could spare in a day so the girl brought her as much as she could. They roasted potatoes and aubergine and tomatoes on a wood fire in the clay oven and baked flour dumplings with a spicy stuffing in its embers to eat with a delicious mess of the vegetables, and slept late into the sunny morning of the next day. In the warm sunshine of the forenoon they went to bathe in the sun-warmed water of a shallow brown stream gurgling past large boulders and purling over varicoloured pebbles. By the time they came back to the house the  milk left to simmer in a red clay pot had turned an old-rosy pink with a smoky smell. Left to cool for a while it showed a thick pinkish skin which the woman took off and placed on a leaf plate and sprinkled with sugar , then divided into two equal parts to share with the young girl. A tortoiseshell cat that seemed to have adopted the little household watched the proceedings through green slitted eyes, with a pink triangle of tongue licking its lips , whiskers-a-quiver around its moist pink nose. The woman poured a generous measure of the thick aromatic milk into the serviceable bottom of a broken clay pot and placed it before the cat sitting by the kitchen door. She smiled as the cat gave the concoction an appreciative lick before beginning to lap it up with rapt attention.


Cats’ eyes exchange

Glances of understanding

Sounds familiar

Image by Yannick Pulver

Amita Sarjit Ahluwalia is one of the various pen names used by Punjab-born, Patna-based, retired Indian bureaucrat Amita Paul . She enjoys writing in different genres, in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi .Her writings are imaginative and humane, with occasional flashes of wit and frequent touches of wry humour.

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