The river had always been there. It had been a part of every phase of Nandu's life. His boyhood was spent cooling off in its cool water during the hot summer afternoons. And of course, the fish which was their daily meal, came from the river. The river was their lifeline.
Nandu used to make and sell marigold garlands to the devotees, who thronged the 'Ghats'. They were people who bathed in the river, believing it would wash away their sins. The river was holy for those who believed. For Nandu it was an extra buck. The more the people, the more garlands he sold, as these were used in the ritual of offering prayers and other rites.
Nandu was an orphan who would have met a watery death in the river, if it hadn't been for 'Nani'( grandmother ). Mary, who was called Nani by all and sundry, had picked up the abandoned baby from the river-bank. She was the only family he knew. She was poor but had a heart of gold; uneducated but wise. Very early she taught Nandu the importance of the river in their lives.
He remembered how fascinated he was as a child, when he saw the river in spate for the first time, during a rather heavy monsoon. It swelled and overflowed its banks and the angry swirling water threatened to flood the town.
" Nani, where does the river come from ?"
" From a very big mountain, high up in the Himalayas," she replied.
" Where does it go ?"
" Very, very far. To the end of the rainbow."
" What does it do there ?" asked Nandu in wonderment.
" It goes up the rainbow and returns to the mountain."
" Nani, does the river never end ?"
" No it goes on forever."
He thought for a while, then turned to Nani again. " But Nani, why is it so angry ?"
" Because you have been very naughty."
" If I say I'm sorry, will it stop from flooding the town ?"
" Well, it's always good to say you're sorry ," was her wise reply.
Nani's life revolved around Nandu. Their need for each other arose from the deep-seated pain within, which grew out of rejection and abandonment. Nandu's adoration and respect for Nani grew as he watched her slog from dawn to dusk, to keep him clothed, fed and educated. Nani would take up any work she found. Sometimes it would be breaking stones, where a road was being built or carrying mud and bricks on her head at a construction site. But she was always full of warmth, comfort and love. Her face was sunburnt and her hands were rough. She was strong. Nandu was in awe of her especially when she got into one of her tempers. Her eyes would blaze and her tongue would lash the recepient of her ire.
One day Nani came home with Paul, whom she had met at the site of a Christian hospital. Nandu and Paul sat talking late into the night. That day Nandu learnt about another river - the river of life that flowed from the Rock of Ages.
Paul visited often. Nandu's curiosity led him to question and debate all that he was learning about the " great Fisherman ";His life, crucifixtion and ressurection. Day by day he grew in the knowledge and love of Christ. He would read passages from the Bible Paul had gifted him, and listen intently as his new friend explained the mysteries of the Word.
Nani watched with immense joy and contentment. Her life's work would fructify in Nandu and flow like the river, beyond the rainbow to salvation and everlasting life.
One day they gathered at the river and Nandu was baptised by a visiting pastor. That night dark clouds gathered in the sky. There was a mighty crash of thunder as a cloudburst over the town, took the people unawares. Before they realised what was happening the deluge engulfed and destroyed everything in its path.
Nandu awoke in a hospital ward. He was disoriented and confused. He shut his eyes and slowly it all came back. The roar, the flash, the deluge. It wrenched his heart and his body convulsed with bitter sobs. The only vivid memory he had was of Nani being carried away by the devouring water. She didn't fight or try to save herself. She seemed a part of the river -- She was the river, flowing on forever.
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