I can still recount those days when we used to be made of water and earth. We were kids of seven and five. While being the older one, I used to get to boss my little brother around. He is, by far, the best support I have ever known.
Those languid Sundays, when the breeze was too lethargic to move around the neatly swept lawn, we would get to work with our cast-iron soil scoop and the blunt sickle. The far right corner, just beside the Tulis plant where my grandmother use to light the evening lamp, was our favorite excavation spot.
Digging a pond was not enough to fulfill our fancy; the goal used to be to dig a one which would be wider and deeper than the one dug before. I would be lying if I claim that the thorough beating we used to get for creating a muddy mess did not deter us. But once the iron hit the earth, and the cool water drawn from the cranky deep tube well mixed with the fine mud of the lawn, the fear of the punishment was almost instantly forgotten.
In Berhampore, the early afternoon just after lunch, was the quietest and most peaceful time of the day. It was when the housewives took their little naps, shops remained closed, the only papers that fluttered in the public offices were the pages of the local newspaper, in between sips of hot tea from small scratched glasses. Over a period of time, we had discovered this safe window to carry out our mischievous entertainment activities.
As brothers, we were relatively fair (in spite of the fact that I had added advantages of bossing around) in our conduct. While one of us dug, the other was fetching water from the tube well, the art of working which I give ourselves credit for till this day. Because of the sinking water levels, the pipes had been deepened by a solid forty meters the year before. For some reason, it came as a blessing in disguise. When we would raise the handlebar, and hang from it, much like hanging from a tree branch. Our weight would slowly pull the lever down, drawing a mug-full of water with it by the time our folded feet touched the ground.
Over a couple of hours, we would excavate rocks, pieces of broken mud-pots, random roots, and sometimes, when we are really lucky, earthworms. All the earthworms we ever found got a special, or more precisely, an honorary ritualistic treatment. They were instantly split in half, and then the halves into halves again, and so on, till it could not be divided any further. I know it sounds rather brutal in retrospect, but I assure you, at that time and state of mind, it was the most entertaining thing in the world to watch the earthworm trying to run for its life and curl and shimmer as it was split.
Drawing water never stopped, because every time we would fill up our little pond, in a matter of minutes, much of the water would be soaked up the earth below. Since we did not want our paper boats to hit rock bottom, we had no choice but to keep replenishing.
Obviously by this time, we would be relatively covered in clay till our elbows and knees. When boredom would start lurking around the corners of the garden that oversaw the lawn, we would begin our the attempts to make the excavation interesting – mudslinging. I mean literally. By the time mom would intervene and tear us apart, no part of our body, even the ear canals would have been spared. My mom, furiously burning bright red, would start the cleaning up with two tight slaps across our cheeks. We would take it jovially; after all, we had been preparing for it for the from the minute we added the water to the loose mud!
The maid would be instructed to immediately set two pans of water on the stove for heating (we were weak kids then, relatively susceptible to cold). Many tumblers of water would be cranked out the deep tube well, mixed with the boiling water from the pan to the temperature that would just about make us shiver in the orange evening sunset. Ton always went first. He was the easier one to manage – no frills. He didn’t move, run away, throw water back on mom, or dive back into the puddle while being bathed. I, on the contrary, had to be under the constant curfew of my mother’s right hand.
Sitting in the breezy fourteenth floor balcony of a posh Singapore condominium, l almost feel disconnected from the not so distant past. I wonder if in us, we will be able to preserve the bond we share with the earth, which is fading fast, everyday…