By Anusmita Mukherjee
At the foot of Noh Kalikai falls is blue water- bright topaz blue. From a distance, it looks like a small puddle but anybody plunging into the waterfall would die a bone breaking death. Would the red then spread like watercolour on a palette ? Or, would it be too insignificant an amount of fluid to change the colour of the water?
Blood flows, water flows, tears flow
Ka Likai was a widow with a daughter. She remarried so that her daughter would have a father. Instead, her daughter faced the wrath of a man who cooked her flesh and fed it to Likai. When Ka Likai found her daughter’s fingers, she jumped into the waterfall and went to death.
Tourists read this story and click pictures of the sad beautiful topaz blue flowing from God knows when. There is no blood anywhere. Was there any blood when she jumped ? How did everyone know when she went missing that she had given herself to death? I could imagine her floating- swollen, broken. My grotesque imagination baffles me quite often. I could imagine a body, perhaps like mine but the face- blurry.
That monsoon when Likai’s water broke, everyone told the month’s premature baby would not live. It was a heavy monsoon but then, it’s always monsoon in Cherrapunji. Yet, elders prayed to Gods in the clouds to have mercy. They had not seen the Sun for a month. They yearned for it. The children alternately played with rain and quarreled with it. When Likai gave birth, her mother brought the baby close to her ears to hear her cry over the deafening rain.
Water washed Likai’s blood away. Water washed the water that had nourished her baby for two months less than it should have. It had only been a week that she had become a widow and Likai prayed to the monsoon for the life of her child. She had always loved the monsoon. Like a cocoon, like travelling back to womb, she blanketed herself every night in the pitter patter and slept. Water flows from up to down, from uphill to downhill and from the bulging stomach of Likai one afternoon to the mud floor. Only moments before the bone breaking pain that brings life, or as elders discussed outside Likai’s room, surely, death, water breaks. Water breaks but despite the pain, bone doesn’t. The pain makes a fluid out of the brittle body. Likai feels it rush, wanting to burst her body while giving birth or death, only god and time could tell.
Here, where monsoon is life, people come with dry skin from their lands and absorb the cold and the moisture in puffed eye bags. You can see the water cycle here, like a breathing organism. Cars pass through clouds. We know they are clouds because the driver says so, it feels like mist to our inexperienced eyes. Cloud engulfs the waterfall and tourists who had saved up for the trip for a year or more curse in disappointment. Here, birth and death, and love, betrayal and separation in between, all find fullness in water, in rain, in salt of tears.
Tourists all around me click their tongue at Ka Likai’s burden of being betrayed by her lover. It is the feeling of a neglected teenager reading sad and dark stories. It is an ominous feeling. How will I deal with betrayal and death? The second is unavoidable, so let the first stay away from me o lord, and do not let death come with betrayal like it came to Likai. But a monument of betrayal begins with love and before she had witnessed betrayal, I can imagine Likai in love.
Ka Likai sits on soft cool earth. It hasn’t rained now for a week. Sitting straight is frightening. It leaves space on one’s lap for emptiness to come purring like a selfish cat. So, lonely men and women have discovered without telling the world for ages that one must curl up and touch the knee to the chin to close the lap. Will her daughter be loved? Will she have a lover? What does it feel to know it? She had forgotten and she felt guilty to have forgotten. Only one day remained, when she had taken his hand and held it to rain. Cupping her hand underneath his hand, she felt love flow, and when his hands were full and water trickled from his hand to the back of her hand and fell in drops, she immersed her face in the water in his hand. What would she do with a lover anymore in this one life, Likai asked herself. It is absurd, hilarious, but more frighteningly, absolutely empty of meaning. Tears flow down her in tiredness at the stagnancy of meaning. Yet she must- there were more than one river in her and they struggled with each other. She had been a river when desire and love flowed in her many moons back. She had been a river, melting from a glacier or jutting out from creaks in mountains the monsoon she gave birth. But now, it was a salty, pungent river she had been reduced to.
Likai’s mind mangles in shame, her spine breaks under the betrayal. This time, the water takes her. Like an old lover, or mother, or both. What do you see inside your soul when you look into it one last time? What do you tell your lover after the last kiss? Water takes Likai, and this time, water bends under the weight of paltry human sorrow. I can see blood still, on the stones around the waterfall while people click pictures around me. My grotesque imagination baffles me. It is always monsoon in Cherrapunji. It was monsoon the day Likai died. Before the close, Likai could feel the pitter patter on her skin like small flowers, melting into her skin, burning it from inside with reminiscences of the touch of her daughter, and sprouting roots all over her. Likai is everywhere around, in the whole of the water cycle now.
On the mountain where cars stop and tourists limp out, groggy from the winding roads, anticipating awe, the tourism board has placed a board with Likai’s name on it. Rust is the closest thing to blood, both the taste and smell of iron.
Back at the hotel, water flows down in rivulets down the body, following its contours. Some drops refuse to leave. They stay put; On the bone under the neck, behind the ears, in lines between strips of hair, dropping down thighs, pushed down the circle of the ankle by drops behind it. Droplets of water stay after water stops flowing, waiting to be absorbed by towel, to be made into a non-entity, never to find its way back to the body it had so loyally loved moments back. The towel will dry stiff. The droplets will become spirits. But there is hope, they will come back, if not to the lover, now a memory of past, now sent to death in memory, rain will give itself over to absorption, to lovelorn wastelands and to flood angry rivers, but alas, it will not find its way back to the body it had loved. Every drop of water that flows down the drains after rain in my concrete forest home has been sometime someone’s lover, that someone now melted away in memory.
Kalikai’s lovers, the droplets of water she immersed herself in, flow still. They run in Ganga, Mahananda and Teesta. When night falls, I debate with myself, I refuse to let the waterfall to be made a monument to sad betrayal. The waterfall has become her. She is alive in it and the waterfall is alive in her. She had become a river long before her death. In her death, she only claimed a waterfall to herself. She is a waterbody in proper noun- “The” Noh Kalikai falls. I will always be a river in common noun. Like the small countless water bodies all across the world, in forests and in mountains and every other place where rain comes.
In my dry city, when it rains, I close my eyes and go to Noh Kalikai falls. I sit beside her and whisper to her that I envy her. Rain only comes to me to go away too soon. When rain comes, I know the roads would dry, the pitch would glisten in the heat and I, a dried river, would again have to wait for petrichor. Rain tells me it will go before coming, yet I wait for it after summer. I wait to step on moss and see the water trickle out of it. Likai has become the waterfall. Water is hers, it has bent to her grief and sorrow and she has risen out of it to love. When rain comes to it, Noh Kalikai absorbs it deep under the skin. I cannot become the rain, but I can get drenched in it as I please and so, on the driest days in my city, I remember the monsoon departing and coming, and like her when she was a child, I sleep wombed in its pitter patter.
Anusmita Mukherjee is currently a final year postgraduate student in the department of English at the University of North Bengal and a research intern at The Indian Women’s Project.