(With & for Aditya)
Approaching the bridge from the town in the evening, the direction east, the sun behind you, you tell your friend you are taking him to a heritage site. For the bridge dates back to nineteenth century, and the last time you were there, and the time before it, you remember the plaque announced the year. 1874. A marble slab as old as the construction itself. As you arrive through the stretch of forest, always shortening, always smaller than before, you slow the Alto down, and peer through the window to locate the slab. But something is off. Five slow seconds, eyes desperate for a hint, and you know it: they have painted over the bricks.
The marble? Gone. The bridge was repaired - you imagine the babus say. We put cement over everything and painted it. All by god’s grace, us expert smarts.
You park the Alto, disappointed, and hope for the river to retain its water. A year ago, you had imagined a breakup here - not the one between your kind, but one that exists between you and the elements. But today - today is different. Today you are with your friend, your friend of ten years, your best friend from school.
It’s a surprise.
The first impression is always shaped by our presence. Human remains. Trails of what we leave behind, the things we do, the things we don’t. Thermocol plates. MDH sachets, a few half empty. Makeshift stoves. More thermocol plates. Thermocol plates caught between rocks. Thermocol plates trapped by drooping branches. Polythene bags trapped by drooping branches, soggy trash trapped by drooping branches. You used to feel angry before, but now you imagine yourself a detective. This group had Chicken Curry for lunch on New Year, hmmm.
You walk along the river, the two of you, skipping boulders and rocks, quicksand pulling at your feet, an almost slip or two, hold the branches, always hold the branches, and the sequence repeating on loop. It’s not a destination as you understand one, for how can you freeze a river into coordinates? You walk some distance, leaving the piers behind, leaving the buses and heavy trucks behind, leaving curious onlookers behind. Then, you walk some more. You walk until the impression changes. Until the thermocol plates are replaced by fallen trunks, polythene bags by twigs. Until stray sticks begin to float on water. Leaves decaying at the banks. Twigs caught between rocks. Sunset hidden behind the protection of trees. Cranes soaring white against the darkness of trees. This is where you stop. After you have separated, the best that you could, the river from your tribe.