Ivor brings a tale from the far off reaches of Goa!
It was the middle of the day and the sun was at its hottest. The wide river was dark brown with no sign of flow. Numerous black and white butterflies fluttered above the surface in a courtship ritual. Strange birds displaying an array of bright colours perched on the remains of long-fallen washed-up trees. The far bank was a dense green jungle of palm trees and vegetation and its foreground of mud flats was home to a colony of storks. The storks stood motionless and shone like white pearls against the dark background. A large eagle circled low overhead seeking out prey. A long string of kingfishers sat patiently on the overhead electricity wires and at intervals dived into the river.
An enormous barge devoid of any paint and completely red rust passed painfully slow down the centre of the river. It made no noise. Its only sign of life were rows of tatty washing flapping on the stern. It was like a ghost ship passing by.
Hundreds of unseen crickets loudly clicked away to compliment the distant sound of mystic music and chanting. Despite the time of day non-stop fireworks signalled yet another religious celebration.
We stood on a small concrete jetty, which long ago provided access to and from the river for the nearby village. A small stream fed the river through a neglected sluice gate. Once it controlled and held back the water but now it served no purpose. A narrow pathway on top of the sluice led to a fisherman's hut. Tired corrugated sheeting and a collapsed palm leaf roof formed the feeble structure. A bright blue tarpaulin filled in a few of the many holes. Piles of fishing nets waited to be repaired. Two narrow canoes lay on the dried grass. The remains of a recent fire confirmed the building was still in use. Suddenly a thin and wizened old man arrived pushing an ancient upright pedal cycle. He only wore a loincloth and greeted us with a big smile and an energetic wave. This was the proud owner.
Then in the field behind us appeared a herd of water buffalo slowly and deliberately heading in our direction. Following them was a tiny girl in a startling yellow sari with an umbrella for protection from the sun and a twig with which she had complete control of her charges. Undeterred by our presence they passed immediately in front of us. The buffalo were caked in dried mud and one at a time they descended down the steep bank into the river. Still in procession they walked out into the deep water where they wallowed in utter ecstasy submerging and splashing in a single heaving mass. Their young controller sat under the shade of a giant banyan tree and waited. Eventually she stood up and without any signal the buffalo responded and paraded out of the river in the same slow orderly fashion. A few minutes latter they were disappearing down the narrow lane back towards the village.
I imagined larger than life mahseer fish patrolling up and down the river but with the main event of the morning now over we also left the Mondovi River and our beautiful surroundings. We returned to the extravagance and luxury of the colonial holiday house that now felt completely false in this wonderful country of India where life is so different and simple.
By Ivor Hook