The first day of the year taught us a few things that nothing else could’ve taught us. My father had cautioned against the excessive consumption of water. We had left all sources of water behind, and the few bottles we carried were all that we had till we reached the village. But sitting under the foliage of the trees and listening to the birds chirping around us, we couldn’t think of lack or emptiness. We didn’t heed my father’s warning and soon, our thirst quenched, drained and ravaged all the water we had. Except for one little bottle that my wily mother had hid in her bag. Only half an hour after leaving the foliage and under the sun did the first call for water come. It was my thirsty sister. My parents just exchanged glances and my mother dutifully handed over the only remaining bottle to my sister and gave me a pointed glare. Oh! I understood in a flash. I leaned over to my sister and grasped her hand before she could unclasp the bottle top. Her brown innocent eyes looked at me in astonishment as she tried to free her hand. I brought my lips close to her ears and whispered, ‘I know you are thirsty, and so are we. The water is scarce, and a lot of us are thirsty. We don’t know how long our journey ahead is and the sun is very strong. This is the only bottle of water and we are giving it to you. Once it gets over, there will be no water for a long, long time. The problem is that we don’t know how long we will have to walk before we can find water. We give this bottle to you, but I’m hoping that you will use it sparsely so that it can at least wet your throat occasionally’. With that I leaned back, analyzing my silent sister’s brooding face. She nodded at me and gave me a tentative smile. Beaming back at her, I held out my hand to her. Holding hands like that we forged ahead.
Never having experienced a white Christmas (or a white winter, or a white anything really) I always thought snow and ice was beautiful. Until I heard from people how horrid it can be. White and endless white every direction you look in, making seconds timeless and space boundless. It’s scary, because you can neither estimate the time that has passed nor the distance you have covered. You don’t know whether you’re headed the right way, or if you are ever going to reach your destination. For those who haven’t experienced infinite yellowness, that’s what yellowness is like to. Yellow grass swayed to a rhythm-less tune, and the yellow sun glowered at us relentlessly. Yellow butterflies fluttered uselessly over the yellow landscape, with the only interest in their life being the yellow lifeless flowers that cluttered in the yellow clumps of moss. The only other colour we saw was a dead green of the cacti. It was endless yellow, beating us down. We walked two more hours, and our initial hopping and skipping became grudging trudging. Soon, our throats became parched and we lost hope of water and civilization. The yellowness wasn’t fading and we were losing water fast due to perspiration. Most of the time, we aim to cover expanses like this at night so that we don’t see such a boring sight. In the day, this sight wasn’t boring. It was just inspiring hopelessness, and with our water condition it was just devastating.
When we did see green, we no more had any energy to increase our pace. My sister had exhausted her water bottle and was surprisingly silent. Maybe she was tired, or maybe she knew no one would take it with humour. Or maybe, she just knew there was nothing we could do about it, even if she complained. The silence was deafening, and even more so because we did not hear any signs of life around us. No birds chirping, or the flapping of winds. No sighing of the winds, or buzzing of bees. Not even the wings of crickets. Nothing. Walking in these Fields of Asphodel, we finally saw a few people approaching us. Shaking our heads to knock of any mirage, we welcomed them and asked them how far we were from our destination. Just a few minutes they said, which turned out to be half an hour more for us. Losing our way twice, we somehow reached the village well and had our fill. The house of our host from yesterday was just a few minutes away from the well. Dhak gaon, we are back! Alive…
In hindsight, we learned the importance of water. We drank gallons of it when we were back, as if we had never drunk it before. I always tried to make my sister’s young heart and brain understand how important water was, and why you mustn’t waste it. And finally, with her first experience ‘devoid water’ I think she wouldn’t waste water ever again. And even after the horrible experience, I am glad for it if it taught us something worthwhile.