Our childhood was lived in the concrete jungle of the city but once in a while we unwound by retreating to the idyllic retreat of remote Assam, in a small hill town called Digboi, which happened to be our maternal grandmother’s place. Blissful days were spent soaking the sun and running about the tiny hillocks in this small town made by the British, which had all the ingredients to make our vacations memorable.
Just behind the house that we stayed in, ran an
old creek adjoining two hills, which was the shortest distance that took us
from the place we stayed in to the park on the other side of the road. It was
this creek which we haunted every afternoon, post lunch, when the whole
household was caught in the throes of siesta, and we children were left
unchaperoned unguarded to indulge in our antics.
Off we ran across with our DIY fishing nets, laying our bait in the shallow waters of the creek , hoping to catch some fish, which we did not, but what a beautiful variety of fishes we saw just behind the surface of the clear, transparent, sparkling water. Fishes, in vibrant hues, running amok, made for a beautiful spectacle and many hours were spent in bliss by that creek.
Once there was a flash flood caused by heavy rainfall in the last two days and a small duckling was washed ashore near our house. A frail, tiny, sick one,in beautiful shade of yellow, at that. We picked it up on a banana leaf and brought it home, kept it warm and fed it grains, soft cooked rice, puffed rice, whatever we thought would help it thrive and survive and it did. Not on all that but on biscuits and egg crumbs. Later, when it was better and the water level had dipped, we let it go in that same creek, hoping it would make the journey back to its family.
The elders in our family had given us strict warnings to lay off that creek and not step on it ever, even though the water was very shallow and one could almost see the rocky surface bed beneath but this was mountain area prone to flooding due to intense bouts of rain, now and then and navigating the creek in such times could only spell disaster. I was about 5 years old and my elder brother was 7, one day when we took that short cut to head to the park. My brother asked me not to follow him but childhood never learned to listen to good reason. I ran, tripped and landed in the creek, not so much hurt as scared for all the chastisement that awaited back home. My brother, all of 7 years, cleaned me the best he could with leaves and took me home to get me off those wet clothes where we were immediately caught red-handed bymother , who gave him an earful for having jeopardised my safety in such a fool-hardy manner.
Many such anecdotes peppered our visit and made us long to keep going back to the house but rapid industrialization cast its pall over this town too. The creek dried up in our later visits and is almost a dry bed of pebbles and gravel but ever so often, during the monsoon grandma says it is filled again with fresh, sparkling, bubbling water reminding one of the restorative effect of nature, at its best.