A short Story
Illustrations by Jayashree Krishnan
It was a hot and muggy Saturday afternoon. Venu was in a bad mood as he got back home after half a day of school. Saturday school was not his favorite thing.
As he threw his bag down on the floor and looked for something to eat, he had an idea. How about going to the river to hang out and swim? The water must be cool and it would feel good in this hot weather, he wondered. After a few days of heavy rain, the sun was hot on blazing that day.
“Anna!”, Venu shouted to his older brother Renga who was busy tending to his stamp collection. “I’m going to the river to take a dip. Do you want to come? It’s so hot.” he said.
“Venu, wait. It will take me another ten minutes to arrange the CCCP stamps. Don’t go by yourself,” said Renga.
Venu had already discarded his school uniform, changed to regular shorts, and started running down the steps at breakneck speed as he heard Renga. In the distraction, he almost crashed his face on the stone column, abutting the steps. Doing a double-take, he swung around, balanced himself, and strolled toward the gate as if nothing had happened.
“Come on Anna.” Venu pestered, standing by the gate. But Renga was not easily distracted from his philately collection.
The Thirumanjana Kaveri (TK), as it is called, is a meandering tributary of its mother, the Kaveri. It is said that the water for the daily Holy Bath for Lord Ranganatha is collected from this tributary. The TK itself had multiple personalities and reflected the seasons. Venu was keenly aware of its idiosyncrasies, as it flowed behind the embankment of huts that lined Varadachari street. In most places, the river had only a mud wall that washed away after each flood.
As he dashed into the narrow path by the hut that led to the river, a gaggle of roosters scattered and disturbed the afternoon quiet. Ramaswami, the hut dweller, made some noises, annoyed that someone had disturbed his inebriated state. He was a thatched roof builder but spent a lot of time on the floor sloshed. But, he was harmless. Running down this path was one of Venu’s favorite things to do. If he ran fast enough, he could gain enough momentum to splash directly into the river. It was a thrill, but he rarely did as it was quite risky. Today, Venu took it slow and decided to climb onto the branches of the mango tree beside the river. The branches extended a little bit into the river and were at just the right height to dive from. As he waited for Renga to join him, Venu relaxed in the shade of the mango tree.
He could hear Renga coming down the path. To show off, Venu shouted “Annaaa, see me jump” as he dove into the cool water from the mango tree.
Something felt different. Usually, Venu would emerge out of the dive and crack a big smile out of happiness. This time, he felt something heavy pull him under. He tried to kick himself free but didn’t feel strong enough to pry loose from whatever he thought was holding him down. Little did Venu know that an eddy had formed and was trying to suck him in. Thankfully, it was not big enough to hold him down for long.
In a flash, Venu found himself in the middle of the fast-flowing river. The current was quite strong midstream and Venu found himself helpless and swept away. It had pushed him from the left bank right into the middle of the river.
Renga had just reached the bank when he heard Venu shout “Anna, help, help!”. Reacting quickly, he judged that it was impossible for him to swim and reach Venu. He started running away from the bank. It seemed like he had a contrarian plan.
Venu looked up and noticed fast-moving branches of trees on the opposite bank. As the sunlight filtered through the branches, he had this easy, calm feeling. He saw a pair of horses pulling a chariot toward the sun. The charioteer seemed to beckon to him as if to say ” What are you doing there? Come take this ride with me”. A smile appeared on Venu’s face and he made a motion of reaching out his hand to grab onto the chariot. The chariot seemed just out of reach every time he thought he had touched it.
“Venuuuuu”, shouted a voice from afar. Venu instantly recognized that as Renga. He quickly flailed and pivoted to the direction of the sound. The current was still pushing him rapidly downstream. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his brother Renga making wild motions. Venu could hear Renga shout, “Venu, kick left, kick left, kick left, steer left!”. Venu bobbed his head out of the water and saw Renga on the downstream bank directing him toward it. Now he understood why Renga ran away from him when the current sucked him in.
Venu tried real hard to get his legs and arms moving again. The current was merciless. It was just doing its job. He tried to focus on what Renga was asking him to do. He was upset that he had gotten into a fight with Renga the previous day, but he was glad that Renga was there now.
“Rengaaa! I’m trying. I will reach you,” he shouted as he desperately gave all his strength to kick and steer left. He made some progress. He could hear Renga’s words of encouragement as he got his hands out of the water and steered himself closer to the bank.
The current momentarily eased and Venu got a brief respite. Another few kicks and he estimated that he would be safer. As he gasped up and kicked, Venu felt a big tug on his left hand. Someone was pulling him. “Hold on Venu, hold on,” shouted Renga, as both of them crashed onto the shore.
Venu was safe now. He hugged his brother like there was no tomorrow.