The two countries lie side by side. The same river meanders through both. Barbed wire fences can be put up on land to cut countries in two, but not so with rivers. You can’t draw lines across water, either.

And so fisher folks of one country enter into the waters of another quite often while fishing. Nobody’s there to tell them exactly where a country ends on a river, or another begins!

It was monsoon when Judhisthir went out with his two boys to fish for Eilish fish and had no idea when he had gone beyond his own country, and had crossed over to the next.

Through the night he had watched the schools of Eilish get caught in his net and by morning had declared to the boys, “Have you noticed our luck today! Schools and schools of Eilish wherever we drop net! Not mere fish, it looks like sacks and sacks of silver coins instead!”

It was only after morning had spread its light around that he had an inkling to the way his luck had been turning.

A foreign river-patrol boat was facing his own! The boat came nearer and a policeman jumped aboard. He started taking their boat towards the bank.

Judhisthir and his two minor sons were kept in a lock-up the whole night and when produced in court the next day, under charges of stealing fish, a magistrate of the foreign land ordered an year’s jail term for Judhisthir, and only three-month terms for his two sons because of their tender age.

And the Eilish? They were stolen goods and were therefore ordered back to the river.

The fact that Eilish did not survive on land – was ignored both by the magistrate and the police.

Judhisthir used to adore his two boys. Their mother was pulled into the river on a search for shrimp seedlings when they were still crawling in the soft shade of ‘hetal’ and garaan’ trees on the bank of the Bidyadhari. A crocodile had bit into her knee and pulled her into the depths. The croc was sited later – basking on the bank, but the brothers had never found their mother again.

Arrangements were so made that Judhisthir was housed in one part of the jail, and his two sons in another.

The two brothers used to cry loudly at the beginning, then would whimper, and then would sit quietly or fall asleep, exhausted.

Gradually, they got used to pain, fear and exhaustion.

The two brothers had learnt rhymes for three years in a school that stood three villages away from their own, and they recited those now, each to the other, their bodies rocking slowly. The rhymes, full of tigers, crocodiles, fish, honey, boats, rivers – had been composed by village-poets.

As soon as the three-months were over, two policemen brought the boys out of the jailhouse and settled them on a rickshaw, saying ‘’Take them straight to the Foot-Wash landing stage on the riverbank. Their boat is lying tied to the ‘sirish’ tree there -- with 111 painted in tar on its back. See that they get into the boat before reporting to me at the police-station.’

The boys burst into tears the moment they heard this and cried, “Where’s our Baba?”

One of the two policemen took a betel-leaf-and-nut out of a betel-leaf container, pushed it into the mouth and began chewing, ‘’He’s no longer around! He wept and wept over your woes, and left his body behind, finally.”

Grief had brought the man’s childhood dialect back to his tongue. His eyes had moistened too. He spat out some betel-juice and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.

The boat kept going, and going. Elder brother sat at the stern while the younger held the oars. Elder swung the stern around in a strong grip, rotating his wrists. Younger pulled at the two oars with his two hands, with all his might. A kite seemed to be keeping them company from the very beginning, overhead. Not at a height usual for the bird. It flew low, almost touching their heads, right in front of the boat.

Elder squinted against the sun and watched the bird, then broke out suddenly, “Ketu, this could well be our father! Maybe Baba’s returning home with us in the guise of a kite! Have we ever seen a kite fly so low, except when diving for fish?”

 Ketu, the younger brother, was pulling at the oars energetically. He replied, “ Dada, pain has muddled your head. How could a man turn into a bird?”

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