Eight pair of eyes looked through and outside the window of a five-seater vehicle. Both in desperation and anticipation for a place to park the car, as it trudged along a narrow road lined up with vehicles on either side. A self-stylized whistle blower drew the attention of the car and directed it towards a vacant plot off the road, bringing a sigh of relief to the man driving. As people poured out of the halted care, along with that also came out two rolled mats, a jute bag with a few bottles, plastic cups, snacks and few hand towels. The stage was set.
“Lot of people isn’t it today?” exclaimed one of the passengers, as the man driving the vehicle quipped with a sense of pride, “It is one of the best attractions in our area.”
This ‘our area’ was about 50 kilometers away from where they had started, but this ‘our area’ was very much theirs. As it was for the ones in the neighboring vicinity.
“It is Sunday, so even the locals are here, and so the rush”, said one of the younger members of the passenger troops.
“If you had time aunty, we could have taken you all to that bigger place. That is just another hundred kilometers from here”, added the young boy. This ‘aunty’ was their visitor. And, as everyone who visited them, it was customary for them to make this ‘attractive’ trip.
The troop walked along the slightly steep road, and accompanying them were others. A group of school children, traditionally clad men and women, hand- holding but face hiding couples, adrenaline high herd of boys, giggling gang of girls and a flock of distinguishable dress-coded people. Along with that, are other families who had bought ‘someone’ here. The place had no exclusions.
Accompanying all of them, were tiny shops on either edge. The atypical ones – some selling hats, some displaying maps, some trading handmade artifacts of another geography, the thirst quenchers, the appetizers and even the new marketing trends – selfie sticks and herbal products.
The flock finally reached the destination. Nothing dramatic that marks the entrance. Just a towering board, painted in green with lettering in white emerge from the ocean of heads assembled. The board is a record of details - name, the year built, the height, the name of the one who inaugurated, the storage capacity, the area of irrigation, and volume of water. Everyone notices, admires but no one really reads. All just walk past.
Now the crowd gets divided into two sects. The first one that succumbs to nostalgia, “Few years back there was nothing here. No one was even allowed to enter and now see, how it has changed!” and while the other just jump into admiring the beauty, “Beautiful isn’t it? Wonderful. How wonderful. Let us stand here and take a selfie!” Both sects have one thing in common – pride and an opportunity for recreation. For they are deprived of both in their neighboring small towns.
The ‘aunty’ and her family wind through the neatly paved and brick edged pathways lined with hedges, interspersed with a musical fountain and a floral clock. They even walk past a Chota bheem and Flintstones cut outs, and a schoolgirl statue atop a large platform – performing the role of a wayfinding in the pathway. As they walk, their eyes keep hunting, this time to lay down the mat and park themselves to commence their picnic.
Like them there are many who have already secured their place. Some just taking a nap, a few peeling oranges and arranging the leftovers on the ground, many intensely sharing a five-course meal and a few others digging their faces into each other while lying on the lap.
“Can we not sit there?” asks the aunty. “No, that is a topiary garden. Sitting and walking on the grass there is not allowed. ” “But it is a lovely place. Such nicely made animals and geometric shapes.” “We will go there later, after going on top”, responds one of troop members. Relaxing on the mat, under a shade of a tree, the man extends his knowledge of the space and speaks about its history, how it operates, the exact geographical relation with the surrounding villages but more than that epiphanies of his numerous visits. His wife joins in and says, “You remember that photo frame next to the dining table. It was taken here during sunset.”
Echoing to the emotions are others around them as well, who too are giving an account to their ‘guest’ about the memories of this place. The serene, romantic, joyful and playful notions associated with the place. All emotions expressed within shrieking voices of floating vendors – the candy floss, the balloons, the popcorn and even the instant photographer. The young boy extends the shrieks, “Look battery cars! Let us take that and go up to the viewing deck!”
At the top is the viewing deck. The showstopper. The reason why everyone is here. The place where all individual feelings are breached and overpowered by the magnanimity of human intervention. Made up of a large wide platform – in a convex shape - it spans almost a kilometer in length. Rising high above the ground, the deck is supported by massive walls – neatly dressed in stone that have weathered uniformly in layers indicating the varying levels of water. The wall stands like a fort – overpowering, encompassing and dividing. Seen from the base, humans appear miniatures in front of it and once on top, the surroundings dwarf in size.
The deck offers two distinct views. On one side – a few dotting structures comprising of an inspection bungalow, a guest house, a few structures and the neatly dressed landscape through which people are still winding and lazing. Through which passes a rivulet – somewhat dry, overgrown with vegetation, infilled with boulders with trickling water. But none have come to witness this, it is the view of the other side.
Large expanse of water almost extending into the horizon on end and settling along the water on the other side. Along the edge rolling lands almost dancing its way from the water edge, rhythmically exaggerated by the dotting trees orating the ground. It is endless – the water, the grounds, the sky, the vegetation all in abundance. Everyone is lured. The more one walks along the viewing deck, the more the water reveals in form, the more the ground unfolds, the more the vegetation extends. The beauty is incomprehensible.
Under the glittering sun, the sheet of water expresses various sensations. Even the wind joins in as it plays out a gentle breeze that sweeps joy and content across the faces of people staring into this nature. At times even bringing with itself a splash of water drenching the people of their routine and tiredness. This place is unpredictable yet refreshing and soothingly pleasant. As if no hardships exist, no worries present. Everyone just enjoying staring vastness.
As ‘aunty’ with her family stroll along the deck, absorbing the pacifying and alleviating experience of the viewing deck, just like the rest, a group of formally dressed men are seen standing along side the parapet and discussing over a large sheet of paper. “See that is the benchmark to establish the levels for the foundation of the statue”, said the higher-ranking official pointing towards the rolling grounds. “Sir, once this is built, it will be a marvel. Won't it?”, added another engineer in excitement.
“Do you think people will come here to witness an engineering marvel? They will only come here for recreation. Like they do now! See, they do not realize the importance and skill of this magnificent engineered wall on which they walk!”, the senior official passed a judgement.
Continuing in pride, he then adds, “This is place of innovation! We should continue this legacy. Like we have built those tensile pavilions and those floating solar structures and even the introduction of those battery-operated shuttles. These are small steps to enhance the engineering phenomenon of this place.”
The others unanimously nodded both in appreciation and in agreement, and took a collective sweeping look at those who ‘do not realize’. Those posing for photographs, ambling around, munching of snacks, cheering at the sight of water and even chuckling intermediately. All ‘outing’ – for other than this there is no place in their town, to spend a weekend, to spend time with family and even with their loved ones.
“This statue will be one of the tallest. It will be sensational, and it will bring more development and investment. The nature of this place will change forever”, the senior official intervened to redirect attention. “Don’t you think so?” he added directing the question to one of them. The engineer, who had been silent all this while, was now faced with a sense of awkwardness. He adjusted his collar, shuffled his feet and said, “But it has already changed forever!”
As the voices of people dissipated around, all the formally dressed men gazed upon the man who just answered. “What do you mean?”, one of them quipped.
While the others stared at his audacity, he continued, “More than standing atop here, and viewing it as a structure, I have seen this as barrier. A place that is not just daunting, but more as haunting. I have seen it from there, where people most of the times are waiting for water, than admiring it. From there, where people can never view its expanse, and yet often get drowned unannounced. See it from that perspective and it will appear that we are enjoying standing atop of others' miseries. And while we locate a statue, people from that place are being displaced. Their livelihoods disappearing and each ending up as a vendor to serve the tourists.”
Taking a pause, while the others just lend their ears, he mentions, “You want to know, how the statue would look? It will be just be a world class emblem reinstating the shadow that this wall has cast upon the lives of those people for so many years!” and turned his head towards that side of the viewing gallery where no one was looking. He wanted to continue, but a loud cheering noise from the group wearing the distinguishable dress code, silenced him. His words disappeared; his voice unheard.
Only one voice came screaming through, “Aunty, look at this picture of yours!” She glanced into the screen, facing the sun setting across the large sheet of water, with her back downstream and exclaimed “Oh Dam(n)!”