A vigil in the dark
Things change after dark! The harmless hedge in your garden that beckoned you with its fragrant blooms by day, now threatens to harbour snakes and other myriad creepy-crawlies by night. The dull, noxious neighbourhood nallah suddenly metamorphoses into a romantic riverine rendezvous by moonlight. So it is with the CME Lakes.
Sitting by the lake late at night offers an experience radically different to the familiar scene during the day. At first when you wait on the lakeside culvert, it is dark and cold, the senses seek light desperately and your mind rebels at this seeming waste of time. It takes a good quarter of an hour for the mind to settle down. You get used to the cold breeze, the pupils of your eye enlarge and amplify the scant night-light. Your ears attune to the sounds. And then, imperceptibly, you plunge through the rabbit hole and enter wonderland. Slowly, the world comes alive by night.
You are alone but not lonely. The full moon shines down delicately scalloped by the cirrus clouds high in the stratosphere. A large yellow Venus and a small Jupiter shine high on the horizon. The stars are veiled by the clouds; most will appear once the clouds have crawled past. A soundless blinking pair of lights reveal the path of an aircraft making its way across the peninsula to some magical destination in the Far East. In the distance, around the lake shore and slightly above the waterline, a beautiful necklace of yellow and white pearls amongst the dark trees trace the industrial area around CME’s perimeter. The shadowy outline of trees on the far bank are silhouetted against the night sky brightened by urban glare. The lake water is dark, patterned with varying shades of black and gray with wavelets in the gentle breeze rippling the moon on the water.
But it is not very quiet. No, peace and quiet comes much later on a Saturday night. The night-wind carries sound faithfully across vast expanses of land. The rattle of a goods train crossing the Mula River and the plaintive hoot of its engine are as clearly heard as the DJ mixing numbers in the Officers Institute or the racy Hindi songs at a marriage in Dapodi. The barking of dogs in faraway Se La road provide a contrast to the miniature fireworks display far away beyond Kasarwadi, no doubt to celebrate a marriage, festival or a cricket victory. But these noises can never drown out the whine of mosquitoes which hover around you. Down the road toward the Cadets Training Wing, a pair of cicadas serenade each other through the night.
The concrete culvert feels hard, rough and cold even through the thick denim of your jeans. You turn up your collar to reduce the prickles and shiver the breeze brings on. The nose wrinkles first at the odour of Odomos that surrounds you to keep the rapacious mosquitos at bay. The faint stench of decaying vegetation in your nostrils now penetrates through you. It is only if you walk along the shore that you can partake of the delicate aroma of a night-blossom beckoning its lover-moths to pollinate her.
The fish are the first living things to draw your attention. A large splash, followed by a black stain on the water indicate where a large Rohu, probably in his second year, comes up by night to draw in oxygen through his mouth. Confident of safety from the legions of herons, storks and cormorants who wait for them by day, the fish surface every few minutes. That itself is worrisome, is an oxygen deficit building up in the lake? A small plip on the water surface followed by a flickering little flying shadow is the only indication of some small insect bats hawking flies and sipping water from the lake surface. The water birds, who are a riot by day, are quiet except for an occasional squawk from the lake which tells us that the favourite jester of CME, a purple moorhen, has just offended his neighbour. Now, a pale streak across the sky shows the path of a small meteorite burning to oblivion as it enters Earth’s atmosphere.
A few birds can be seen dark stationary silhouettes perched on stumps or on a lonely vigil among the reeds. The duck sleep on the shore with heads turned back and bills shielded in the feathers of the back. A soft chuk, chuk, chuk churrr behind me in the grass beyond the road, tells tales of an Indian Nightjar, a secretive and nocturnal resident of CME. There is harsh kwiirik chuk in the trees by the roadside. Their author is not hard to find despite his small size. The pint-sized Spotted Owlet is perched on a branch with a commanding view over where his prey, the metads and field mice, could gambol. A pair of dark animals with long snouts and long thick tails must surely be a pair of palm civets out to trouble the denizens of Bhosari. They pause at a wet trail by the river, but the water-snake which made it has long gone by and they turn away – they have bigger fish to fry. A soft whirring tells of hawk-moths which have finally arrived at the night-blossoms, plunging their extra-long and thin proboscis deep into the corolla of the Raat-ki-Rani flowers to get at the sweet nectar and leaving behind a few grains of precious pollen for the plant. An ominous shaking in the bush turns out to be nothing more than a cow grazing in areas where she is normally driven off by day.
The symphony of shadow and sound continues throughout the long vigil and the ambience mesmerises the senses. The soul begins to meditate and just as you reach a state of bliss, rude reality bursts into your presence. In this case, its the increasing screech of a Dhai-Ton truck, carrying the armed patrol of the College on its nightly round. The vehicle soon recedes with a dull roar, but takes along with it the very special moment. No doubt, you will experience something like it some other day, but today’s deed is done. You will have to return home to a different set of pleasures.
As you move off, the lake and its life continues in its endless cycle of existence unaware of the happiness they have given you.
- CME – the campus I stay on.
- Nallah – a stream or dry streambed. Water not necessarily fresh.
- Rohu – Labeo rohita, a freshwater carp often cultivated in Indian water bodies and very good to eat!
- Dhai Ton – a light military truck. (Dhai = 2.5 in Hindi)