There once was a little boy called Sebastian, who was fond of wanderings and adventures. In fact, these wanderings and adventures were his ‘walkabout’. What is a ‘walkabout’, you may ask. That is indeed an interesting question.
It is said that once a child reaches puberty amongst the Australian aborigines, he or she is ordered to roam in the wild, preferably under the watchful eye of a tribal elder. So the child wanders here and there and sees all. The sights become perceptions; the perceptions become observations; and the observations become learning.
Though Sebastian was never ordered by anyone to roam; he loved doing it. He loved the tall trees and the green mountains and the blue sky filled with billowing summer clouds. He loved nature and all its wonderful smells.
‘Each smell, good or bad, is a memory.’ His old grandfather used to tell him.
‘A memory?’ The boy was always surprised. ‘The memory of what grandpa?’
‘The memory of life and its all of its so many transformations and evolutions – the memory of metamorphosis.’ The old man said while lighting up his ancient wooden pipe.
‘But I don’t like bad smells. I just love fragrances.’ The boy used to insist with his hands folded defiantly in front of his chest.
‘This is because you categorize the smells and do not view them as memories.’ The old man used to chuckle. ‘Just like life, the smells cannot be categorized. And just like all memories, all smells, good or bad, are equally wonderful.’
‘I like your smell.’ The old man smelt of sweat and tobacco and some old-fashioned aftershave most of the times; and even brandy sometimes. But to the little boy, he always smelt of love and companionship.
‘Yes you do, don’t you my little one?’ He gave the boy a loving gaze. ‘Yet my smell is a combination of both good and bad smells.’
‘I don’t care.’ The boy used to say while hugging the old man.
Then one summer evening, something strange happened. In those days, strange things happened to the little boys and girls only on summer afternoons – probably because while the adults were busy taking their lazy siestas, the children were free to imagine. Sebastian was wandering on a path in the dense forest he had never taken before. He was chasing a golden butterfly when he suddenly broke through the bushes and came across a lake.
The lake was of the deepest shade of emerald green and turned olive where the branches of old and young trees both, bent down to softly caress and kiss its waters. Sebastian saw the lake and was rooted to the spot, overwhelmed to his very core. He was overwhelmed because he had never seen anything so beautiful in his life. And strangely the lake reminded him of some earlier life – the memory of something sweet, which was lost forever across the thresholds of time.
That summer afternoon, Sebastian and the lake shared a special moment. And in that particular moment, the two were alone amongst an all-encompassing silence. It felt peaceful and it felt serene as if all the troubles of the world stopped short of the lake’s shore.
‘Guess what I found today in the forest?’ Sebastian asked excitedly waking up the old man, who was comfortably asleep in his cane rocking chair, placed in the comfortable shadow of an ancient oak.
‘Why don’t you tell me?’ His grandpa opened up his sleepy eyes and smiled kindly. He loved his siestas but he loved his grandson even more.
‘I have found a lake.’
‘You didn’t find just a lake – rather you found the lake.’ The old man said affectionately.
‘The lake?’ The boy was confused.
‘Yes the lake!’ The old man ruffled his wild hair. ‘Not everyone can find the lake. Most of the people are stupid and fall in love with the mountain rivers and streams, foaming with needles passion and fury. There are a very few who can appreciate and respect the beauty born out of silence and calm and patience. And the lake is found only by these blessed few.’
‘I don’t understand Grandpa.’ Sebastian protested while scratching his head.
‘You will….one day!’ The old man said, closing his eyes once again.
The next afternoon, the boy again visited the lake. In fact like the ever-traditional needle of a compass, which always points at the magnetic North, Sebastian felt himself drawn to the lake, one day after another and one afternoon after another.
That second afternoon, the boy was deeply troubled. The lake reminded him of something but he couldn’t remember what she reminded him of. Sebastian was curious by nature and he always wanted things to make sense. When they failed to make sense, he mostly chose to ignore them. However the lake was too beautiful and too magical to be ignored.
Growing tired of his confusion, Sebastian bent down and picked up a stone – the biggest he could find. He threw that stone into the lake with his full might. He used so much force that a sharp jab of pain made him wince. But he didn’t have time for pain. Instead his gaze was focused upon what was happening in the lake.
Ripples were forming and moving out from where the stone had struck the surface. The ripples grew large and larger and finally reached the shore. The lake was no more serene. It was no more beautiful. The spell had been broken and the lake was troubled.
Sebastian stood at the shore, silently observing the ripples. Then grief and shame enveloped his heart and he sat down on the grass. ‘What have I done?’ He thought bitterly. ‘And to what end?’ He reflected.
‘I have done something bad.’ Sebastian sheepishly informed the old man.
‘Oh?’ He sat up. ‘And what have you done?’
‘I have disturbed the lake.’ He looked into the old man’s eyes for solace and forgiveness. ‘She hates me now.’
‘Don’t be absurd Sebastian!’ The old man smiled and patted his shoulder. ‘The lake can never hate anyone. It is beyond her very nature.’
‘Okay! But I have disturbed her and she may not desire my presence again.’ The boy looked down and shuffled his dirty shoes on the grass.
‘Yes indeed you have disturbed her. But tell me….’ The old man looked at the boy. ‘How do you know the lake desires your presence?’
‘The wind tells me so, Grandpa.’ Sebastian looked up.
‘The wind?’ The old man’s eyes first widened with surprise but then settled once again and the shadow of a faraway memory lit up his rheumy eyes. ‘Ah yes! The wind of course.’
‘Yes!’ The boy said excitedly. ‘When the lake desires my presence it sends a message of her fragrance, riding on the soft shoulders of the wind.’
‘And it is a many-layered fragrance – deep and intoxicating and enveloping.’ The old man was lost in his memory.
‘Yes but how do you know that?’ The boy was surprised.
‘Because once, I too found the lake.’ His grandpa smiled a sad smile.
‘The lake?’ The boy asked. ‘You mean my lake?’
‘No!’ The old man wiped his tears. ‘It was my lake but I lost her.’
‘How did you lose her Grandpa?’ The boy was very upset. ‘How could you lose the lake?’
‘Because she was incapable of hating me, I took her for granted.’ The old man sat down as if he had walked hundreds of miles in one go. ‘I chose to ignore her silent message of fragrance in favour of my stupid desires.’
Time kept on passing as it always does – oblivious of everyone and everything floating along with its steady flow. The old man died once Sebastian was still a child. He missed him often and whenever he missed the old man, he could sense the summer afternoons filling up with smells of sweat, tobacco and brandy.