The final bell rang at Vidyanagar Corporation School, and the children rushed out of the tall green doors, with great gusto. It was such a relief when the bell rang, as the boys made plans to play cricket at the nearby college ground, while the girls rushed home to their dolls, temples and games.
Amidst all the sweat and noise, Chinnu slowly walked home. His friend Raghu had not come that day, and therefore he didn`t make plans, rather decided to walk home. The exam papers had been given and he had secured decent marks. As usual hemanth had been the topper. O` how he envied him. Anyway that was not today on his mind much. The Class teacher, very unlike his usual strict demeanour had told them about the school`s plan to take them all on an excursion trip, and so all were very excited, already chattering and making plans for the trip, about the toys and snacks they would bring. Chinnu, on the other hand was worried. Would his parents give him the permission. He made a small prayer near the Ganesha Idol below the banyan tree and moved on. He had done his best, the rest was for Ganesha to take care of.
Gopi reached home early that day. His shop did not have the usual crowd and even more, his son was to come back today from the school excursion and he was eager to listen to Chinnu`s animated conversation. "It`s so soothing to see these children enjoy life", he thought. As he walked towards home, he remembered his own Childhood, his grandmother, the evenings along with friends on the banks of Champa, those endless hours, he used to wait on those same banks, while waiting for seetha to sneak out of her home. All were clouded memories, but they all had that beautiful Champa river in common, at the centre of it all. It had been eight years since they left their home behind, since those government officials walked up to their homes and advised them to evacuate the place citing some welfare project. As living became more and more stressful due to lack of rains, they had been forced to leave. Today he had forgotten all about farming, all he knew was the constant rattle of his sewing machine.
If only, he could discuss all this with seetha, he would have felt lighter, but seetha had resigned herself to life in Vidyanagar, and he did not dare bring up the past and upset her, also worried that she might not share the same feelings anymore.
"There amma, dada has come. Now stop crying", shouted Chinnu. "What Happened ?", asked Gopi, while he hugged Chinnu, noticing seetha`s teary eyes.
"Nothing. I will go and prepare something for you both to eat", she sobbed and rushed inside. "Why is your mother upset, Chinnu? How was the trip? Were you up to some mischief?", queried Gopi. "No dada. I don't know why.? The trip was real fun. There were these two giant green hills and in the middle of it, this beautiful river. At sunrise, the sun rose over a giant gulmohar tree near the horizon and the river was almost decked in gold. I was telling all this when mother suddenly started crying. I didn't do anything.", replied Chinnu between gasps.
Gopi was no more listening. "The sunrise at Champa", he muttered.
There was a gentle breeze in the evening which was soothing after a tiring day`s work. As children scrambled home, and others returned from a strenuous day at their offices and shops. Gopi was sitting at the porch looking outside, when seetha brought him a steaming cup of coffee. His eyes lit up with happiness. "Did you go to the market today ?", he asked. "No. It was really hot in the afternoon. Did not feel like going outside.".
"Forgot to tell you. Chinnu had called me on telephone from his college. He is coming day after tomorrow on vacation. He said he had a plan.".
"What Plan? Did you ask him to bring all his clothes and bedsheets..?", queried seetha. "Plan.. I don`t know. He didn't tell me. Yes he`s bringing all clothes. Don`t worry".
Two days passed waiting for Chinnu, and when he finally arrived, it was as if their home suddenly came back to life. "Amma, Dada, you remember I told you I had a plan ?"
"Yes. what is the plan?", asked Gopi. Seetha silently looked on. "Tomorrow dada, you shut down shop, amma pack everything for two days, we will go to Champa."
"But..?", seetha managed to say. "No buts, now or never amma. Let us go. I have booked the tickets and have saved enough money, from the tuitions I took, while at college. Let us just go.". Gopi never spoke, only his eyes beamed.
"No! It`s not possible. The whole place is blocked and I could lose my job. No way", shouted the watchman. They had at last arrived near Champa at midnight only to find that the way was blocked by a government checkpost. It was no use arguing with the watchman. Before Chinnu, started to fight with the watchman, Gopi consoled him and they prepared to turn back.
"It`s Ok, son, you've already done so much for us, by just trying to bring us here.", he remarked. Chinnu was still sad. As they slowly walked back seetha was again reminded of the time, when they left Champa.
"Sahib, Sahib... I can take you to Champa", they heard a whisper as they turned a bend. It was an old haggard man, with a long pole in his hand. He looked like he had been in the forests there for centuries. "Sahib, I have a boat. I can take you to the river Champa. I take many tourists often. Please pay this old man a hundred rupees, it will do".
"A Hundred Rupees! No way. and let me tell you we`re not tourists. We are people of this soil. You cannot sell us our our home." Chinnu, came from behind and took Gopi`s hand.
"Please Dada, let us go. Just this once. Please.", begged Chinnu. "But Chinnu..", Gopi started to say. "Let us go. It`s ok", seetha exclaimed in excitement. Gopi pretended to look angry, but his eyes betrayed him. They followed the old man, as he lead them through the forest towards his boat.
The boat was shaky at first, but slowly they all sat down. It was after all a ride on Champa, their beloved river. The smell of those wild flowers and croaking of the frogs, lending the whole night, it's own natural symphony. It was still dark and so they just sat silently as their old boatman rowed and rowed towards, what they could make out was a valley, between two giant hills.
And then suddenly it happened!.
From the horizon, a pink, and magenta gleam of light suddenly illuminated the sky for a long distance. Slowly the ray of light widened, and then at the horizon, the water started turning golden, like a million lamps having been lit upon the temple pond. The light reflected from the beautiful red blossoms of the Gulmohar tree on the banks, and as the leaves slowly descended upon the water, it was almost as if tiny red fairies were descending upon earth, pure earth, pure water, pure life.
"Amma, dada.. you see that..? Isn't it so beautiful..", Chinnu exclaimed.
There was no reply. Gopi and seetha were standing on the boat, their clouded eyes fixed in a trance. No more were they father, mother and son. No more were they Gopi, seetha and Chinnu. They were just three children, three children holding hands, enjoying their beautiful Sunrise at Champa.