We came upon an exceptionally cute pond in Purbachal a few months back. It was an elliptical tarn with some water in the middle and a lot of slush around. The water was blushing with a thousand pink waterlilies and the slush was bursting with lush green grass. Herons were perched on wickers and kingfishers were hunched on twigs sticking out of the water. Jacanas with their exceedingly long toes were trooping over the lily pad. Flocks of munias were buzzing like bees over the grass. We never saw a pond in such good health and great beauty before.
So, every time we escaped to Purbachal we took a walk by that beautiful pond. Eventually the pink pond became the reason why we were visiting Purbachal. We were not the only ones to be seduced by that handsome pond. We saw many youthful bikers stop there to scream cheerfully and take selfies endlessly. What pleasing pictures those selfies must be! Ecstatic young faces blooming among a thousand pink lilies.
The bikers made me hark back at a selfie the famous French impressionist Claude Monet took with water-lilies of the pond he created at his house in Giverny. A century ago he had to use paint-brush, not a camera, to do his self-portrait with the lilies. Monet was charmed by the lilies of his pond to no end. More than 250 of his paintings of water-lily are now exhibited in some 50 museums of the world. I was fortunate to see three of those legendary paintings including one titled 'The Lily Pond, Green Harmony' in Musee d'Orsay in Paris. I would like to think that the joy Monet derived by doing self-portrait with his lilies was as intense as that of our youth taking selfie with lilies in Purbachal.
For us the pond in Purbachal had much more to offer besides the lilies. We spotted a rare bittern skulking in the lily pad and another bird way more captivating than bitterns lurking in the luxurious grass. We had the first glimpse of it when the bird stuck its elegant head over the grass momentarily - a graceful male watercock in pink helmet and dark suit! A little later we found his family, a petite female with two fluffy chicks feeding on the tender vegetation of the bog. Watercock is a very wary and stealthy bird. One has to be lucky to steal a glimpse of it even in the haor basin, its last remaining habitat. It is crazy to have full view of an entire family of watercock right here.
While the prosperous pond gave the people like us a prospect of watching lilies and birds, to some other people it offered something quite different - a business opportunity. Poles, panels and metal sheets were brought there by the truck-loads on a particularly melancholy day. Workers plodded through the mud and water for weeks to build a few stilt-houses in the pond. They floored the emerald grass of the pond and painted their stilt-houses creepy green. They plundered the entire bed of pink lilies and painted the roof appalling red. As the munias, jacanas, bitterns and watercocks left the sterile pond, the builders happily put a sign up to announce the opening of a restaurant and party centre in the stilt-houses.
To be frank, that awful conversion of the pond was rather insufferable for me. My friends were more forgiving and indulgent. Their refrain was, "Those who ravaged the pond did not know that rare birds were breeding there. They knew not what they were doing." Well, could not they see the bounty of lilies and feel that it was not just an everyday waterhole! If they even thought that the lily pad could pull in more customers to their restaurant they would probably design their stilt-houses thoughtfully and build those without plundering the lilies entirely.
On our infrequent visit to Purbachal we sorely miss the family of watercock and the bounty of lilies now. My friends console themselves with a feeble hope that the lilies would regenerate someday. But right now it is a soggy graveyard of the lilies over which stands on stilt-legs the six-headed sea monster, Scylla. On the wall of Musee d'Orsay the 'Green Harmony' of Monet has rudely been replaced by the 'Guernica' of Picasso.
Purbachal probably will have gardens like Ramna Garden or Gulshan Park someday; but those parks will never have ponds with the profusion of pink lilies this pond had. Once the wild vegetation is destroyed it is not easy to recreate its abundance, energy and grace in a planted patch. So, allow me to close my requiem with two lines of Wordsworth from his poem titled The Romance of the Water Lily:
The Lily floats no longer! She hath perished.
Grieve for her, she deserves no less ..