His wrinkled face was parched and frail. Behind the old visage, there was more of him to see. Struggling between past and future, verve and sloth, triumphs and letdowns, warmth and seclusion—he was coldly looking at the sophisticated and expensive machines procured to speed-up Dal Lake's restoration measures.
The old man was sitting near the railing on the banks of Dal Lake, watching the slough and silt lifted out from it. He recollected his childhood days when he, alongwith his friends, used to quench his thirst with the shimmering sweet waters of Dal Lake. Nostalgia tossed around. Like an antique montage in black and white, the screen of history flashed his every memory associated with Dal Lake.
Looking back, he saw himself playing football in Malkhah for hours together, and then rushing to Naidyar Yarbal to slake his thirst with the cool and flowing pure water of the Dal. At times, his whole group of friends swam into the waters to refresh themselves.
The unique taste of Masaal Tsot and Nader Monje he used to relish beneath the shade of jade trees on Soth, the bridle path passing through the middle of the Dal Lake connecting Nishat and Rainawari, persisted. The cold breeze that tenderly moved the crystal clear waters of the Lake was embedded with the aroma of versatile lotuses.
As the Lake was bottomless near Soth, he and his friends always feared swimming there. Watching small yachts being drawn by oars and gently passing under the arched seven viaducts of Soth, they always craved to go in swimming in the deep central waters of the Lake. They incessantly desired to spend a few days in the straggling row of majestic Doongas (houseboats) that flanked the Lake at various points and were rented by people to roam around the Lake for several days.
Dal Lake was his true companion. He cherished veritable solace on its banks. Looking far to the other end of Lake, he used to weave his future. Whenever he was depressed, he would visit the Lake and pour his heart out. Dal always listened calmly and transpired its tranquility to him.
Sometime later he got married. He decided to holiday in the Lake alongwith his family and a small group of friends. They hired a Doonga for one week and also arranged a waza (Kashmiri cook) who would prepare food for them during the expedition.
The reminiscences of the matchless trip are sharply ingrained in his mind. He muses over the setting of their voyage from Naidyar Yarbal. For him and his friends, it was like dream coming true. The sparkling waters helped the stately progress of Doonga down the Lake. They were welcomed by the breezy milieu while sailing down the watercourse through the interiors of Rainawari. The banks of waterway were spotless. Only at few places, they could see some temporary hutments and some planted vegetables.
Within the blissful vibes, the immaculate waters of the Lake reflected the vivid image of splendid dome of Hazratbal Shrine, where they stopped for the night. While travelling towards Nishat garden, they noticed water gushing out from the bottom of the Lake at numerous locations. During night, they saw moonlight piercing through the six meter deep clear waters of the Lake. With a bit of edginess, they went for a dip, and thus conquered their fears.
Harking back, the old man remembers that the banks of the Lake had no fencing as Nature by its own course had fortified it with Zabarwan hills on one side and Hari-parbat on the other. Nature had swathed the glistening waterbody with its own aura.
Today he is stunned. With crinkled moist eyes and crooked forehead, he fails to think of Dal Lake as "a beautiful imagination or a romantic poetry on the surface of clean water shadowed with the groves of Chinar". The Dal that was and is not now. Imagination decaying. Poetry dead. And Chinar dwindling.
His Dal Lake is a cesspool. A stinking abyss. A nearing gutter. A shrinking pit plaguing obnoxious and murky stories buried within. The stories of Scandals.Official Fraud. Public Apathy. General Rot.
For the old man, the cesspit, now left as Dal, depicts a broader meaning: it is a manifestation of collective mind. The degeneration is not just ecological.
He takes small steps away from the Lake, as if a strong wind would, at any time, whisk him up into the clouds. He leaves no footprints.