I didn’t notice the kingfisher at all as we sailed up the Bhagirathi on our raft. I was taking shots on my phone, my eyes only on the band of yellow of the mustard flowers, coming closer, colour getting brighter, more vivid, cutting through the layer of light mist on the water.

I was trying to catch that expanding colour.

When a friend of mine looking at this photo said the kingfisher looks great, I saw the bird for the first time. I was taken aback, was it there all along, or had it just flown in? Interestingly, once I’d seen it, the bird with its long beak and hint of blue in the wings was all I could see. Sometimes you completely miss a thing, even if it’s right there, till someone holds it up and shows you. Is that what writers are supposed to do, I wondered idly as I wrote the last line. I’d been too taken with the mustard flowers.

We hadn’t expected the sail on the raft to be quite so enjoyable, and long. Almost three hours on a fairly wide expanse of water, part of the mythical Ganges… villages, children, local festivities, and a dense green on either bank. once in a way a mansion here, a great temple there. We stopped at an organic farm, clambering up the muddy bank, peering at potato patches, brinjals, corn, nameless greens, balancing on the narrow “aal”, the ridges dividing the plots of farm land.    

The hotel in Murshidabad – onetime capital of Bengal and a magnificent city – was a sprawling, more than 250 year old mansion, right by the river. Tea and a ride on the raft was part of the deal. I’d go back there anytime just for another slow drift on the river. Who knows, the kingfisher might be waiting there for me.

That faint streak of yellow far away on the left, beyond the trees… how it beckons. Mustard, from the Mesopotamians to the people of the Indus Valley, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Romans, the British, the French, the Indians, who hasn’t been enamoured of this pungent produce with a kick of its own. Maybe I can be forgiven for being distracted and missing the solitary kingfisher.

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