Friday, May 8, 2009

Across the Ganges

The woman was sitting at the same place over a rock in the banks of the Ganga river.
It was the third day consecutively that I found her on the same spot. Her
anchal of the blue saree gently blowing in the wind, her sleepers lay in the sand, her naked feet playing with the grains of sand , marked with all signs of unconciousness.
Her eyes looking at a distant though it seems, that she is hardly looking to anything particularly.
She looks very impatient, restless.
I am staying in Hardwar for the last five years. I never found any woman sitting in such an posture with negligible movement of limbs.
The woman captured my attention. I stopped walking and came and seat over a bench near the river.
It is quarter to five now in the morning. The first rays of sunlight slowly getting visible in the vast sky which just shaded off the colour of the night. The breeze that is coming from the Ganges is wet, fresh and lively. The surrounding blue hills slowly assuming the golden light of the sun. Numerous birds flying with their colourful wings. The sweet swinging sound of the river water gradually getting mixed up with other colloquial sounds as the city is getting awake.
Ganga is beautiful here. She looks like just a virgin glorious young lady who goes on with a distinct pride of beauty and innocence.
She is much stable here . She is much reserved.
It is really wonderful to see the Ganga river flowing in three differnt portraits.
In contrast to Hardwar, the river had much speed in Hrishikesh and in Lachmanjhula
she is too fast, bubbly and hilly with great speed as she is just coming down from the glacier of Gomukh.
Hardwar is getting busy. If you are a visitor it is the best time to enter Hardwar.
I first came to Hardwar in my college days through Doon Express and I entered the city
during this time.
It was winter….the morning fog covering a large part of the road though the sky slowly getting clear….the tangas moving with the horses ….from all the roads people walking towards the Ghat …. Numerous pilgrims..local people.. from eight to eighty walking towards the river carring towels in their back and a mug( locally called ghati) in their hand, needed for taking a dip in the water and for the Suryastaba( Prayer to the Sun) as the first light appears in the sky….there was a tremendous hubbing sound near the ghat .sound of so many people talking, chanting , whispering….pandas calling from the roadside in numbers ‘Baba Daksheswarer darshan hobe?’, mainly in Bengali(Calling for a visit and worship of the Lord Daksheswar) ….hawkers also selling their goods among which you can get everything….people of all caste, religion can be seen there.. it was wonderful and stunning before me lay.. a mini edition of India.
‘Babu chai?’
Ramu. I came back to conciousness with his voice .
I looked around . The spectacle of the morning Hardwar has hardly changed in these years.
I took a cup of tea from Ramu. He smiled and said like everyday,
‘Shakkar thik hai babu?’(Do you need more sugar?)
As usual I nodded.
It is perfect.
Pointing towards the woman I asked Ramu about her.
Ramu said ‘Patah nehi babuji! Do din se subah me yahan pe dekh raha hun.’
(He diidn’t know her but he found her here for the last two mornings.)
Ramu went.
I again looked towards the woman.
She had hardly moved. She looks like a lady giving a sitting to an artist.
I once thought will I go ask her or not. Then found the idea to be too stupid.
Why on earth the lady would say me her reason of silence?
At this moment I saw Tonmoy , one of my colleague of office.
I am an architect working in a reputed MNC and came to Hardwar , for a project. Though the project has ended I managed to enroll myself in the new project as I wanted to stay in this place a bit longer.
I love Hardwar. Located in the foothills it has an unique feeling of the Himalayas.
‘Hi, finished jogging’? Tonmoy came and stooped beside me rubbing his face with a small hand towel.
‘Almost!’ I stood and smiled.
‘So whats about our weekend plan to Lachmanjhula? Is it clicking?’
‘Surely, it can , but have you found any new place there? We have been there earlier also.’
‘Yes, this time , we would stay at an old Bunglow within the Lachmanjhula forest.’
‘Whats about reservation?’
‘Don’t worry, I will manage that’.
‘Prem going?’
‘He said he will, Soumya confirmed me today.’
‘That’s great, anyway see you in the office’.
Tonmoy went.

Day has began. The number of people taking bath has also increased. The wind is still cool, sky clear, shining, warmth of sun giving a pleasant feeling in this September morning.
I felt for drinking another cup of tea.
I started walking. Suddenly I turned my head towards the river.
The woman is no more there.
Over the rock two local children are playing with pebbles.
I lamented . I should have seen which way she went.
Nothing. Just a bit of inquisition.

I came back to my rented house in the upper Ghat Road around seven. Shanti is already there, in the kitchen, cooking. Her son, Kishan , playing in the garden. She has been walking in this house from the beginning. She is reliable, and also cooks well, and sometimes even managed to bring egg, fish and meat from an unmentionable market as ‘non-veg’ is strictly ‘censored’ throughout Hardwar.
Today also my mood got really dancing as I saw pair of eggs in my Lunch.
I thanked her and gave Kishan , a chocolate.
In the way to my office from the car I looked once again towards the riverside.
But I didn’t found the woman.
Within my work also I can’t forget her.
And within evening I decided that I have to find her.

In the evening after office instead of house I came back to the Ghat.
Hardwar is one of such place which have different themes in different times.

In evening , Hardwar assumes a look which is pious, attractive as well as romantic.
The colour of the blue river slowly turns now bluish-red inviting the colour of dusk….
The wind stats blowing fast, coming down from the mountains….the local people who comes everyday and it is amazing that they never get bored….the colourful tourists with the frequent flashes of camera …. the soothing sound of the home-coming birds, many of whom live in the corners of temple….the gradual turning on of the lights of the temple, shops, roadside-stalls….chanting of hymns from the temple…. the begining of the evening-prayer (locally called Sandhya-arati)….the sounding of bells of the temple from all sides….the lighting of the lamp in plenty and then keeping them in the flowing water….with the diya (lamp) burning….Ganges looking like a river of moving lights….
It is mesmerizing….it never gets old….and to be at Hardwar during this time , I can bet you would think yourself as fortunate.
And as I am slowly feeling myself in some other world, I saw that woman.
She is bended to float a diya in the river water , her one hand holding diya, and the other over her chest managing the saree in a wind which is blowing quite fast,
I am looking towards her….
Suddenly I started running towards her….I am running fast,
The woman is unconscious that her edge of her anchaal of the saree has fallen in one of the flowing diya and it would catch fire within seconds.
I came near the woman , pulled her from the riverside and shouted ‘What are you doing?’
The woman looked towards the anchaal , looked alarmed and at that moment a splash of water is thrown in her anchaal. Some local people has done that, thankfully.
There is a gathering here now, many people saying many things, I looked towards the anchaal of the saree , the edge is burnt , if I come a bit later it would be a disaster.
The woman looked towards me.
She had an inner beauty in her face but there is no glow. She looked very calm and quite ex-pressionless. After such an incident she is strong and said in a low voice, in clear bengali accent , ‘Kothao boste pari?’(Can I sit somewhere?)
The light of a lamppost of the ghat felt on her.
I found red grains in her forehead.
She is married.

I took her and make her seat in a bench. Then brought her some drinking water.
She took it and said ‘Thanks.’
I can’t help saying her ‘How can you be so unconscious?’
The woman looked towards the river and said in somewhat cold voice , ‘I was unmindful’.
A wave of wind came and touched us. It has a shivering in it.
The woman is going back to herself, in that melancholy mood.
But I want to know from her the real reason.
I know it is illogical, awkward but I can’t resist myself.
I said her ‘I am seeing you from the last three days….I am living Hardwar for last five years….but never saw a figure like you….I saw you today also sitting over that rock and looking towards the river in an unexplainable look. Can I know the reason for that….maybe I can help you….’
The woman slowly turned towards me. But she kept silent.
The sounds of the coming night filled up the silence in between us. I saw one or two known faces looking towards me in great interest, and the woman beside me. I ignored them.
After sometime the woman answered..her if her voice is coming from a distance…. ‘You can’t help me.. nobody can..’
‘But I want to know what lies behind your looks of despair….did anything happened here anyday?’
The woman kept her eyes on me. Then she said ‘ Yes, a horrible incident happened here.’
Again a break. Again she looked towards the flowing Ganges and murmered….
‘Three years ago in this day I lost my son here.’
I got shocked. I thought about the possibility of many incidents but not this.
I don’t know what to say.
The woman added…. ‘ It was an evening like this.. my son went out with my husband ….
We came in with many relatives then , I came a bit later along with my relatives ….and saw my husband standing helplessly leaning over the Ganges….a crowd gathered there….when I went there ….I found my little Sonai has fallen into river ….he cannot be seen anywhere….we searched madly….the police too….for two days….but he was no where…. Even his body was not found little Sonai.. a three year old baby was lost forever….
The woman broke down. I don’t know any way to stop her. I feel really ashamed that I made her tell that tragic story again.
But at the same time I had a feeling that the cry can make the woman , a little better.
A little back to life.
I looked towards her , ‘I am really sorry.’
The woman hardly listened to my voice and went on saying…. ‘ I sometimes thought …
.maybe it was not an accident….maybe it was planned….my husband never want a baby in first year of marriage….he was strangely indifferent to Sonai….he himself may have pushed Sonai….’.
She stopped abruptly.
Because she realized that she is telling many things….personal things….to an totally unknown stranger.
I myself also feeling uncomfortable. I changed the topic.
‘You came alone here?’.
‘No with one of my cousin. She may be roaming somewhere.’
‘Your husband?’
‘He never came. Being a corporate person he hardly have time’.

There is again a brief pause. After a while
I extended my hand. ‘I am Sameek Ray, working as an architect here.’
The woman also joined my hand.
‘I am Aparna. Aparna Bannerjee.’
The woman stood up.
‘I have to go. Tithi is calling’.
I saw near the Ghat gate a, young lady around twenty calling her.
The woman started walking.
But stopped.
She turned and put her hand in her bag and came towards me,
‘I know it is impossible ….but still if you ever see him anywhere please let me know….
here is the photo of Sonai….and here my address..’
I took both.
And looked towards the photo.
Suddenly I got stranded in between the ghat. I have seen this face somewhere..
.. it is a known face….
‘Mr.Ray , can I get your address?’
‘Sure.’ I took out one of my card and gave her.
‘Thanks….and I have another request ….what I shared with you this evening …
can it remain only between us….’.
I promised. It goes without saying.
The woman went. I saw the figure of Aparna Bannerjee gradually faded away in the crowds of Hardwar.
I looked at the photo again.
I have seen this boy .
But where..I start wondering..
I took the road to my house. Sometimes I take tanga , but now I don’t feel like.
I am walking slowly.
People passed me , many are tourists among them, and the bulk are Bengalees. . Hardwar looks like a second home of the bengalees. For ages Bengali people came here, thus the local people are well acquainted with the language and even can speak Bengali fluently.

Night falling gradually in Hardwar.
The sound of the river again getting prominence.
But where I have seen that boy?
The wind passed through me.
And suddenly a shiver ran through me.
I remembered a story . I heard the story here only.
A boy was found alive near the bend of the Ganga river about two miles from here. Though he was senseless.
But he is alive still. And turned into a sweet boy.
The story teller is no one else but Shanti who cooks in my home.
And the boy….yes the boy may be ….Kishan!
I almost ran towards my home.
Shanti has gone.
It is obvious.
It is nine-thirty now.
I know where Shanti lives.
I went running through a bit steep road.
I came to Shanti’s house and knocked the door.
Shanti got really surprised to see me. She lives in a small room which is clean and organized.
She came from a good family, her father was a post-master of Hardwar , she was married once but got divorced as she was childless.
And as she can never become mother.
‘Keya hua sab….’ Shanti asked me . Maybe she is thinking that she has done something wrong.
I asked her that where is Kishan..
‘Woh to so gaya hai,’ Shanti pointed towards the bed, I saw that Kishan is sleeping.
I looked towards his face closely.
There is resemblance.
But there is not also.
Shanti came and said , ‘Kya hua Sab, Kishan ne kuch kiya?’
I looked towards her face. She is almost panicking, she had a fear written all over her face.
I smiled and said that Shanti, Nothing happened. I just came to give a chocolate to Kishan.
I searched my pocket. Luckily I found one.
I gave it to Shanti and told her to give it to Kishan when he is awake.’
Shanti in almost disbelief said again had she did anything wrong.
I convinced her again.
I came out.
Shanti standing near the door said , ‘Bahaut dar gayi thi , Sab, Kishan mera sab kuch hai..
Uske liyei to main zinda hoon….’.
I assured her that nothing would happen and told her to just go and sleep.’
‘Khuda ne achanak Kishan ko mere pas bheja…agar kisi din aise hi fir achanak le leti hai….’ Shanti didn’t completed the sentence.
But what she is going to tell is obvious.
A woman who has lost everything in life….her family..her husband..a normal married life.. her motherhood..has suddenly got this boy as a gift of God.
Thus she is always in scare of loosing him too.
I came back to my house.
The whole night I cannot sleep.
Sometimes I thought that Kishan is surely that boy….sometime again not….

Shanti can find some other boy also….Some time I thought I am doing a terribly wrong thing….again sometime I found myself absolutely right….sometime I lament on the decision of finding the woman and asking her reason of despair….
As morning dawns I slowly walked out of my house.
I came towards Shanti’s house.
Shanti is playing in the small garden with Kishan.
Kishan saw me and smiled.
A beautiful smile.
Then he again started playing.
I came to the riverside.
But to my relief I didn’t saw that woman today.
Maybe Kishan can be her lost child.
Maybe Kishan would get a much better family.. but will he really get it?
From Aparna’s words it is obvious that her relation with her husband is not normal…. How would the lost child would be accepted again in the family who is already declared dead?
The relation between Aparna and her husband can become even more troublesome, which can also spoil the child’s life….
And if Kishan goes what would Shanti live with?
She would have nothing to live.
How can I do that?
How can I snatch her Kishan ….depending on one evening….some incidents….some words?
I can’t do that.
I slowly walked towards the river and splashed water over my face and then looked upwards towards the blue hiils of the Himalayas.
I again splashed water.
The water of the morning Ganges is really pure.
Much like the smile of Kishan.
The son of childless Shanti.


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