It has been a long time since I told this tale, or rather, continued it. The last blog in this series was written more than ten months ago. Why? Is the story over? Far from it. Then why? Maybe it is because I have said whatever I wanted to say, the pent-up emotions have been let-out, released, given vent, and thus there is this void, and a momentary pause while I reflect. Reflect on THE event itself, the reunion, and the secondary events surrounding THE event, and the other myriad currents and countercurrents that THE event set in motion, even like the eddies in the flow of Mother Ganga.
During this period, I have made my peace with the ghosts of my past, vented my anger at God in the small temple inside the hospital in BHU, found release from pain, and regret, and anger, cemented relations, found friendship where there was none, and had my personal communion with the Goddess that flows through the immortal city and nurtures its millions.
What more could one ask for, right? But why is there this void? This ache inside my heart, this sense of loss, incompleteness, this sense of a journey which is yet incomplete. Maybe this is the effect that Kashi has on me. Maybe the immortal city has something more to give, to teach, to show me. Whatever it is, it tugs at my heart, not letting it rest. Thus, even though I must continue, and shortly conclude my story, I know that my story with Banaras will go on till I find eternal peace on her ghats, maybe, if I am lucky.
That day, our last day in Varanasi, the last day of the reunion, I had soaked deeply of the love that Kashi had to offer. I had enjoyed the visit to the Gyanvapi temple, enjoyed the boat-ride and the lunch at Goleria Kothi, had immersed myself in the voice of Ma Ganga, and, in the end, enjoyed the Ganga Aarti. It was now time to go back.
Though it was merely evening, but the sky had darkened so much that it felt like night. The cold and the fog made us miserable on our boats, exposed as we were on its upper storey. Fortunately, a ‘chai-walla’ (tea vendor) had materialized out of nowhere and had started distributing hot, steaming cups of tea amongst us. People crowded around the young man, hounding him for the hot liquid, and passed it around in small paper cups till the tea was almost gone. Everyone, including the children, gulped down the hot tea hurriedly, grateful for the momentary warmth it brought to our shivering bodies.
I looked out towards the lighted ghats; their lights shimmering in the evening fog. From the vantage point of the boat in the middle of the river, it was possible to see almost the complete western bank of the Ganga with the city nestled there since millenia. At this time of the winter evening, all activity on the ghats had ceased, the men scurrying into their modest dwellings for warmth, and the ghats were deserted, awash with the cold, impersonal light of the halogen lamps. The boats chugged slowly in the cold waters of the river, too slowly for comfort. We were freezing!
I took out a thick shawl, a blanket of sorts, which I had lugged with me the whole day, and used it to cover the children where they sat huddled in one corner of the boat. Vaishali, Sudeepa, Swati and a few other women also huddled close by, trying to form a circle around the kids to help keep them warm. They looked like a bunch of mother penguins, huddling together to save their young ones from freezing in the abnormally low temperatures that we were experiencing this winter.
While the women and children sat in one corner, and rubbed their hands for warmth, I paced the boat, impatient and cold. This year the temperatures had dipped abnormally low for this part of India. We all hoped the boat ride would end soon.
After what seemed an endless amount of time, the boat docked on the ghat, and we got down and rushed towards our waiting vehicles. Soon we were driving through the now familiar streets once more, though this time of the night the traffic was less.
To be continued……
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