As we got down from the bus, one after the other, in a single file, I smelled the air….
Dust on the road, water dripping from taps turning the dust into muck, faint smell of the ghats, the waters of Ganga, incense, smell of stray dogs, monkey, cow dung….it was a strange smell, reminiscent of youth, happiness, freedom, and the rustic charm that characterises all of Varanasi, and especially its ghats.
I looked up, turning my head a little to the right to see the familiar, double-storied white house, that I instinctively knew would be there. A gush of memories again, then a torrent that follows it…..my childhood memories, visiting this house, meeting people in it, my Nana-Nani (maternal grandparents) accompanying me, myself holding on to my mother, bathing in the Ganga, mother worrying herself sick while I frolicked in the water…..it all came back….waves upon waves……The old man who had lived in that house towards the end of his days, who had taken sanyasa (renunciation) there, and who had planned on dying there …. dressed in white dhoti and a white sheet to cover the torso, his head marked with chandan tilak, his neck stringed with rudraksha beads, a rosary on his hands, moving constantly, and Ramnaam on his lips….that man is the father of my maternal grandfather. He, along with his wife, had left his sprawling house in the village, and later his town house in Gorakhpur, and had come to Varanasi to spend his last days. He had wanted to die in Banaras, for dying in Banaras has always meant moksha, freedom from the eternal cycle of life and death. However, fate had other plans in store for him, his faith is about to be tested.
He goes back to the village for some function in a relative’s house, and falls off the rickshaw, the manual cycle taxi used in India in those times, and also till very recently. He falls off the rickshaw in his khet, his own fields, hits his head on a brick, and is rendered unconscious. The villagers, and his employees, and his relatives rush him to the nearest town which is Gorakhpur, since he is the grand old man of the village. The doctors pronounce the verdict – ‘He is in extremis. Hasn’t got much time’, they say. ‘Please take him to Varanasi where he has always wanted to meet his end.’ Even the city doctors know who he is, and know what his wish is, how and where he has always wanted to leave this impermanent world.
His relatives, his son amongst them, rush from Gorakhpur to Varanasi, carrying him with them, he is still alive, his hand still moving the prayer beads, his lips whispering Ramnaam. His spirit will not leave his body till he arrives in the holy city, the city of Shiva, of Mahadeva, of Rudra. They arrive in Varanasi, in the white house in front of which I stand, forty years later, and his prayer beads stop moving. His spirit has merged with Shiva. …..
To be continued…
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