I had stepped out of the mini-bus, and now stood looking at the house, rooted to the ground, oblivious of the pandemonium around me, waves and waves of memories washing over me.
‘Hey’, Vaishali called out, physically shaking me out of my daydream. ‘What?’ she asked quizzically.
I looked around, coming back to present. People around me were gesticulating wildly, asking questions, confusion rampant. Where do we have to go? Which ghat are we meeting on? Who knows the way? Will anyone meet us there? So many questions, very few answers – the story of human civilisation of thousands of years….
‘I know the way’, I volunteered, ‘Don’t worry, just follow me.’
The ruckus died down, and people started to follow me. I looked back at Vaishali, who was still waiting for my answer, and gesticulated towards the house.
‘That house’, I said, ‘I have visited it in my childhood, when I was maybe five years old. It was NanaJi’s father’s bhoj.’
Bhoj is the customary food offering served to guests and brahmins, after the funeral rites of a person have been completed.
Vaishali nodded, a flicker of understanding passing through her eyes, and then she was distracted again by her friends, and their family members.
We proceeded towards the Assi ghat, the ghat where I had spent innumerable evenings, and a little less than innumerable nights, looking at the sparkling waters of the Ganga, sitting on the stone steps, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, joking, crying, cursing, being thankful for things, and, sometimes, sleeping. Yes, the ghat had seen it all, and not only from me and my group of friends, but from innumerable generations of students, adults, children, men, women, ascetics, vagabonds…..
I held the hand my two daughters as I approached the stone steps of the ghat, my heart beating with anticipation at meeting Mother Ganga again. The river, reverently called Ma Ganga, or Mother Ganga, by millions of Hindus of this country, is the foundation on which this civilisation, known in academic circles as the Ganga-Vindhya civilisation, is based on. It is she who nourishes, and sustains the millions of people who live by her banks, or in the vast plains of North India named after her – the Gangetic plains. Her pristine waters come down to the vast plains of north India from the Himalayas, the abode of the Gods, bringing with it nutrients and the soft alluvium which makes the Gangetic plains so fertile that even carelessly thrown seeds will sprout, and give rise to life-sustaining crops. This river has occupied the collective mind-space of the Indian subcontinent since millennia, ever since that river which was the first water body to be deified by the ancient Vedic people, disappeared. That river was Saraswati. But I digress again, I will confine myself to the Assi ghat, and my tryst with Varanasi Again…..
To be continued…..
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