The boat rocked gently as we climbed up the ramp leading to the bow. The boat was two storied with an upper, observation deck and a lower deck for sitting as well as storage, thus making it a little cramped. Everyone instinctively headed up to the upper deck, scrambling along a narrow, wrought iron staircase, painted a garish white. The boat bobbed even more as all of us lumbered on to the upper deck, towing our children along.
The upper deck was open to sky but was carpeted, and had a cotton mattress laid out on its wooden floor, along with several cushions near the short metal railing that ran along the edges of the deck. At one end was a raised platform of sorts with a huge public address system complete with a wireless microphone on a stand, and huge bluetooth speakers. Apparently, we could expect some entertainment this evening.
A couple of young boys welcomed us onboard, and distributed mineral water bottles to the guests. KG also moved along the deck, checking on everyone, making sure they were comfortable. Soon everyone was seated, and we pushed off from the edge of the water, the diesel motor making coughing noises as it propelled the boat into water.
People sat down on the deck, on the cotton mattress, and started talking, introducing friends and families to each other. I sat in one corner of the deck, along with Vandita and Vatsala, my girls, while Vaishali moved around the boat, chatting merrily with her friends, meeting their spouses, and their children. She was always the more social of the two of us, and then, of course, this was her batch. I am, now, more reserved than I was in college, but Vaishali has an innate happiness, a chirpiness which helps her gel well with people. And this was exactly what she was doing at the moment, while I sat with the girls, and contemplated; looking out towards the ghats of Varanasi. The familiar vista, the vision of the stone ghats, and temples, and houses, and buildings, ranged in an undulating line along the western bank of the Ganga never ceased to amaze me, to evoke wonder in me.
How many years, decades, centuries, I wondered, have these waters, and the city adjoining these waters stood together, seen time pass by, seen generations of people come and go, seen empires rise and fall, weathered climate changes, and invasions, and colonisation, and pollution, and still stood together, mute observers to the vicissitudes of time? The river herself is a living deity that has nourished, and fed, and cleansed, and listened to the prayers, and carried away the dead, and the muck, and the sewage, and the filth of generations of humans of all races, castes, colours, nationalities, speaking a plethora of languages, believing in a bewildering array of gods and demi-gods, performing a variety of rituals and ablutions on its banks, dirtying its waters, killing the river that nourishes them. The river, however, has not complained. It has carried the burden man has imposed upon her, labouring under the toxic waste, dying, but still sustaining life, even with its last breath. Yes, we have killed our mother. Generations upon generations of people, unthinkingly, uncaringly, have led her up to her end, till the flora and fauna that lives in her life giving waters is all but dead.
But we are waking up now. Trying to reverse the trend, trying to give life to the river that gives life to millions. As I looked into her waters, I realised that they were cleaner than before. The ghats were cleaner too. And there were birds…..water birds. Which could only mean one thing….that the fish have returned to these waters. This is a good sign. I will not see the demise of this goddess in my lifetime, I thought, and smiled…..
To be continued…….
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