The diesel engine powering the barge coughed into life as we made our way back on to the deck. The sun was almost gone, and darkness was closing in fast from all directions, accompanied by cold, and a light fog; it was, after all, December, one of the coldest months in North India. The upper deck of the boat was festooned with several naked LED bulbs, and a string of ‘Chinese’ LED lights, which were switched on promptly while we settled down in our respective places. The boat groaned under the load of its occupants, as it pushed away from the eastern bank of the Ganga, and started its sinuous journey towards the opposite bank, the western bank, the bank with all the eighty four ghats. We were headed, we knew, towards the Guleria Kothi, for our dinner……..
The Guleria Kothi was an 18th century heritage building with its own private ghat which had been restored some time back, and was now in use as a hotel. The courtyard in front of the building, opening out on the stone steps of the Guleria ghat, was often let out by the management for small get-togethers, or parties, with the facade of the heritage building serving as its backdrop. We had dined on this property exactly one year ago, when we had visited Varanasi for the reunion function of my batch, the year when I had exorcised my ghosts, and made peace with my past, when I had found God again!
This was our second visit, just a year later.
Dinner was already laid out, and the porch of the building and adjacent ghats awash with the yellow light of numerous halogen lamps, when our boats docked at the ghat, and the people disembarked. Everyone was hungry now…..
I picked up a plate, and piled it up with the delicious ethnic cuisine laid out before us – makke ki roti, sarson ka saag, kale chane ki subzi, chole, paneer, rice, arhar daal, salad, boondi raita, and a host of mouthwatering sweets. Later, sitting in a corner of the courtyard with Vaishali and the girls, I looked out over the water, out to the silently flowing river, washing the eastern edge of the city of Shiva. Her waters were dark now, her sands on the other bank luminescent, and devoid of people.
The river was deity that the priests prayed to every evening in a ceremony known as the Ganga aarti. The Ganga Aarti was a ceremony which was known all over the world, and made famous by the several movies, and documentaries made in Varanasi. This ceremony was attended by innumerable people every evening, both Indian and foreign. We ourselves had witnessed the Ganga Aarti at the Ganesh ghat last year; this year we were going to do the same at the Dashashwamegha ghat…….
To be continued –
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