A family of travellers had tuned me to resonate with the beats of a running rail. Well, every December trips were no longer much of a surprise after 14 years of consistency but “Thank You sooo much Papa” had always worked wonders with the Man of our family.
That year it was Varanasi, not for the first time but of course with no less enthusiasm. You know there are things which you have unnecessary longings for, from people whom you like to be with for no reason to things which you do for no benefit – Varanasi had always been of such kind to me.
Adoring the heart of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is as famous for its by-lanes as for its rabri (off beat with pan and saree though). Indeed, if you need competition for the Maze of Lucknow, you can always count on the by-lanes of this place. How a thin off road finding its way through the thouroughfares of light and glare could end up in places that still awaits a human footstep will surely leave you wondering at the marvel. Lined by shops with huge pots of boiling milk and the distinguished aroma of pan masala – the remains of age old Nawabi sophistication – with flies carrying remnants of a plate of uncovered rabri and huge white crimson-covered crows lining up along with men; Varanasi has its own aura of untouched history.
Soon we were descending the cascade of rugged steps getting past people drenched in the Holy waters. Embedded with thick blocks of stained stones, filled with people of all backgrounds sharing the freedom of status quo, “Om jai gange maata” hanging loose in the heavy air, a strange aura of pride in knowing the great Vishwanath was footsteps away, glittering with the casual beauty of a civilization still unaffected by the spell of modernization and the site of a mist covered Ganges blocking the oblivion extending to the horizon, the ghats looked majestic.
Instances of à la mode folks adding up to something good might be rare but is not completely off the track. Besides dumping anything within reach in the name of remuneration for Her services, there was the evening grandeur of Ganga arti which like the last piece of chocolate in a cornetto cone made the trip last in your senses.
The lack of swimming knowledge for both my parents had always been a barrier to most water destines but I guess even they had a special relation to these waters which gave us enough courage to hire a boat and find our way right in the middle of the river, facing The Dashashwamedh Ghat, surrounded by hundreds of the likes of us.
The sight was mystical. The entire river had lit up with the faint light of floating diyas. The glistening river waves split up the flickering lights into a spectrum of shades creating a magical play of lights and shadows along the walls of the boats.
Very soon the blow of the conch signalled the 7 saffron clad men seated on a bed of rose petals to raise the glowing brass torches in Her name. The aarti commenced as the entite place echoed with shouts praising the Ganges and camera flashes took over the play of the faint lights.
The ghats had started clearing up when we, making way through boat traffic, were whirling with the river waves. With a few strokes of the row, the sight towards our left went through an unexpected transcend through the hands of time. As we crosssed the Dashashwamedh’s hub-hub, all that remained was the remnants of a lost era and to our right the oblivion seemed lost in the mist of darkness.
The faint rhythm of the waters striking the oar and the monotonous introduction of the boatman to each of the eighty ghats we were supposed to cross was all that was audible. Over us a shining moon had taken over the night, the kindle of its rays glistening the mystifying fog that hung over the waters.
It was as if we were going past an unexplored land, the castles over the ghats bearing an unclaimed testimony to the lost times. It was as if we were going against the clock, entering a land which had remained to stay unchanged over the years. The engulfing dense fog had transported us centuries back. Once you lend your ears you could almost hear the battlecry of hundreds of elephants, the giggle of the women, the yell of the prisoners left to rot in dark dungeons, the heavy voices of the nawabs, the clattering of wine glasses, the clash of rays from couloured glasses in the dance rooms like a kalaeidoscope on the marble floors, glimpses of the days of gold the river had been witness to.
A faint glow of yellow light broke through our ‘unconscious’ dragging us back to the present as a body burned in the famous cremation ground of the Harishchandra ghat. Like the grandeur of the lost years we had been witnessed to a few seconds back, the last flames of the burning fire gave way to black soot which was finally engulfed by the dark. “Aapka 1 ghanta hone wala hai babu,” spoke the boatman and we were completely dragged back to brutal reality, heading back for the times we had so willingly let go.