On the banks of Ganges
(Sioux Falls, USA)
The loud chants of Har Har Gange (Hail the Ganges) fill the blue morning air, the burning camphor carried by the priest lights up the distant temple’s corridors as I hold Ravi’s hands near the ghats* of Banaras†. The autumn winds feel chillier than usual. Time moves slowly around me and the pictures are ever so clear. The morning is routine but the sun does not seem bright enough it is just red.
Few years ago, in the narrow lanes of Banaras I was looking for a mayoral election story. My source had informed me that the mayor’s son could get me an exclusive interview with the mayor seeking re-election. But the mayor’s family had always been off limits to the journalists. Desperate on a deadline, I reached the university campus searching for the son. Student activists bustling with political activities were distributing flyers and raising slogans. I noticed, a group of students had surrounded a lone member of the opposition party in a heated debate. The poor guy was going to get a beating when a young man stepped in the huddle. He said, “So what if he does not agree with you, let him go and you can have me instead.” The group let him off and now stood encircling the young man. Though surrounded he had a calm confidence about him. Just then, a few others ran in and introduced that young man to the crowd, “Hold it guys, that’s Ravi the Mayor’s son.” I talked to Ravi after the huddle broke and he expressed his helplessness on getting me an appointment. So I wrote a story on Ravi and his political activism on the campus.
Our paths crossed numerous times over next couple years and I realized his liberal political views were vastly different than his fathers. He was a free soul not to be bound by traditions and beliefs. On one such night while protesting for equal marriage rights he was arrested along with his group. Even the journalists weren’t spared and were shoved in the old cells. Everyone had bruised to sleep. Seeing Ravi still awake in the wee hours of the morning we got talking. In that dilapidated cell listening to this bright young fellow presented me with an irony. There was something magnetic within Ravi which struck me. Few months later, it was another quiet morning by the banks of Ganges that I expressed my feelings to him.
We were unique in every way possible in that colourful vibrant city. We could sit all day together but never hold hands. We could argue with each other but never kiss and make-up. So we walked, we walked
together in the bazaars on hot summer afternoons stopping at tea stalls. On winter evenings, we walked the weaver’s street admiring the famous hand crafted embroidered sarees‡. And we walked by the Ganges all night sometimes to see mourners cremate their loved ones praying for their salvation. Billions believe that one holy dip in the Ganges will absolve them of all the sins and if cremated on its ghats will release them from the cycle of rebirth.
It is election year again this year. Ravi’s father is in a senatorial race this time. He has been facing stiff opposition from inner political circles questioning Ravi’s behavior. He has asked Ravi to sever all ties with me. We were being watched and followed. We have been warned that any attempt to malign the mayor’s honour will not be tolerated. Honour was most important and we are sinners. Here, love for one is sin for another.
Yesterday we decided to flee. I have waited all night with a boat tugged at the farthest ghat. I just hope I was not followed. It is still dark and I see a silhouette moving mid river. I walk into the water to meet Ravi. I know his warmth despite not having touched him. The water is unusually tepid. I sense liberation because now we will be free. Free from the looks, free from the taunts, free to love. My heartbeats rise with the loud chants of Har Har Gange (Hail the Ganges) which fill the blue morning air , the burning camphor carried by the priest lights up the distant temple’s corridors as I hold Ravi’s cold hands near the ghats* of Banaras†. The autumn wind felt chillier than usual. Time moves slowly around me and the pictures are ever so clear. The morning is routine but the sun does not seem bright enough it is just red. Red with the blood oozing out of Ravi’s slit throat. They made an example out of him. They protected their family’s honour.
The pyres burn on the ghats far away, all these souls seeking moksha#, the ultimate liberation from this cycle of rebirth. These are the same ghats but now look a lot less ominous. There is just peace as I walk hand in hand deeper into the Ganges with Ravi. *** Note:
*a broad flight of steps that is situated on an Indian riverbank and that provides access to the water especially for bathing
†City in India
‡A garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia.
# release from the cycle of rebirth impelled by the law of karma