I had lost all sense of my surroundings. The conversation I had been having was riveting – with the thundering black clouds overhead, a flock of pigeons flying around as if doing laps on a race track, and the cold water licking my feet. Nothing can hypnotize better than ripples in bottle-green water. Had it not been for the occasional leaf that came floating by to break the trance, I would have been hypnotized into deep-sleep long ago. Given a choice, I could continue in this state for ever.
The sun had to stage an abrupt walk-out to shake me back into reality – when I could no longer see whether the water had risen to submerge my favorite pebble. I had decided that I would sit there only till the pebble stayed above water. I looked around – to find myself all alone. The stray dog who had been such pleasant company for quiet contemplation had left – without even a good-bye bark.. the ill-mannered brute.
My mind did a quick calculation.. “Alone + after dark + on the rocks, by the river + rapidly rising water level + strange city + being female = Get up & leave for the safety of the hotel”. Sigh. I got up and started walking up-hill. A
To pass time as I walked, I watched the road on the Lakshman Jhoola shine with each passing-by scooter – the way roads reflect light only when they are wet from a late evening drizzle. Yes, it IS raining, and I AM wet – I realized. I looked lovingly at the Ganges flowing below – no wonder she had been swelling so rapidly.
I longed to go back to Maa Ganga.. back to that state of bliss that engulfs one in a bear hug when in her presence – that bliss when time stops. Time had stopped flowing – as if not wishing to compete with the gurgling soothing flow of the Ganges.
Everything seemed to be want to compete with the Ganges. Jealous of her.
The rain water dropped down piercingly in straight lines – as if to mock at the undisciplined path that Maa Ganga favors.
While Maa Ganga was flaunting her seductive voluptuousness down below, the path uphill was trying in vain to ape her curves. There was even a little stream of rainwater trying to follow the road’s curves – but downhill – perhaps running a race with the Ganges.
My eyes followed the little stream, the road, its curves.. all the way to a bend just up ahead. There, in the darkness, rose a woman from behind the bend, adjusted her sari and walked away swiftly. My eyes traced the little stream back downward – it was not just rainwater trickling down there!
I was appalled – at the utter lack of civic sense among us Indians. We seem to have a fetish towards urinating on roadsides irrespective of the numerous public toilet complexes all around. This country would never change…
But wait a minute..
Isn’t that the hut-dweller lady who was washing vessels by the river just some time back? With nothing but sand to scrub off the adamant grime?
She perhaps can not afford the services of the public toilet complexes.
After all, I recalled..
Beads & Trinkets from tribal women in Rishikesh = Rs.2 per piece.
Steaming hot tea at the Haridwar Railway Junction = Rs.4 per cup.
One use of the women’s public toilet complex = Rs.5!
=> cost(emptying one’s bladder once) > cost(beating hunger for a while) > cost(watching one’s kid grinning ear to ear when gifted a bead necklace)!
The lady was perhaps waiting for sun-down – to relieve herself in the dark.
And here I was.. complaining about the lack of ‘civic sense’ in my typically privileged, elitist tone.
I walked in silence for a while – mental silence.
When my mind broke the silence, I glanced back at the Ganges – with new eyes.
Whether or not she washes off people’s sins, she helps so many poor people wash up & finish off their morning ablutions with some level of ease & dignity – and even offer them the peace of mind that she gave me – all free of cost.
Respect to Maa Ganga – new found.