As the monsoons pave way for the onset of winters, Ganga recedes to her territory, leaving behind mud laden streets, paint peeled temples and marshy river beds. As the skies clear off, and the priests foresee no rains, the season of cleaning, renovations, repainting begins. Ghats are swept, washed, dried and decorated with colourful wall paintings at some places, or humungous potted plants are reinstalled adorning the small one room temples at the riverside along the seven kilometre stretch from Lanka to Vasanta College. All this and more was done to prepare for the festive season.
Varini walked down the narrow lane leading from Ganga Hotel towards Assi Ghat. The thrift shop still thrived with tourists making a beeline to buy selected artefacts and paintings. The familiar scent of incense arose from the tiny shop. Her heart fluttered as she remembered the very first gift from Rahul – a miniscule brass statue of the Goddess of knowledge, Saraswati. The Vespa honked twice waking her up from the dream, while she walked past the big and old banyan tree.
The narrow path now started broadening, and so emerged the magnanimous though tranquil river, flowing benevolent. The gust of wind blew her hair, as Varini firmly adjusted the red and green shawl around her neck. This was the same warm shawl Rahul brought for her from Kashmir last year.
As she stood standstill drinking in the vast expanse of memories right in front of her eyes, young boys and girls walked past her, the same way as her, a few years back. A brilliant smile spread across her beautiful face. The same smile which had Rahul fall in love with her.
Suddenly an overwhelming feeling engulfed her, and she couldn’t resist walking further down the ghat. The previous evening, Ram, the caretaker at BHU’s old guest house, had warned her of the bog which, as Ram said, was still fresh and could gulp down any fragile being. But then, Varini was not fragile. She never was. The tinkering bells and prayer chants pulled her closer, as her bare feet touched the wet terracotta. An unquenchable thrill ran through her, her eyes swept the entire expanse of Ganga, the rising sun looking at itself in Varini’s eyes. He looked majestically orange and felt content seeing a familiar face. Ganga cast a glance at Varini and smiled acknowledging her presence.
Nostalgia is a funny feeling. It drowns you in your own self, unaware of happenings around oneself. Turning around she looked at score of steps at Assi, leading to “Pizzeria”. She started climbing the wide uneven steps. Halfway through, she jolted when someone called out her name. Kali, the tea stall owner was waving towards her. To her surprise, Kali remembered Rahul and her, and fondly enquired about Rahul’s new thriving business and their children, as he handed her a cup of cardamom tea.
Varini sipped the piping hot tea from the tiny earthen pot, watching the sun rise higher up in the blue sky, Gangetic dolphins offering their quick glimpses, big and small boats bobbling in the river, group of religious tourists taking a dip in the holy water, western tourists clicking pictures whilst the boatman sang a Bhojpuri folk song of love and longing, and an artist painting the meditating Hindu hermit sitting in his boathouse. A couple of hours, two pizzas and 4 cups of tea down, she traced back her steps, rejuvenated and delighted, promising the ghat a visit soon. This time it will be with Rahul and the gang of eight.
This she promised to herself.