The lamps at the Ghat made up for the absence of candles on a bunch of pastries that looked quite like the devastated face of Hiroshima Nagasaki...
It all started with four of us waiting intently for The Magadh Express to take us to Banaras. The trip was planned instinctively to escape all familiar words and voices that make up for the usual birthday commotion. The last few birthdays have accurately revealed my discomfort towards 'the special day'. i define it as a day thrusted upon you to greet (a few) friends and (mostly) strangers with affection in response to sugary words spoken about you. I mean come on! see your facebook wall on our birthday, and you will probably choose to agree with me here. The people who truly care for you don't need this one day to come out of the closet and tell you what they feel about you and to all seasonal acquaintances you dont really have much to say after a polite thankyou. But wait, i am not entitled to be cynical about birthdays for this trip wouldn't have been half as wild as it turned out to be.
Coming back to Magadh express that was to leave at eight ten got delayed by over 7 hours. The station was impregnated with melancholic murmurs. i felt thwarted like a new-born denied the right to live. the seven hour delay was conveyed to us in intervals which led to gradual poisoning of our sanity. We spent a few hours playing Black Jack in a modestly filled cafe that involved some nasty bets; non-monetary ofcourse. The luck was by my side, the smiles were resurfacing the action inside the cafe was getting increasingly embarrassing. At about 11. 00 we got to know the train was delayed by another five hours. According to conjectures the chances of cancellation were steep. On a regular day, the delay would have infinitely dampened our spirits but i was to turn 22 that night and Little Prince, Lady elegance and Parole had a little surprise ready for me. We drank some wine and treated ourselves to some chocolate mudpie, blueberry cheesecake pastries at Parole's house in Vasant Vihar.
We boarded the train at 5 in the morning, cold as wild turkeys. Little Prince had booked a Sleeper for us which on normal days is an extension of Bombay locals on a busy evening. The arrival of the train at an ungodly hour, however, reduced the passenger count which implied empty berths, noise-reduction and four happy souls.
The train was running five hours late. Magadh Express became our new fancy synonym for slow. "You are not only dumb but also Magadh Express,Tortoise should race against Magadh express to feel happy about its existence, Magadh express is probably the only train that hasn't been upgraded since Industrial Revolution". For a long time i was completely oblivious to the growing apathy towards Magadh express. the phone was buzzing with messages and mails that read "hope you're having a blast, party hard!' Indeed, i was having fun- just the way i imagined. my mind was engrossed visualising Keruac and his idea of escape. What would birthday wishes mean to him? In his time, he wouldn't have the phone buzzing. How easy it would have been to lose a sense of space and time. Alienated by capitalism and wealth, we express our anxities on social networking sites to feel reassured, to be heard, to be noticed. I switched off the phone to alienate myself from the joys of a virtual world. i want to be remembered for reasons other than my birthday. contemplation was in progress fueled by soft breeze that smlled of sugarcanes and jaggery.
Banaras is a huge glob of our cultural identity- the batter of which is prepared through a smooth amalgamation of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Referred as Kashi in ancient texts and epics-it thrives on faith inculcated in these very many religions. The activities on the Banaras Ghats-jolts you out of your urban stupor. It is a sight of majestic paradoxes. The river they worship so ardently is gradually turning into a drain with abundant puja thalis and carcasses of dead bodies. You spot a woman brushing teeth with the holy river water adjacent to the pudgy priest performing the last rites of a funeral. You are forced to revisit your culture and think of one religion that talks about scathingly polluting your dear God.
Banaras incubates the notion of India being the land of mysticism, even to an Indian. It leaves you in a holy haze to form a coherent, tangible impression of the holy city. At macro level, it all seemed to be a giant business laid on foundation of religion. 50 rs for a holy 'theeka', 150 rs for 'gotra' puja, 250 for performing for the liberation of the deceased soul. Being a tourism driven city, goods and services are costlier than usual and locals embody the myths pervading our ancient religion. The Benaras experience is incomplete without a visit to The Burning Ghats. It is said every sinner is entitled to moksha if he is cremated at The Burning Ghat. The emotional texture of the Ghat is foregrounded by the rigor mortis of the men setting up the pyres. They appear to be preparing pyres in an assembly-line fashion, playing merchants of death. The sight of a haunted palace is not rare either. Darkness lurching over these Ghats after the sunset makes it sufficiently uncanny for you.
The mysticism is accentuated by the evening prayer performed at the sunset. The whole town conjures a collective devotion towards Ganga Maiiya. Lamps are arranged to float on the river, making up for a sight truly spectacular. This is the time of the day when Benaras converts into a Mecca for photographers. The coruscating moon gently rises from the lap of the river and adjusts itself to form an 18th century painting-silencing cynics like us. Melting us. Healing us. Enchanting us.