The train journey was uneventful in the Jana Shatabdi. It was amusing to see many people travelling ticketless standing in the doorway on this fast train to Dehra Dun. In the South, it’s pretty hard to get into a Shatabdi unless you have a ticket. Here the TTC only asked for tickets from people who were in seats. The corridorwallas and stepwallas (people standing on the corridors and sitting on the steps of the train) were not even given a cursory glance.
As I make my way through the crowds of ochre coloured sadhus in Haridwar, I am at ease again. I’m back home again by the Ganges, in the foothills of the Himalayas. I remember my first encounter with Gangaji. In Trivandrum of all places! As a teenager, in a movie hall enjoying a Malayalam film, I was caught unawares by the opening scene and song of the movie. The protagonist walks in Calcutta (not Kolkatta then!) by the banks of the Ganga searching for a long lost friend and there’s a song about the river in the background. My hair stood on end and an incredible feeling coursed through my entire being. This strange reaction was all but forgotten in the intervening years until I finally had my first real life darshan of her. My eyes thrilled by her sight welled up with illogical tears and again that strange elation coursing through the body. It was definitely love at first sight.
I have since been her companion in the mountains and seen her various moods. She is never the same ever. Her moods change every day and all along her course she constantly surprises you with her infinite hues. I’ve plunged into her icy waters at 4 in winter mornings chilled to the bones taking the ritualistic 3 dips before scampering back out for dear life! I’ve swam in her welcome cool embrace in the scorching summer never wanting to leave her. It’s not that I’ve not been with other rivers. Many have been bigger, wider and more beautiful but there’s something about the Ganga that always draws me back. Not surprisingly I’m not her only lover.
Twice I had the audacity to raft on her waters. At the second outing, on the most dangerous rapid on the river, the boat did a mini flip and I was thrown overboard. The last thing I saw before going down was the look on the raft guide’s face: pure unadulterated panic! I was dunked under the water repeatedly by the huge screaming waves all around me. All I could see was water; all I could hear was water. I liked the way she played with me. When I went under, I held my breath, strangely thinking that there couldn’t be a better way to die than in her arms. I was OK with that. The raging waters took me way ahead of the raft. Later on her banks, dripping wet and recollecting the experience, I was surprised by my calmness. People usually drown in a rapid even with a life jacket because they drink too much water when the dunking happens. Not a single drop entered my mouth. A true miracle and relief all around especially the guide who looked like it was he who got the 2nd life.
For 3 years she has been my constant companion. The first thing I hear on waking up is her gentle murmur or roar depending on the season. I sit by her at night gazing at the stars. Under the full moon her beauty transcends the mind. Sitting by her side gazing into her waters is meditation. I’ve swam, dipped, played and almost drowned in her. She’s beautiful when she flows gently over the rocks murmuring sweet nothings. She’s majestic like a queen when she tears through the land in her floods.
|Ganga dazzling under the full moon|
I was there right by her side when the floods came earlier this year. As with many other people, we were cool because Gangaji has never flooded in June. When the levels kept on rising, we hurried with shifting things. But again I felt no sense of panic but just immense wonder at how a shy demure little thing suddenly turned into an angry vengeful woman. The room I was staying in was flooded for a day. When she went back she left a present, around 5 feet of Himalayan mud in the room! How that was cleaned is another story.
Like some women Gangaji has a peculiar beauty when she’s in one of her angry moods. I remember standing on the ghats in deserted Rishikesh during the floods and watching her make huge waves after waves. It seemed that the sea had come down to the land of the rishis! Oh what a performance it was! She carried with her everything from chairs, beds gas cylinders to humungous trees that defy description. The sound of her roaring waters still rings in my ears. The way we are abusing her and the mountains, I think, that this show was just the curtain raiser.
The only evidence of her fury now is the enormous piles of sand and the scattered logs on either side of her banks. Uttarakhand is deserted, one scolding from the Mother and all the bhaktas seem to have taken to their heels. Rishikesh resembles the town I’ve read about in the old travel chronicles and what I’ve heard from the sadhus who have been here for ages. I like it this way, especially because I have to endure less competition for her attention. And she’s back to her inviting shy demure self again. My love affair with her continues…
Gangaji ki jai ho !