Readers Write In #524: A translation of Jeyamohan’s ‘Sivam’

Posted on November 19, 2022

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By Macaulay Perapulla

Author’s Note: This is my maiden attempt to translate one of my favourite short stories of Jeyamohan. I submitted this short story to Mozhi Prize 2022 competition. Since this blog has a thriving community of Jeyamohan readers, I thought of publishing the story here as well. Any suggestions and feedback that will help this newbie translator would be most appreciated.

Nithya said. “Today morning, he asked me, Nithya, Don’t you have an iota of love?”

I sat with my head hung down. Everyone stared at me.

“The news carrying the death of Lakshmanan Valiyangadi arrived. He lived here for eighteen years. I was taking my classes. After I heard the news, I dictated the obituary for Gurukulam monthly magazine and continued the classes. He was shocked.”

Last night, he came to my night sobbing, Guru, tomorrow, if the news of my death arrives, will you do the same?” I said, “Of course, why do you doubt that?” He rushed out of the room. In the morning, his face was puffed up.”. “What is happening?”, I asked. He then asked, “Don’t you have an iota of love?”

“I said, ‘No, I haven’t experienced any such thing. ‘If I had, I would have expressed it.’Raging on animatedly, he asked, “Is there no grain of truth when Kumaran Aasan said, “Love is the essence of the world”? “He added, “Even Sage Thirumular has categorically stated that “Love is Sivam”, said Nitya.

With a twinkle of laughter in my eyes, “I said, No, I haven’t experienced Sivam as Love. The Sivam I have known is the glistening, unctuous seat of the lingam which sparkles after countless  anointing rituals. If that is love, it is a good solid one. You can safely fling it over anyone’s head.”

I stood up.

Nithya asked, “What?”

I am leaving.

“Where?”

“Home”

“Anyways you are going home…Sit” said Nitya

I sat down.

“Why are you in such a hurry for Mukthi?”

I sat with my head hung down.

“I witnessed an incident in Kasi. About fifty years back. After I had taken permission from my guru, I was a wandering seeker”, said Nitya.

India can get very comfortable for wandering seekers. India can get very uncomfortable for sedentarists who stay in one place. This country keeps reminding everyone, “Why are you here? Move On”. You can’t find anyone here who hasn’t desired to become a renunciate. Even if you find one, they generally don’t have many desires.

It is difficult here to stay in one place. Firstly, there is no space. In Kerala, if someone has five cents, he is a landlord. With ten cents, he is a small chieftain. The one with an acre who doesn’t know what to do will invade his neighbour’s land. Wherever you go, there are hordes. Crowd. Fights. We Indians have known more fellow Indians by their two shoulders than anything else.

Is it possible to be at peace even in that small little place? The next-door neighbour is poking around, “What is that below your nose?” Here, earlier, one Mukundadas came here. He wanted to become a monk. He couldn’t tolerate his neighbour’s troubles. His neighbour could even listen to what he was speaking to his wife. When it had gotten so worse that his dreams could be seen by his neighbour, he came here.

He stayed here for six months. There are no neighbours here. Mountains, wind and chillness all around. Eucalyptus trees that don’t take humans seriously. What will he do? Actually, he was raging over eucalyptus trees. “Guru, after all these eucalyptus trees, why are they so tall?” He managed to stay for six months. After that, he stood over a meadow to broadcast his inner monologues to the world.

After that, he left this place. I knew what was going to happen. After six months, when I had gone to meet Father Thomas in Kolencherry, I  saw someone who had come to the charismatic prayer. His neighbour was his problem. He kept pouring out his mental rambles to him. When his rambles began to get inside his dreams, he ran away to the Father’s ashram in Thodupuzha.  

What was I saying? India is a country favourable to wandering seekers. First thing, except for the Himalayas, it doesn’t get too cold anywhere. Except for the Thar desert, you won’t find a place with no water to drink. Wherever you go, someone will feed you. Will fall at your feet. Give you alms. Listen devotedly to your rambles. You just have to wear saffron, that’s all.

More importantly, we can never get bored here. In fifty kilometres, the land changes. People’s faces and houses change. In hundred kilometres, the land changes. In two hundred kilometres, even religious rituals change. There is a temple in the Santhal region of Madhyapradesh. Ramshackle, old temple. Lots of devotees come here and pray. The God is a small relief carving in the wall. They apply sindoor to it and pray.

I saw the pandit standing over a stone to perform arati. I looked at the stone. Love! Nice dark glistening, unctuous love. Very ancient. What is depicted in the relief carving? A lizard.

If we stay permanently, we live in a five-cent land. If we move on and gird our loins, chanting  “Hari Om ShivOham! Feed Me”, India becomes our home. So many rooms, so many paths, mysteries abound hideouts, open spaces. Once we’ve experienced that, we would prefer to sleep in open spaces. ! Very few renunciates in India live inside rooms. Renunciates who live in rooms slowly become householders. Whatever they find outside, they keep in the room. Whatever has to remain inside the room, they keep outside. It is the householder’s trait.

Therefore, I left my town and never returned for many years. Rishikesh, Haridwar, and even up above Kedarnath, where I stayed for six months. I stayed for several days in Kasi. One and a half years. Because if India is the land of wandering seekers, Kasi is its capital.

You have been to Kasi, right? Everyone must have seen Kasi. It’s a massive sewage highway. There exists a big city called Benaras. Famous for Silk sarees, brass utensils, and leather items. Thousands of factories. All their effluents find their way to this Kasi that we speak of. 

Two streams called Varana and Asi. Poets have sung their holy praises. The land between those streams is Varanasi. We bury the garbage of the present beneath the ground. Kasi looks as if it has been buried under the ground. Banaras stands on top of the head with shopping complexes, theatres and hospitals.

In that buried mound, tiny alleys circling like bangles. Industrious men burrow through them like rats. Everyone moves around with rats’ industriousness. Most of them you see belong to the previous generations. Living likely in the previous century or the tenth century or vedic times.

What a garland of faces! Kashi’s beauty lies in those faces. Well-versed pandits. Trained elders. Kids aspiring to be well-versed. Temporary pandits with very intense faces who have come for their ancestor rites. Few stay in luxurious hotels. Few stay in choultries that are more than two centuries old.

Several thousands come from parched lands that are several hundred miles away with rag clothes and sacks. They stay on stairs and roads. They carry elders in cloth cradles tied to bamboo. For one must not die without a holy dip in the Ganges.

In Kasi, time walks like a buffalo. Walking very slowly, ruminating on vedic times, or even earlier times. They bellow the sound of Om. Crows sit on them and move around. Any drainage you follow takes you to the Ganges.

Kasi is the city of death. Those coming from cities above the head, walking towards death, the dead who are besieged and drowned by time, come to Kasi. Carrying corpses tied lengthwise to cycles, they drag them along. Tied to a single bamboo, two people carry them along the alleys. Keeping them slanted to a corner, they stop over to drink a cup of tea.  

Two crematoriums. Harishchandra ghat, Manikarnika ghat. Both the pyres keep burning. Ceaselessly. Unlike our towns’ pyres, these are only four feet long. The corpse’s head and the parts below the knee protrude outside. The fire is already burning. When the stomach explodes, jets of liquid inside the stomach trickle and get slurped by the fire. They fold the corpse that way. No yoga expert could do such contorted poses. Folded stomach on top of the chest and feet on top. You simply have to let the glowing fires prance around.

Vedanta traditions speak of words as the fire that lives in your body. All the unspoken words burn like embers. Of romance, relationships, love and hatred. At any moment, unspoken words weigh heavier than spoken words. And humans have filled themselves with them. A human is a pail of words. You can watch them break and rise up from the embers.

The stairs between Varana and Asi have been taken over by the community of ‘pandas’ and ‘guhas’, the ritual observers.  The place is always bustling. Those who bring the dead raise a clarion call to the skies. “Please take them. Please Take them”. Another group beseech the skies, “Give us kids! Give us Kids”.  Truth be told, humans are churned by fellow humans from the skies, and after they get curdled, they are sent back. 

Prayers, water libations, yellings. Idly and AlooPuri served in stitched leaf bowls. Rolled chapatis. Cannabis smoking householders. Beggars with king’s accoutrements. Wandering hippies in between. Few came for cannabis. Few came believing something else. Few wake up from the reverie of spells. Few fall into newer spells. 

I was staying at a place far away from the Assi Ghat. Devotees don’t come there. Along the wide horizons of the Ganges, there are numerous ramshackle small temples of countless anonymous gods. Monks’ huts and tents are stationed in and around them. When a saffron flag is flying, it meant that it was the residence of a monk. 

In those days, tents were made from old lorries’ tarpaulin sheets. Nobody does cooking. When they leave in the morning, they would return with food and cannabis in one or two hours. It was the duty of the younglings to beg for alms.  Elderly monks sit and do nothing in the morning. They smoke cannabis and do nothing in the evening. Didn’t I tell you? Kashi is a place to sit and do nothing. 

At night, they start the fires. When you travel along the banks by boat, you can see hundreds of blazing fires. You can hear the sounds of songs. You can see the silhouette of bonfire dance movements. The dances go on till late in the night. With occasional yells in between.  God knows when they call it a night, but the fires keep blazing all throughout. 

Around the dangerous temples of Nithampasoothani, Vakrakali, Pratyankara, and Chinnamastha, you won’t find people moving around. The aghoris live there. They are called akhadas.  Akhara, as they call it colloquially. An Akhada is a beehive. Another honeybee cannot step inside. Extremely guarded place. With doubting eyes, one or two sit outside the entrance. Aghoris’ world is different. Other monks call them wasps.

What are the monks doing there? Some do meditation. Some do Yoga. Most of them do nothing. No one to do business or trading. They all live in the buried world of Kasi. Above their heads, sultans and their kingdoms came and went. Mughals came and went. Englishmen came and went. Technological culture came and went. They are still there in the buried mound.  

But arent’ this nation’s valuables still buried underneath? The wisdom of this land remains buried. Its history hasn’t yet been excavated. Do those in the buried mound simply stay there? They grow branches and spread, fluttering with the winds. They wither, ripen and shed. They are flowering and fruiting. The roots remain simply buried. Holding on, sucking in.

In those days, I was staying in a tent with a group that belonged to a monk named kalababa. After I wake up in the morning, I have to carry him and lay the body somewhere with no harsh sunlight. I have to drape him with a cloth. The insides of the camp should be cleaned and the cannabis pipes should be taken out and stacked.

After that, I go to the Ganges and take a bath. After washing my clothes, I hang them dry on a rope tied behind the camp. I walk to the ghat wearing dried clothes. Only one place. That ghat was very much thriving! Thousands had gathered that morning to offer water libations. Everyone moves around with an intense, righteous vigour to follow Dharma. You can get more than 100 rupees within an hour. I buy cannabis. Necessary small stuff. 

Those who offered water libations had given money to ten-fifteen stores to offer free food.  Those who go there get food. In my camp, no one eats rice. I buy chapati and puri. You would need a lot of jaggery. Most of them consume half a kilogram of jaggery in a day. Cannabis triggers that kind of obsession with jaggery.

When I return back, everyone is seated by the banks of the Ganges. I serve the food myself. Kalababa eats four chapatis in one meal. Some jaggery in the night. That’s all. He is more than ninety years old. With a body that looks like a dried nut. What is surprising is that when I went after twenty years, he was in the same place.

Monsoon season is hard. Tents are inadequate for the rains. The rains of the Gangetic plains are furious. Starting from June, until August, it pours cats and dogs. But everyone stays there. Drenched and dried by the winds that follow and drenched once again. Much like those trees there. Interestingly, food and cannabis are never scarce even in torrential rains.

Whenever the rains rise to the edge of the Ganges banks, we move our tents further above. We tie the tents by the corner of the roads. It is difficult to sleep there with vehicles moving over the head. Kalababa once broke the glass of a police van when he stood up and pelted a stone. The inspector came out of the vehicle and sought his blessings.

The flooding rains of the Ganges whirl in circles. When the minor eddies from the shores diffuse the central whirl, it is impossible to predict their movement.  Even experienced boatmen shudder to take out their boats. Even though greater floods descend from melting Himalayas, they are steady and stable currents.

When I went to the ghat that morning, not a soul was in sight by the river. The stairs looked deserted. Even the Pandas were huddled under the umbrella. I was completely drenched. My body was shivering in the cold. Somehow I wanted to gather money and food and go back to sit in front of the fire.

Someone was coming toward me. Waving his hands, he was talking to someone. He stood and shook his head smiling. Ragged clothes hung with every fibre over his body. Along with matted hair with dirt and stains. 

There is no dearth of lunatics in Kashi. Lunatics always seek out crowded places. It reflects their trust towards fellow humans. Quite opposite to monks who prefer to stay away. Few lunatics seethe in turmoil without any reason. When he approached me, he said something in Hindi. Not the Hindi I knew. Some other regional dialect.

He spat hard and threatened me, raising his hand. I was observing him without glancing at him. I moved on. Suddenly I saw him turn and jump into a boat tied to the shore. The boat was drifting in the water. It was half-full with the night’s rains.

They had parked the boats and stacked them near each other. With one tied to another, the boats went a long way into the river. Like wild dried grass shrubs huddled near the shores. Or shoaling groups of fish. The water’s waves could be seen in those boats. 

The lunatic ran through the boats, swaying his hands and hopping through them. I couldn’t see what he was doing. After he reached the last boat, he stopped. I could see that he was waving his hands animatedly and cursing the Ganges. A wave arose and the boats stood in unison. Unable to balance himself, he fell into the water.

The water currents were steady. It threw him over and swept him swiftly. The pace at which his body moved shook me. He threw his arms and scrambled to stay afloat.

A bare-bodied youngster came running from behind. “What..?What..?”

“A mad fellow,” I muttered.

He jumped over boats and ran along with the speed of the river. Throwing himself to the river, padding his legs, he swung his hands furiously and swam across. The mad fellow’s head disappeared beneath the water. It came up again. He merged with the currents and rushed at blazing speed to grab the mad fellow. 

The mad fellow grabbed him with both hands. Both disappeared into the water. I ran through the stairs in a frisson of nervousness. They rose above. Because the mad fellow had grabbed him, it was evident that he couldn’t swim. He drowned again.

I started to run, shouting and gasping for breath. He rose again. He had grabbed both the hands of the mad fellow this time. Grabbing both his hands, he carried the lunatic on his back, threw one hand into the river and swam through. 

Several spectators had gathered in the ghat to watch the action unfolding with amusement.

“Two lunatics”,  one said.

“Together going to Kolkatta”, added another, followed by bursts of laughter. 

He managed to drag the lunatic slowly to a corner. Both drowned again. They arose afar. Again drowned. Finally, I saw him holding onto an edge of a boat. 

When I ran there, he was dropping the lunatic to the shore. He had already crossed the ghats and had gone much further.

I went near him. He carried the lunatic and grabbing both his legs, turned him upside down and shook him. The lunatic had a bout of hiccups, shuddered and threw up water. He lifted him and turned him over. The head was in the lower steps. The lunatic coughed and threw the water out. 

I went near him. “ He will survive”, he said with a smile. 

I stared at him blankly and stood.

The lunatic sat up to gaze at the water.

“Very dangerous thing”, I said

“A life, right?”, he said.

“Yes”, I muttered.

The lunatic stood up and kicked him immediately. He picked up the stones that were lying around and hit him. With a smile, he pushed the lunatic again. It stood up and ran yelling.

“Lunatic”, he said to me. His teeth were quite straight. Reddened Lips. Long hair spread across the shoulders. Gentle moustache and beard. Red soiled body, thin frame, but very firm.

I wanted to speak with him some more. But he stood up and walked away. His body vibrated like a tightly strung bow. 

I reached Manikarnika ghat while returning back, The monks were snuggling themselves in the warmth of the surrounding burning pyres. Even though there was a drizzle, the pyres were burning bright. They sat there receiving drizzles in the back and heat in the chest. Everyone was with their cannabis pipes.

I was sitting near a pyre. It was an old lady. She was kept on the pyre with a white cloth. Shrivelled face with a short hunched body. Her legs looked like twigs made of flesh. The teeth in her mouth were almost complete. Her eyebrows and cheeks were slightly bloated like candles after death.

Kashi’s pyres are strange. For they contain only small amounts of firewood. Before a corpse is fully burned, they place the next. When the first corpse loses water inside and burns in its own ghee, the next one is kept. Only a corpse can burn a corpse.

Is it likely that this earlier man, who is burning her, would have met this old lady at least once when he was living? Probably they must have crossed each other in the streets of Kasi. Probably the devas or Gandharvas must have laughed.

The corpse started to burn. The Stomach exploded and the gas left the body, exuding a blue flame. As the water fell, the fire darkened and jumped ablaze. As the facial muscles burned and melted, the backbones inside had swollen and had arisen.  

With a long bamboo stick, he slapped the stomach and folded it. The corpse sat up with a swooshing sound of “Whoop”. The head turned towards me. The bony face with teeth smiled at me.

I screamed and stood up. The cremator mockingly said a few words to me and hit the corps to make it fall over its jaws and kept two fire sticks over it.

One monk said, “She couldn’t control it. Either lust, hatred or desire”

Another monk said, “Bol Shiva! Bol Shiv Sambho!”

I ran through the stairs. I rushed to my camp to lie down. It felt as if I had developed a fever. The body was throbbing and falling down to pieces. I couldn’t sleep when I closed my eyes. When I was awake, my body refused to be aware of itself.

Monks are never mindful of others. When someone falls sick, they don’t take care of each other. You have to get well by yourself or else die. I was sleeping unconsciously for three days. Nobody offered me food or water. I crawled and drank pot water.

That old day came into my dreams. She was an old Bengali lady. Mostly a widow. After donating her richess, she came to Kasi with whatever money was left and stayed with other widows, waiting for death. That stay can last sometimes for ten-fifteen years. It is a penance to burn and melt away in the pyre. It’s a throne worth fighting for. Made of gold forged by the melting fires.

I got well soon. My body had slimmed down very much, but the memories went far behind somewhere. I discovered something. The body is continuously travelling in time. Every single day. The heart must dwell inside. Like a crow in a moving boat. It can’t stand anywhere alone. No matter where it flies around, it has to come and sit on the boat. Dropping everything behind, the body must keep the heart present every day, manifesting itself afresh in a new environment. The unceasing time unfolds in the body.

The Ganges was raging over its tempestuous waters during the summers. Several thousands had come towards the Ganges from various parts of India. Bathing. Praying to the Lord who rules the universe, his partner standing in the divine form of time, and the observer watching with an awakened gaze. Like a duck that plunges its head into depths to stir the dirt, it was the time when India plunged herself into her past.

Despite all those commotions, the distant shores of the Ganges were very much placid. Monks sit in their unperturbing season with a penetrating gaze. I was accompanying them. I was moving around the ghats.  

One day an elderly monk came to our camp. With an old saffron cloth worn to his hip. Matted hair rolled over like a big pot crowned over his head. In tamizhnadu, few saivite mutt leaders  wear such matted crowns. He had pierced his ears and wore rings made of bones. He had even pierced a small piece of bone in his nose. He wore a long chain of small skulls that were made from buffalo bones.

He had a yogic staff in his hand. They select and pick the staff by finding the diamond that remains once the flesh parts decompose in the dirt, floating over long distances of the Ganges. They never leave them. It is their only companion. When they drop them, they attain samadhi. Only when you hold the staff in your hand do you realize that they are made of wood. Even after holding them in your hand, you sometimes wonder if they are made of iron. 

He belonged to the Saiva tradition called Kala Akada. It’s a Shiva worship tradition that dates back to the ancient Kapalika and Kalamukha sect. Like Aghoris, like naga saints, Shivoham, meaning I am sivam, is their first utterance. Although they don’t wear black clothes. They don’t have difficult penances that are undertaken by aghoris to move beyond fear and disgust. 

Aghoris pray to the Kalabhairava deity alone. These groups have the tradition of praying to the shiva lingam. Every day they immerse in the Ganges and pick up a round stone, keep it near the water, do the anointing ritual by gathering the water and offering it, proffer a flower that floats along the water and garland the divine, supplicate a morsel of chapati or puri in the hand as naivedya and meditate before they rise up. They generally move the stone with their legs, throw them into the water and move upwards. I have seen them several times in the slightly northward deserted shores of the Ganges.

He said one or two words to everyone after bowing down to bless them. He then proceeded further towards another camp. Those who heard his word didn’t seem to express any feelings. They simply nodded their heads. 

I asked, “What?”

The monk whose name I was unaware of, even though it’s been more than one and half years since we met, said, “Tonight, we are all having a feast”.

“Who is giving?”

“This fellow”

“Why?”

“He wants to give”, he said.

I looked at him. That he was mocking triggered my irritation.  But truly this was how he always spoke. Without any adornments, guesses, packaging or generalisations, always straight to the point.

That’s not easy though as it may seem. If we start to speak like that, we have to bang ourselves against the mountain of the language we have created. Because the language that we transact here comes along with adornments.

Meditation is needed to cancel the languaging inside ourselves. Even If we temper them a bit, it’s a massive victory. If the mountain moves and shows us the path, if it can vanish like smoke, it is equivalent to moksha.

Later in the night, after the chill started to rise, we left. The dwarf of our group, a celibate monk named Jangili phaiya, picked up a cymbal made of soda caps thrown over a piece of wood. Another monk named Soumya Baba carried a saffron flag. I carried a torch made of a burning cycle tire and walked in the centre. 

Playing the cymbal steadily, we walked along the shores of the Ganges. Blowing cymbals or small kettle drums, we saw a few others walking with the light of the fire torch. Near a small Durga temple, more than two hundred had gathered. They were seated in small groups.

No one mostly spoke. Few were still playing the cymbals and singing bhajan songs gently. Few were chatting and giggling with each other. It all depended on which akada they belonged to.

The sound of Bhajan slowly made sense. Thamizh! “Nataraja Nataraja Narthana Sundara Nataraja! Sivaraja Sivaraja Sivagamip priya sivaraja” Or is it Malayalam? Or must be Sanskrit? Those who were singing were white men. Hippies or Saints. I saw their noses. Most of them seemed to be french. They had more or less transformed those lines into french pronunciation.

“Hara Hara Shiva Shiva Ambalavana! Ambalavana! Ponnambalavana! Ananda Thandava Nataraja” Tamizh it is! Tamizh seemed to enter surreptitiously, wriggle out of its way, and finally come out from its french closet, shedding its skin to become full-blown thamizh, stirring every cell of the body with hair-raising goosebumps. “Sivaraja Sivaraja Sivagamip priya sivaraja, chidambaresa sivaraja!

The tune made the place more intimate. Those who were carrying the torches had turned them off. Two came carrying small earthen lamps. Mustard oil wafted through the air.

A monk who had come to invite us came with folded hands. He bowed respectfully and welcomed everyone. With everyone, he exchanged a single word of pleasantry: “Sukirtham” Other older monks blessed him with raised hands without a single word.

Food had arrived in a one-horse carriage.  Those who brought the food kept them on the ground. Puris, potatoes, chapati, dal and Kasi’s favourite five-fold sweets arrived in big brass pans. Milk peda, Salted Jangiri, Gulab jamun, Basundi, Rasagolla.

We sat down in queues which extended until the edge of the river. They kept puri, chapati and sweets on an aluminium plate. Generally, monks are disinterested in food. However, when they sit down to eat, they eat ravenously. Cannabis has the ability to do this to humans.

While we were eating, a few were joking around and a wave of laughter arose. The sound of laughter brightened many faces. In no time, everyone was smiling. After finishing our meals, the old monk stacked our used plates. He poured water to wash our hands. 

It had started to dawn. As the food vehicles returned, we were the only ones left. Thousands of birds flew over the Ganges. She is the first one to rise at dawn. Trickles of light seemed to emerge slowly out of the water. When birds fly near the water, their insides glisten. You can never see the bird’s feather softer than silk at any other moment. The beak of the birds shines in the morning light.

The silhouettes of countless little temples emerged in the morning horizon against the sky. The saffron colour shone like fire in the sunlight. The flags flew effulgently. The distant sounds of hundreds of temples arose. They dispersed as bird calls and enveloped the sky. The sounds of the conch arose in unison to proclaim to the skies. Like clarion calls. “Yes, we are here. Know thy Heavenly beings! ”

The old renunciate came and stood in front of the small temple with a coned gopuram above the Garba gruha, the sacred precincts. It was a southern-style gopuram, a monumental entrance tower. Reminding one of the temples of Mahabalipuram. A crest with a kalasha, a pitcher pot, made of stone turned upside down. Cone shaped as if the stones were melting down like waves. Another temple stood behind the soft morning dew.

The monk bowed his head with folded hands. His student came to the front and blew the conch. Another came behind with a sack of cloth. The faces weren’t clear. The elder monk had a saffron flag and walked amidst us in the centre. In the light of the dawn, the saffron flag sparkled like fire.

We stood with folded hands making no sound. The sound of birds squabbling over the Ganges was rising. And the sound of a few vehicles moving beyond.

The elder monk went with a saffron flag and reached the shore. A lone boat had been parked. He planted the flag in the corner of the boat. Climbing over the plank kept at the criss-cross of the boat, he lay on it and closed his eyes.

His disciple kept the cloth knapsack at his feet. It seemed like his clothes and everyday items. As they both climbed the shore, another came with a rolled cigar from the temple.

I could identify him. The same young man who saved the lunatic. He walked down the cement-soft slope of the banks of the Ganges without looking at anyone and reached the boat.

He performed his actions steadily with a lot of patience. He stood up and bent his head down towards us in prayer. Those standing on the shores blessed him, waving their hands, chanting, “Harahara Mahadev! Haraharaharahara Mahadev! Shiv Shambo!”

He jumped onto the boat, steering the oars inside the Ganges. Leveraging the currents of the water, he quickly got inside. The morning light had risen from its slumber. On the waterfront, the smoking mists were waking up reluctantly. They bleached gold and red with the morning light. It seemed as if he was penetrating through the fire. The saffron flag was fluttering in the corner like an earthen diya lamp.

He went to the centre of the Ganges and keeping the oars aside, sat down and upturned the plank to throw him into the water. Keeping his hands to his chest, he rolled over and drifted into the water. A mouth opened up on the waterfront and swallowed him. One or two bubbles emerged. They drifted away.  

The monks who stood on the shore kept chanting, “Harahara Mahadev! Haraharahara Mahadev! Shiv Shambo”

He turned the boat back and came towards the shore. Parking the boat near the edge of the water, he stepped down, offering libations, pouring the water over his head three times. He looked back at everyone and prayed with folded hands.   

All the monks along the shore chanted, “Harahara Mahadev! Haraharahara Mahadev!”. They dispersed into small groups much like how they had come. Those who came with the cymbals played them. The french Shaivites walked along and sang, “Netrezhe Netrezhe Nerden Shunde Netrezhe”. Few were giggling and chatting as they walked along.

I reached our camp. Kalababa started to stoke the fires. Jangili Faiya brought the cannabis smoking pipes. I went to the shore of the Ganges, washed my face with water and walked through the silty edge.

I was walking along with the heart that accompanied me, without knowing what I was thinking until I reached Manikarnika Ghat.  I told you right, the bird that sits and rises up in a floating boat.

An old man was lying down near the pyre, waiting for his turn in the Manikarnika Ghat. An old lady was burning in the pyre. The head was tucked inside. Her two legs were protruding outside. She wore silver toe-rings on her toes.

Monks were sitting across the pyres. I went and sat with a small group. A tall monk with matted hair fallen over his shoulders smiled at me, revealing his dark teeth.

He had kept the kneaded chapati flour dough in a small begging bowl. After he had spread the dough with his hand, he pierced it with a spoke of an umbrella and roasted the sides of the chapati repeatedly with the heat of the flesh. As it blackened and puffed up, he picked it up, patted it, removed the blackened bits and tore it into two, offering it to a monk on the other side.

He turned and looked at me again casually. He tore the roti bit again into two and offered it with a smile. It happened to me for the first time. I was unfazed and picked it up. I tore the bit and ate.

Nithya said, “ I was thinking why the cremator hadn’t removed those silver toe-rings. It must be quite valuable to him. But when the old woman’s legs burned and melted, those silver toe-rings gently slipped out of the legs and fell down. He picked and moved them with a stick and threw them into the water inside the vessel. 

We sat there shaken.

“Where did I start?”, said Nitya

“About love,” said Kunhi Krishnan

“Yes”, with a smile, “If you want to go to your town, go. You will come next week right?” said Nitya.

***