Reflection in Holy River Ganges

Defining success, understanding life

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Image courtesy of  Dilwar Mandal/ Getty Images

There was something charming about that summer night. My mother and I were sitting in the courtyard of our palatial house. Ma was knitting a cardigan for my sister while I was busy counting the twinkling stars. Her white hands moved delicately on the yarn. Their amazing expertness reminded one of a sparrow building her nest with care and precision. There were sparrows everywhere in our beautiful orchard full of guava, mango, and pear trees. Those tiny and pretty birds were usually my favorite companions.

In any case, Ma frowned upon me for counting incorrectly after fourteen. But I was not swayed at all from my resolve to count all the shining little angels of sky. After a while, I crept into my mother’s warm lap. Ma put her velvety shawl upon me for the night was getting a little chilly.

I gazed at the bright moon and wondered what shapes abounded there. There were the camel, the tree, the fairy, the python and all kinds of other creatures clustered around the round jewel of the firmament. Ma said that Uncle Moon’s was a heavenly kingdom. Shortly I was dreaming quietly … of the delicious foods they served me in the lunar nation.

That charming night had become vivid in my memory as I stood watching a woman bathing her child on a sandy bank of the Ganges river. The dawn was chilly. The wind, which blew softly, whispered foreign voices in my ears. I tried in vain to grasp the wisdom of Nature’s omnipresent spirit which swayed the branches and jolted the twigs. When the autumnal leaves rustled, I thought the slumbering trees were snoring. The trees swung in the river below like a pendulum hypnotizing a child seated by the dining table. The swinging of trees hypnotized me and the soothing music of wind mesmerized me.

But the magic of Nature’s tranquil abundance on the shore of world’s holiest river lay mostly in reviving my childhood memories. I suddenly became sad in reflecting upon a past which had completely deserted me, like a newly-wed bride left widowed and melancholic by her deceased husband. Those carefree moments of childhood innocence and those early “intimations of immortality” seemed to have vanished forever in the abyss of time.

I contemplated thus my own sorrowful fate by the Ganges when a beggar approached me. His appearance was something to behold: a battered pair of glasses, wrinkled skin, torn pants, fractured hands, and bare top. I tossed a coin into his dirty aluminum bowl and directed once again my gaze at the river.

After the beggar had left, little droplets of tears fell from my eyes. I wept for my cold heart attitude toward the mendicant. I recollected my former warm, loving, and compassionate soul. My grown up, ugly reflection in the murmuring water disgusted me then. I longed like Rousseau and Wordsworth for the glory and splendor of my lost childhood.

In old days, my heart glowed with love for the poor and the unfortunate. I was Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean for my society. The old beggar, whose stick went fut fut fut on the cemented floor of our verandah at every sunset, was my beloved friend. He always sang a wonderful Hindi song in an enchanting voice: “Call you Ram, Call you Shiva, Christ you are, Allah care for all.” His song’s sweetness floated like honey in my soul. When the others always stored rotten mangoes, stale breads, and worm-infested flour for the untouchables, we as a rule fed them fresh food. Ma often told me that the beggars were God’s chosen creatures.

Then there was Avinash. The orphan was my best friend. He lived in a thatched hut with his merciless brother who beat him all the time. There were scratches and wounds on Avinash’s entire body. The boys at school treated him like an outcast, depriving the poor soul of any human sympathy. But I enjoyed a divine bond of friendship with the honest and virtuous boy. Our companionship flourished for a long time. Then one day Avinash had to move away from our town upon his brother’s transfer. We were pulled apart by sad circumstances like one merry sunflower plucked away from his tree comrades. His departure left a void in my heart.

The sun had started to appear on the horizon by now. It was glowing red. I was forty years old by the Ganges that morning. I had only yesterday come from America to visit my native land. All of a sudden, my gaze fell upon a group of Hindus cremating a dead body. My haunting nostalgia quickly snatched me away from the cremation scene. I became sad for my Grandma who had disappeared from our lives many years ago.

Grandma was very religious and spiritual. She recounted numerous tales from our grand epics for me. She often said ours is the dark age — an age of greed, materialism, and selfish exploitation. People hunger for wealth and power at all cost in such times. But she reassured us that the era of truth and justice would be built upon the tomb of modern decadence. Her solemn faith in the reincarnation of Vishnu seemed to have heavenly encouragement.

I lay thinking about a remote past by the Ganges. Growing up had become my cause of sadness. I felt that I had lost touch with humanity and almost became angry at myself. Then I stood there for a while thinking about the magnificent Ganges. A sudden spark of inspiration rekindled my dying spirit like a stroke of Epiphany rejuvenating Joyce’s characters. It took away my overwhelming grief in the same way that a July rain devours the gloom of India’s rice farmers. The water of the Ganges was constantly moving. The passing currents carried a plethora of objects with them. Yet the Ganges retained always its freshness and magical charm. People from generation after generation continued to flow harmoniously with the rhythm of the holy river.

I decided that the world worked in a similar fashion. New experiences constantly replaced the old moments. Life moved on like the dynamic currents of the Ganges. But the emerging realities did not necessarily have to cast the treasured and cherished moments of the past into oblivion. Rather, one’s recollection was ample to preserve the bygone delights while allowing one to move forward at the same time. Recollection — that’s precisely what I had been doing that entire morning by the Ganges. I was exultant then that I could relive my past moments through the fascinating vehicle of memory.

The perennial movement of the river had awakened me to a marvelous awareness. It did not gobble up my nostalgia, instead it gave a new and enriched meaning to my longings. Instead of being a source of depression for my soul any longer, my nostalgia would help dig up old jewels of my life. I would extract many childlike attributes from those past jewels and incorporate them into my grown-up world. My maturity would then be adorned with the pearls of childhood and thus be more meaningful. I knew then that I had defined success for my being and found meaning of life. I drew a sip of water from the holy river and thanked Heaven for a revelation of hope and joy.

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