Ganga Mahal, Assi Ghat and faith in Varanasi

Crows scream from the roof of the Ganga Mahal. Rusted metal overhangs hang over each window, edged in more metal that looks like dark coloured lace. Paper chewed through by bugs.

Every few mornings, Meera walks to the ghat. She moves down the stairs slowly, measuredly, stepping onto her right foot and then bringing her left to follow it. Shifting her weight, clutching extra sari fabric in a fist. As she wades into the Ganga, in the water from the waist-down, a ragpicker carries his bag, bigger than his own body, up the stairs. Retracing the path she took down. He disappears into the lane.

Meera swishes in the water, heavy arms grazing the river. Getting wet.

A plain man in a lungi sat in the middle of the stairs and rubbed tobacco on his palm with his thumb. Until he had to move, because a thin girl in a party dress was sweeping. Clouds of brown dust coming into the grey air. Skinny legs and arms coming out of a full skirt and puffed sleeves.

Meera sings in a thin voice, om namah shivaaaaiii, dunks her head under the water once. Pigeons on the lace-edged palace flutter into the air and disperse, and disappear.

The paper boy comes by on schedule, and hands the paper to Lalu who’s standing on the verandah. As he leaves, he turns to face the Ganga. His clasped hands travel upwards to his forehead. He whispers some words, some secret prayers, before his hands drop back to his sides. The paper bag is picked up again and he turns into the gali.

Twice, Meera dips her head into the river, flipping her black hair out of her face. Water droplets gather
in her eyelashes, pool in the cavities of her ears.

Goats frolick together on the ghat. A little girl named Chandini skips up the stairs with them, coming from her bath. Her sopping clothes made thwak sounds as her thimb limbs pulled her, bounding like the goats, up the stairs. The water that she carried up the stairs in her clothes abandoning ship and gathering into little rivers, to head back down to the big river where it came from.

And again. She pours a vessel of water held high over her head in a surya namaskaar, face crumpled and frowning with faith and intensity. Facing the rising sun every day again, because what else is there to do.

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