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Besides Ganga
Sanjoy Saksena | 28 Aug 2009

Latter day experience of an ancient river, Ganga, and all that it stands for thousands of Indians today.

 

Besides Ganga
 Sanjoy Saksena
 
I walk on the sacred sand and silt.
The river, begotten by white haired mountains
Carries in its underbelly myths and legends.
Its reluctant flow revives sensations of racial memory.
Cold winds blow against arthritic limbs:
Obeisance to the Gods is painfully paid.
Tears in these boat shaped eyes blur
The image of an honoured and honouring king
Surrounded by holymen: charity, conquest and lovely wives
Were part of his dharma. He never failed
In his duty to his kingdom and self,
Scholars and brave men were his friends.
To please his principal superstitious Rajput queen
Gods galore he created in stone, characterless,
And even now they have their praises sung:
Harsha stands marginalized on the roadside.
His two eyes are empty bowls.
They see in angles combined to form a vision –
Like traffic rules understood but rarely followed
Today. Thunder and lightening strikes
Land and water, cows and buffaloes shiver their skins,
Fishes see shafts loose themselves in foliage;
Men shut their ears, once they heard messages divine.
Language of the Gods has been finished
By the tongue of man. Nothing exists outside
Language. Death to the Gods is imminent,
Drawing room figuration is the rage.
 
Ashoka is dead, his message of peace and goodwill
Stares at the arsenal and army stationed,
Nervously. People celebrate detonation
Of five nuclear bombs, their destructive strength:
Gandhi ashes were rightfully immersed here.
The economy totters like the old beggar, ahead.
Begotten in poverty forward moves the next step
Propped by a bamboo stick, deformed legs all bone;
Crippling aid and World Bank loans.
To him we read aloud Samudra Gupta’s inscription;
Pompous claims of exploits in war and conquest,
Negation of Ashoka’s message of peace and spirituality
Chiselled deep on his high and silent pillar.
Between the clash of histories lies our fate,
Wedged between the sword and wheel is our existence,
Embossed in parenthesis is the supreme paradox.
Shameless viral brain fever, power created,
Persevering as the current in Gangetic waters that cut
The embankments in spate under cloudy shadows
When strong winds blow and trees agitate like epileptic patients.
The undying tree thrives on suicides; its rustling
Shadows quiver in the deep waves, green on green,
Jade on turquoise, watery underworld’s heavenly reflection.
 
The rush of shimmering waters hurts my eyes
And I drift towards the shifting sands unawares.
‘At Sangam life meets death’, warns the police-man,
Twisting his walrus moustaches, a lost member
Of the demon’s party that quarrelled with the Gods
Over nectar. Here myths are legends and history,
Fancy is fact – life giving river and death’s cushion
Since ages. This spot is sacred to many.
People believe a drop of immortality fell from the sky,
No rain, just a drop, enough reason to travel for miles,
Escape the cycle of birth and rebirth in the supreme
Godhead. River Goddess asks for a handful of water,
Its own, to deliver ancestors and wash sins
Committed in this life and others. It’s a bargain!
The blessings are numerous microbes, the cure
For diseases, thousands carry in tins and bottles.
Miracles of mind and spirit! One man’s poison,
Another man’s cure; victory of spirit over matter.
In the progress of science are buried atoms of destruction
And in the curse of medicines are hidden distressing ailments.
Difficult it is to distinguish between creation and destruction;
Drowning waters and sky merge with land in the thickening light.
Gods have fallen and failed, demons have risen;
The enigmas of life have been cleared by preferences,
Dawn and dusk are mere twilight in this age of percentages
And our fate shall be decided by the evil in good.
As the shades of grey darken to a starless night,
The cutting edge of ends slices our destiny forward.
             *****
In summer the river is a woman frailed
By frequent births, the canals; she knows
The land will tremor one day, open its mouth,
Swallow her hungry siblings, alive.
Centuries back it swallowed a river and now
The sands stretch themselves in hunger, again.
Slow death and piety go hand in hand
In divine destruction lies the imminent will’s satisfaction:
Its present creations have defied our deified imagination.
The new gods are demons with a religion of their own!
They read the signs of the times in the dark
And in the clash of men, gods and river a terrifying beauty is born.
In the dance of death Shiva may be destroyed,
Locks that contained this river; and the third eye burnt,
And the other two blind shed tears in vain. 
Time rolls on and the innocent continue their humble rituals.
The rustic offers a coin from the folds of his loin cloth
In gratitude, others fish and dive; the river feeds
Treasures buried deep in the earth and water.
Mother and child; relationship between man and river
Is filial, perennial myths are its pulse and rhythm.
The river creates its own throbbing poetry and prompts.
Today, its music and images are just mournful—
The sand and silt in its underbelly are grey ash
And I can hear the wheezing sounds of burning ghats,
Tomorrow there might be the silence of death.

 *  *  *