An Ode to My Previous Self | Varanasi

*Written from an outsider’s perspective. All specific details are fictitious*

I can see the lights bending to form a shadow,

As the shallow waters of the Ganges, touch the Assi Ghats in disbanded concordance,

Lost in the rhythmic percussion of waves, I look at the horizon,

My face aglow with the bleeding red hue of rays before twilight beckons the stars,

To my far right, the bells and chants grow louder,

Loud enough to dull all my senses, and to allow me to inhale the scent of gods,

The pilgrims who wash on these blessed steps,

Emerge new from the sacred waters,

Transfigured in saffron, we, are nothing but specks of sun-lit dust,

Rising from a cremation ground;

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Varanasi is a blend word formed from Varuna and Asi, two minor tributaries of the Gigantic Ganges, between whose streams, this majestic city was built on. Also, known by the names of Benares and Kashi, this place seems like a time-lapse. It has captured over the years, religion and faith, as seeping veins that flow as tributaries in it’s very heart speak of history. History, that no man could ever assimilate, history that reverberates in every chant the pandits speak out loud, history that lives in the periphery of the flame of the diyas, channeling a sense of one’s own being. As the city life chases me out here and forces me to submission, I seek to find a greater perhaps, I guess.

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Life’s become a random string of beads. A chaotic sequence that is sparkling sometimes, and dull and ostentatious most of the time. Standing at the Assi Ghats, I take a moment to recall what drove me here. I stand at the tip of the ghats, looking at a reflection, one I cannot call my own. What am I running from? I ask myself, doubting each word as it presents me a chance to go back to the same place I came from. A high paying job at the most premium consulting company, a relationship that is as good as failed, stress and tension attacking me at a barely cognizable rate, what exactly? Growing up, I was always told of how a successful career can get you all things in life; a loving relationship, happiness, social extant. I worked hard all these years, tirelessly, with an ambition of making it big. I, too wanted to connect the dots or be invited to give a TED talk. I desired success because my childhood had not been a good one, unsatisfying in aspects I had long forgotten. 12 years later, at 30, I had nothing. Nothing, the big corporate job promised me. Looking at the river, I bent down to touch the waters. I could feel its coolness even before I flicked it with my hand, sending droplets scattering over the surface like rain. Its depth is deceptive, as is human emotion.

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I tip the nearby boatman a few hundred rupees and rent his boat for the night. The boat was an old timer, a veteran of the Ganges. The old planks retained the strength, they were built to serve for. The oars seemed heavy for a time, but slowly adjusted to a continuous action of rowing slowly as I rowed the boats away from the ghats. With each row movement of mine towards the back, memories seem to emerge out and get shelved in front of me. I close my eyes to the lullaby of the Ganges, breathing in its poignant salty breath. From then on, my life which was till now stuck in an endless maze, and was all but a mirage to happiness, started flashing by.

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In my head there are lights, too many to count, dancing on an ocean too vast to envisage. Each one has a different calling to it. I wanted to look at each one for the marvel, they seem to be. They seemed so genial to look at and all I could think about was reaching out to them. But they recoiled in fright, as they didn’t want to be overlooked again. I looked at them more closely, and I realized that these lights are actually the people I’ve met and interacted with, my entire life. They are the pathways of the journey I took and I overlooked their existence, as I continued to carry forward. Because, you see, for me, it had always been about destination and not the memories or friends I made along my journey. I am 30 currently, and keeping aside social obligations, I don’t have people who I can call my friends. Because, maybe at that point in my life, when they were for me, I forgot about them as soon as their glow started to extinguish (or their practical use). Filled with guilt and remorse, I try to go to the most brightly shining light. As I come closer, I am transported to a day, back 9 years. It was final year college and I loved this girl a lot. This was more of a memory as I saw my younger self waiting for her to come as we were getting late for the Scholar’s Ball. I was dressed up in a tux, all clean shaven with carefully set hair that had taken atleast 2 hours to succumb to my will, then. The next few seconds then were, I now recall were the most beautiful ones, I had ever experienced. She was coming towards me, all dressed up in a beautiful gown, with carefully made hair that reached her lower back and a smile that made me cry of happy tears. I took her hand and we proceeded to the ball. The slow music and her in my arms, were a perfect fit. The happiness was infectious. It started as a tingle in my fingers and toes, much like the feeling I have when I’m anxious, but instead of worrisome, it was warm. I felt that happiness pass through me like a warm ocean wave, washing away any negativities I had in my life. Immediately, a small wave jerked the boat and woke me up. All these memories, and what I just saw, I wanted it all back. I wanted to go back to those warm fuzzy memories that I had long forgotten and wanted to live them again.

It is hard today, isn’t it? I mean with all these troubles and struggles, that life has given us. We’ve reached the destination, but something still is missing. We’ve come far away, from people who helped make us who we are, from crossroads that wanted you to take a look back, and savour all the moments in which you actually lived in. Present has this tendency to become obsolete quickly. Stop ceasing the moment for once, and let it seize you for some time. Build relationships and nurture them. Take out some time from your busy lives, and look at your High School Yearbook or pre-primary snaps. Look at those names on the last pages of your rough notebooks which say ‘Best Friends Forever’ and catch up with them. All those people you met every day in College, don’t just let them be names of persons in your contact lists. They are more than that. Go to the girl you love and who requests for some of your time, and kiss her and tell that you love her a lot and you’re not going anywhere. Meet your old teachers and let them scold you once again. Sit by your dad someday and talk to him about how he used to play with you when you were a kid. Help your mom with the utensils and tease her saying that she still looked as beautiful as a newly-wed bride. Life’s not just all about a destination, you’re supposed to reach. It’s about this journey. A journey of people who care about you and the lessons you learn. Because the next time, anxiety and fear grab you by the tongue and dry your mouth, you wouldn’t need to panic anymore. You’ll have everything even in times of sweet little nothings.

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I stood still for some time and then turned my boat around and called my mom. “Mom, I’m coming home. And I’ll stay for a long time” I said. I opened Facebook and my contact lists. But not just to look at my newsfeed, but to locate and call back old friends. And most importantly, the girl, who had made me smile out loud back then.

Inspiration Credits : Mavis Jones

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