Mystical Temple-town

Update for 19 Nov 2009

Peter (name changed to protect identity) had arrived into Varanasi the previous night. The long and arduous train journey from Delhi was an experience he will never forget all his life – which at that moment did not mean much to Peter. He walked out of the 2 storey building that was his lodge for the night with his khaki rucksack on his back, wearing little more than the whitish T-shirt that he travelled with and cotton baggy pyjamas that he had bought at a stall in Daryaganj near the Delhi railway station. He was not particularly attractive, but his deep-set blue eyes could arrest anyone who happened to see them, and since Peter did not blink so often, the gaze had a mesmerizing effect, of sorts. His shaggy mane fell on his shoulders, unkempt, but not very untidy and his sunken pink cheeks and athletic body build indicated that he had seen better times. Peter walked through the by-lanes of Varanasi, with a purpose and although he was unfamiliar with the surroundings, he intuitively followed the paths that started getting more crowded and from which emerged men, women, at times children who had wet slick hair, and draped the red gamchha (a red multipurpose towel) either around the waist or their shoulders and their dripping damp (or wet) clothes had already soiled the lane behind them. Peter was heading to the river from where the sea of humanity was emerging, whilst he was part of another sea of humanity heading there. He ignored the urchins and demi-priests who were attracting his attention and as the streets narrowed and the stalls alongside almost spilled over onto him and the other pedestrians, his eyes got sharper and moved furtively, as though seeking out something or someone. And then he saw the bearded mendicant wearing ochre robes and the brown bead necklace around his neck. His red vermilion mark on the forehead only accentuated his piercing eyes. He waved his right hand at Peter and beckoned him. Peter took quick paces towards him, and pulled out a container from his rucksack. Holding it with both hands, he followed the mendicant and walked down the wet and slippery steps to the river. No words were exchanged between them, as they stepped into the water and stood waist deep – the mendicant then mumbled a few prayers, and motioned Peter to empty the contents of the container into the flowing waters. Peter was emotional, but in control of himself and closed his eyes for a moment before submerging himself into the water and then stood up, turned back, pulled out a few notes from his pocket and dropped it into the mendicant’s wooden basket. He saluted him with folded hands and climbed up the stairs to join the sea of humanity moving away from the river, as his dripping wet clothes soiled the road as he moved on.

The mood on D Street was solemn today, as the markets opened in the red. The D Boyz were not in a mood to celebrate, and so let the SENSEX stay red for the entire session. Joint ventures were forged in steel, while strong winds were hinting towards some better weather in Pune, sugar was not sweet as politicians felt that the cane farmers were overpaid, and the cricketers were still out in the Ahmedabad sun. None of these fazed the Boyz, who seemed to have a sombre tale to tell, but remained silent and applied the red vermilion on their foreheads and took the SENSEX on a path below the surface. In fact at culmination of trading hours, it sank to its depths of over 230 points, but ended at 16785, 213 points down. The 1.25% drop almost symbolized the Hindu tradition of the Rs 1.25 token thanksgiving offered for wishes or prayers.

Peter quietly walked back along the path he took to the river, and veered off at the junction of the small Siva Temple. He walked across to the vermilion powder vendor and quietly sat down with her. No words were exchanged here, but when the next customer walked across and asked for a spoonful of the red powder, he quietly spooned it into a newspaper cone, wrapped it and handed it over to the plump matronly vendor. She had got her assistant, and after collecting her money, she moved a little to let Peter sit comfortably.


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