Tr. Harish Mahuvakar
No sooner the train reached to its last destination Benaras, the noise ‘Hail to the Mother Ganga’ filled the compartment. As the devotees saw the crescent shaped bank of the Ganges in greenish shade reflecting the sunlight, they flung coins and flowers into it. After a jolt the train finally stopped. The rickshaw drivers surrounded them. Unlocked the suitcase below the berth and he too got off the train along with the other travellers. As if he belonged to Benaras, walked with quite ease and came out of the station. Took a peddler rickshaw and asked the rider to fetch him to Bhairavbaba Ashram. Though the wind came from the riverside, he felt hot. He wiped face with a handkerchief and then cleaned the spectacles. His eyes moved on to the different sights and then settled on the peddler’s feet. They were dry, sunk and black. He stared at the white marks grown out of perspiration - the seal of labouring feet.
Fatigue of the journey lurked into the eyes and they often closed. But the peddler’s voice with the hot wind ‘Here’s the Baba’s Ashram’ struck the ears and woke him up. The peddler who had wrapped his head in a white scarf to escape from the heat of May was making inspection of his rickshaw wheels. He paid him and entered into the Ashram.
The Ashram looked large. He saw a temple in the premises and its long flag almost touching the domes because of still air. Its red colour reminded him a corpse tied in red cloth. In the Havan Kund before the temple a trident with vermillion shone brightly in the sunlight. Huts made of mud walls and grass roof on either side of the compound were seen. Flowers and plants gave an impression that they were there before the Ashram’s existence. He asked where about of the Panditji to a sweeper working near the temple, and walked into the direction pointed out. He had correspondence with the Panditji, and in the last letter had got the permission to visit the Ashram. At the threshold a thin, brown, tall figure greeted him, ‘Welcome Purohitji.’
Siddharth Purohit couldn’t believe this was the man Kishwar Pandit who had been in touch with him through letters. But the Panditji recognised him in the very first meeting. That’s the sign of a true sadhak, perhaps. ‘Purohit take rest today. Will begin sadhana from tomorrow’ was the order by the thin figure and then began to walk quickly towards the entrance of the Ashram. One Sanyasi came up to him and showed his room for the stay. It was a neat and clean hut with a bathroom. He took a bath, changed his clothes, spread a mat and stretched himself over it. On a late evening he was waken up suddenly by a dream. His wife was shaking him with two hands. Growing darkness of the evening with the sounds of the prayer was entering through the window into the room. He came out and walked towards the temple.
From the next day under the direct guidance of Kishwar Panditji he began his sadhana. The rhythm of the breathing must be maintained was the instruction but it broke often and thoughts like the sparks from the fire-pit sprang out of his mind.
One morning he sat down to write a letter to his wife. On his decision to come here it would be unexplainable to his wife he thought, so he addressed his son and began to write.
Wishing happiness to both of you.
This was habitual piece of writing. He glanced over it. It came into his mind that when this is the time to leave everything behind, what’s the use of his wishing these words. He deleted them and went on writing :
‘‘I’ve come very far. Very far from you, from all relations, and from my own self. And far from the knowledge that I knew myself. After much thought I have realised that our desires are at the root of all our sorrows. Remaining time of my life I want to spend in the efforts to free myself from those painful things. Major part of my savings is in the accounts of both of you. You can explain my situation to your mother. There’s no reason I find for you to be sad. For a while I am here in Benaras. I haven’t thought about my next destination. To expect your response is a kind of a barrier in my sadhana but I can’t hold my desire for the same. That’s why I have attached a letter.’’
But then a question rose up in his mind, ‘Why to expect a response?’ The mind then itself brought the resolution. It’s better at least to know the wife and the son’s reaction. It will help him to go further on the way he has taken.
As he finished the letter Siddharth felt a burden was gone. He would have concentration on sadhana. After this, his days began to pass in the rituals that were shown by the Panditji, and on concentrating the mind. Mean while he came in touch with a man named Kalu who often came to the Ashram. Siddharth started going with him to the Manikarnika Ghat.
He saw corpses brought to the Ghat. They hung on the shoulders of the keen ones. They were wrapped in the red, yellow silk clothes and laden with flowers. A big stock of chopped mango-tree woods could be seen on the Ghat as well as in the boats in the river. They were stacked for the cremation. The rich people used sandalwood. A layer of flowers and like things was formed on the surface of the Ganges as the corpse with the bamboo bier was untied and bathed at the bank. As the organs burnt in the leaping flames a kind of liquid came out. The smell and smoke of burning bones and muscles went up in the air and spread everywhere. The Ghat looked a terrible place where deadly dance even with closed eyes could be seen. Black hole like jaws of the Death swallowed up the mortal ones. The saddening dark ash caused of the last rites stuck to the stones of nearby buildings, and because of it they looked much older than they were. Somewhat life came to the people over there though for a while they had felt a spell of the transient life. This made them think of life ahead. The Labourers who carry wooden load upon their heads for the cremations, Pandits who perform rituals, the workers who arrange corpses and complete the process of cremation, people who search heaps of ash for finding something valuables, barbers who shave head of the dead one’s kins on the brick-made temporary seating arrangement, had their houses run because of the corpses burnt on the Ghat. Dogs too hovered for eatables. Siddharth realised life too finds its flow like a river before the Time ultimately dries it up.
Siddharth got acquainted with a gentleman who visited the Ghat regularly. He probably came from Mughal Sarai. He had settled himself over here after his retirement as a Sanskrit professor from the Benaras Hindu University. It became a routine for him to walk with Prof. Dixit over the Benaras Ghats.
One an evening after taking a seat on the Tulsaidas Ghat, Siddharth asked, ‘Professor, the Hindus believe that anyone’s death in the Benaras gives liberation to them. What’s your word on this?’
Prof. Dixit put both of his hands on the walking stick and supported himself. He said, ‘It’s as best as the Surat meal. You’ve seen half burnt corpses at the Ghat let flown into the river. The persons nearing the end of their life are dropped here by their relatives. Such people depend upon someone’s support. Siddharth, you see them how they pass on their days waiting for the best death.’
‘That’s true but don’t they come in the hope of liberation?’
‘Liberation? Siddharth, What do you mean by liberation?’
‘Freeing from the Life Cycle.’
Smile parched on the betel-leaf chewed red lips of the Professor. He continued, ‘The city of Benaras is situated on the west side of the Ganges. Life-supporting sun sets into that direction. In that sense Benaras could be considered a big crematorium. Think either side as well. The city is on the east side too. The sun that is the source of our energy rises in that side. And so according to me it is the combination of the two – life and death. This is what I mean.’
‘Then how shall we take the sermons of the great saints who have explained the ways to free oneself from all the pains? Siddharth put his confusion to him.
‘In reality is there anything like happiness and unhappiness? One condition that gives happiness becomes the cause for unhappiness after some time. Isn’t it? Perhaps you would bring in Lord Buddha who continued to teach his last forty nine years of life the ways of letting off the sorrow.’
‘Yes, it’s absolutely right. He showed not only the causes of our unhappiness, and means to deal with them but also the ways for liberation.’
Prof. Dixit looked at the dark evening that was lowering on the Ghat. Held his stick and got up with its support. Siddharth followed him hoping to find some response. At a turn of the Ghat the Professor suddenly stopped, looked back at him and said, ‘It’s not so easy to understand the teachings of Tathagat. One of them is wonderful: there’s only and only sorrow but none is unhappy because of it. There’s action but none is the doer of the action. There’s Nirvana but none is the achiever of it. There’s the way but none is the walker on to it.’
Listening to this Sidhharth got very much confused. Like a disciple a question slipped, ‘O teacher, then tell me which is the best way for me?’
The Professor put a hand on his shoulder and said, ’We certainly are walking on our way. Life is like the flow of our Mother Ganga. We build a dam of beliefs and that way don’t we stop the flow of the life?’
The bells of the prayer in a nearby temple began. The Professor started walking. Siddharhh gazed at his moving radiant figure in the lit lamps on the banks. His stature looked large today. He began to search his own self that had been almost merged into the Ghat darkness. The prayer had ended now. The glow of the moving lamps brightened the waters of the Bhagirathi that flew since the ages.
On his arrival at the Ashram, as he was to open the door of the hut a Sanyasi came up to him and handed a post card. He went in and began to read the letter in lantern light. It bore the hand writing of his son Rahul but was dictated by his wife. It said: Who are you running away from? Haven’t you got rid of the knowledge that sadhana could be done on leaving behind your home and the family members? Can your saving be ‘your’ option? I only know that burning down one’s own home to ash doesn’t bring in any glow. It’s not the way. The true Tirtha –sadhana lies in spreading the light with even a small candle.
The next day morning an illiterate figure in the train from Benaras was asking to a traveller next to him, ‘Babuji, where are you heading to?’ Siddharth Purohit answered him but it died down in the roaring of the fast moving train.