International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: India
and deliberately, she lowered her face to her hands as they dropped
scoops of water over her head. It soaked into the fluorescent green
sari that was draped over her hair. The sari would never again be
quite so bright after being dowsed in the dingy water of the Ganges
This water, so
holy to the Hindus, had long before turned a dismal shade of grey that
was off-putting among the celebrations along the rivers banks.
Cups of flower petals floating in the river provided splashes of color,
but soon they would become part of the rubble heap on the shores.
Men stood on the steps of the ghats leading down to the water in black
sarongs. They scrubbed themselves with soap that left a thick, white
film on their body. After they submerged, no soap scum was visible,
but oily remains of chemical waste dumped in the river snaked past with
the slow current.
was washed here to bring protection to the wearer, but came back
with a new layer of grime.
Farther down the river, an old woman stooped to fill a small urn
with the sacred water. When sipped on a sickbed, it had the power
to heal. When swallowed on a deathbed, it guaranteed immediate liberation
of the soul. My stomach rolled as I thought of someone ingesting
this stew of filth.
A man did laps past
our narrow boat as it glided down the river. A dog with rigor mortis
floated downstream, large pink sores visible through the fur. A young
man sat in lotus position on a platform extending over the water. The
many faces of the River Ganges.
Waist-deep in the water stood a family of three. A chant murmured on
the mothers lips as she brought her clasped hands to her lips
and forehead. Beside her, her husband ritually sprinkled water over
his head and their son bobbed, attempting to keep his chin above the
left the young boy and his family behind, and came upon another
child, no more than 8-years-old. That was the age where they began
cremating children instead of burying them in the river. The bloated,
grey corpse had since engorged. The limbs that must once have run
through the narrow alleys of the city were now slowly decaying as
they travelled along the shores of Varanasi.
is the life-cycle of the Ganges. The sick come to get healed in
the same river where the dead find their eternal rest. The religious
come to purify themselves in the same water where the factories
dispose of their dyes and chemicals. Clothes are cleaned in the
same water that serves as a trashcan for much of the city.
Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists line the shore as the sun slowly
rises. Tourists clamber in boats to capture it all on film. All
Helme March 2009
morganonthecoast at gmail.com
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