There were probably more than ten thousand people on Dashwashamedh Ghat in Varanasi that evening to watch the evening puja. And my two-year old daughter decided to assert her new-found independence amongst that mass of humanity. She rebelled in Sean’s arms, scrambled down and started walking away to explore the chaos around her on her own two feet and in her own terms. She looked back at us and dared us to challenge her stand – the days of molly coddling me are over, parents! Deal with it.
For the uninitiated, Dashwashamedh Ghat is the most important ghat on the bank of the holy river Ganga, in the city of Varanasi in India. Varanasi is one place where ancient India has been preserved in its essence and ambiance. The old city seems to be warped in time, continuing the ancient heritage with the rituals, the lighting and floating of the diyas, the chants, the priests, the faith. To me, Varanasi, especially the old city, still retains the aura of the India that we read about in history books. The mystics, the sadhus, the beliefs, the believers – Varanasi is the confluence of all these. And Dashwashamedh Ghat happens to be the most famous of the ghats on the banks of the river Ganges where one can see the mass of humanity proclaiming their faith – seeking and hopefully finding too.
Sahana took off and immediately got lost. I shrieked, Sean sprinted towards the direction she headed, she hadn’t made too much progress since she had been picked up by a sadhu (holy man) and the two were chatting like long-lost friends.
The gentleman said a lot to Sean with a beaming smile, Sean returned the beaming smile but shrugged helplessly when it came to conversation. The man kept Sahana on his lap and continued to introduce her to his fellow sadhus. They all talked to her, laughed with her, let her touch their white matted beards, tug their matted hair and touch the beads around their necks, blessed her and gave her some fruit. Sean and I tagged along behind them, not taking our eyes off our precious daughter, yet the camaraderie between the little girl and those men were so evident, we didn’t have the heart to intrude. Finally, when all the talk was done, all the laughter was shared, the man handed Sahana back to us with a final blessing to the child.
Next day we went to a temple, where Sean was allowed to go in. It was crowded, the seekers were seeking blessings from the goddess, we were mere spectators of the ritual and of the celebration of the faith. Sahana let go of my finger and walked along to stand next to a blind man who was playing a harmonium and singing devotional songs. She listened intently for a while, with the air of a connoisseur, and then decided such music deserved some dancing. She started twirling and dancing in front of the blind man. People stopped to watch, the murmur stopped, the priests paused. There was this little baby girl in a white frock and a dark-skinned, blind old man in white kurta and pajama. The world belonged to them. The moment was surreal. A crowd formed around them. A man standing next to me said in a reverent whisper, “The goddess is in that child, you see. The goddess is dancing to the music. God manifests itself in children, and you see the proof. The child is one with the goddess now!”
We were in Ubud, Bali, when Sahana was about seven months old. We were walking along the beautiful city with Sahana in our arms when a matronly lady came running out of a house, smiling and chattering to us in her own language she took Sahana from our arms and started walking back to her house. Sean and I were so surprised at this sweet, smiling assault that we couldn’t react for a few seconds. We, then, ran after the lady quietly and entered her house. She was showing the baby to her family members and although we didn’t understand anything that was being said, we understood the universal language of love. We stood there basking in the reflected glory of baby Sahana till the family had their fill of her gummy smiles and belly laughs and handed her back to her expectant parents so we could continue our leisurely sojourn through the city. A lot was said to us in their language and some treats were given to us for the little one.
A very dear friend wrote a letter to Sahana right after she was born. Her first letter. In the letter, our friend said to her not to believe when people say the world is not a good place at all. The world is so beautiful and she will discover it for herself one day – the beauty of it all. I truly believe that is true. I think she is already on her way to discovering how beautiful our world is. How can she not when her life has been and is constantly touched and blessed by all the love that surrounds her?
Last year we went back to Kolkata, India during the summer. I asked my children to tell me what they liked the most about Kolkata and what they liked the least. The least liked aspect of Kolkata was the smell and the honking of the cars. The most liked aspect was the love that they felt everywhere they went. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, the autodriver who advised their mother, after seeing they were drenched in a summer rain, ‘Didi, make sure you go home and have the little ones take hot showers, so they don’t catch a cold” ; the bus driver, who held their hand so they could get down safely from the rickety public bus, the local sweet shop owner who always gave a special sweetmeat to the kiddos, as a special treat for going by his sweet shop.
My children have been touched by so much love in their lives that sometimes I wonder how could they not turn out well. They have felt the love in so many places, in so many ways, by so many people, in so many countries. How can they remain immune to the good will and love that surround them?
Hug your children a little tighter friends, so they feel the warmth. And they remember the warmth. So they can carry the warmth with them when they grow up and share it with those who are unloved and cast aside. Heaven knows, we need a lot of that love and warmth to obliterate the suffering and pain caused by cold hearts. The world needs more loving, hope the loved ones can provide.