I had stepped out for a local escapade with my mum and her two friends, who share her inclination towards heritage walks. Our destination today was Sujawan Dev temple, a mysterious Shiv temple set atop a pile of oddly placed rocks by the Ganga. I can't say I was very excited about the temple, I was just glad to get out.
As we approached the temple, I was most grateful for the Ganga in the background, flowing in quiet ordinariness (unbeknown to its own worth in concrete cities). I walked on the soil along the banks, observing the cracks and the plants that grew from their midst, and lingered.
“Watch out!,”, said Arsh “sometimes there are snakes too”.
We saw many locals gathered at the bank. I noticed that they were only men. They were gathered together, some standing, some sitting on their haunches, some seemed to be preparing something just by the water and all the others were looking in that direction. Probably a ceremony, I thought.
We walked ahead and admired the temple - but seeing the crowd inside, decided not go on in. My mother meanwhile approached a small flock of sheep grazing nearby and with familial familiarity, picked up a lamb in her arms (she's like that - I love it!). It didn't bleat, so it probably enjoyed the attention (or it was too scared to say anything). Many moments of saying nothing to each other as we stood and breathed fresh air; then click, click - of my mother and the lamb, of the temple, of Ganga. We turned to walk back towards our car.
---- ----- -----
A man carrying something in an orange cloth was walking towards us, in the direction of the crowd of men at the banks. A woman seemed to be crying. When they were just a few feet away, I saw the woman grab the cloth. An infant’s face became visible. An infant wrapped in cloth, being carried towards the bank. It could only mean one thing. I stopped in my tracks as the others walked ahead, suddenly losing sense of the place. I seemed to have entered a stranger’s world, a world not mine to be privy to especially at such a delicate and intimate moment. And yet, I was here, partaking unwillingly in another’s grief, as confused as struck. I tried to remember the words of Stoic wisdom I had read recently: empathise but do not take the place of the one who suffers. You may not cry Ayushi, I told myself. You may only observe and acknowledge the tragedy.
The child passed, and the man carrying it passed along. The woman stayed behind. No women at the bank, perhaps that was the rule. I looked back at the crowd - why did the entire village seem to be here? How did the child die? I wanted to tug at someone’s orderly shirt in this disorderly fragment of the world, and ask them how the threads had come apart. How did an extraordinary day to break monotony turn into an extraordinary reminder of the great tragedies that pass us by every second? The tragedies that don’t come to pass become tick-tocks in our clocks without any significance. Yet, how significant is the ordinary - the lack of tragedy.
I wanted to reach out to that lone woman watching all the men walking down to the ghat with her child and express my empathy. As her cries filled the air, another man passing said “cry not, the child is at peace now.”
Our worlds collided but briefly, by the circumstance of space and my escape. Her grief to me was so intimate, and yet to her, I was a stranger. I walked on, sat in the car, and went homewards.