Today I walk through the old city of Varanasi. It
has been about 11 years since last walking all these narrow alleys
and pathways some of which lead to the Ganges River, a very holy
river to the Hindu people, and they are as fascinating to walk through
now as before. I eventually wander to the burning ghat where quite
a number of cremations are in progress. There is an area that is
for family members only and tourists are not permitted. I know this
and walk into the edge of the area and am reminded kindly that this
is for family and relatives only. I don't bother to point out that
all these people are my relatives!
Anyway, I begin to leave but turn for a moment while on the steps
leading out and look at the funeral pyres with all the fires burning.
There are many family members sitting on the steps where I am standing
momentarily. I happen to be standing by a man who is sitting on
the steps. He looks up and invites me to sit beside him. Such is
typical of the kindness of the Indian people. So I do. He says his
name is Raj and explains that a 75 year old man is being cremated,
and that is why this large group of people around him are here.
He is a relative of the family. there are also other villagers here.
One man a few steps down he says is the prime minister of the village,
rather jokingly, and says now this man does nothing, has only 4
boats and everyone serves him. Others seated around us hear these
comments and laughingly tell the 'Prime Minister.' The Prime Minister
looks around, smiles and motions to me that Raj, the accuser, is
a little crazy. They all laugh.
Raj points out to me the oldest brother who is looking
after the cremation process. He has a shaved head and wis dressed
in white. This is the responsibility of the oldest brother. He
also pointed out the second brother.
Raj explains that the oldest brother's daughter
had just had her marriage ceremony and the family was all going
to the reception at another location. The father / grandfather
and mother / grandmother were going on a Royal Enfeld motorcycle
to this reception when they were hit by a bus. He was killed instantly.
The mother / grandmother is presently in hospital in serious condition.
This is all somewhat difficult
for Raj to explain because his English is limited, so he calls
the 13 year old grandson over who sits between us. He is in 8th
grade and speaks excellent English. He already has a direction
for himself in this life and knows he is going to university and
will study to be an engineer. Umesh speaks softly and is very
polite. He says this is his grandfather who had just been killed
and it happened yesterday. I ask him if he liked his grandfather,
not sure if this was quite an appropriate question, but he shakes
his head and says: "yes, very much."
He is trying not to show emotion and with a
tear in his eye he says he will miss him a lot. I tell him my father
at age 90 has just died, too, one week ago and was buried on Saturday.
We both have tears in our eyes and sit for a while together. He
then volunteers that grandmother is still in the hospital in serious
condition but he is relieved she is expected to be all right. I
put my arm around him, tell him he will be just fine and one day
will be a great engineer, not to give up his wonderful dream. he
smiles. We sit a while longer and then i say goodby as does he.
I walk away from the ghat feeling a softness in my heart for this
young man, myself, and the significant persons who had just left
our physical presence.