I was sitting on the banks of the Ganga on the Shatrughan ghat. A little girl asked me sweetly if I wanted to feed the fish, pointing to a cluster of fat silver bodies huddled close to the banks in what seemed to be a soporific daze, perhaps being overfed by zealous pilgrims and tourists. She nodded when I said I might consider it later, and went back to making Mickey mouse patterns with a water gun on the steps.
A black cow nudged me from behind as I got up. I caressed her head and felt her presence as she stood close to me for a moment before walking on. Three months ago, I had never touched a stray animal in my life, but now it feels natural to reach out and pat the cows and calves who roam the streets, and it gives me immense joy to feed them and watch them eat.
About a hundred yards away is a small temple dedicated to Shatrughan, the youngest brother of King Rama. Shatrughan is one of the side characters of the Ramayana who doesn’t have much to do in the main story, and I wonder what would have been his view of the historical epic. Like many other temples around here, the signboard proudly proclaims it to be a ‘Praacheen mandir’ or an ancient temple, but the building set within a beautiful open garden looks hardly a hundred years old. There were no priests or other visitors to be seen around. The surroundings were quiet except for the intermittent chirping of birds. Placing my palms on the old peepal tree in the garden, I breathed in the serene energy that pervaded the place.
Steps lead down the side road to several tiny ghats, some of them swarming with young men and women talking loudly and taking selfies while solitary mendicants wearing saffron robes sat silently in others. I crossed Ram Jhula and spent some time on the other side of the river. The little pier was teeming with families who sat posing for photographs, holding back their restless toddlers. Above, a simian family sat in silence on one of the walls, the female grooming the male’s hair while the baby playfully bounded about.
The shops lining the streets are chockful of beautiful things: sacred beads and crystals, exquisitely carved images, Himalayan pashmina shawls and semi-precious jewellery.
The tranquillity of the place did not encapsulate me into a bubble of silence, rather it made me feel one with the surroundings. As I walked, I felt a sudden shift in consciousness as I contemplated that I did not want anything from here- photographs or souvenirs or selfies or even memories. I did not want to leave this tiny, tranquil town. Neither did I want to stay here.
I had everything I wanted in that moment, a sense of absolute freedom that is beyond bliss.