RYS 200, 300, 500 in Rishikesh
Yesterday I went down to the Ganga, looking forward to a meditative afternoon after an hours facial treatment. The November sky was hazy and my handbag stuffed with a thermos of green tea, dark chocolate and my journal. The sand was soft and warm and some young boys were swimming in the chilly water, splashing water at each other and cracking jokes. In many ways, it was a perfect afternoon and I had barely sat down before a little girl came up, offering me flowers to offer to Ganga. I bought them and asked for her permission to take a picture (she’s sweet, huh?). She lingered for a while, silently watching me writing and I couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever have the opportunity of learning how to read and write herself?
I had been writing for about ten minutes when I was interrupted by a young boy at the age of five or six. In his arms he held a new born baby, wrapped in a scarf. While asking for money he kept shaking the baby, which naturally made it’s face wrinkle and it started to cry. Coming from Sweden, I simply don’t know how to handle these things. As soon as the baby fell silent, he vigorously began shaking it again - which of course is clever as most people would pay to save their ears from the screaming of a babe.
I felt pity mixed with anger on behalf of the baby; imagine starting your life that way? Probably no more than a month old, carried around and shaken into tears for money… and then a pang of guilt struck me. What about the boy? Probably shaken himself and told to carry around his baby-sibling, while begging? I feel bad about admitting this, but I couldn’t help but snap at the boy: ”Will you please stop shaking the baby!?”. But his eyes remained expressionless as if he hadn’t heard me and all he kept repeating was: ”Ten rupees, m’am, ten rupees m’am, please give me ten rupees…”that was his mantra and probably the mantra of his life for many years to come. He got his money and finally disappeared and I made another attempt to go back to my writing.
After not too long, a poor woman who I know from before came up to me and sat down with a smile and as the afternoon sun started to set, she told me of her life. Her face is tanned and wrinkled and she looks like like 45 but is younger than me... only 26. She got married at 16 and has since then had four children, of which one died due to poor nutrition during her pregnancy. Her husband is an alcoholic and smokes weed daily, so providing for herself and her children is up to her - which she does by cleaning the beach from trash. But she smiles and is happy because she has a boyfriend since three years, who she is very much in love with and who is sober. He drives a rickshaw back and forth between Haridwar and Rishikesh and is married, but his wife lives in a village far away and he seldom sees her. He seems to be the joy of her life and her eyes glow when she speaks of him. She laughs and says it’s common for the women here to have boyfriends when their husbands are not fulfilling their marital duties or providing as they should. Her black eyes are smiley and her teeth are blazing white against the cherry-colored lipstick she wears, but her sari hangs loose around her skinny limbs. I silently thank God for this woman’s boyfriend, who ever he is. Whatever sins he may have committed must be forgiven for the joy he gives this poor woman.
My tea had gone cold and the sun was sinking down to meet the horizon as I picked up my pen for the third time, but I couldn’t get myself to write anything. What should I write?!”Enjoyed a lovely facial today… xx called or didn’t call… my parcel with skin care products finally arrived… this and that happen to him and her…feeling slightly bored – poor me!”? What I thought would be a relaxing afternoon by the Ganga became a transformative afternoon. Sometimes we need a reality slap that only the heartbreaking life of another person can give. Not read about it in the newspaper or see it on the TV, but have it sitting right in front of us - looking us straight in the eye without mercy. We need to be brutally aware of the blessings we take for granted; the freedom, the unwritten days ahead, the material comfort, the health we enjoy... As I went down to the water with the offering flowers I thanked Ganga for the life I live. With all its ups and downs... it's really a piece of cake!