Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 58
At the very outset let me wish everyone a very happy 2019. Today, as the old gives way to the new, it provides an opportunity to make new dreams and look forward to an even better future. In the larger scheme of things, a new year is just another day in the calendar. But it does provide a watershed moment in our lives, when the past can be let go of, and the future can be beckoned with renewed vigour, excitement and possibilities.
As the clock struck midnight, the team of A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES was entirely oblivious of the revelry going on elsewhere around the country. The three of us were cocooned in the comfort of the India Army Mess at Danapur, possibly wondering about the possibilities had we been in our respective homes, partaking in whatever jubilation the midnight hour would bring. To add to the despondency is the fact that Bihar, the State we are in, is devoid of any form of alcoholic beverage. Prohibition in the State is imposed with a vengeance and apart from smuggled and illicitly sold liquor, there is none to be bought like elsewhere in the country. Needless to say, our New Year Eve party was a damp squib.
Nevertheless, there was a job to be done, a river to be paddled, and we woke up nice and early, and after a hearty breakfast, headed off towards Patna in search of a convenient and possible put-in point. We drove around the city, we drove around te outskirts, we drove a few kilometres farther down the road, retraced out route back towards the city, but a put-in point remained elusive. As we were crossing the Ganges river on the bridge that connect Patna to Sonepur, we found a few vehicles parked pretty close to the river. Maybe this was it. But we had already gone past it and were on the bridge itself. We had to drive a couple of kilometres, to take a U-turn back towards the location. We were at Patipul Ghat.
The place certainly had possibilities. The river was just a few feet away and there would not be the necessity of lugging the canoe and the accompanying luggage for any great distance. We parked the car and took a stroll along the ghat. There were quite a few people bathing there, but what was immediately apparent was the sheer amount of garbage lying all around. And not just garbage that had been dumped recently. This was something that had been gathering for some time. And that was not all. Patipul Ghat lived up to its name ... well, kind of. All along the shore, there were mounds of human turd. There was numerous dark brown mounds in various stages of decay that represented the potty that people had deposited at Patipul Ghat. It was quite disgusting. It could well be called Pottyfull Ghat.
I did not want to start the new year by inadvertently stepping on some turd, and then getting on the river, with globs of turd still stuck to my paddling shoes. That was highly avoidable, and I took a call to not launch at Patipul Ghat. We started driving towards Munger hoping to find a better spot.
It was getting to be afternoon and it was time for lunch. To my pleasant surprise there was a roadside shack that was serving my favourite kind of food ... non vegetarian. I promptly ordered a place of spicy chicken ... it was not very good ... while Chandru and Raghu stuck to the patented vegetarian fare. Raghu does consume things that once walked or crawled or swam or flew, but his stomach was rumbling and he wanted to take it easy. All of us were happy, and after what for me was the fourth or fifth cup of tea (the cups are woefully small) we found a person who wanted to know a bit more about us.
This person was Ravi Shankar Sharma and he is a journalist based in Mokama, representing a host of print and electronic media. He got excited about A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES and wanted to interview me. I gladly agreed. Any publicity is good publicity, and an interview would take the message to a lot more people than was possible through meeting the people I was meeting while going down the river.
The interview took some time, and yet another round of tea happened. Ravi Sharma invited us to a New Year party he was throwing for his friends at the very same shack. We asked him if there was a convenient place to stay the night, and he told us not to worry. We stayed put at the shack, waiting for dusk to arrive and the party to start. It seemed a long time coming, more so because of fatigue and the frustration at not being able to paddle on the first day of the new year as planned. Nevertheless, there is a reason there is a Plan B, at least there should be, and my Plan B was to spend the evening with the new friends I had made at Mokama.
The party was a gathering of friends and quite a few lively discussions took place, on politics, on history, on the armed forces, security, the upcoming elections, etc. There was one person there who turned out to be quite knowledgeable. Not just from hearsay or prejudice through belonging to a certain political persuasion, but his depth of knowledge of history was quite vast and deep. This person turned out to be Shashi Shankar Sharma, Ravi’s brother. Dinner over, Ravi and Shashi beckoned us to follow their motorcycle to where they had arranged for us to stay. A couple of kilometres down a bumpy village road saw us at the portico of a house under construction. This was not just a house under construction, but possibly the biggest house in the region. Two stories high, with four or five bedrooms, a large living room, a large drawing room, attached bathrooms inside the house and additional outhouses alongside. This is where we were to spend the night. It was cozy, it comfortable, and the Ganges was right outside the bedroom window.
The three of us chatted with the two brothers for some more time, till finally it was time to go to sleep. It was nearly midnight when we said goodnight and wished each other a happy new year once again.