Nov 11, 2018, Salaam Maharaj
Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 46
Morning today happened at night, much like every other morning on this expedition. It was dark when I woke up. Learning from my previous experience camping, I did take precautions about the dew, but not enough. I had the tarp draped over the gunwales of the canoe, with me under it, hoping the falling dew would be confused. However, when one is in slumberland, tarps do not behave as they are supposed to, and when morning happened, parts of the sleeping bag was moist. Not as much as it was the first night camping out, but moist it still was. I might have pulled the tarp sheet in the night, thinking it was a blanket, and that shifted position exposing the bottom half of the sleeping bag. I cannot afford to do this anymore. I have to put up my tarp in the manner it is supposed to be put up.
What greeted me as I opened my eyes were about a dozen wild dogs, sniffing around wondering whether I was a cadaver they could convert into breakfast, or something else. I definitely had a say in their curiosity, and a loud shout later, they dispersed, looking for another source that could be called breakfast. Some boatmen walked by, pulling their boat behind them. They had curious eyes and were looking askance at me, wondering who I was and what I was doing here. They went by, and I went about my business of disbanding camp, and finishing up morning duties.
The Sun was creeping up the Eastern sky and by the time I was packed and ready to paddle, it was nearly eight o’clock. It was a tough day today. The little current that I had experienced in the past days disappeared entirely and the river turned into a static pool. Every inch forward was only because of human power. To add to it, I soon came to a pontoon bridge being constructed at Sirsa. On enquiring from passing boatmen, I was assured that there was a way through and that I would not need to portage around it. Sure enough, there was a narrow gap on the left bank that had enough space to let my canoe through.
What was sad to see was the visible toxicity in the waters. Lots of religious articles were floating in the water. I am less concerned about flowers being immersed, but I take umbrage at the flowers being packed in polythene bags. I do not like to see clothes and books and shoes and such like added to the floating debris. I also saw visible signs of what looked like oil. Not good.
A few metres downstream of the toxicity my mind, was diverted by a school of dolphins. They were intent on taking my mind away from the floating trash and into the wonders of these beautiful creatures. I spent more than an inordinate amount of time looking at the antics of the dolphins and marvelling at their resilience in surviving in such filth. Surprisingly, most of my dolphin sightings have been around villages, and where there was visible trash. Is this where the dolphins find food, or is it something else, I wondered.
I was losing time. When I started paddling in the morning I was hoping to clock about 45 km. Thanks to the lack of current, the lack of wind, and the dolphins, I was not going to achieve that. I reached a village called Telaghat and saw a lot of activity. On enquiring I was told that there is a pilgrim town called Sitamarhi about three kilometres away, and that the people were headed there. Down the Ganges, the three kilometres would be thirty. I was so tempted to cheat and avoid the meandering Ganges, to be able to finish today’s journey in about half an hour instead of a whole day. I decided against cheating and paddled on.
I crossed a few villages on the way, on both banks of the river. At most villages I was greeted with welcoming messages. For some reason, I did not stop at any of them, but paddled on. About forty kilometres into the day’s paddle I saw the steeple of a temple and decided to head to it. As I reached the bank and stepped out of the canoe, I stepped into boggy ground. I decided to move forward to find another spot. As I was about to turn around, a boy came down the embankment and invited me ashore. I gladly accepted. He helped me beach the boat on more secure ground, carried my luggage to the temple, and did what he could, to make me feel welcome. His father Kamal Dhar, happened to be at the temple and extended the welcome. My luggage was parked in the temple premises, though I was offered to stay in the adjacent straw shack that used to be occupied by another sadhu who has since moved to Allahabad. I chose the temple.
Soon enough, the village got to know about my arrival. In a few minutes the brother of the village Sarpanch landed up to say hello. He is in the Army Medical Corps and, I suspect, a non commissioned officer, but everyone in the village referred to him as “Major”, an honour accorded to anyone in the armed forces, Major being about the highest rank that villagers might be knowledgeable to rise to. Once pleasantries were exchanged, “Major” sahab went back home to bring me tea and snacks. Kamal Dhar went home to prepare dinner for me.
In ones and twos a whole lot of villagers arrived and suddenly I found myself according Godly status with many of them referring to me as Swamij, Maharaj, Guruji, Daata, etc. To be fair to them, it had become dark and many of them were stoned. But they refused to listen to reason and continued to believe that I was a holy person, probably because of the yatra they found me involved in. Some even insisted on touching my feet, something I vehemently opposed, often without success. The Ganges is holy and many people, mostly sadhus, walk the stretch of the river, from source to sea. When people heard of my endeavour, they equated it with those of holy men, the sadhus, who give up everything to make the pilgrimage from source to sea. In a matter of minutes, I became a sadhu.
The evening pushed along nicely, with discussions of all kinds, with each one of the villagers waiting for words of wisdom that might come out of my mouth. Every utterance was greeted with “Jai ho, Maharaj.” A campfire was lit, the warmth added to the festivities, it is not every day that a holy man visits this village. I suspect the chillum with healthy doses of marijuana that was going around the group helped spice things up a bit, and elevate my status even further.
Finally everyone dispersed with promises of meeting in the morning. Something I look forward to. My plans have been modified a little bit. I will hit the pilgrim town of Sitamarhi tomorrow, a 30 km paddle. I have been told to stay at a naga Baba’s ashram there, someone who stayed at this village for about ten years. Maybe I will paddle to Varanasi the day after or transport there. Only time will tell. For the moment I am busy being embarrassed, and considerably amused, at being referred to as a Swamy. Me, who lives a life that is a far cry from anything even remotely religious.
Your story is a keen to the character of Devanand in movie Guide. Jai Hind.
Yes it is. And I can see how easy it is to get a swollen head with this kind of adulation, and then continue to play havoc on the minds of simple, gullible people by becoming a Godman.