Dhani

Subhadra Sen Gupta

His day began and ended at the river. At dawn, as the sky lightened in the east and the birds flew over his head welcoming the new day, he would walk down the ghat steps to the water. Then as he stood reciting the Gayatri mantra, the river would be all around him, the water rising to his waist in a cool, living presence.

In the evening he went back home across the darkening waters as the lamps were lit in the temples by the ghats and the sound of the temple bells came echoing towards his boat. The river was always with him.

Subhadra-Sengupta-1 Pandit Kalpeshwar Tripathi could not imagine life without the presence of the River Ganga. In Kashi they said that the city was the kingdom of Lord Shiva but for him it was the flowing waters of the Ganga that spelled home. When he sat and watched her waters flow over the ghat steps like a liquid benediction he knew that he was in a sacred space.

That morning as always, Kalpeshwar was on his way from the Kedar Ghat where he lived to Assi Ghat where he taught in a paathshala attached to the Sankat Mochan temple. Recently many new schools – paathshalas and madrassas – had been opened in Kashi by the patronage of the Mughal Emperor Akbar and his general Raja Man Singh but his school was an old one and he had been teaching there for nearly 30 years. What he liked most about it was that, as he sat in his classroom, a patch of the river was visible from the doorway.

He sat at one end of the boat that was being rowed by his regular boatman Dhani. Dhani would be waiting for him again in the evening to take him back home. Kalpeshwar, careful of his purity as a Brahmin made sure that he sat far away from the defiling shadow of the low caste Dhani but that did not stop them from chatting.

Dhani liked to talk and the pandit liked to answer his questions. He found it oddly peaceful talking to the boy.

“How old are you Dhani?” he asked

“I don’t really know Panditji,” the boy shrugged, his dark muscled shoulders straining at the oars. “Amma only remembers that it was during the rains and it was the year when the river covered all the steps of the Dasaswamedha Ghat.”

The old pandit laughed and then studied the dusky, sharp featured face before him, “I think you are 15 or 16. I remember your father telling me he had a son. He always gave me all the family news.”

Subhadra Sen Gupta writes on Indian history and culture. She has published over thirty books for children. In 2014 she was awarded the Bal Sahitya Puraskar by the Sahitya Akademi. She can be reached at subhadrasg@gmail.com.

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