The maddeningg orgy was long over. The banks of the Ganga wore a deserted look. In the distance, the shimmering dark water stood still, quite contrary to the picture even an hour back. The bank- teeming with people, goddesses to-be immersed and drummers beating the ‘dhak’ in a mad frenzy, was a scene of disorderliness. But now only torn pieces of streamers, torn petals of flowers, disfigured framework of goddesses from which the clay had sedimented floated on the calm surface of the water – the only signs left of the numerous immersions that had taken place from early evening till the wee hours of midnight.
Squatted on one of the dilapidated steps of the Ghat, twelve year-old Raghu stared intently at those petals forming intricate geometric patterns as they floated on the water. He sat there lost in thought. It was time for him to salvage the coins from the river bed – coins which pious devotees offered in the name of ‘Maa Durga’ and coins which also earned his and many others’ daily bread.
Fumbling for the coins near the banks of the river where the water was shallow, Raghu was often bruised. But there was no respite for the teenager. He had his ailing mother as well as himself to fend for. However, the river – ‘Ganga Maaiya’ as he called, never let him return empty-handed. Opulent ‘seths’ and their obese wives were ceremoniously generous in their offerings. With the pelf collected, he brought medicines for his mother and on special occasions he pampered himself with ‘gulabjamoons’ from the local ‘mithaiwallah’.
But their ‘peak season’ was during the Durga Puja festival. Also, it brought in fresh lease of happiness in his otherwise uneventful existence. This year he had managed to even buy a brand new saree for his mother and then also had money left to feast with his friends. When these four days came to an end like a whirlwind, another new excitement awaited him. After the goddesses were immersed with great pomp and gaiety, he retrieved the framework of the goddesses which were sold at a high price to the artisans for use in the following years. This strange trade also brought some crisp notes.
Somewhere in the distance, a stray dog barked. Raghu woke from his reverie. He had so much to do and yet he could not shake off his sluggishness. Instead, a choking feeling engulfed him. For the first time in his twelve years of life, he felt that he was deprived and underprivileged. At a time when children his age snuggled cozily in bed, he shivered in the cold, alone in the ‘Ghat’, anticipating danger in every move. Divine injustice! he thought. Suddenly, he stood up. Groping in the darkness, he waded through the water until it was waist-deep. He stood there in the ice-cold October water with hands folded, looking up into the sky. Eyes brimming with tears, he silently prayed for a proper place to live and perhaps, an opportunity to mould his life for a better living.
“Hey Raghu! What are you doing there, you fool?”, someone yelled from the banks, “Fetch the torso if you’ve found it. Quick. You know that was the deal.” Wiping his tears fiercely, Raghu dived into the waters. “I’m coming”, Raghu shouted back.