CREATIVE FICTION : One with the Water By Shruti Kapoor
I stepped onto the Ghats of the holy river Ganges in my hometown Kanpur, ready to take on my last journey with my “dadima”. This time she was not in form but formless. 24 hours ago, my brother and I woke up to the news that our 94-year-old grandmother had passed away peacefully, in the wee hours of the morning. We were both on the next flight to India. A flight I have often thought about and dreaded taking. Home just seemed so far away after that news.
Clinging on to the earthen pot with dadima’s ashes, tears rolled down my cheeks. Everything around me looked grey. The grey waters reflected the sadness in my heart. At that moment, the clouds burst into heavy rains. Was God crying too?
“Join me”, I whispered, “let’s cry together”! People on the Ghat scrambled to take shelter from the rain. Others in the middle of their prayers hurried with it. I clenched on to the urn with one hand and the umbrella with the other. The boat was waiting for us. There were seven of us, my father, brother, uncles and male cousins. In Hindu culture the men of the family usually perform the last rites. But I’ve always followed my heart and not the rules. I clearly remember at the age of nineteen going to the cremation grounds when my grandfather passed away. People raised eyebrows. But, I was used to it. Today was going to be no different.
Once seated, we pulled away from the banks. The wooden boat rocked in choppy waters. My white kurta was slowly getting drenched in the rain and my heart with tears of sorrow and joy. The kajal in my eyes had lost its direction like my thoughts! The boatman, expressionless, rowed the boat away from the banks, into the depth of the river. He did not care if you were on the boat for an outing or performing last rights. His job was to row.
Everyone was talking but I couldn’t hear her voice. The rains lashed against the wooden boat. I knew in a few minutes I would have to let her go. I hung on to the red earthen pot tightly. My grandmother was the life of our family, the center of our universe. And now the center had shifted and we felt off-balance, unsupported by our elders. She was the last grandparent alive from both my parent’s side. With her gone, a whole generation was gone.
For everything we would look to her for guidance. From making ladoos to arranging marriages, she was the jack-of-all-trades. Who would lead us now? From the corner of my eye I noticed the boatman had stopped rowing. The boat floated in the river for a few minutes. It was time. I whispered one last time “I love you dadima. Thank you for sharing your life’s journey with me”.
Utsav, my brother helped me untie the red cloth covering the urn. Papa looked solemn and sad. He sat there hands folded, bowing his head down to this urn. Paying his last homage to all of her, reduced to 206 bones and beautiful silver/grey ashes. I slowly unveiled the red cloth and gently began unloading the contents of the pot in the river, the rose petals, and ashes, all of it. We let her go.
She became one with the water, with the wind, with this earth and was finally a free spirit. In the distant background I could hear a group of priests chanting prayers on the steps of the bank. Everything was how it was meant to be. We were all at peace, happy and content. Dadima had lived a life queen size and this was the time to celebrate her legacy.
I watched the earthen pot float away for as far as I could. My heart wanted to hold on to her forever! We come into this world empty-handed and leave with nothing. All that remains of us in the end are our ashes and millions of memories. The rain kept pouring, and as I disembarked that boat, I felt light. And just like the urn, her touch, voice, and form will eventually fade away from my mind's eye, but her memories are forever. They made a home in this little girl’s heart when I was born and I know they will continue to provide me with inspiration, happiness and guidance the way forward. I held my papa’s hand; it was time to go back home, to her home, to our home without her.