On the steps that descend to the passage leading past the Ganga Godavari mandir to the Godavari river where pilgrims visiting Panchavati offer their prayers in obeisance to a place made sacred by Lord Ram’s presence during his exile from Ayodhya, and where the bereaved perform the final rites of their departed family members, the elderly and the young lounge in the shade of a raised building overlooking Ram Kund, either awaiting their turn with the priests or reflecting on the loss in their lives while pondering the meaning of life when they're not dwelling on the cards life will sometimes deal them.
Either way it’s a sombre moment, the delighted cries of young boys diving into the waters off the ghats notwithstanding. If anything it only serves to interject thoughtfulness and reflection into the inexorable nature of life, spinning along relentlessly as it circles around to complete the cycle of living.
It’s hot when I leave the shade of the tree by the Shri Ram Maha Stambh (pillar) painted with Sanskrit shlokas and walk down the steps, past the notice painted on a platform announcing the time of Maha Aarti before pausing by a cement bench.
Two elderly men are seated on either end of the bench, the kind more likely found in gardens, partly shielding their faces from the Sun by turning their face into the crook of their elbows resting on the top of the back-rest, a leg crossed at the knee in the manner of rustic comfort.
Etched on a plaque on the back-rest is a heartfelt memoriam to a mother from a grateful son. The ink has all but faded away, but the sentiment has survived time. Returning to the cement bench later, I bend for a closer look at the writing before lingering over the lines below:
Donated in the memory of Smt. Shantadevi Prakashchandraji Joshi by her son,
Shri. Sanjay Kumar Joshi, a resident of Mandwa, and dated December 8, 2004.
Mandwa is a long way from Nashik. But the river Godavari at Panchavati is among the most sacred of river stretches that dutiful sons will travel to to perform the last rites of their parents, eventually letting go of the one shelter that rooted them to life in a meaningful way.
While there’s little in the memoriam to tell more about Smt. Shantadevi Prakashchandraji Joshi, the sentiment behind the gifting of the bench in her memory says much of what she must have meant to the son, and the family – a warm soul who gave of herself selflessly for her family.
In some ways that sentiment is expressed best in the form of a bench donated in her memory for public use, for the permanence it lends to its continued utility while sheltering, however momentarily, the pilgrims making their way to the river, many of whom are themselves in need of comfort in their moment of loss, their longing for the departed accentuated by the permanence of the loss.
I look at the two men resting on the bench. It’s apparent they do not know each other, likely brought together by similar circumstances, and joined by a bench away from home. Now sheltered momentarily in the invisible presence of an intangible memory, their presence on the bench brings to fruition the intent in the sentiment of a son grieving for the loss of his mother, seeking to retain her presence in his act of giving.
I look around.
There’re more benches, each with a plaque of their own – in the memory of a father, a son, a husband, a mother; the same sentiment, only different names.
In Memory of Jairamdas N. Jumani
Died Aug 1984
Swargiya Putra Krishnakumar
Srimati Parmeshwari Devi
Shri Pyarelal Jhunjumwala, Thana
In Memory Of
Smt. Radhabai Murlidhar
Borivali. Dt. 1 – 6 – 85
There's no indication of who donated the bench on her behalf. I looked at it wondering why if only so those who read the memoriam are comforted in learning of the people who value the memory of Radhabai Murlidhar.
Swargiya Ganeshilal Baijnath Agrahaari
Inki Yaad Mein Patni Kamladevi
Putra Subash Chandra, Shiv Chandra Ke Taraf Sey
Tarik. 18 – 09 - 2004
I look at the benches. They sit there, awaiting people while people rest on them, waiting out their purpose. Time ticks away, inexorably, like life itself.
Like with the act of giving, the benches make no distinction between those who read the invocations to memories of the departed and those who do not.
I try and imagine another’s grief, and attempt bringing forms to names on the benches. I cannot, at least not commiserate with another’s loss. But I believe that keeping a memory alive mitigates some of the loss, fills it out over time so life goes on even if incomplete in the changed circumstances.
Note: This post, on the theme of 'Giving', is my contribution to the effort Mumbai Twestival 2011 and GiveIndia are putting in to raise funds for the local NGO Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) to help with its efforts in sterilising the stray dog population in Mumbai, besides finding homes for the strays, in addition to treating and rescuing those in need of help and assistance in surviving the streets.
Posts that similarly confirm to the guidelines the India Twestival organisers have listed will each raise Rs. 250/- to a charity of the poster’s choice. I chose Mumbai's WSD for the grant in lieu of this post. You've until the end of day tomorrow, 25 March, to make a similar effort.
To make a pledge at the Mumbai Twestival's event in support of Welfare Of Stray Dogs (WSD), click this link to pledge your contribution. You've until March 27 to make your pledge.
If you’re seeking to make a pledge to help NGOs with their efforts, you can choose from the designated cities participating in the India Twestival - Mumbai. Bangalore, Cochin, Hyderabad, and Pune, each city supporting a local NGO.