Gruesome things float down the Ganga
near Benares' bustling ghats:
dhobi wallas; pilgrims bathing
next to where the children shat.
Life and death so interwoven,
feeding Manakarnica's fire;
sandalwood to ease to heaven
those arrayed on funeral pire;
Sense and insense overwhelming;
rage outraged by all around;
offered every vice and victual,
so you cannot turn them down;
Bread that's made with Ganga water,
kneeded on the Ganga shore,
sold down some forgotten side-street
in an unsuspected store;
Lost in every tortured alley,
lost in nearly every way;
flanked by those intent on living
like the dawn of judgement day;
No lights, no shower in Varanassi,
melega nehe, no bhang lassi.
'Mahade' everyone you meet;
wash your hands and scrub your feet.
Kites entangle every building,
every wire and pole and tree.
As if concerned to see them tethered,
little children cut them free;
Monkeys meet on every rooftop,
scrap and mate and groom their kin,
fight for every stray banana,
kicking up a frightful din;
"Older than the dawn of history,"
so Mark Twain was known to write,
older than a long tradition,
older still by smell and sight;
Rounding every narrow corner,
never knowing what you'll find,
piles of human excrement
or stunning silks to blow your mind.
No mistaking Varqnassi,
no escaping from its thrall
'till the smoggy, sick pollution
and the stress begin to pall.
- by Prajna Pranab, 2000