Travel India Poem - Ode To The Ganges

december ganges at Vanarasi
the freshness of morn suffuses the heart and lung
giving the mind a great and sacred space to breathe

dawn light plays with the day in the river
gently portraying a scene heralded by sea gulls,
men and women in overcrowded wooden frigates -
all look forward to the providence of the day

i catch a prayer or two vibrate between their lips
as the river glides its way to sea in divine silence

boys push ganges water to tourists, healing water
in copper jarlets to be brought home for friends

the multi coloured ghats spread like stages
of the gods and goddesses
they light up ganges with a very mediterranean flavour
without spoiling its soul and spirit

devotees fill the long steps in earnestness
to be close to divinity, dipping in, swimming,
and praying sprawled over, hand clasped
towards the rising sun

amid all the light and colours, one lone man
invites me to the cremation ground

there a boy scrambles the last paltry pieces of embers
with the hope to warm up home
my heart churns as one shard of charred bone
turns in the way of his hands

at the side is piled high the remains of the dead,
anything that should be thrown before the soul
could go onto their journey to moksha

you might sometimes find a gold ring or two, the man says to me
without even noticing i am reeling from his suggestion
a tide of desire in the way of the respect for souls

some men bathe the body of an emaciated woman - their mother? -
before setting her on a pyre forever leaving her
in the rush and peace of the ganges

i almost feel one of them heave a sigh of relief,
as if he had had a troubled time looking after her
old age is a curse, not only for the aged, but those around them

the lone man takes us to the quarters for the aged
who he says wait in earnest for liberation - from birth, life and death
in between our talk, he throws a gracious idea
about buying timber for these men who cannot afford a holy cremation
i turn it down not knowing whether the money would
burn the flame of the dead or fuel another
frightening web of karma for the living

in the boat, over the tranquil albeit highly polluted ganges
i chant om nama shiva ye, a call to the the Hindu Almighty
where this great river flows from to look into the needs
of the living and the dead right at their doorsteps
with the fervent wish that he would answer this humble prayer just there

the river that flows from him, from the himalaya ranges
now resonates in me, starts to flow in me
as i chant i feel the river echoes in me
so much so...it is now me... the wind rustles and
my soul resonates like Ganges water

the river that never pauses in its pilgrimage from the mountains
out to the sea and beyond, taking holy ashes, sins of the saints,
men, women, their graces, their joys, their sufferings, their loved ones,
their not so loved ones, their children, their children's children
their births, their deaths, gently, quietly, away

by john tiong chunghoo

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