“Dada, Dada, said Gangu as he handed over the tea to Babu Bholaram. Babuji was in a world of his own. He silently took the tea from Gangu’s hands and drank it up in a gulp. There was a slight jerk probably as the hot tea found its way to the stomach but Babu ji seemed to be in a trance. As if he was still reliving the day, almost a year ago.
It was the Ardh kumbh and the city of Allahabad seemed to be bursting from its seams. It seemed the world had decided to visit this unique and ancient town to take a holy dip in the waters of the Sangam; the confluence of three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. The Mahakumbh took place every twelve years and this was after six years, the Ardh kumbh, making it so much special.
“Beta Devendra, when can we go for a dip in the holy Sangam?It’s Ardh kumbh na?” Babu ji would muster all his courage and ask every morning as soon as Devendra came out of his room to sip a cup of tea. Babu ji had lost his vision due to cataract but his other senses had developed significantly to quite compensate for the loss.
Babu ji’s wife had died some five years back, leaving him at the mercy of their only son Devendra and his wife, Leela. With every passing day he was becoming a heavier burden for both of them. Their only son Kunal had left home to try his luck in Bollywood, as a singer, some two years ago. No one knew much about him and he would land up anytime, stay for some time and then leave. These visits would essentially be to demand money and that was all that his existense was for his family. His parents, like any other parent, were very annoyed at this situation. They felt frustrated and unfortunately, all this frustration would get expressed on Babu ji.
Even today, when Babu ji asked Devendra about going for the holy dip in the Sangam, Devendra, at first got very angry but then suddenly he too felt an urge to go for a dip. Looking at his helpless father, softened his heart a bit and he said, “Babu ji, tomorrow we’ll go for the dip.”
Babu ji was elated. He going to the Sangam the next day, with Devendra, was a dream coming true. In his excitement, he could hardly wait for the dawn. The dawn arrived. Holding on to his son’s hand, Babu ji set off to have his holy dip. His heart was jumping with joy. Both of them reached the Sangam. There was a sea of people. The winter chill seemed to have no effect on any of them. Devendra led Babu ji into water. Babu ji just kept following him.
“We should move over a bit to have a proper dip Babu ji. There is too much of pushing around here. Let’s go to a place slightly less crowded,” said Devendra.
“Yes Beta, what ever you say. My good deeds have shown me this day when I am taking a holy dip in the Sangam, with you. I will not be there for the next Mahakumbh, son. So many times in all these years, I have come here alone, but coming with you is a dream come true. This can only be God’s blessing.” said an overwhelmed Babu ji. He took dips chanting the mantras with all the devotion in his heart. He was bathing in the chilling water, to his heart’s content. He was taking circles, invoking the Gods and the Goddesses, through the mantras. After a while, fully content with his worship, he stretched his hands to find Devendra; he found no one. He called for him. No one answered.
“Devendra, Devendra!”his calls became frantic, no one answered and then suddenly he lost balance and fell into the water. He did not know how to swim and he just kept going down and down into the water till he lost all his senses.
Gangu was at his regular job of collecting as many coins as he could from under the water. People would offer coins in water as offering and Gangu, like an expert, would catch them as they made their way to the river bed. Suddenly Gangu felt a body, a body going down, down and down. He quickly tried to pull it up and with great difficulty, he managed to pull unconscious Babu ji up to the shore. He instantly started pumping out the water from his chest and after some good fifteen minutes of hard work, Babu ji coughing, opened his eyes.
“Baba, Baba, how are you feeling now? Where have you come from? Who all have you come with? Is there someone who I can inform?” Gangu asked what ever came to his mind. Babu ji kept silent. He did not utter a single word. He kept lying down. Gangu ran and brought him some tea. Babu ji got up and had it slowly. From then onwards, Babu ji stayed on with Gangu. Gangu looked after him in the best of his capacity and with time, developed a strong affection for him. Babu ji never spoke a word.
Sarla Devi was very stressed that day. Her differently abled son could only add seven daughters to the family and Sarla Devi was finding it extremely difficult to pull along the family. She desperately wanted a son, who after her, would carry the family on his shoulders. Her daughter-in-law Savitri was in labor and Sarla Devi left invoking no God and Goddess, pleading to them for a baby boy. Her prayers were answered. Savitri delivered a baby boy but to Sarla Devi’s shock, the boy had half his face completely disfigured. One eye was just a socket, a hole for a nostril, and a smashed half lip was enough for Sarla Devi to announce him to be a still born child. Savitri died at child birth and Sarla Devi put the infant, on the waters of the river, with her own hands.The old childless Ganga, who was bathing in the river, found the floating baby and took him into her arms as well as her heart. She named him Gangu. She brought him up with all the love and care that she could give for fifteen years and then died peacefully, of old age. Now Gangu, all of twenty, supported himself by doing odd jobs along the riverside. His cheerful nature won everybody’s heart and endeared him to one and all. After Ganga’s passing away, Gangu found a companion again in Babu ji.
The past one year was miserable for Devendra. He had left Babu ji bathing in the river, on an impulse. His frustrated mind had suggested this solution to him. On hearing of what Devendra had done, Leela was shocked. Her heart filled with fear and every now and then, Babu ji’s face would haunt her in her dreams. Devendra too became a nerve wreck and soon lost his job. He would sit in the house the whole day and every now and then, would walk around Babu ji’s string bed, conversing with him. Kunal too, never showed up even once, all through the year.
Leela was now full of remorse and regret. She fasted all seven days of the week, praying to some God or Goddess, for forgiveness. Devendra was no more in a condition to even go look for Babu ji. Few years thus passed by, bringing in more and more misery into Devendra and Leela’s lives. Devendra had completely lost his mental balance. He would come and go out of the house when ever he wished to. Leela could do nothing but sit at home and wait for him.
Babu ji was very old now. Gangu had brought peace into his old age. Though Babu ji never ever spoke, yet often he would call for Gangu with his hands and would either sit or lie down for hours holding his hands. Both Babu ji and Gangu, felt blissful and calm. On one such day, while Babu ji was holding Gangu’s hands, Babu ji’s hand fell listlessly. On repeated calling when Babu ji did not respond, Gangu realised that Babu ji had left this world for his heavenly abode. Gangu broke down and wept bitterly. After a while, he made arrangements and performed the last rites with full devotion. According to the Hindu practice, a certain number of Brahmins are fed for the salvation of the departed soul. Gangu did not have the resources to feed many. He arranged for one and with all the purity of his heart, he sat to feed the one brahmin that he found. Gangu found the man sitting alone near the bank of the river looking intensely at the flowing water. His sacred thread on his bare body, indicated him to be a brahmin. The man, Devendra, had not eaten for two days. He sat beside the river, eating hungrily, as Gangu fed him.