Suli Ram. Evening is near.
Soon the clouds will cool the earth with showers…
– South Asian Lullaby
It was winter in India. The dry, cool season. The earth lay parched and brown under the sun. The rivers, full-bodied and fierce during the Monsoon, lay flat and lifeless: muddy trickles between their banks of clay.
Even Mother Ganga, bringer of life, destroyer of men, curled meekly through the landscape, her waters brown and shallow. On either side of her, wide reaches of bare, grey silt stretched away into the haze. In places, the people buried their dead, garlanding the graves with rectangles of orange and yellow flowers. In time, with the coming of the Monsoon, Mother Ganga would come down in spate and carry the dead away into eternity.
Varanasi lay under a pall of smokey haze. The ghats stepped back from the river in steep, crumbling, ancient layers, each layer built on the remains of others. Boats plied to and fro on the wind-chopped water. The sun rose scarlet across the river, casting a ladder of gold across the Ganges, then dissolved into the opaque sky.
I walked the day away, lost in the crowds of pilgrims celebrating the festival of Shiva, then climbed the sandstone steps above the Meer Ghat to a bakery where I drank coffee and watched the procession of colours go by outside.
And as I stepped from the cafe, it began to rain: cool, sweet-smelling rain. Indian rain. The clouds were cooling the earth with showers.