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The path went up to the mountain. It was a tortuous, even torturous, path
with trees and shrubs on both sides, and it was paved in stone, weathered
and beaten, and washed by rainwater. There were steps, too, though high and
uneven. You had to stop every thirty paces or so to catch your breath and to
take in the scenery, precipices, vales, ponds, clouds and trees. On your way
to the Brahmagiri shrine you also had to climb the steps hewn into the
mountain. It was there that a baby monkey came out of nowhere and perched on
your shoulder, searching for something he could take as ransom. But he was
chased away.

In some time you reached the source of the river Godavari. Inside a square
hole, about seven feet deep, a thin stream oozed out of a dark corner. A few
miles from here, this will be the Godavari in full flow. A niche in one of
the hole's walls housed a stone image of Mother Goda. A priest sat
cross-legged near the holy cavity. His mouth let out a stream of the
stream's history. You were made to repeat a few shlokas, all of which had to
do with your health, well-being and fulfillment of wishes. As you recited
those sharp words, a waft of incense smoke mingled with your breath and your
eyes closed of their own accord. A feeling that your visit was completed
blossomed, so that, your heart embalmed with the moltenness of gratitude,
you made to begin the descent from the mystical mountain. You gave back the
empty wicker plate to the flower seller and looked at the sky, which seemed
to canopy, with a clear-eyed, motherly love, the faith that the shrine had
accumulated over centuries.

On your way down, you saw her against grass and sky. She was sitting by the
wayside, selling bananas and cucumbers. You didn't want to eat, but you
stopped.

How much for a cucumber?

Two for ten. You looked into her eyes, unrustled by the early-afternoon
mountain breeze.

Give me two. Do you have the change for fifty rupees?

She shook her head, slowly.

I have some change, but am fifty paise short of ten rupees. Is that fine? 

With a nod she started peeling a cucumber, her forehead smooth and her face
calm, a face not older than fourteen years. Her silence invited a question
from you.

Do you come here everyday?

Yes.

From the town, you mean?

She nodded.

Do you go to school?

Again a nod, but this time wreathed in silence. But it was too late. You had
asked her something you could have easily guessed. A loop of remorse caught
your heart and tugged at it. Her eyes exuded the despair that village folks
grow up with and learn to live by with time.

It was time to move on, time to leave someone to her poise and quiet. After
walking a few paces, you turned your head. She was looking at you. The
silence of her eyes sent you a message of contentment, which could easily be
mistaken for resignation.

You hadn't asked her name, but you knew what it was.



Sarabjeet Garcha published his first book of poems, The Half-Moon Halo, in 2004. He lives in Delhi, where he leads a
team of editors in a media firm. He also writes in Hindi, and his works forthcoming in 2010 include a book of Hindi
verse and a Hindi translation of selected poems of the contemporary Marathi poet Hemant Divate.


 


In October 2008, during a visit to my hometown, Nasik, I went to the nearby village Trimbak, renowned for the Tryambakeshvar temple It wasn't just faith or religiousness that took me there, I also needed to see the fount of the river Godavari because I was researching for something I am writing. To do that, I had to climb the Brahmagiri mountain, which, albeit real, exudes a mythical aura due to the rich folklore attached to it.
 
More than half my way up, on an easy slope, I saw this dusky, painfully enchanting girl with sad eyes selling cucumbers near the pathway, but I didn't stop. On my way back, though, my guide asked me if I wanted to eat something. I didn't want to, but I realized that he did. That was when I saw
the girl again and, while buying cucumbers from her, tried to chat her up a bit in order to know what goes on in the mind of someone who looks as ingenuous as she did on that dreamlike afternoon.

She should be in school, I said to myself. What is she doing here? Her serene face haunted me for months. Even today, when I think of her, I ask myself whether there was a way to help her in the true sense. All my answers tell me that I am lying to myself.

 





  


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