Change Is The Only Constant

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Traditionally a married Hindu woman wears Red bangles till the day her Husband is alive – in a way to symbolise that her world is still flourishing and full of colour and joy. In the event of Husband’s death those bangles are broken and then the woman never wears red bangles again. Those red bangles which once were a symbol of life, joy and happiness, the absence of them in a woman’s world becomes symbolic of a life and a world of sadness, and loneliness, one that is incomplete and colourless and in which the best and the happy days have already passed and a bleak, cold and a slowly decaying world lies ahead.
Similarly, seeing these dust covered red bangles hanging abandoned in the home in my mother’s village became symbolic of a family, lives and a home that once flourished with hopes, dreams and happiness and now lies abandoned, forgotten and lost.
We usually run away from situations and thoughts that remind us of seemingly unpleasant changes in our lives that inevitably creep in with time because they make us sad. But facing them and understanding them helps us rise beyond this sadness and that sadness is replaced with a sense of strength, acceptance, peace and tranquillity.

When the skies were dotted with kites…

Kite festival cover

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Blanketing the earth in an infinite band of celestial wonders, the heavens celebrated the magic and wonder of flight as earthlings adjusted their kite strings to the echoes of wind and earth. Whilst the streets of Pushkar were deserted and seemed to have come to a standstill; the young and old alike gathered on rooftops to celebrate the eternal transition of the sun from one zodiac sign into another. Makara Sankranti or the harvest festival is an ancient ritual to immortalise the celebration of collective energy, of the spirit of our connection with nature and the dawn of spring. And, it is no wonder that at this time of the year, new relationships are formed, new friendships made and everyone bonds with one another sans any prejudices or preconceived notions.

As the winter morning welcomed the warm embrace of sunshine, kites were seen drifting across the horizon chasing the pre-dawn wind. The ritual of waking up early in the morning waiting for the dawn to turn into a congregation of opal and pink, just to pick the perfect spot before the skies turn into a riot of colours, is followed very sincerely amongst the children here. As the day gets brighter, the cool breeze lifts the kites aloft into the horizon and the rooftops are dotted with hordes of families challenging and coaxing each other to battle it out with kites.

With each and every household blaring music ranging from psychedelic trance to Bollywood and bhajans, the kite flying ‘ritual’ in any town gives rise to a phenomenon where social gatherings are no longer marred by pretentious greetings. A lot of terraces had music systems stacked up in a pile and a few teenagers engaged in a comedic battle of wits with their rivals on loudspeakers. Eager faces and enthusiastic souls invited curious onlookers onto their roofs by yelling out “Aa jao Aa jao lada lo. (Come. Let us have a match).” We soon decided to head towards a Dharmshala where all the action could be easily witnessed.

The sight of smiling faces perched on rooftops; eyes gleaming with mischief and childlike enthusiasm filled the air with warmth and happiness. Children were seen climbing walls and pipes to steal a kati patang or scan the best roof for optimum flying conditions. There were instructions being given out with military precision by five and six-year-olds. For them, the stage had been set and the battle was in motion.

While mothers draped in bright Bandhni saris were seen helping out their tiny toddlers balance the charkhi and manjha; a few grandfathers, smoking beedhis with a lot of panache, tried their best to bring down their neighbours’ kites. Also seen amidst a crowded settlement was a newly wed Rajput couple, dressed in their traditional attire, who exchanged glances at each other as they flew their kites. By evening, multicoloured kites and numerous birds crossed paths and one couldn’t make out the difference between our little avian friends and their lifeless flight companions soaring in the skies.

There was poetry and romance in the air and every person was inebriated in the spirit of celebration. For a change, no one was judged based on his/her caste, community, creed or even social status. There was no rich and no poor here for all gathered on their roofs as one. For those few moments, all worries and hardships were forgotten and every person indulged in the age-old past time of bonding over a ritual that epitomised connections based on unity and love. And as the warmth of sunshine drifted away from the Southern hemisphere to the Northern, everyone welcomed the rays of new hope, as customary every year, with great reverence and joy.

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Baba Jagmohan Giri : An Encounter with A Naga Baba in Benares

Jagmohan Giri holding a flute seller's stand.

Jagmohan Giri holding a flute seller’s stand.

The heavy rains that ended Kumbh Mela a week earlier than it was supposed to end in February 2013 forced me to reconsider my initial plans of staying at the Mela till March 10 for Maha Shivaratri. So, I decided to join some of my friends to Benares to attend a friend’s engagement ceremony that was supposed to take place on the banks of the Ganges river opposite Assi ghat. There I met Late Baba Jagmohan Giri, a 30 something year old Naga baba from Juna Akhara, who had taken up the life of a Naga sadhu to get rid of all his past crimes.  Turning into a Sadhu requires one to dissolve their existing identity; and with the dissolved identity all the acts of the past get dissolved too. At least that is the hope with which a lot of people turn to the life of a Sadhu — to run away from their past crimes.

Jagmohan Giri himself spoke of having committed a murder a few years ago.

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Late Baba Jagmohan Giri of Juna akhara sitting by the eastern bank of Ganges river in Banaras. Next to him is something that you don’t usually see a Sadhu with- alcohol(champagne) that was brought to celebrate a friend’s engagement. But Baba Jagmohan was under a lot of fire from his fellow Babas for his alcohol addiction. Smoking weed/hash is an accepted and an integral part of a Sadhu’s life. But alcohol is considered to be a complete no no.

Jagmohan Giri

Just a few days before these photos Baba Jagmohan had been attacked and beaten up some other Sadhus over this same alcohol issue. But Jagmohan Giri was deeply troubled by his rough life experiences and too deep into alcohol, weed and crack addiction to be pulled out of it without love. And that’s something I think he never found till health complications due to his drug problems claimed his life in 2014.

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Baba Jagmohan Giri emotionally questioning – “why everybody in his life always used and abused him?”

 He kept saying that everybody in his life used and abused him and he repeatedly asked why he deserved such treatment.

A question to which he never found an answer to his end.

Baba Jagmohan Giri applying ash on his body after taking a dip in the river

Baba Jagmohan Giri applying ash on his body after taking a dip in the river