No matter how many man-made things we become accustomed to, our relationship or experience with nature is unique and cannot be achieved by any artificial objects. Water, specifically rivers, holds a very singular place in human civilization. This story is about a section of society that has an extraordinarily deep relationship with the river.
The ancient city of Banaras (Kashi) in northern India, situated on the banks of the holy River Ganges has been a major Hindu center of pilgrimage for millennia. People from all over the world have been coming here for thousands of years not only because of its fame as a place of learning but also as a center of trade and commerce. This sacred city also pulls in people because it provides hope - hope that a dip in the holy river will bestow an atonement of their sins and the final attainment of salvation after death.
"It is said that everything dissolves in the color of Kashi."
There also lives a section of the society in this city whose religion and livelihood are both focused on the River Ganges. This Majhi (boatmen) community has an integral role in the lives of the pilgrims who visit Kashi, but I won't talk about that today.
When my father decided to shift to Banaras to further his business and provide better education to my brother and me, I was only 10 years old.
My curiosity about this city and desire to know more and be completely whole with this city started then and has remained till this date. I have had a unique relationship with the boys of the Majhi community situated on the Ghats of Banaras and with the old people who live along the river. Interacting with them and living among them I have experienced nature and humanity at a very personal level.
Every child in the world lives close to nature, but those of the Majhi community are surely different in some deep ways. These children have found an intrinsic balance in their way of living with nature. The source of my inspiration is the unique relationship between these boys and nature.
For centuries, the Majhi community has been educating its children in the knowledge of the river: its moods and its seasons. And my experience tells me that no child of Majhi society located in Banaras is deprived of this knowledge. The dexterity and fearlessness that these children show when in and around the mighty Ganges is not possible only due to training but is gained due to a lived experience and a deep connection with the natural elements.
Fishing is their skill as well as their habit and these children, who specialize in this knowledge, have acquired skill in knowing where the fish reside, where they can be located in the river along with the river stream. And thus they both play and hunt in thee often tranquil, often troubled, waters of this, the holiest of rivers.
Somewhere between the modern societies we live in and the kind of education we are given arises a hollowness. This disjunction between Nature and Human beings is increasing taking us towards a senses of emptiness. These children make me think that we have to increase our self-knowledge and have to return to nature, otherwise we will be slaves of artificial influences for the centuries to come.
The innate and unique relationship between these children and nature impresses me greatly.