An excerpt from Anil Sethi’s recently published book The Rebel of Benaras.
It was a cool breezy day in the fifth decade of fifteenth century Benaras.
A woman descended the steps leading to the river Ganges. She was dressed in a coarse grey sari, appropriate for a widow—doomed to live a life of utter deprivation, whose all five senses were crippled with cruel disciplines imposed by the patriarchal society of the middle ages. An anathema forever.
For anyone watching, she was a common sight at the ghats, one of the many miserable and unfortunate ones who came to plead to god for mercy, for liberation from a life of loneliness and abandonment. She stood facing the river that flowed with reckless abandon, her back towards the city that throbbed and hummed with life, yet her inner landscape remained a barren desert.
She stood there on the bank of the river, waiting with offerings in her hands. The widow knew he would come. For the past fifteen days, she had seen him coming there every day, watching the sun performing its daily ritual of descending to the other side of the horizon.
From the corner of her eyes, she saw a movement. A young boy of twelve came and sat a couple of steps behind her.
The setting sun lambented on the river crest, stirring the emotions deeply buried in the locked chambers of her heart.
A shiver arose from the centre of her being. An invisible cord leapt out from within her, connecting itself to the boy. The phenomenon was deeply mysterious yet well known to her. This ability to connect came naturally to her, just as it would to any other mother in the world. The boy’s eyes shone with the reflection of the sun’s warm glow and burned with intensity and a kind of urgency.
The boy did not belong there. He was supposed to be in the street or playground with his mates or at home with his adoptive family. Yet he had chosen to be there, at an hour of contemplators.
She could see something akin to wonder in the boy’s face, or was it something more than that? She was no scholar of words, but she knew it was something profound. She had followed him at stranger places than this.
It wasn’t that the boy did not live a normal childhood. He played with children of his age and ran after butterflies like any other kid, but he also enjoyed the company of people far beyond his age. He would roam around, following groups of sadhus and fakirs and observe their practices.
He was the widow’s son, born out of wedlock after she was widowed. She had no choice but to abandon the child. Fortunately, he was found by a newly married childless couple. His adoptive parents loved him like their own son. She knew how fortunate he was to have found such a caring family, yet, from time to time, she felt the urge to see him.
There was another purpose in following the boy of which she was not consciously aware.
She dutifully performed all the rituals expected from a widow, but all her pleas to the gods had been unanswered. The world around her seemed hopeless to her. Nonetheless, whenever she looked at the boy, she felt as if she was looking at a wild flame, a rebellious spirit unchained by any dogma or restriction.
To her, the boy was proof that the world was not mere bricks and dust and misery. There lay an unknown dimension where human spirit could soar high and free. His mere presence was like a prayer that needed no answer. Being there with him was enough.
Whenever she was near the boy she felt overwhelmed with something incomprehensible. The big black liquid eyes of the boy seemed to change from dreamy to alert to piercing as if he was trying to look into some unknown dimension.
She had cursed herself when the boy was born. But her shame of abandoning him did not suppress the tender feelings that arose within her heart. Every passing day was a struggle for her to keep herself away from the boy. She could not afford to reveal herself. Her lack of self-control would be disastrous for the boy’s life. He was deeply loved by his adoptive parents and she had no right to disrupt their life now. They had taken him in when she had left the baby to die. It was their right to reveal the truth of his birth to him whenever they wanted.
She had to leave him alone and carry him forever in her heart.
Oblivious of his mother’s thoughts that encompassed her entire life, the boy sat staring at the sun, deeply rooted in the moment. The day ended taking the sun with it, leaving behind a deep hue of orange that was slowly giving way to twilight.
The widow looked at the boy one last time and ascended the stairs to depart from his life forever.
Kabir never had the chance to meet his mother.
This is an excerpt from Anil Sethi’s recently published book.
Read Sanjay’s review: The Rebel of Benaras
Anil Sethi’s pull for writing came early; his first short story was published in a children’s monthly when he was fourteen. He has been an Osho disciple for 37 years and was a columnist for the Buddhafield Newsletter and for Osho Times. He now writes for Yes Osho magazine which is published in Pune, India. ‘The Rebel of Benaras’ is his first novel and currently he is working on his next book titled ‘In Chuang Tzu’s dream’.