When the Howrah Bridge lights up

Posted in West Bengal by Priya Ramachandran.

When the Howrah Bridge lights up

A ferry from Shovabazar Ghats to Howrah Railway Station across the Hooghly River. A middle-aged man cautiously rests a statue of Durga Maa on the floor of the boat. Another middle-aged father protectively holds the hand of his little daughter, his Goddess. A tired lady, occupying a tiny space on one of the jam-packed benches on the ferry, clutches her handbag tight as she makes room beside her for another weary soul. A young man looks longingly into the distance, at the blinking lights on the horizon that are filled with a promise of a shiny, new future he doesn't dare dream of. For now, he is riding a ferry across the grey waters of the Ganges from one point to another. And that will do.

Everything is so crowded, yet seems so quiet. The dull roar of everyone's thoughts is so loud that it cancels itself out. The Ganga is a bubble of calm in the chaotic city of Calcutta. The ferry approaches the Howrah Bridge and somehow, everyone stares in awe. They see it everyday. This colossal, utilitarian creature that has become such an inseparable part of the cityscape. Yet, this all-steel structure manages to evoke a sense of wonder in them. The loud orange hue emanating from the lamps that light up the bridge, reflect on their faces, revealing traces of a wide-eyed innocence. A remainder of a yesterday where everything was just the same, yet so different.

We reach the other side of the river and watch all kinds of people. People in a tearing hurry, running to catch the next train, bus or metro in order to get to where they need to be, even as time tightens its noose around their necks. However, time turns benevolent and slows down for some. A couple holds hands, enjoying a few moments of belonging, before they get sucked back into the chaos that is a city.

Then, in an instant, the harsh orange outline of the bridge turns a gentle purple. Almost pink but not quite. I imagine everyone lets out an inaudible sigh. I do. Beauty can make the world stop, they say. It at least manages to freeze this scrambling scene into a tableau for half a millisecond. They see this everyday. The Howrah Bridge lighting up at dusk. But it doesn't make the sight less inspiring. The dark ripples reflect shimmery lines of light and distort them, in and out of shape. Some take out camera phones. Others resume the dash for their destination. The couple seem unperturbed though. They have just a few moments together and everything else can wait.

We take the ferry back. This time, it's less crowded. The almost-full moon that plays peekaboo with a dark cloud, casts a soft glow on everything around. We are soaking in all that we can see, grateful to enjoy a moment of calm, away from the madness of this metro, when we learn that a friend has lost someone dear. A man we were supposed to meet, while we are in Calcutta. The friend says he has to get used to talking about the man he revered so much, in the past tense. I look away from my phone and back into the blinking lights. One ferry ride ago, this man existed in my version of the world. The ferry ride back, he is in the past. Strange, this life. I feel a sense of loss for a man that I never met.

The more I try to focus on the lights in the distance, the more they seem blurry. I don't know if it's a metaphor for something, but it sure feels like it at this moment.

For now, we will continue to bob gently along the Ganges.


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