2 PM, and everything appears to be boiling. Confidently.
Gulping down a full liter of water on one go hasn’t done much for my thirst. As I walk out onto the street, I get hit by a curtain of hot, vibrating dust. The light is also dusty, pale and penetrating. Its brightness gives me the sensation of walking into the city as it dreams. From afar, I imagine little bubbles on the surface of the Ganga. It crosses my mind that the tap water on the bathroom is lukewarm in imitation.
After only a week in India, I’ve made it somewhat of a habit to walk without stopping, unsure what to make of all the attention I keep getting from street vendors and young men pointing at me with their cell-phone cameras; but I quickly begin to feel more confident with getting lost on purpose. I can vaguely distinguish the sound a group of men chanting at pooja at a distance. It is otherwise heavily silent. I step over a sleeping cow. The streets are taking a breath.
As I make my way down the stairs towards the ghats, I notice a Baba sheltering himself from the heat in a niche on the right wall. I wave at him, and he waves back. He’s knitting a colorful belt. We smile pleasantly at each other as I pass him.
I walk through eight or nine ghats, picking up faint lines of chanting. Jay Ram, Jay Jay Ram. All male. All at unison, dense and consistent.
I stop when the sound seems to emanate from above me. I haven’t realized I’ve been walking towards it. The heat is starting to affect my vision and awareness, but I soon find myself sitting in a patch of shade right under where the prayer is taking place. I resist the impulse to take a peek at the chanting men, not wanting to be disrespectful. Being unable to see them only enhances the dreamlike quality of everything surrounding me. This chanting is markedly different. It has three different melodic lines with different texts which intertwine in an intricate and mesmerizing counterpoint. (To this day, I’ve been unable to get my hands on a recording of anything remotely similar.)
I sit there until they fall silent. I am very likely dehydrated by this point. I start back, clumsily wading through the thickness of the air. The strings of faraway pooja continue firing through.