‘The ghat is not just riverside accoutrement but part of the poet’s spiritual inscape” (Vrinda Nabar).
1.6: parasols: umbrellas made of palm leaves. They are pictured as freak mushrooms springing up all over the place.
1.8: apoplectic gloom: the kind of gloom or emptiness which is caused by a sudden loss of sensation or consciousness.
1.9: panda: pandas are self-styled priests who act as guides to the pilgrims at all holy places.
Dasasvamedh: Every ghat on the banks of the Ganges has been named after a god or mythical figure. This particular ghat has been named after the ‘ten-horse sacrifice’ by some ancient kings who bathed here after the sacrifice.
1.10- 13: I listen avidly to his legend talk on the river’s flank: Note the irony in the statement. The speaker’s attention is actually focused on the mouth of the giant-sized sewer which spews all the city’s sewage into the river. The panda’s legend hardly interests him but it is a temporary escape from the disgusting sight of the pollution flowing into the sacred river whose waters are believed to dissolve all sins and pollutions.
1. 14-15: hygiene is part of my conscience… queazy here: His deep sense of hygiene is jolted by the ugly sight.
11.16-19: And while the pandas… the finality of fate: It is ironic again that when the pandas keep talking about the merit or ‘punya’ which one earns, the speaker ruminates over death which is everyone’s final fate. The burning ghats keep reminding him of this final stage of the drama of one’s life. Here as everywhere else in the poem, the subjective responses of the speaker are more dominant than the actual sights described. Everything seems to lead ultimately to self-discovery and self-analysis. All the images employed seem to work out the spiritual disillusionment of the speaker.
11.24-27: There is no lament… substance burn: the mourners who come here to cremate the dead learn to accept the inevitability of fate and also to understand the meaninglessness of life.
1.28-29: a flight of mallards… gloom: The flight of the wild ducks or cranes into the gloomy west carries with it symbolic overtones which the speaker is quick to perceive.
1.37: a ritual that bade no good: Refer to lines 15-18. Daruwalla does not believe in what seem to him as empty rituals.
1.39-41: When we disembark… unleavened bread: Refer to 11.3-5 where it is suggested that the time is that of dusk with nightfall approaching. Funeral attendants who form a caste by themselves. mallahs. boatmen
11.42-45: Dante would have/been confused here: The place has the characteristics of neither Purgatory, nor even the burning hell. Even Dante would have found it difficult to categorize a place like this.
11.46-47: The speaker has little belief in the myth of Ganga being a goddess who has the power to wash away all sins and redeem mankind. The ugly sights which he sees on the banks of the sacred river lead to a disillusionment with all the grand images built of the Ganga by age old myths and legends. (Compare A.K. Ramanujan’s “A River”)
11.48-51: What plane of destiny… bum side by side: The strange juxtaposition of the fires of cremation and cooking fires baffles the speaker. Here is a place where cooking fires cannot be lit if there are no corpse fires, for the people live on death, earning their livelihood by assisting those who have to cremate their dead.
Both in this poem and in the sequence Daruwalla has pictured Varanasi as an once spiritual city now reduced to a prototype of all corrupt cities. The underlying theme seems to be that of self-discovery which follows the pattern of the archetypal Hindu pilgrimage to the Ganges. Doubtless the journey ends in disillusionment, but leads to a discovery of one’s country and one’s own self as it happens in the case of Rama, the narrator protagonist of Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope.