The Ordinance of Madness – Ananya Chaturvedi (she/her)

The work below is by Ananya Chaturvedi as part of our MA Creative Writers takeover.

Sometimes
the Ganga cries 

And fallen tears pollute its sadness 

At times the stars reach the ghats of Varanasi, before I can. Tonight, they and I sit at the ghat as a silent audience to the crackling of the burning pyre, and the sadhu sitting across from it.
Playing his flute. 

They say two things about the ghats of Varanasi – and one of them is that it sheds magic at night; so I run away every night from boarding school– 

To come here. and collect it. 

From where I sit, I can see steps drowning in the Ganga; I can see the mirage of men and women coming to this holy river; burning Dias for the new, burning pyres for the old, rinsing their sins, smiling at the facade. 

The pyre next to me is too high. Someone must have just lit it. I can’t see the sadhu’s face. I only see his hair. Half of it is up in a bun, and the other half flows ruefully like the Ganga. 

He stops playing his flute.
And then he swallows the silence with his song. 

There’s a violent restlessness within me. I simultaneously can’t live without you, Yet, here I am
Living. 

I know that there was a difference in our love I loved only you
But
you loved me, too. 

I have posthumous questions. All of them for you 

If only I’d asked.” 

He looks to the pyre as he sings. Who does he sing for? His love or someone who loved him? Why do priests say that those who want to love God cannot love another? 

The blaze devours some of the wood. 

I watch his eyes now.
I watch the fire echo in them.
But
I don’t see anyone.
The flute continues, the inferno dances. I look onto the river. There, in the distance stands alone fisherman’s boat, swaying with Ganga. 

Is this the magic?
What would I do with magic?
The stone floor is cold, but the fire keeps me warm. The flute stops again, and he sings– 

“If I had asked,
For you to understand my heart’s ache for you,
Maybe you would have loved me more than I love you. 

If I had asked,
What you meant by “when you love someone hungrily,
you should know you weren’t ever destined to meet them. ” 

What is that in his voice: is it sadness,
or is it a conclusion? 

I want to know who he sings for. Did time build on his love, or did it turn to ashes? Did his yearning wake up in the morning before he did? I know a question has to be asked. For his answers to perish, finally. I have to muster the courage. Regret can’t be my companion, like it is his. 

There’s an empty bridge in the distance, yet to be molested by the morning cars. The night is thick, but it will soon fade. 

The pyre slowly begins its descent into nothing. 

My mind is lulled by the sound of the flute. He’s playing it as though it’s his last tune. I wonder whether it’s his sorrow that consoles him, or the ganga,
Or the burning heart. 

People move on but he seems to be falling back in time. I would want to do that too. Go back in time. Because moving on seems to be a cruel gift bestowed onto us. My mind and my heart, we have to know who burns in the solace of these woods, I have to know them, and what happened; I have to know so that 

I never sit playing a flute next to a burning pyre. Sadness reigns in his heart when he sings again. 

Only if I’d asked
“Will you come find me?” 

The stars have left me. Ganga has stopped crying. 

The flute’s sound ebbs away, the morning takes its place. A fisherman walks by me going towards his boat. 

The last wood joins its brethren’s ash. Silence smiles at me. It is time for me to leave. But I have to ask. I will and finally do.
Who were they?” Someone begins ringing the bells in the temple. It seems that it’s time for God to wake up. 

The sadhu lays his flute to rest: and sees. Sees me and the ash. 

He gets up. Slow and steady. Walks over to me. Puts his hand on my shoulder,
and whispers 

“I don’t know”. 

The second thing they say about the ghats of Varanasi is that you’ll always find a mad man there. 

Three pictures forming a collage. The top picture - a silhouette of hands pulling on two ends of a string with a red background. The middle picture - a black-and-white photograph of an Asian couple, a man wearing a white shirt and black trousers, and a woman wearing a saree. The bottom picture -  white flowers and green leaves with a black background.
Three pictures forming a collage. The top picture – a silhouette of hands pulling on two ends of a string with a red background. The middle picture – a black-and-white photograph of an Asian couple, a man wearing a white shirt and black trousers, and a woman wearing a saree. The bottom picture – white flowers and green leaves with a black background.

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