In a foreign land, on my first day in Vrindavan, when I was trying to familiarize myself of the distinguished culture, architecture, people, styles of living, habits of people, etiquette, and much rare street animals, I found a familiar smile on the face of a little girl serving water to the needy. In the white marbled veranda facing the facade of the great Bankey Bihari temple, there were two cylindrical blue plastic drums full of drinking water, and a steel bathing drum full of tap water, placed separately on a wooden takhat. The little girl was serving clean water to the thirsty worshipers of Lord Bankey Bihari (Lord Krishna), and the tap water to cleanse the hands of the worshipers before they enter the temple, through a lota – a brass round water pot – with a sharp beak.
When I first saw her amidst a huge crowd, waiting for the doors to the temple to be opened for evening prayers, she was playing with a gargantuan cube of ice, greater than the length of her arm and wider than the distance between my thumb and middle finger at a stretch, placed on the wooden takhat, so that chilled water could be served to thirsty bhakts of Lord Bankey Bihari. She was rolling her hands on the ice cube, then pulling them away when she felt cold, then touching it again; she looked curious as children are supposed to be. I tried to click her photo at the instant capturing the transcendental moment, but she looked at me, blushed, and hid herself behind an old man, before I could click her, and I miserably failed as a photographer in my initial moments after holding a camera. Trying to be my best, as a writer, I put the camera into my pockets and smiled at her. She smiled back, a shy smile. I thought, I should ask her if she wants to be clicked, but then thought against it. Quite obviously, it was the first day of my first solo journey; I didn’t know how to make people comfortable to be clicked and to have a good conversation with them. I smiled back at her, shyly, and moved away regretting that I couldn’t click her serene smile, but the smile stayed with me, in my memory, and today, I am rhapsodizing it my writings.
I stayed at the same temple for another three hours, and whenever I came closer to the wooden takhat, in the veranda, she would smile at me, and I would give a smile in return. It happened more than a couple of times, and instantly, we became friends, without even talking to each other, or knowing each other’s name.
Later in the night, I visited the ISKCON temple and then had dinner in a nearby restaurant.
I was taking an amble after stuffing myself of South Indian food, moving ahead towards my dharamshala on the other side of the town, near Yamuna river, when I again crossed the Bankey Bihari Temple – I knew no other way to reach the dharamshala – and saw the same little girl still serving water to the worshipers of Lord Bankey Bihari. I took a walk in the temple complex, and then sat by the side of the same little girl. Instead, there were two girls serving water this time. The one which I had tried to click in the evening, quickly noticed me, and gave another shy smile.
Showing much interest in them, I overheard their conversation, and a wave of inner happiness struck me. I was happy at their guileless attitude, trust in god and people around them. I was happy that they were still children, unaware of the harsh realities of their society. I was happy that they were smiling too often, not concerned of their clothes and the dirt around them, satisfied within themselves of whatever they might get to eat from one of the rich worshipers of Lord Bankey Bihari, satisfied that by the end of the day, they would have enough money, given to them by many generous people, to have something mouthwatering from the market. They wanted to eat golgappa, chaat papdi, meva, peda, and other street food famous in Lord Krishna’s playground town of Vrindavan, like all other happy children who are curious to taste everything.
In no time, I saw two more children joining them, sitting beside me on the same takhat. One of them, a small toddler, around 4 years old, asked me to remove my spectacles, in the fear that one of the monkeys would take them away. Oh, the terrorizing monkeys are a part and parcel of this town! They are everywhere, and they would always go for your spectacles. They belong to this town more than any human who has ever put foot in Vrindavan.
I removed the spectacles as asked by the toddler, making faces to cheer him up. But then, I couldn’t help myself from again and again putting up the spectacles on my face, marred by my blurred eyesight without spectacles. Each time, I would do that, he would ask me to remove them, and claim that monkeys will come and get them. I enjoyed this game, and soon, apparently her elder sister, around 6 years old, also joined us, and we had a good dose of mirthful laughter. Later, all five children joined me, we shared our names, and acted like we know each other for times immemorial. The name of the girl with the serene smile, turned out to be Asha, a ray of hope, as she was to me, she is to me, and she will be to me, that I would always find kind and generous people, to celebrate my time as a lone traveler.
Then, we also played a game of guess-the-right-color. I pointed at different colors, and they told me the name of that color. Mostly, the eldest, Bittu – a girl’s name, I was as shocked as you are – guessed all the right colors.
My phone ringed at that moment, and I had to take a call. When I came back, all of them were over me to click their photographs. Apparently, they had seen my big screen phone, and were so excited about it that it was reflecting on their happy faces. Oh, reader, I had a great time, clicking more than a bunch of photographs and they all went gaga over this thing. Each time, I used to click a photograph, they used to pull my pants, and come closer to me, to take a look at the photograph in my phone. The toddler, named Krishna, hit the screen of my phone with his index finger every time I showed him his photo, as if it was his dream to touch my phone. I had to stop him after he did it more than a couple of times. But it was more than fun, it was invigorating, it strengthened my resolve to travel alone and meet new people at each stop.
I clicked them in a group, I clicked them individually, I also clicked them when they were making faces. We had a photo-shoot, and I, the cameraman, enjoyed the most.
The happiness that this thing brought on their faces was invaluable. They made my first day on my first solo journey.
Later, I wondered if it was the first time they were getting clicked.
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