The Steps

2

There are seventy-nine steps from Gangaji to bum bhola the echoing corridor that joins the ghat and the gali. There are many other ghats with the number, width and gradient of the flights of stairs more conducive to human knees and lungs than the ones at Vijay Nagram Ghat, but it was Niranjan’s ghat and he had used the same stairs all his life, even during his typhoid and rheumatic fever days. He pushed on, his quadriceps tightened and the pectorals cutting through the November early morning cold air.

“I am a strong man. I look younger than my years; I always have. I feel strong. I shall push one. Nothing defeats me. Nothing.”

He was a bal brahmachari, a devotee of Hanumanji and a devoted strength trainer from his sixteenth year. They knew him well in and around the akhada at Hanuman Ghat where he exercised and practiced the moves of kushti daily. He knew that he was strong, so did others. They addressed him as dada, or elder brother. He was a role model to many and inspired the budding wrestlers and strength trainers. He climbed the first fourteen stairs and reached the first landing from the bottom. He rested, took a few deep breaths, and resumed climbing.

“My fingers; I can’t tighten my grip over the lota. Something is happening.”

His lota fell down and reached the bench over the first landing in three bounces, breaking the silence of the winter dawn. There were only five persons whose solitude was thus disturbed by the noise of a falling metallic vessel, and the sight of a man collapsing on the steps of the ghat. Three were just coming to the ghat and two were in the river already. Ramu mallah came running all the seventeen steps from the bottom stair. His gamcha leaving a trail of gangajal behind him. Dada was babbling something in Bangla. Ramu could speak some useful phrases in that language, like the other professionals of the area. Bengalis and Madrasis made a sizable proportion of their clientele. He understood a little of what Niranjan said:

“O father. I am dead. Now what happens? Office. Today office…”

Ramu was twenty-two and strong but his neglect of baithakis had made his upper body stronger than his lower half. He lifted Niranjan and placed him over his right shoulder very easily. Climbing the sixty two remaining stairs with a load of seventy three kilograms was not going to be easy, and he realized it within five steps. Nine people were watching him now. He could not ask for help: not with an ego of his size. Moreover, how could he let the chance of such an exploit slip off his hands?

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