It was 6 in the morning..I was at Ganga ghat. My toes tucked in, being kissed by a moody Ganga once in a while..my chin placed on my knees as I watched little boats idling as if they had no better work to do. When I looked around me, to my right I saw a gentleman, a tourist probably, head bent in deep concentration sketching..He looked up only once in a while to stare around him and then got back to his work. After a while he noticed me, trying to swing myself and delve into the mysteries of the muddy water..our eyes met and we exchanged a smile..after sometime he walked up and came over to where I sat and asked me, " May I sit here a minute?" When I nodded in approval, he sat nearby..surprisingly he didn't speak anything and we sat silently watching the river. We had exchanged no conversation, he was a white man in his mid thirties, is all I could gauge. I turned my head after a while to look at what he was sketching. To my surprise he had a sheaf of 2-3 pencil sketches. Some of the river and the boatmen, some of the cows walking around the lanes, some of the strange sadhus he had encountered another of the Ganga aarati..and they were beautiful. I looked at him then and asked, "Are you an artist?" He smiled. I pointed at his sketches and said that they were beautiful.
He had just finished the sketch he was doing, a small temple on a wall, where a man was worshiping while a cow rubbed its head lovingly on the same wall..it was so Benaras, I couldn't help but smile. He looked up from the paper then and stretched his hand with the sketches, "You take them". I was extremely surprised and embarrassed at the gesture and thanked him and said that I could not take something he had made so lovingly and painstakingly.
He looked at me then and he said, " If there is one thing I have learnt in Benaras, it is that what is truly yours, is never separated from you. My art is within me, what I am giving you comes off the land, I would be happy to give back to it, in you"
Throughout my journey in life, unknown strangers have been immensely kind and in them one finds a strange friendship that transcends all borders, many such incidents have remained with me...I brought the sketches back home and plan to use them in a book that I plan to write someday- 'From a stranger with love'
(Text © Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury)