Of Basel and Patna
the Rhine and
Two cities I visited almost back to back ; two rivers I gazed upon –rivers that wind through several cities and landscapes but I have seen them hug the shores of maybe two at the most three cities . Did I ever imagine that in my life I would at some time gaze at the Rhine flow through Frankfurt ? Or watch it hug the railway tracks between Frankfurt and Cologne or through the town of Basel? Never in a hundred years no !
But I had seen the Rhine in Frankfurt and Cologne and in Basel too.
And the Ganges ? for years I have wanted to go to Benares ; since childhood wanted to experience the piety and purity that the little sealed copper urns that had their own place of respect in my mother’s puja room contained . The Ganga Jalam. The closest I had got to the Ganga was the Hoogly awesome in itself and I have sworn to myself I will ride a barge on the Hoogly someday and pass under the Howrah Bridge – One day!!
But to get back to the Rhine , I did see it shimmering under an Indian Summer kind of blue sky just a couple of weeks ago. Work took me to Basel and it was easy to snatch some time in between meetings in that little town to gaze upon the unbelievable cobalt of the river and breathe in the crystal clear atmosphere. And I fondly remembered that I had been lucky enough to see this bright blue ribbon of water thread itself through those other cities as well ..ah !! I said to myself , blessed again in Basel.
Whenever one is in foreign lands one cannot but exclaim at the pretty and picturesque vistas that abound , the clean and tidy streets , the gorgeous architecture and the impeccably maintained facades of the beautiful heritage buildings and the efficient and shinning new as a pin public transport carriers . And breathe a sad sigh and wonder if only we had even a modicum of these astounding “conveniences” at home!!
On every return to the well worn and familiar roads of Bombay I nevertheless feel this sense of having come home ; having come back to civilisation ; yes even when I returned from Basel I felt that way for isn’t home where the heart is and all that?? This time on my return from Switzerland I had to almost immediately go to Patna. This was my third visit to this city in less than that many years and I have grown quite fond of the place for it has many pleasing memories so I did feel like I was coming home all over again.
My first visit here was to meet with one of the most gracious ladies ever and write about her triumph over leukaemia and through her wonderful family’s eyes I had seen a loving and friendly city peopled with human beings who cared. You can read about this elsewhere in this blog. The second time was when I was felicitated by the Bihar Health Minister and the Regional Cancer Centre ; an immense honour that humbled me more than anything else for what I do is nothing compared to what the physicians and his team do in their Institute , facing challenges from many quarters . Their dedication to the patients and their mission is exemplary to say the least. So going there for the third time and that too for a patient peer support meeting was something wonderful to look forward to .
After admiring the mind blowing modern architecture of the Novarits campus in Basel it was time to marvel at some elegant and enduring period architecture in Patna ; the Patna Women’s College on Bailey Road and gracious old Patna University campus with its institutions of learning carrying on the heritage of Nalanda . How I wish I had taken pictures of these gracious buildings but I do have pictures of the most common mode of public transport in Patna , the cycle Rickshaw . Still outnumbering the auto rickshaws that are the bane in other cities these gaily coloured contraptions with glittering canopies embroidered with elaborate designs are all over the place. Pink Taj Mahals jostling for space with maroon Hanumans !! No silent elegant green and yellow trams here but screeching rickshaw bells and blaring car horns and Chor Bazaree on every possible airwave . Jiyo ! Jiyo!!
And the Ganges – oh the majesty of the silent one . Not the bright blue ; not the stunning cobalt of the Rhine but a staid and dignified slate reflecting the dull gold of the setting sun , calm and becalming . Wide oh so wide that the bridge spanning it , the Gandhi Sethu is the longest in the continent !! Not a river that runs through the city but a vast expanse that shoulders its living and absorbs the departed as their mortal remains are burnt by its side.
What is it about the flowing river that makes you pause in awe and wonder ? Be it the Rhine or the Ganges knowing that the rushing flow you see beside you has just one purpose – to become one with that big body of oceanic vastness and that if you flow with it you too can become one with the world ?