Rishikesh I
by Amarnath Ravva

In Rishikesh the sky is split with its own light. From the ghat our flames drift down the river at dusk, stuck in eddies and circling pools, snagged in the tree roots that line the banks. The sadhus robes cover the steps in orange and they sing and clap their hands in unison. Their robes were once white. All around them is the smoke of the pyre.

A month ago at the Triveni Ghats I met Ganesh, the sadhu who said he drew strength from walking by the water at sunset. Around us people were gathering to release their deepums, little flames floating in ghee, down the Ganga. It is here that the river tumbles out of the mountains, clear with patches of green like the Feather River coming out of the canyon near Chico. We saw a man lean down and drink water in the cups of his hands and Ganesh turned to me and said,

See how much faith he has? He thinks it is safe to drink the water because it is holy. I would never drink the water here. I saw wild elephants last summer on the other side amongst the trees. They always drink where the water moves fast enough. So do I.

Once, I had read a story in the newspaper about a herd of wild elephants. Their forest had been chopped down by developers, so they left to live in another one north of Delhi. Years later, the elephants heard the echo of trees falling again. They recognized the yellow bulldozers. But this time, as the developers slept, the elephants dragged all of their equipment and threw it off a nearby cliff.

Rishikesh II
by Amarnath Ravva

The next day, the train sped across the Deccan plateau heading towards Hyderabad. In the compartment next to me were old soldiers in their 80’s, called freedom fighters by this young man who said he was a politician. His friend, a grandson of one of the soldiers, told me about his home in Warangal.

Do you know why India has remained whole after all of these years? How can we speak different languages and continue to call each other Indian even though we can’t understand each other? My mother, when she went down to the Godavari, near Warangal, to do her ceremonies she called it Ganga. This is why we understand each other. All of our rivers are Ganga.

Every September we take clay sculptures of the god Ganesh down to the water in the Bay Area and return him to his home. At the bottoms of oceans in India there are millions of elephant-headed bodies of half eroded clay left by families over the years. Underneath the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, ours have begun to crumble.

Amarnath Ravva has performed (as part of the ambient improvisational ensemble Ambient Force 3000) at LACMA, Los Angeles; Machine Project, Los Angeles; and Betalevel, Los Angeles. He has exhibited work at Telic, Los Angeles; Acorn Gallery, Los Angeles; Pond, San Francisco; and Keith & Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery, Cal Poly Pomona. In addition to presenting his work in numerous readings, he has writing online at PennSound, LA-Lit and Drunken Boat #10, and work forthcoming in Encyclopedia vol. 2, and Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.