Three weeks after my father dies, I travel to India on a pre-arranged contract to facilitate an English intensive camp for high school girls. So soon after death, my grief colors Kolkata disconsolate. In the late afternoon, honking yellow taxis ply the road, horns punctuating street cacophony. Sugarcane presses, coconut vendors, bel puri stands, beggars, and second hand booksellers throttle the uneven pavement land-mined with dog leavings. Young women, hair pulled back in long braided tails, wearing multicolored shalwar kameez and flat sandals link arms. Young men–shirts tucked into black pants–port bulging backpacks and stride purposefully to and from business, weaving around feral dogs that curl in slumber in the middle of moving throng. A man in a loin wrap stretches out sleeping on a cement bench; behind him, a curtain strung on a rope shields the family living there, cook stove pressed against a fence surrounding the bank where security guards in navy blue serge uniforms sit in folding chairs, mopping their brows. On the corner, a child lies face down, legs spread on the dusty bricks: a mother with a baby in her arms holds out a tin bowl.
As evening drops onto the city, particulate auras the sun. Sparrows make lunatic noise; the crows’ baritone like a saw against metal. In the darkening street maze of smog and exhaust, I venture in the direction I think I stay, double back, tripping over concrete, headlights in my face. Passing a flaming altar, I watch the burning of a hundred candles, pedestrians stopped in prayer, but I cannot approach. Against the night, I shut the curtains of my room, incarcerated in the privilege of isolation, shaking some nights with tremors like those that quake the hotel in the aftershock of a 6.5 Myanmar earthquake, The concrete bridge two kilometers from my lodging collapses. Other people die. One weekend after my contract, I take a local overnight train twelve hours to Varanasi seeking solace in the mythos of the sacred Ganges. For two days I stay sheltered in a small room with a view of the ghats where Hindu priests trailing white garments burn bodies to ash on the fetid banks. I spend there remembering those who are gone: Dad, Angus, Vusi, Will. On the third morning, I am called to the river.
ghat explores how unedited images photographed at dawn juxtaposed with a closely edited text evokes meaning out of a simple human act of love.