Suddenly, Kaya had this urge to go to the riverside. She felt as if the river was calling out to her. She knew that the arti would begin in a few minutes. She wanted to be there and join the masses in offering prayers. She wanted to pray for peace. Peace for her deceased family’s souls, peace for her own soul. She wanted strength to go through this time. She wanted a direction to make the correct choices.
“I want to go to the river bank and join in the arti. Do you want to come?”, she asked Kajri.
“No, you go. This is the river in which my dadi drowned. I am never at peace on its banks”
“Very well”, Kaya said and turned to leave.
“Give me your packets”, she called out “I’ll take them to your room”
Kaya handed all her bags to Kajri and moved to the riverbank. The arti began almost as soon as she reached the Har ki Paudi. The prayers went on for the good part of an hour, and as soon as it ended, a magnificent display of fireworks erupted across the evening sky. In spite of herself, Kaya enjoyed watching them. Kaya sat on the riverbank for a long time, gazing at the river, as if trying to seek the answers of the questions that bothered her. She shut out all the sounds in her surroundings, and recounted the events of the last two days. She pondered over each event, thought and re-thought about every thing that bothered her. She must have sat there for hours, and would have sat through the night had the sudden noise not broken her reverie.
She snapped out of her trance when she heard it. It sounded like dozens of sirens blaring together. Turning back towards the market, Kaya saw a near pandemonium. Dozens of vehicles were blaring past – police cars, ambulances and fire engines. People were running about in all the directions. She stepped on the street, trying to make her way past the crowd, the sinking sensation greater than ever. She turned around a corner and gasped. Her feet were rooted to the ground and the sight in front of her would be stamped in her memory forever. A four-story building engulfed in towering flames. The building where Kaya would have been had she not gone to the attend the arti. The realization hit hard, and along with it came another one. Kajri was still in the building! Kaya tried to move closer to the hotel, but her progress was hampered by the enormous crowd.