Adventures in India

This is an open journal of some of the things I see and think about while trying to find a place to live in India. It may or may not be interesting. I make no promises.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Leaving Varanasi

Yesterday sitting on one of the ghats, watching the young men in their skivvies bathing in the Ganges. Some young boys start mocking an old mute woman on the shore, throwing old garlands and garbage at her and laughing. She is making sounds of outrage deep in her throat and is looking for a weapon. She finally lays hands on a big stick and walks up to a guy washing his shirt in the shallows and hits him on the shoulder. He may or may not have been one of her tormentors. He takes the stick from her and lands a crippling blow to her legs and she goes down on the paving stones, bellowing like a buffalo. She is crying and moaning in an errie rythm. This carries on far longer than the pain must have lasted, and the boys begin to get restless, acting a little scared. That's right... she is calling on the Mother...I'd make myself scarce if I were you fellas; there's always the chance She might show up.

Later I go to see the Kama Baba, but he has gone to the Hanuman temple. He hasn't sat down, or lain down in 12 years. He has a chest-high swing in the temple which he rests against, sleeping with his feet on the ground and his back supported by the swing. The first thing I did when I first met him was offer him a seat. He smiled and declined.

There is something about him that makes me want to look after him. Is he a "real" holy man? Does he have mystical powers? I don't know anything about that. What does a real holy man or woman look like? What is a mystical power? These things are ideas we have about reality, not reality itself. But whenever deep love is kindled, some connection has been made with the truth. So I fall in love with a shaggy young holy man on the banks of the Ganges, and he smiles at me as if to say, "Sorry man, I have no control over this mojo." But his smile is sweet and says that he knows how it feels. So why do we need to have an excuse for falling in love? And why is it such a big deal? Or rather, why isn't it always a big deal, and why aren't we always falling in love with door knobs, holy men, stars and anything else we can?

So one of the Babas attendants invites me up to a holy man crash pad above the Ganesha temple not far away. I hesitate a bit, but then decide to go on trust. Besides, these holy men are a pretty frail bunch, and I figure I could handle any trouble (except for the Kama Baba, who looks like he could kick some serious ass).

So I go up and there is a very old swami who seems to have a position of authority, and a couple of others sleeping, making tea, hanging out. I have brought some hash, and this gets one of the attendants working up the curious mixture of tobacco, hash and ganja so potent when smoked in a chillum. It is all very cozy and comfortable. Tea is served, much hash is smoked.

Afterwards I go down and sit by the Ganesh temple, and the old swami comes out and hits me up for money for puja gear. I explain I have to get change and take off walking the gauntlet of beggars that line the stairs leading down to the river. A boy on crutches approaches me and I attempt to steer around him, but he says, "Sir, I am hungry." O.K. So we decide to go and get some food. His name is Ramesh, and is very happy with the orange soda at the restaurant. His right leg is withered, and hangs limply, but he is an expert at climbing the ghat stairs with the crutches. So we sit and talk in the resturant. He has a brother and sister, goes to a special school. I don't ask him about his future plans or dreams. "What do you want to be?" doesn't come up. He asks for new shoes and some new school shirts. After lunch we have to slip around a corner so no one sees me give him the cash, otherwise there would be trouble. Ramesh seemed like a very nice kid.

I swing back to the old swami, give him a little money, and he performs a long fire ceremony and gives me a blessing, stopping occaisonally to tell the little beggar boys swarming around the front of the fire temple to "Fuck off!" or some Hindi equivalent. They have their collective eye on me. Another priest from the same temple walks by and gently lays his hand on the head of one of the boys as he passes. Just a thoughtless gesture of kindness, but enough.

Later that evening, after a brief boat trip with the boy Mahon, I go to see the Kama Baba. In an earlier entry I described his temple as a cave. It is made of brick, but seems to sit back into a hill. It is dark inside and smells of earth, incense and camphor. This time the baba is there, his large eyes languid with lack of sleep but very warm and inviting. The chillum is brought out, the unsavory sadhu mentioned in an early entry prepares the mixture, hitting me up for a gift.

There is a black out, and Baba gets a small flashlight and turns it on and sits it on a shelf. The chillum is passed around, with Baba taking the first drag after a very silly little ritual involving the fluttering of his lips and a strange sound he makes. We always smile at one another after the procedure. I am given a crash course in the various methods of using a chillum. And my heart is feeling open and it seems as if Baba is Lord Shiva in the flesh (which is the truth, even if cloaked in delusion). I follow a natural impulse and begin rubbing his feat, and this time he allows it. He motions me to rub his calf. The muscles are incredible, but then apparently so are the cramps. I touch a sensitive area and he winces. He motions me to massage his thigh, which is also mighty. But then I suddenly think, "Oh my gosh, I am totally feeling up this baba." This is when he waves me away with a smile. I am sure he busted me telepathically, but he is smiling and beaming as always. We all sit together in the hazy dark(except Baba, he leans), smoke drifting up around us, drinking water from a brass pot, chanting when the mood hits one of us.

At some point around 9:00 I realize I have to make the long, trecherous climb up to my guest house, stoned and in the dark. But Baba gives me his blessing, as well as some sacred ganja from his personal stash, so I am sure all will be well. And it is.

This morning I took Murugan to see the Standing Baba. He wasn't all that impressed, even refusing the offered sweet Baba tried to give him. Oh well, one man's wierdo is another man's baba. We smoked a chillum, drank bottled water and Pepsi, and exchanged addresses. I am sending him copies of the pictures I took. Then my other favorite baba shows up and he gives me a real thorough blessing, mussing my hair up and pulling on my brain. Turns out he is an aghori...a holy man who worships Shiva and Kali and breaks taboos as a way of deconditioning the mind and discovering the holiness of all things. They perform secret ceremonies in cremation grounds late at night with corpses. So I have my two favorite babas here, the other one is the priest at the Kali temple. It is an exceptional morning.

I am sad to be leaving Varanasi. But it is for the best. Another week or two and I would be living in that temple by the river and rubbing Baba's feet. Now that I think of it, it doesn't sound too bad, except for the lack of a shower, bed, and mosquito nets. I guess I am too soft to serve the Kama Baba.


  • At 11:51 PM, Blogger First Sea Lord said…

    As any painter with a brain in their head will tell you, reality is a perceptual illusion loosely based on reality.

    The artist's job: reduce this to a tangible inarguable, a particular dash that turning left is the truth within perfected illusion and turning right is an inconvienient stain that will not come out with soda water.

    I was imagining this same scene placed in 1983 in the parking lot of a Tacoma 7-11, and bongwater spilled on a Princess Diana matchbook cover, and washing onto the tires of a '78 Firebird, distinguished in all particulars, identical in holiness.

    Easy to say for a Kali agnostic.

    Peas on your soles, Tim.


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