Thursday, November 27

Day 91-Varanasi


Straddled by the Ganges River-the Great Mother- is the world's oldest living city, Varanasi. Along the river's muddied banks are found the many ghats or stairways leading to the waters edge. Here can be found all manner of creatures-priests and pranksters, boatmen and bathers, kids and cattle, touts and tourist, dogs and the dying, goats and gods- all come to pray, hustle, play cricket, buy, sell, fly kites, scamper, gawk, daudle, do laundry, shit or simply die. Its is truly a colorfully bizarre place, and not without its amusements and frustrations. Sense of humor is a critical ingredient for visiting this most holy place of India, a sense of awe and wonderment the result.

Arriving here required quite a dose of humor as well. The overnight train from Jhansi pulled in a couple hours late, itself no problem, but it deemed to stop one kilometer short of the station, leaving us to decide one hour later that it would be worth making the walk. Find delight in the sight of five backpacking tourist trudging under a midday sun though a very busy railyard searching for the platform amoung a sea of rails, the smell of diesel and urine our welcome. Suceeding this, we were met by the crush of eager drivers, not all of which were in good spirits. Thinking we had secured our car, we had to argue details of destination for some time, endure some very real betel-fueled rage, threaten to walk, get out with our gear three times before we could get our driver to budge. I think we were quite proud to have saved 50 cents, all the while insisting that "its the principle not the money".

In that regard one is constantly required to review and assess ones principles. The pressure to buy and give is absolutely relentless, and one developes a strategy to repel the onslaught or is comsumed alive. One blinds ones eyes to the misery and hardens ones heart, to the point where I have ignored the pleas of women young and old, holding their pathetic, sure to be dead within a week, easily replaced babies, only to enjoy an ice cream ten minutes later. How can I justify this cruelty, how can I explain this to myself. It is a paradox to be daily faced, each morning renewing the commitment to retain sense of humor and respect, to exercise compassion as best as I can understand it. Nothing I have seen before could have prepared me for what I would witness in this country, I will be left knowing more about the world but perhaps less about myself than when I arrived.

2 comments:

velvethammer27 said...

bro icecream eating ken,
here we are. we ate turkey, rice, potatoes, asparagus, salad, cranberries, dressing, corn, bread, beer (me), and pie, pie, pie. oh, yeah, bev says cookies too.
and there you are. worried about an ice cream. ah. who can ever justify their existence in the face of the poverty of man in understanding their place on this planet?
we miss you, dude! all of us. m. and p. and b. and s-dog.

J.P. Agrawal said...

Hard to believe 91 day of your trip Ken- Thanksgiving in Varanasi my hometown

Indeed Varanasi will bring you all that introspection come alive Ken! It is almost 2570 years now , that Buddha arrived in Varanasi following his own Enlightenment in Bodh Gaya just 100 miles east of Varanasi, and described Varanasi to be a well developed city and began his sermons in Sarnath a village five miles outside Varanasi. Hang in there my friend, despite India's misery in Varanasi there is a tremendous beauty to be seen and felt there. It makes you realize that suffering and luxury are all transient and impermanent and one must detach from both - a central teaching of Buddha who was a Hindu to begin with!

Enough philosophy! Hope you met my nephews Anil and Arun and their family. They are wonderful hosts and friends and resource for you while in Varanasi.

regards....jp