And cold it stayed for the remaining three weeks of my stay in India in January, cold enough in the north to cause deaths of some of those living in the streets in Delhi, and cold enough probably contribute to the nasty cough I developed after a few days in dusty Varanasi. It was a strange time, following the kidnapping of the young Delhi couple, the rape of the woman and her subsequent death. There were many protests and demonstrations. My Indian friends were saddened and shamed by the events and the grim frequency of rape that occurs, unreported. The trial was underway while I was in Dehli.
Varanasi. How do I do justice to that complicated ancient city, India's spiritual capital, rebuilt in the 1700’s on the same stone foundations raised by the 1200 Mohammed Ghauri invasion? People come to Varanasi as pilgrims, but more importantly to die and be cremated on the ghats by the Ganges, cleansing their karma of past sins. The sight of shrouded corpses laden with marigolds, carried by white clad, shaved headed mourners chanting songs was frequent, as was beggars, and men folded up into neat, lean shapes, sculpted by decades of shop keeping in impossibly narrow spaces.
stayed for two weeks at Kriti, an artist residency and exhibition space in
Varanasi. My fellow residency mates, from Switzerland, Germany and The
Netherlands, and I bonded easily, after hours spent in Sarnath, where the
Bhudda gave his first sermon. Pressed together with hundreds of monks in many
hues of orange, crimson, saffron and maroon, as well as many other foreigners
needing to register to see the Dalai Llama. Difficult for me and many of the
westerners was what appeared to be total lack of organization and the
inefficiency of handwriting each person’s documentation information in a vast
registration book. Miraculously, I did receive my little card but when the time
came and my friends departed to hear him speak, I felt too sick to go. The
other event I regretfully missed was the Khumbh Mela, a three hour drive away,
where millions (this year 80 million) gathered peacefully in a once every
twelve year Hindu Holy Bath in the Ganges ritual of devotion.
While at Kriti, I spent time beginning to absorb the city. (It was quickly apparent that I hadn’t given myself enough time, although it was what I could fit between teaching semesters). I marveled at how different the people, their clothing, language and way of being differed from the South. Riding bike rikshaws was a fun challenge. The high seat behind the bicycle pitches forward slightly. The cabbie encourages propping ones weight against a narrow metal bracket in the center of the footrest. Otherwise you grip the outer edges of the seat and when the cart lurches and clatters over potholes and brick pavers, you pray your butt returns safely to the seat.