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I think that India brings one closer to ones priorities, because ones priorities become prioritized.
You simply must achieve the things you need to achieve in order to actually survive.
In the west we put off so much of our priorities because we actually set up the system of our existence to facilitate that.
Paul Thereux said somewhere that convenience is the enemy of something that I can’t remember now. If he didn’t say that then I did.
There so much shit going on in my head now, things I dont want to be thinking about. i dont want to go back to the US, I dont want to go back anywhere. The US specifically, Ive had so many experience in the last 5 months that going back to the US seems like a backwards step.
After all this time, and nine years living there, I have achieved very little. Ive learned how to forget myself and how to get swamped into a system of thought and a culture of denial. America is now not good for me. I realize that. I just dont want to be there anymore. At the same time, what else is there? Im not sure. Im wired to think in western ways, so living in a routine is now a learned behavior but the concept of it is repugnant.
The last two months here have been emotionally tumultuous, on a personal level, learning who I am and rediscovering the things that Id forgotten about what makes me me. I used to hate myself. Now Im ok with myself, as Im accepting the ways in which I function as an acceptable set of parameters that exist for a reason, and those reasons are functional, though Im not entirely clear on what they are maybe i will never be, but I can live with that also. The reasons are less important to me now then the realm.
I spent two weeks in Pushkar and the blossoming self reflection and subsequent opening of the realization doors were hard, and within that other personal issues were starting to develop also, things I dont want to delve into here. Suffice to say that when i left Pushkar and then travelled back to Bhopal and then on down into Chhattisgarh and into the surreality of the place and the job I was on, i was numb and tried only to concentrate on the essentials. Then going back to Bhopal and the end of the job and the dissemination of the crew put me back up against myself. I left bhopal and took the long train ride south into the heat of the tropics. I spent two weeks in Vagator and in that time chewed into a bigger personal mess and came out the other side feeling positive and refreshed. The middle & last period in Vagator was good, I had met some new people and was energized by them and had long in depth conversations which I sorely miss in the US. Deep meaningful communication with people who can disagree with you and argue until their logic becomes your logic and your logic becomes theirs.
Ive been carrying around a small bag of things, stuff from my past which controls my present and ultimately my future too, things that Id wanted unload but now come to the conclusion that they are in fact assets and tools for the future. Not all of them, the things will tell me in time what they are and where they fit in to my life or whether they fit in at all. If they dont then I will have to accept that.
Ive made some stupid mistakes, and the results of those mistakes are challenging me in ways that I dont like because I valiantly tried to push forward and in a way that I thought was positive, benevolent and beneficial but the results keep coming back negative. Perhaps its the way I’m seeing it, but Ive been here before on other levels and my instinct keeps telling me to let it go. Its like hitting a pingpong ball at a target and the ball bounces back and lands in that pile of cow shit in the corner, and no matter how I try to hit the ball in different ways it always ends up in the cow shit. There only so many times I can hit that ball before I put the bat down and leave the court.
Now, with little over a month left, American reality is awaiting. I have more friends, real friends, now then I have ever had in my life, and how they exist in the kettle of America is beyond me, they are different people, they have to be, because they wouldn’t be my friends if they weren’t. I am against the grain of convention, and yet I lived in routine for seven years, day in day out. I dont want to walk away from those friends, and leave, but i feel the centrifuge is off balance and its only a matter of time until it breaks its bearings and starts to migrate towards critical.
They say India changes you, and I was curious to know why, and what I know now is that I have changed, while being here and Im sure when I go back I will change also, it’ll be a slow burn low trajectory for the rest of my life. I am fourty years old and I feel like the last decade has vanished back into life reserves for use later on.
India is such that when one comes here one floats like oil on water. The white man is exotic, and the sensation is disconcerting, but it serves as a living lesson in ones own identity and what that is in relation to the carnival as it exists around you. Indians exist all around you, and carry on their lives in exclusivity to you, and by that the very nature of walking from a bus into a busy sidewalk of a billion people you simply have no choice but to flow and whatever you can do to make your own space within that will be accepted, ignored and ultimately a minor moment of curiosity for those around you at any one moment.
I have a month left and what will happen in that month will probably seem a little faster then before, but the flow of traffic is the same yet the destination is unknown, and the rules of relativity go out the window.
Today I had another mathematical quandary with an Indian. I rolled in with exactly half a tank of gas and asked the guy to fill’er up. So he put the nozzle into the tank pressed the go button and pulled the nozzle out, after a about 3 seconds, and then went to the machine and pressed a button and said 380rs. I thought he said 80 and I handed him a 100. Pregnant pause. So i asked him how much again and he said 380.. hrm I said that the tank was 50% before he filled it, and he said yes but you asked me to fill it, and a full tank is 380.. between a bit of neigh translated dialogue, a friend pulled in and I asked him to translate, which he did, and the pump guy wouldn’t budge, because i said I wanted a full tank, and a full tank is 380.
So we tried to figure it out with him and finally my friend said what did the pump say and the guy looked at the pump and it was zero and he said ‘It says zero’, so I said oh ok then its free and I got on my bike and the pump guy looked really confused and I could have driven away but I just wanted to make a point. So I had a bottle of water on me that was about half way to the top and I said to him like a high infants teacher, “bottle half full, fill the bottle how much water do you need to fill it up?” he stared at me and I went to the counter and got another bottle of water and went back to pump guy and said “ ok bottle half full, how much do I need to fill the bottle and he said “full” and I opened the new bottle and told him to pour all of it into the half filled bottle and he looked at me like a goldfish (he was still holding the nozzle and in his other hand a wad of bills both at about shoulder height), and I hand him the bottles he is totally confused about what to do with the nozzle and the cash let alone the rocket science I was about to get him to perform, so I take the nozzle and hang it up for him and tell him t put the cash in his breast pocket, which he does then I hand him the bottles and repeat the instruction, fill up this bottle with that bottle and see how much water is left in that bottle.. and he is about to start putting the two bottles together and then realizes.. ah yes ok ok,
GREAT! A breakthrough has occurred! and then he goes into a fairly decent breakdown of how that would work and that hed get water all over his hand and that my bottle idea was really great, so then I brought him back to the gas tank and said that this bottle was the same amount as the tank and that blah well I explained it to him, and then said ok how much money for the petrol, and he said ‘full tank 380rs’.
.. oh fuck.. so my friend said to him to recall the last pump meter reading and pump guy says “no not allowed” so my friend said to him to do it or else and the guy reluctantly pressed the button and up popped a figure of 180 then very quickly went on to the next one which said 270 and said that was the price, but I pressed the last recall button and said asked him who else had filled the tank since i got here with this pump and the goldfish face came back, so I repeated it and said after you took the nozzel out of my tank which other tank did you put it in and he looked around ( there was two other bikes there at that point), and he pointed at the guy behind me.. So I asked him if hed had his tank filled yet, and of course he said no, so I said to pump guy, ok lets say this is his price then how did you get that price if you havent put the gas in yet? at that point I pushed the last recall button and I handed him the additional 170rs to which he said “no no no you pay 380 for a full tank!” I said ok lets talk to your manager, at that point he started yelling at me and I drove away. My friend later told me ‘learning curve – always watch the pump guy, the managers tell them what to do and then they do it and they dont understand what they are doing, though some of them do and then figure that lying to you will get them out of it, because I guess that when you dont have any sense of mathematics at all, then the basic rules apply, and indians trick each other all the time but dont see it as tricking you, they just see it that you paid more because you must have got more. And that right there is an amazing concept to me.
We left Maha Kumbh Mela in a sea of slop and destruction. A sad ending to the biggest gathering of humanity in recent history. They are rebuilding the event now, but it wont be the same, as there was only to be another ten days or so for the final bathe. We left in a taxi the size of a butter box, taxies here mean a private car and usually in questionable condition. Ours was big enough to hold one suitcase only, the rest we had to live with on our laps. I was rotten with a cold, filthy and everything I owned was damp. The ride was relatively painless and the views were interesting. My mind was telling me we were going in the direct opposite direction then we were actually going. And the direction of the Ganga flow still confounds me today.
Getting in to Varanasi, or getting in to any city is always different to being there and the experiences of existing within that city. We drove off the highway and through a military base and then through a university into mass congestion where the taxi driver told us to get out and get a tuktuk literally-a motor rickshaw to carry thee men and 5 pieces of luggage. But it worked, and the rickshaw farted it was along crazed streets for a moment and then stopped and told us to get out and walk, and thats when the insanity really begins. The old part of Varanasi is ancient, a three dimensional latticework of passageways that weave around buildings constructed right beside each other with zero room between, and yet the cities ancient thoroughfares are its life. In amongst the buildings are tightly nestled Temples and in amongst those are the loving roots of the Banaras trees which provide an ever decreasing amount of greenery within the city limits, but are the homes to the millions of Monkeys which leap around from one impossible location to another. These passageways are wide enough for people to walk through and even enough for the occasional asshole on a motorbike to blast through. 4ft from the Shiva Guesthouse is the Varanasi Cautilya Community Intercultural society, which is a restored building and within its walls is one of the most attractive restored old buildings I have ever seen. Its modest dark green and maroon walls with a central opening on each floor all the way to the top floor of four, and on the top is a stunningly beautiful gothic library like something you would expect to see in turn of the century Europe, and the window butts right up against the balcony of the guesthouse, so you can see directly in the window and gaze upon the old books and Ivory lamps.
It wasn’t until nightfall that I realized the full extent of this geography, the guesthouse like all buildings here has a rooftop view and from there the sky is indigo and the city is charcoal grey with orange accents, and when you look down it looks like you are standing on a cool island of black rock in a random pattern of molten lava, as the orange street lamps cast a passing shadow on people as they catch a borrowed shadow and pass it on to the next.
I made some dimensional sound recordings from the roof and thats when the full extent of what you are seeing really actually comes to life. The layers of sound from close by, to far away are immense. Street sounds, including carts, shouts, conversation, children, dogs, squirrels and monkeys and the occasional low deep bellow of a cow, mixed with the myriad of different bird sounds, telephones, sewing machines, touts, a far away rave dominates the east and the white noise din of a busy city in the distance. Then there is the ritual sounds, bells for the hindu’s and the Call to Prayer for the Islamics. Quite an unbelievably rich an wondrous compliment to the visuals. And then of course there are the non-recordable’s like smells and flavours, which are reserved for the traveler and not the reader.
The best way I could begin to visually describe Varanasi would be to call it an ancient BladeRunner.
There is fire and there is water Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Saraswati, Krishna, Parvati, Hanuman, Kali they all demand their fair share of attention in fire and water. Where ever you walk and wherever you look there is a shrine, there are shrines everywhere, some are so old that they do not bear any resemblance to the original god they were made to represent. There are more Ganesh (Elephant) then there are Hanuman (Monkey) shrines and they are typically 12” high relief granite or the like, tiles painted a garish orange and eyes painted on and thats usually it, but occasionally there will be some rotting marigolds and a handful of burned incense sticks.
Its quite something to be in a city with such massive levels of reverence and devotion to god(s). Even In Ireland I never came anywhere near this level of religious culture. Life and civility exists around the religion, everything takes a second place to devotion.
Its a city that in one week I have had many emotions about. Sometimes I love it sometimes I loath it. I love the architecture; the gothic Dickensian winding three dimensional latticework of thoroughfares, and I love the mix of black and colored accents like Bladerunner, I love the proximity of everything, nothing is more then a few minutes walk or further then arms reach. Cavernous, living~breathing, meditative, medieval city. I love the remnants of a certain style and the ultra slow pace of pop culture from one generation to the next. I love the sounds, and the layered levels of audio in any direction, conversation, street sellers, hawkers, bread men have horns, milkmen have bells, ice cream is a different bell, different sounds for different things. amazing!
Theres more I love but I forget about now, because they are weighted down with the loathings, I have a sadness in me about the filth. Its a completely filthy place. Black from the knees down exposed plumbing, shit; cow shit all over the streets everywhere, Dog shit in piles everywhere, human shit. Human piss and the frequency at which its delivered in public, I really love the idea of not having to wait around like in the US while waiting for the charity of some commercial establishment for you to have a pee, but theres a fine line between discreetly pissing behind a bush and stopping mid stride in an alley way full of 40 other people to block traffic while you squat and unload right where Im about to walk, and the fucking stench of waste, garbage, rotting flesh. I believe that it comes down to social responsibility and how Indians are in so many ways stuck in the stone age.
Ive had conversations with Store owners who understand you to a point but get completely lost when you attempt to get them to think in a different way. Like for instance the Curd seller, He sells his curd in these beautiful little clay pots, which he buys every day from the pot maker for a hefty price, and he put the curd in the pots and sell it for 15r a go. 10r of that is the pot. The pot is used once and thrown away. I talked to him about it and he said “once only, one time only then smash” So I said to him that it would save him a lot of money if he washed the pot and used it again, he was very excited about the idea of saving money, but couldn’t get his head around the fact that he would have to change his thinking to make that happen. Ive seen it countless times, that there is an apparent inability for indians to accept anything beyond their own sphere of influence, I can see it in about half the population. Perhaps it was like that in Ireland too, I dont remember, but I also dont remember ever having seen a people so obtuse with the potential of possibility.
The coughing, hacking and hocking and then the Spit the Indians do, its unreal, India is dripping with spit., their respiratory systems are fried from so much smoke. Fire is revered in india, as is smoke, as is Chilum (ganja), as is independence and commerciality so the city is fed with millions of two stroke engines, motorbikes, modern and old scooters, that just shit out the pollution far and wide..
Ok well its definitely time i posted this as ive been here now more then ten days maybe even two weeks I cant remember. Ive been sick I got a lung infection and went to a doctor for antibiotics now im recovering and its time to post this.