After coming to Varanasi and being here for a few days, looking back at Kumbh is like rubbing your tongue in the hole left by a pulled tooth. Kumbh is a distant memory, every white person in Varanasi has because we all bailed at the same time. The build up to, then the event and the aftermath we all seem to have similar sentiment towards it, ‘meh’ and apt American word for ‘yeah been there done that…Next!’. Im glad I went, Im glad I saw it, but Im left with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction.
The Kumbh authorities and organizers out-did themselves in terms of putting this unprecedented event together. 120,000,000 people in a 56 square mile area of Indian military engineering mastery; supplying fresh filtered water to everyone, workable roads paved in steel plate, and pontoon bridges, and the policing of such, and the refreshing level of sanitation, litter control and basic but fully functional hygiene and the army of workers who provided it was completely impressive.
The first time I stepped out of the Kumbh grounds I was approached by two students from Allahabad University who were conducting a detailed survey for non Indian travelers and what we thought of the event. The questions themselves were somewhat revealing in that they were asking a lot about what we thought about the administration of the event and whether or not it had much of an impact on us (yes it did), and whether or not we felt more devout about the high levels of celebrity Baba’s and whether or not they needed the level of coverage and pomp they received (no they didnt).
I went to see what millions and millions of people would look like and to feel the presence of such levels of humanity in my face, and the the most part the benevolence of the Indians meant that it was a peaceful affair. Everyone was on vacation, or were there in devotion and to seek enlightenment from their Baba and to bathe in the sacred Ganga, and to take little bottles of it home for their shrines.
The people that impressed me the most were the blue-collar workers, not necessarily only the lower caste, but the people who had put their lives on hold to go.
The Baba’s were a mix of the high profile dicks with their giant self promoting posters plastered everywhere expressing hollow and borrowed promises to their followers, then there were the smaller Baba’s who had less money prowess and smaller numbers of devotees and offered rudimentary accommodations in the shape of thatched huts with straw beds or tents with straw floor coverings, and then the lowest levels of Baba’s who had nothing but their meagre paraphernalia, a tarp and some pillows to offer their flock to come pray in front of a cleansing fire. And maybe share some of their hashish.
Then there are the various levels of holy men, most of which blend into one another without much of a difference in their ways, some stand out;
The humbleness of the Brahmen monks and their generosity is breathtaking. They are the ones who shave their heads and mark their forheads with stripes and lines, wear orange and carry with them a sick which has a small roof attached so they always have a place to stay. They fed me good food and asked only to be photographed. I would later meet the same Brahman in the chaotic twisted streets of Varanasi where he recognized me and gave me blessing.
Ahgori’s who relish death and devote themselves to it, who eat the flesh of the dead to consume death, they (of course) wear black, and have some party piece like bones or a skull to embellish themselves with a talisman. Later I would find out that they usually have to get mangled on whiskey before they can perform their flesh eating rituals..
Then there were the Naga’s. They are the renounciates, the ones who are naked, and cover themselves in ash and wear marigolds around their necks, and paint their faces and look like something from a White Zombie album cover.. They are also the ones everyone wants to photograph because they are the most outgoing and flamboyant, they are also the most conceited and have been known to smash a camera if you make a picture and dont pay for it. Asshole celebrity photographers have ruined for everyone including non photographers who want to follow their beliefs because the Naga’s know that they are currency in of themselves. I still managed to get the best shots of them on their way to the bathing just because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The Maha Kumbh Mela is more about show and pomp now then it could have been back in 2001. I saw awesome arrays of film making equipment with cranes and dollies and entire film crews squabbling with each other over locations.
Then the rain came, a giant storm, so much rain, and wind that smashed and destroyed anything up to 60% of the grounds. Some say it was an act of god, and how it would wash away the pomp and leave the devout. Im not going to argue with that.
Goa. My memories of Goa were from a track that the Prodigy put out as a B side in 1994. I never even heard of the place until then. Blur and Oasis were kicking the shit out of each other in the pop charts and on the ‘techno’ side of things there were a handful of artists which spanned anything electronic as a term which included the Orb, Orbital and Future Sound of London, and more, which were anything but techno in the real sense of what Techno actually is today. Anyway Im sure theres someone out there to disagree with me, and thats alright discourse ist gut? Music always has contentious aggravators.
But back to Goa, I knew there was a contingent who were going there to party soak up the sun and as much “e” as possible and a few big DJs would go there and make a presence and then go back to Ibiza which was the party capital of Europe. It was two hundred and twenty five quid to jump on a plane to Ibiza for a week of sunburn, drinking and getting lucky with someone after the bar closed at never o’clock. A right of passage for a great many twenty somethings, getting away from the parents for the potential of a hot fuck and lots of partying.
Goa on the other hand was a more exotic location farther away and cost more to go to. it seems now that the place has a well established and well beaten track though its not as burned out as many other right of passage places primarily because Indians themselves are slow to move into the 21st century and that is a blessing and in return; the interest in coming here is less and so it remains a beaten path and not a highway. Despite it being a destination since the beatniks in the 1960s.
Sadly I have to say that my ten days here have been pretty uninspiring. It seems that the beaten path comes with some baggage in the form of a strong sense of peter pan syndrome (I’m coining that phrase if it hasn’t already been coined). Peter Pan Syndrome: in the sense that, may white people come to Goa to avoid growing up. Every day is a recovery from the night before, and every night is seeking out the next party and who’s going. Subsequently you get 45+ year old post burnouts who are so far from reality in any sense of the word, burned out over drugged, over boozed and over smoked people Its like the Break glass for Emergency Exit was broken but the Exit was never made. A lot of Yoga folks come to south Goa to get some peace from their ‘peace’ going specifically south for short terms but never leave, or go to expensive exclusive reports to avail of a genuine blast from the 1960s. I met some German people who all had children and had accrued them whilst on the road. People that who have been here for more than a year, here come here to get away from something and end up becoming assistants to yoga teachers in leu of enlightenment.
There are also Indian people who come here to work- migrant workers, a lot of them from up north Kashmir, Himalaya, Delhi, Punjab, Calcutta, Bangladesh etc to work as cook’s in teh scattered bamboo bars and leaf huts with mosquito repellent candles and broken plastic chairs.
Then there are the old guys Who left when the going was good as Hippies or renegades and they never left like they transcended from one level to another and never left. There are plenty of those in America also, but they arent like these guys who are typically intellectuals with self educated professorships in everything. They are in some cases stoners but not all, because there are people who left America to contentiously object to some policy, or had minor felonies, for crimes now deemed legal like possession of Marajuana.
i love the tropics, its a fascination I got from my time in Australia.. Living and working in cities forces you to look closely at the things in your immediacy because cities are fast moving and theres a lot going on. Existing in the jungle forces you to expand and see the world around you at a distance but with intimacy. Theres less to catch the eye with specificity but more to capture the spirit and magic. I think this is why I like to make field recordings because its photography for the ear, capturing a more esoteric and expansive reality with the intimacy that playback is.
I have more to say about Goa but for now lets move on.
In my 20s I decided that I was going to try my level best not to own a car before I was 40. and so I never owned a car before I was 40. And so learned to ride a scooter in Goa and for the liberation of the natives to my righteous new message which my people are working on as we speak. Perhaps Ill have to get into the rat-race of car ownership if I ever get back to city life. I hate the reality of it but love the concept and the independence. One thing I realize having come away from America is that I actually really love it there, and that I want to soak up as much of at as I possibly can. Its a fascinating country with a lot going on under the covers.
I havent done enough to render writing a blog entry but I do have a few days worth of images to put up.. These are the last of the Bhopal Images and then some more. Bhopal -if I havent already said it is a predominantly Muslim city, I am utterly fascinated by the women and their multi-level attire. The Hajib is typically black and covers everything but the feet hands and eyes; but the eyes have it.. you can tell so much about a person by their eyes, especially when the rest of their bodies are covered.
In my 20s I decided that I was going to try my level best not to own a car before I was 40. and so I never owned a car before I was 40. And so the theory is that I will learn to ride a scooter here in Goa and then use it for the liberation of the natives to my righteous new message which my people are working on as we speak. Perhaps Ill have to get into the rat-race of car ownership if I ever get back to city life. I hate the reality of it but love the concept and the independence.