Monday, 6 November 2017

Guest is like God


I've been invited to lunch by Divanshi, the girl who swam across the Ganges and back. 

I think I'd prefer to be an ordinary mortal, especially if it means I don't have to spend the rest of my life here eating chapatis smeared with ghee, an acquired taste. Over lunch, well not quite over because I was the only one eating, Divanshi and her family watch me eat... so I must make many “mmmm” sounds, and I’ve been told it’s rude to refuse so I dip yet another ghee smeared chapatis into the Dahl soup. Mmmmm, hmmmm.  Divanshi’s father, a lovely man, and a local teacher, tells me that “guest is like God”. I should have dressed up if I’d known this, for I am wearing a ragged shirt, and cripple sandals. But I have my lipstick in my bag and they are amused that I don’t need a mirror, or perhaps amused because I didn’t follow my undefined lip outline.

I draw a loopy looking crayon kiwi on Divanshi’s bedroom wall and only wished I’d thought about the content more, I’m sure a kiwi with a topcoat, long red hair, double breasted jacket and a worm in it’s mouth is confusing and not at all pretty for a 14 year old girls bedroom wall.

Along the lane to Ramesh the bead embroiderer again, his brother in law is there, a man of 60 or so, oiled slicked back hair, intellectual glasses and he’s burning to find out my credentials.
“What is your qualification?”, What is your university?, where are you situated?, where are you presently? Where is my husband (get that all the time - he’s coming to Varanasi next week) - I answer all these questions very politely and colour them up a fair bit, hand him my card and he sees I’ve won a number of awards, and that is very impressive, he plasters a wide knowing grin on his face. He tells me he is a “very big lawyer with experiences” and I tell him I’d love to employ him as my defence lawyer if I ever needed one.

I like to talk about the stories behind the embroideries and woodblocks - everyone  seems delighted that I am “having feelings and expressions of high thinking” and there are nodding heads and agreements on my observations of the ones for whom life is a struggle in India. But I still am never sure whether the head nodding is an affirmation or not. I now have eight completed bead and stitching embroideries and six beautiful wood block designs. I need to source a book maker to stitch together pages to house the woodblock prints. More to come.

After demanding more than I should have from a very unelastic body in this mornings yoga I walk myself ragged six or so kilometres alongside mother Ganga. I know this pace is unwise but ‘I just must see a little more’. 

I meet a ragged creature crouching on the steps beside an ash covered, dreadlocked Sadhu. She’s European, a native French speaker, and says she’s from the Caribbean - green eyes, tiny pupils, covered in swathes of rough black cotton. I don’t dare ask her normal questions, she might just spirit my mind away. She is so beyond my comprehension of a European woman that I’m confused as to whether to take her seriously, or configure her as some sort of Holy/demonic character in a play. She asks me why am I here..I give her a straightforward answer and tell her of my project - briefly… as I see her powers of concentration on the ordinary are limited, she shuffles on the step, rearranges the bump on her lap under the cloth and says, “let me have 11 minutes to digest this information” I’m happy to watch her digesting, gives me a chance to look at her details.

She again shuffled the black cloth on her lap and I see what I thought I might see - a human skull, the crown, it serves as a drinking and eating vessel. She is an Aghori, they are known for their filthy rituals, the eating of human flesh, fornication with corpses, and covering themselves with ash from the cremation fires. Spiritual purification through immersing oneself into a world of filth. There is more, but I shall start to sound like a cheap Filipino newspaper. I’m told a true Aghori is rarely seen in public.

I needed to reach my favourite yoghurt stop, she wanted my mb no, said I didn’t own one - that felt good for a second, and said goodbye not before she said to me “have you tasted human flesh?’ and then she held the skull up to her mouth and slowly dragged her tongue across the crown.
I did look back, she was standing and watching me, I walked quickly.

Then a fortune telling Sadhu told me my golden years will be between 60 and 67 - that felt good. I said I had a tip for him, not to hold onto his cell phone when he is doing his readings, I told him it does not look professional.

I’ve been doing too much, in a quiet New Zealand world it wouldn’t be too much but the density and intensity with which this world moves can be shattering. Out there - ‘Mad dogs and Englishman’ sort of thing, even though ‘the noon-day sun’ is losing it’s intensity, the ever surging bodies beats the middle aged body about. Some days my verbal word count must be only 150 including my endearments to the Ranpur Hounds here at the Kriti residency.

Perhaps the millions of Gods and idols are burrowing into and under my skin for there is a sort of perverse internal peace that can be felt whilst manoeuvring ones way through the churning streets. I’m in a world of my own with my own internal temple, and my own Goddess buried deep inside, I feed her yoghurt and papaya every morning with the red sun rising. She must amuse herself, and be her own confidante. 


Just now arrived back from a congested, chaotic, diesel heavy rickshaw ride and I sure don't feel that perverse internal peace right now. Bring me a breeze of Waitakere air and a pound of silence.


A colour and stitching ways design for the womens collective located on the dusty unpaved outskirts of Varanasi,
over the river damned in places by piles of smouldering rubbish. 

Two designs - one a symbolic representation of the Ganga, old Varanasi city
and the other side of the river, the side of liberation. The other - the worn fingerprint,
the farm labourers worn out identity.

Child marriage - it still goes on, it's legal for a man to marry a 15 year old.

One of the two cremation Ghats - piles of wood ready for the fires.

Ones relatives choose from three types of wood for the funeral pyre, sandalwood being the most expensive. The bundle is weighed and paid for, if you are poor the wood vendor will sift through your ashes for gold and jewellery as payment.

Just to the left of the Sadhu you can see the European Aghori, she told me she has the power to become invisible.
I think she stole Harry Potters cloak.
There is no pension in India for anyone, you are at the mercy of your family,
or you push that tired old body on forever.

Great cauldrons of Dahl and rice are cooked and ladled out to the never ending streams of hungry
pilgrims who head to the Ganga for liberation. To stop the cycle of life and death.

An advertisement for what coconut oil can do for your hair.

Up at 4.30 am to head down to the Ganga for sunrise, and to hire a boat to send off Jocelyn's lock of hair,
and her adventurous spirit on a journey through India and into the world's oceans. 
There she goes, she's on yet another mission. Bye Jocelyn.


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© Anna Crichton: Illustration and Exploration
Maira Gall