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  • Writer's pictureAnna Crichton

"She swam the Ganges and back" said a proud father

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

Sounds like bombs are exploding all over – it’s Diwali today, the equivalent of our Xmas where new clothes, sofas and white ware are bought,- going by the number of rickshaws with large refrigerator and washing machine packages, sofas, dining tables roped onto their backs. 

It’s still hot here…and one takes a deep breath before venturing out into the circus of the street – perched high atop a pedal rickshaw it’s the Varanasi show’s royal box seat, there is a slightly cooling breeze as grey/white haired pedaler moves me through ‘the charge of the auto rickshaws’. I choose the pedal rickshaw, it’s quieter and slower and I am in no hurry. I choose an old man driver too, as it’s an especially tough life for these older guys.

Back to Mr Subhas, Address: Kashmiriganj, Next to the Agra generator, Behind the old blue post office, Very difficult to find

Today to pick up my first completed woodblock carving – it is exquisite, and he has printed off the design on paper for me. So exact is the following of my design I am confident of commissioning more blocks. I give him my new design – he is very happy with this arrangement as most of his work is done through a middle man who takes a large cut. It is cool to know the wood used for these blocks once charged around India as part of a truck’s flat bed. We sit and talk, drink masala chai from small clay cups and eat Diwali celebratory sweets with silver foil on top. 

We move along the lane from Mr Subhas’s small rented shack/shed/studio/lean to…… to find a shop that sells thread and beads for Ramesh – who I hope will feel confident of beading an elaborate design I have for him. From floor to ceiling the bead seller stacks his plastic packages of beads, where do they come from and how are they made I wonder. I choose many colours, shapes of beads and threads – a luxury of being in India is that everything is affordable ten times over, and every purchase enquiry is accompanied with many more options than are displayed.

The completed fingerprint block is now sitting and soaking in a pool of mustard oil for 5 days to preserve the teak. There is an area in the old city where scriptures and books are made and sewn by hand, A small number of hand sewn books of the complete set of woodblock prints could be a good idea. The stories behind the embroideries are….tough – and celebrate the right to a life, and the preciousness of life.

At all times I’m looking to find street worn fabric to use as backgrounds for the jewel-like embroideries and am looked at strangely when fingering old cloth canopies, blinds, scraps and rags. But if they were to ask I’m sure I’d be readily believed if I said “this is a New Zealand custom, when mothers are missing their children from afar, they caress old fabrics to nostalge over their early maternal years’ – 

…..My Elusive God!!!!! I must interrupt – a giant explosion vibrated my room just now, – surely all the half dead dogs will revive for a minute or two.

I’m reading The Times of India and The Hindu, full of what we would consider unprintable scandal and desperate, scary, unbelievable news (who really knows?), no wonder all Indians wish to immerse themselves at least once in ‘Mother Ganga’ – a dip in the holy waters of Varanasi is said to wash away all sins.

I see Divyanshi outside a chai stall on one of my early morning walks, she is thirteen, holds her head proud and alert, and I see there is something unusually emancipated about how she interacts with the stall holder. I ask her directions and she speaks good English – “yes Ma’am, I can show you, but first you must come to my house” …so we manoeuvre our way through the precarious alleys and reach the home of her teacher father, housewife mother and widow grandmother. She is so excited and I find out later that this is the first time in her life that she has had the opportunity to speak her mid-school English on a native English speaker. She has also swum across the Ganges and back and is a black belt in Taekwondo – no wonder she had a presence – and well armed to become the policewoman she wants to become.

I speak of my need to find a bead embroiderer, and…of course, there is a one elderly Mr Ramesh four doors down who does just that. We meet up, I drool over his sample embroideries and make an arrangement to visit in two days time with a design and a collection of beads. 

The one and only accessory in his internal concrete courtyard is a large green parrot in a hanging cage who makes very odd mammalian-like sounds “whoareyou, whoareyou, whoareyou”.

I eat ‘idli’ on the way home – savoury cakes made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice. Then a mixture of sambar – a chowder cooked with a tamarind broth is poured over the top.

12.15 pm, 19 October India time: Just heard – Gandhi would be proud of you Jacinda.

Later, it’s dark and the explosions are war-like, if I didn’t know it was Diwali I’d be traumatised! 

The aim is to make the biggest BOOM! – not to make pretty lights in the dark sky. I put my earplugs in and begin to decipher the enclosed world within my head.


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