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  • Writer's pictureAnna Crichton

Varanasi (Benares)

Updated: Jul 11, 2020



Delhi was a trip inside a washing machine full of debris, precious lives living precariously, stuff I wouldn’t want to see again and stuff I wouldn’t want to describe – but my eye must be drawn to such things for they are not what I know, I am in wonder as to how humanity can continue on to the next day. But amongst all the rag pickers, the sewer cleaners, rickshaw pedderlers, the ones who sleep everywhere, on ledges, roundabouts, berms in the middle of the road, planks of wood struck across precarious objects…there are spontaneous ready smiles- everywhere – think I have picked up more smiles here in India than the last 10 years in NZ. They are free – the best deal in town, get one with your yoghurt skimming the top of the small clay pot, get one with that strange fruit you must try, and get one after a healthy negotiation.

There is a perverse romance in the medieval nightlight of the streets , white dhoti’s, sweaty backed cheap striped rickshaw pullers shirts hung over their decrepit leased contraptions. All the food trolleys appear at 5 pm – fried stuff, dosa, sugar cane juice and pomegranate juice extractors. Imagery overload… to begin to figure how the machine works, but it does for 1.25 billion people. That’s well over one million million!. But back to the first day in Varanasi in my spacious studio with attached bedroom, bathroom and a very very welcome air conditioner. Petra and Navneet, the couple who have made this residency facility possible tell me the weather will turn in two weeks – we’ll see but hell I hope so, but I also know that one adjusts and learns tricks to keep cool, regularly wet a hand loomed Gandhian cotton scarf and drape it around ones shoulders or wrap it around the head.

Two days I’ve been here, really one, as the first was a mental scramble. I have plans this week to meet up with a translator who will help me communicate with various people on the streets, under the bridges, in the shanties, behind the walls – to talk about their stories. With their stories and possibly with the shirts off their backs or that ragged piece of rickshaw tarpaulin I wish to embroider their story. I’ll leave it there, things may morph and change, their speed of happenings is not our speed of happenings, my creative plans just might land upside down. But there will be something, that’s what I’m here for and it is exciting, especially as I can easily afford to pay the craftspeople I wish to employ. Found my self celebrating a famous Tibetan monk’s birthday who only comes out of seclusion two days each year from his hideaway in the hills above San Francisco. We drove to Sarnath, a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma. The monastery here has been built with the money earned from the famous monks publishing empire – the biggest publisher of Buddhist scriptures. It’s where Tibetan monks come to learn English so they can go out and spread the word. 

Got to just sit (with the aircon on) and scribble away tomorrow, make some meaningful abstract marks on paper, if there is such a thing, to show these craft magicians. Actually I feel a calm cool beginning to happen this morning, best to welcome the warmth. Fighting just makes for ‘heatiness’ so the Soloman Island pidgin English speakers say.


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