Saraswasti Day 3

…and I pray it’s the last. Why, oh why, did Saraswasti never specify that the music offered to her should be beautiful, not amplified by a factor of 10,000, and not involve computer-generated thudding! All the Saraswasti images in Varanasi have as their guardians a small band of children and a very, very large amplifier. All of them! And they all play what passes for ‘popular music’ throughout the day and have done, day and night, for three days. I think I’m going round the bend. Not going, actually, gone… ARGHHH!

Today, I saw a crazed band of brothers escorting their Saraswasti somewhere—perhaps to the Ganga?—and rather than bringing what in the 80s and 90s we called ‘ghetto blasters’, they strapped a dozen speakers to a cycle rickshaw, followed by a generator on a second cycle rickshaw, so they could continue to offer their ‘music’ for as long as humanly possible. I suppose I should admire their devotion, but somehow…

I tried to take photos (see below) but it wasn’t easy because as soon as the boys saw the camera they all wanted their photo taken and grabbed my arms as they girated and posed like Bollywood superstars. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep the camera steady, or get a clear view of anything. Ach ja, another case of undiscriminating youthful exuberance toppling high artistic aspiration. What to do?


Indian Advertising

I ate lunch at the Mona Lisa and German Bakery Restaurant near the Main Ghat today, ‘dry vegetables’ and plain rice. But the veggies weren’t dry, they were very wet indeed, and when I asked the owner why they were wet he denied the fact vehemently, insisting that they were very dry indeed. I thought a great deal about what he said, and as far as I can tell, ‘dry’ actually means very little spice and the addition of a handful of grit. Then I noticed the advertising slogan used by the cafe opposite.


Around every corner, in every alley, an image of Saraswasti has been set up in her own little tent, and offerings made. I thought ‘the day’ was yesterday and that today they’d all be taken down, but no, Saraswasti is still omnipresent in Varanasi. I snapped a few versions of her image from those dotted around my neighbourhood, but there must be hundreds more in other parts of the city.

The big downside (sadly there always is one) is that the kids use her as an excuse to set up large amplifiers and blast out various kinds of ghastly electronic thudding, including a hybrid Bollywood-Techno mishmash that disturbs the very core of my fragile being. So I’m living in a pair of ear plugs. Please note, if you ever come to India don’t forget to pack ear plugs. 

Saraswasti Puja Day, continued…

Just after I posted Saraswasti Puja Day, Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche texted me to say he’d been invited to a Sawaswasti Puja by Bettina, a German woman who runs a library in the Benares Art and Culture building, and would I like to go along. And of course, I couldn’t resist.

It turns out that Bettina is a highly respected Indian Tantric scholar who taught the khenpos and monks as Dzongsar Institute last year. Indian scholarship is overflowing with proud and painfully chauvanistic Indian men, and for her to be held in such high regard here—the Indian government admires her so much they even granted her Indian citizenship—is quite an achievement.

The puja took place on the top floor of the building and adjoins the rooms that house the library. I found the whole place breathtakingly beautiful, and at the same time very simple and elegant—my favourite combination. And such a contrast to the streets of Varanasi that flow with the diarrhea of so many beings, mixed with copious other bodily fluids, the exact nature of which I prefer not to dwell on.

It was a short puja, I don’t think it took more than two and a half hours, and very cosy, just 16 or so participants. Rinpoche and I passed the camera between us, so I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly which pictures he took and which I took, but the monkey that spied on us on Shivala Ghat is Rinpoche’s, and the Saraswasti at the end, which is the one I showed with her head covered in my previous post, is mine.

Saraswasti Puja Day

Today’s Saraswasti’s day here in Varanasi. As I live next door to a music academy there’s an image of her in our alley, but for some reason she has a paper bag over her head. I hesitate to ask why… but I will, at some point. I tried to find a temple dedicated to Saraswasti online, but failed miserably. However I did bump into another image on my search for white flowers to offer (I had to settle for a golden garland of chrysanths… not bad, though), as well as a beautiful (but filthy) ancient pool.


Shivala Ghat

It was water buffalo bath-time on Shivala Ghat today. I’ve often wondered why the buffalos in Varanasi are so shiny and clean looking. All the other animals are covered in… well, substances too horrible to put names to. Idle imaginings conjured images of buffalo preening sessions, rather like the monkey knit-picking sessions I’ve often see, but I never came across any hard evidence to support my fantasies. I knew some kind of intervention must take place because even the horns of a the buffalo shine. Now I know why. They are bathed in the waters of the mother Ganga, then their horns are oiled. One of the less terrible Indian animal incarnations, don’t you think?

Filling in Forms

It’s National Day today here in India. I expected there to be a lot more noise and bustle, but it seems quieter than usual. Perhaps they’re saving it all up for tonight…

I was struck when I first arrived by the seriousness with which ordinary Indians approach the filling in of forms. My most recent experience of this was when I first arrived at the Groovy Ganges Guesthouse and had to register with the police. It’s the same in Germany, but here, instead of queuing up at the police station, your landlord submits the forms for you.

So, soon after my arrival, a young man appeared at my door requesting my presence downstairs to meet his father and deal with the formalities. Dutifully, I trotted down and smiled, pleasantly I hoped, at the old man sitting in a plastic picnic chair with what looked like a makeover of a toilet seat cover (the looped kind favoured in the 60s and 70s, it was red) on his head. I was offered a chair and Papa directed his son (who remained standing throughout) to give him his spectacles, then meticulously explained the legalities of the document I was to sign. I listened, fascinated.

Eventually, he opened a large folder and produced the form. It comprised of five questions. Each was discussed first by father and son, then solemnly explained to me. Name was relatively easy—I wrote it out for them and they both examined my entry carefully. My capital letters were a little shoddy in comparison to Papa’s, but they would have to do. Passport number, age and address in Germany were also fairly easy to accomplish and required minimal discussion. Then we came to nationality.

“And your nationality is…?” asked Papa.
“English,” I replied.
Papa looked disconcerted and consulted with his son. He then turned to me and smiled.
“But you live in Germany…” he said, not confused, but keen to be absolutely clear.
“Yes,” I replied. “I am English, but I live in Germany.”
“So you are British,” said Papa, slowly and deliberately.
“Well, I’m English, actually,” I replied, smiling.
Father and son exchanged glances, then a few words, then fell silent. Papa turned to me once more and returned my smile.
“You are British,” he stated, a steely glint appearing in his eye
“I’m English,” I insisted.

Father and son spoke urgently, one to another, and then, as if to offer me the opportunity of turning over a new leaf on a whole new and far more radiant life, Papa smiled and tried once more.
“British,” he declared
I smiled back. I liked him. And I loved his hat.
“English,” I said quietly, but firmly.

Papa and son looked at each other, not quite sure how to proceed. Papa adjusted his glasses, pulled the form a little closer, clutched the pen a little tighter and inscribed carefully, even painstakingly, ‘British” on the form. Then looked up and smiled benignly, as one would smile at an alcoholic who refuses to accept they have a problem. And I have been ‘British’ ever since.