Varanasi is a messy, old twisted root of a city. There are deities here so old that the coats of paint they wear, new every year, are thick enough to hide any features they once had. It’s one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world. It’s possibly the holiest city in India, famous for its Ghats; places that Vishnu filled a hole in the earth with his sweat or where Shiva hid one of his/her earrings or where a Fire God was born or some such. The all have religious significance and most of the significance is relatively recent. A handful of the Ghats are used for cremation purposes. Bodies are paraded through the densely populated areas behind the Burning Ghats while the procession chants out god’s names and then the body is taken to the river edge and burned. Lower income people don’t have enough dough for an all-consuming fire (wood’s expensive, yo!), so their bodies are often not fully cremated. Likewise, pregnant people, sadhus, anybody with chicken pox or leprosy, children under 5, the poor, suicides and people who died from snake bites aren’t allowed to be burned, so they’re summarily tossed, whole and uncooked, into the Ganges. Don’t worry, though, there are trained turtles lurking underneath the sickly, brown glass of that filthy river that can eat a solid pound of human flesh a day. If you go swimming, keep both hands on your ding-a-ling and may Chuck Berry be with you.
I sat for several hours at the Burning Ghats trying to put into perspective the fact that I’m alive. In the end, nothing came.
I did get plenty of human ash in my nose and eyes. My clothes stank of burning fat and wood, like I’d been camping in a cannibal scout retreat. I watched two corpses slowly fall apart in tall conflagrations. I looked into the empty, glowing hollows of a human skull turning to ash. Whenever the wind shifted to the North-West, all the fires pointed their exhaust pipes at me and I tried not to cry bullshit blinded tears. A kid sat, mourning, moaning, head in hands as his father was burned. That was easier to not cry bullshit tears to. It was like watching a movie by yourself in a darkened auditorium. Then, this dog came along and ruined the whole god’am thing by pulling some left-over barbeque—partial skull and hunched, charred shoulders– out of the trash-sodden, muddy bank and dragging it up on the steps to eat right next to the poor kid. His red Christmas sweater, ringed by strange, white snowflakes and reindeer, reflected the noonday sun all red and hot onto the dog twisting apart some vertebrae. Christmas is over, Johnny! Have a little self-respect. It’s February, for fuck’s sake! Don’t let trends leave you behind! I’d like to be burned by my family and friends (if I have either when the time comes). It’s a nice ceremony and a fitting way to wrap your head around the fact that who you knew is now a feast for
I found a place with good, cheap lassis. I also found a place that makes amazing na’an bread and a mean mushroom curry. Its address is: “(Near the Petrol Pump), Varanasi”. There are numerous petrol pumps in Varanasi, in case that address gave you a notion to the contrary. They also make something called Patiyala Paneer, which is my new favorite Indian dish. Man, I’d be such a fat ass if I lived here. No doubt in that. Can’t resist the living life stuff out here! It’s too god’am good! Walking home, I noticed that all the animals have either some mangey shit going on or some infected business in their business. Trapped by traffic in a small triangle of space between a telephone pole and a rickshaw, I eyed this cow I was sharing my three cornered prison with suspiciously. In response it sneezed an entire curry out its nose. I politely waited for it to cough up the plate that went with it, but it didn’t come. The cow stood there like a fucking cow, curry hanging out its nose, not knowing how embarrassing the situation was. If god were to say to this cow, “Why are you hiding from Me, cow?” The cow would say, “Fuck, Y’h’w’h, I’m just eating a pile of what I assume are rotten fish testicles I found behind this bush, why hide?” then casually shit onto John Huston’s burned-out chassis. This cow’s knowledge was on par with the number of fucks it gives (even to this day, this is true).
Anyway, with a Herculean effort, I got my pictures posted yesterday; the internet connections I’ve gotten here are only matched in shittiness by the speed of the computers that, breathing heavily and sweating the digital equivalent of gravy, attempt to access the interwebs with all the swiftness of a sloth on the nod.
Varanasi is amazing. It took a while to grow on me, but it’s great. I’m staying quite outside the tourist area and I have to walk a good 20 minutes into town to get down to the downtown, the markets or the Ghats, which is actually pretty great. It’s so pretty. The pushers here use way more updated drug slang than they did in Vietnam, which is nice. A guy offered me China White yesterday. I guess that’s not so updated, but you got your white, your hash, your opium, your ‘shrooms. It’s like that Bill Hicks bit where he takes the street dealer to an ATM to show him that he can afford more than airplane glue. Except here, they start with hash, move to the harder, more expensive stuff, and then finish with the cheap stuff. It doesn’t matter how disinterested you are, either, they will follow you and offer you the fucking moon. Capitalist peer pressure or something. So that’s pretty great. And the cows sneeze all-you-can-eat, free curries. It’s like heaven. It’s not very tourist friendly, in the traditional sense. To enjoy this joint, you gotta sit and stare at things for an hour or two; really let the place settle into your nooks and crannies. Awesome city, India. Great job.