Child of Ganga

Chai with an Aghori

Posted in Uncategorized by Nadia Kamil on November 21, 2008

Today is one of those days where you lie in bed at night, wondering what the hell just happened.

After breakfast, Nandan brings me to the edge of Assi ghat, where there is an open sewer. It is an ugly and depressing sight. The filth goes directly into the river where people are bathing, cows are swimming and dhobies are washing clothes. Nandan tells me that people sell the milk from the cows which drink this polluted water. There is shit everywhere; dog shit, cow shit, goat shit, human shit. The edge of the river is full of people squatting, obviously contributing further to all that shit.

We pass by one of the burning ghats and he asks me if I want to meet his Aghori friend, Lali Baba. The Aghoris are Hindu ascetics commonly associated with cannibalism (which Nandan tells me is just another typical misrepresentation to fascinate the West).

Lali Baba is without a doubt the strangest character I have ever come across. He keeps two human skulls, whom he calls _______ (some Indian name) and Foolish. He also jokingly refers to them as his “friends”. As we talk, he offers me a cup of chai, which I initially hesitate to accept, but Nandan takes it so I follow suit. Just after noon, Lali Baba asks me if I would like to help him prepare lunch for everyone so I say yes. He teaches me how to make spinach soup, vegetable curry and perfectly thin chapatis. Lunch is served to a group of his disciples, which includes a Belgian, two Germans and a Russian. Since the food is partially prepared by me, I have to wait till everyone has finished eating before I can start, as is customary. “That is how to be a good wife,” Lali Baba says.

I eat with him on the floor after everyone has cleaned up. The food is tasty but because I have actually seen the whole preparation, I gulp it down and pray I don’t get an upset stomach.

After lunch, Lali Baba asks me if I have a boyfriend and I say no, I don’t. He laughs and says that I can surely find one now because I have learnt how to make perfect chapatis. He seems very proud of this and tells all his disciples that I am his newest student. He also offers to be my meditation guru. Before we leave, he tells me to drop by his ghat whenever I’m free in the evening, to watch him perform the evening aarthi. On the way back home, I ask Nandan about the link between aarthi and the river and he says the morning aarthi is to wake Ganga up and the evening aarthi is to put her back to sleep.

Later in the evening, Nandan goes out to buy some manure for his plants so I tag along. He holds my hand every time we cross the road and has devised a simple system of hand squeezes to let me know when to make a dash or halt. It is very nice of him because the roads here are wild and I suppose he has noticed how panic-stricken I look. I tell him I will try to figure out a way to explore Benaras on my own with minimal road-crossing and he laughs. We take a rickshaw back home and at night I finally meet his wife, whose name I have forgotten. She is a very pretty young lady with sparkling eyes.

At night, Nandan goes out to meet his friends so I head to Assi ghat alone to watch the evening aarthi. It is impossible to have even 2 minutes of peace without being interrupted by a tout. They want to know where I’m from, what’s my name, why I don’t have blond hair, whether I speak Hindi, do I want some marijuana? I pretend to be deaf, which works for a while but then I make the mistake of talking to a little girl selling flowers. She seems precocious and articulate, so I ask for her name and tell her mine in return. A few minutes later, the whole ghat seems to know my name. It is embarrassing, especially since they now know that I am not deaf after all. I sit on the steps of the ghat trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, and a young man (yet another tout) sits beside me. He asks the usual questions but this time I pretend I don’t even understand English, which is silly because he knows I have been talking to the flower girl. I start to get nervous when he keeps inching towards me, and a group of his friends sit on the other side of me. Then he puts his hand on my lap and I freak out, shouting an “Oi!” so loudly that he looks alarmed. I get up and decide to head back home.

Locals I’ve talked to so far:
Ratan, a designer (textiles & flower bouquets)
Pappu, a boatman
Munni, a girl picking up trash by the river
Vandana, the flower girl (and her friend, Babitha)
Khan, a flute seller
and a couple of other people whose names I can’t recall.

I have yet to begin photographing, and am way behind schedule. I just don’t know where to start. Perhaps this evening I will visit Lali Baba again and watch his aarthi session.

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4 Responses

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  1. meowie said, on November 21, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    wow

  2. dorky daren said, on November 22, 2008 at 1:15 am

    be careful nadia, seems like india is a real eye opener!! i bet the countyside and wildlife are beautiful, do you write poetry as you sit and ponder? i’ll pack the picnic and meet you by the riverside , you’ll know its me , i ‘ll pip the beetle!!!! take care ….

  3. yun said, on November 22, 2008 at 10:18 am

    nadia, hang in there. seems like you’re having loads of fun and fear at the same time, but all the best still!

  4. The Donkey said, on November 22, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Hahaha! OMG! Nady! Your advantures seriously can publish a book! Why Not I change my theme to publish this for u? Hahaha… u know how to make Chapatis? Great! Come back and make one for me in more Hyegenic way! Hahaha… Omg! When the Lalibaba said you will be a good wife I laugh like what man! So not suitable! And you got molested in the Assi ghat?! Hahaha.. OMG! Becareful ok! I guess they tot you are princess Nadia~ So all interested! hahaha.. But you seriously too dumb to do all those things. Even more paiseh than my leave her alone ar! OMG! but they are too horrible. You must be extra alert and be careful ok! Looking forward to read your new post and I hope it’s not something bad! :)


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