March/April 2018 - India, Thailand and Laos
I took a six week break to India in the later winter of 2018. I hadn't planned on firing up my Instagram account, the false promise of daily 'Likes' had finally lost it's sheen the previous Autumn and I had taken a pleasure in not being constantly distracted. However alone in India I soon found myself accessing the site on a daily basis. The pictures were the usual array of stuff seen that might be interesting but unexpectedly I found myself making small forays into blogging, adding comments to the pictures.
The odd sentence grew until some posts was hitting the 2200 character limit set by the site. It became an opportuntiy to express how I was feeling about the photographs I was taking with my larger camera, fashion sense from my many thoughts. The means of writing, one finger on an average sized smartphone (an ailing Moto G3) meant the process of writing was explicit, a proces that allowed for a degree of unconscious deliberation as my thoughts became words. On reflection it's a method that suits my somewhat busy mind, allowing me to manufacture meaning as I slowly interface the GUI. These aren't all of the pictures I took, they can be found here, but they are most of the ones that have text attached. For the first time I felt I'd managhed to marry text and image, something I've contemplated often but never succeeded at, too easily have I been distracted by the urge to censor, to write what I think I should write rather than what wants to be written. Not all of it works but I do feel there is an element of truth to much of it that I want to share.
Expect a set of these shrouded objects from the big camera so preoccupied have I become with their form. They do so wonders with the light, all those crinkle chipped corners and mysterious unknowns going. They fall into two sets. One.cars, I imagine the auto disappearing, reduced to covering, a shroud and. Two. Market stalls, a Brixton setting in the main. This one is a subset: fire engines. GENIUS thy name is Krusty.
The covering, hiding, shroud can stand for whole load of stuff. Today it stands for WTF India? There's some reet cognitive dissonance going on. India, for them what love her,is a joy. But by turns it can so bloody infuriating. Not the eight hour late train, the admittedly improving sanitation, nay the Use Horn idiot man,-ness of it. It's the functioning of the economy, which remains alien to me. Actually maybe what I struggle with is, after s lifetime of being generally poor ( not so any more) i can't quite grasp how very evidentially wealthy I am. 've not been trying hard enough and have remained in the west with my money. I 've not had the stomach for the fight, which is shabby but there it is... I guess I'm wandering about but what I think I'm getting to is I don't like being seen as a business opportunity. It's understandable but at times it dragged me off of my high horsing and left me feeling suspicious. But what ya gonna do? It's india.Maroc is same. I guess the ability to be generous and owelciming and conniving at the same time suggests true smarts, the holding of two.opposite positions. But it galls... Meh, need sleep.
I used to write a lot. Before the photography. It was gonna be my way out, a solution to all that ailed me. Turns out therapy was a better route, but the writing was cathartic. I'd often be in tears, sobbing in the pain the words were unleashing, so vital did it feel. I had a working title but not the vision to understand how 'My Haircut' (snappy huh) might become something. This was before memoirs I suppose, and before I'd moved through some of the knots that would often thwart my endeavours. Some of those impediments still reside.
I went to India all a bit vague. Something about Hodgkin going to 'look at the light', the chance to take pics no matter how chaotically, a space to move on from last year's pain and also to consider 'My Haircut'. Not the opus a generation has waited on ( I think a little more breath holding Is in order there), but me barnet. Why am I walking round with dead sheep on me head ( see fig 1). I had half a plan to lob the lot off at Varanasi and burn it or offer it up (appositely,) to Mother Ganga but that idea had fizzled out. I met a Frenchman in Bangkok to whom i presented my dilemma. A film maker he makes soft techno and funds his time making films about odd things in India: honey collecting; cobra shuffling etc. I felt his advice good: this, he opined (le dreads) means I live in a certain world. One with honey and cobra, well maybe. Shorn, I'll move to another, Tesco's honey and Cobra I spose. But all with a Gallic quality beyond us Brits. For now it's a good story and one I'll stick to but in truth it's all process. Writing this unpicks another knot. Who knows.
I've really enjoyed writing these words these past six weeks. I had no plan to, it sorta happened. I love photography but I do wonder sometimes. I love words too and in truth more. Maybe I lack the discipline for them but all acts of creation in whatever form are a means of worship. We are destined to hold a mirror up to creation and in doing so understand our miniscule but utterly profound place in the infinite. Tk u all for yr kind words and reckless likes these weeks, you've allowed me to feel truly free to express myself. Just 7hrs left here at AbuDhabi. x
Blimey: mad rain. Shoes finally clean. Score.
Players gots 2 Play.
After my 380rs train journey too Varanasi ive taken the upscale return, air con, first class sleeper with Heath Robinson [Rube Goldberg for our American reader] devices upgrade. Now this kind of travelling don't come easy and don't come cheap but Ps gots 2 P.
Getting a ticket involved interacting with the Indian Rail website, a not altogether painful experience hardened have we Brits become to the iniquities of the 'free market'. Okay null point for design but having seen how thr nuts and bolts of the site is actually a digital rendering of a Ceefax interface, it's pretty good. But, the bureaucracies contained within, well Raj, I'm looking at you. Sanyam walked me through it, I don't know what I did but I managed to buy a space on a wait list. In fact all my options, including a 25 HR crawl compared to the shortest at half that for my journey had a wait list. Varanasi is hard to leave. So not a seat, but the possibility of one. The lower your number, the better. So I went for WL2 against first class, eight.times my previous ticket price ( that was sorted by a travel agent three weeks before travel). And then website looking, monitor wait list yada. But no fear, it all seems to work out. I guess such is the pressure on the rail infrastructure folk buy excess against possible travel and then no show. Like airlines. Still it doesn't seem like any way to run a railroad...
17h - 07h. Some sarnies, bit of idle chit chat, Bob's your uncle. Pah! Train delayed four hours. Meh. Time passing. Five. In increments of 30' this slopes fwd to 6.5. by which time my saint has been tried. But all is forgiven, I'm politely led onto the train, a gentleman's gentleman takes my linen suit away for cleaning. Gin n tonic is served. All is well. lve got a compartment to myself (for now,), lots of interesting switches and caravan holiday doo dahs and a specially packaged set of sheets and towel. There's a distinctly childhood remembered vibe all wrapped up in a sitting on the spin dryer sensation. Lying in yr white sheets, the luching, juddering train roaring through tunnels... this cost only ?28!?!
"Hmmm... Scruffy looking but that red gingham is really hot and so very much on trend making and my girls wearing a non-fitted tent... what the hell..."
Heavy concept job this, could spend a good minute making this. Pure fluke out of tuk tuk job. I tells ya, throw enough shit at the wall. Yr good. Make way, make way. This is the way the world...
This is from out of the back of the tuk tuk in Varanasi.a lucky shot camera held and pointed a bit and bingo. This phone camera is pretty shit, the phone is pretty shit, lag on taking picture is a little world all alone of itself. New phone is coming, I've been throwing apps over board since I arrived here, freeing ram so some hard wired app can update. Anyone familiar with rooting a phone, my next one I'm doing. Updating, follow the money. grr... X
Eat yr heart out Pablo, this monster is a gift that keeps on giving. That the good folk of Varanssi allow a dangerous fella like this to roam at will is beyond. Stuck in an alley this morning with small ladies a not disimilar critter pushed me and one gross of sml ladies aside with a genial pass. You gotta love the madness of it all...
Snort... A rare but very much choice welcome bit of juvenilia. Some wit has got with the programme and added a small sticker to render somebody else adventures in cuisine to rummagings in the cloaca; from the kitchen to the toilet, if you will. ///
But on reflection, Varanasi is Shivas town, and the proliferation of the inordinately phallic lingam renders any attempt by the purveyor of smut altogether redundant. After all, if each and every nook and cranny of this town has a seeming celebration of the male principle, why bother? Now such a phallo-centric account of the lingam is to make an ethno-centric error. The phallus is always found contained within the grounding force of the female principle, the yoni. The lingam, the manifestation of consciousness exists only - and we're straying into 'do butt in' territory - as a pure energy, only when it is grounded within the yoni is it brought into this realm, made corporeal. ///
Right that's me chat up line polished up nicely. Ladies... do pop by, I'm cooking.
Here's that shirt. Here's that deity, as the Baba by the hotel seems to say [soft to loud] "sssshhhhh Shiva...". And here's me. Drifted (it's all drift here) to the burning ghat this morning cuz nothing says good morning more than watching a grieving family cremate their loved one. As I walked became chatting to a fella, a weaver, three gens. He asks where I'm off. Where's the b/ghat? But I kinda knew and then he's walking me. Grr... this never ends satisfactorily. The walk takes us into a poor neighbourhood. Of course it does, who else but the poor would live near a pyre. Several pyres.
And then we emerge above the Manikarnika Ghat. A kink in the river bank, a small bowl in the steep bank up into the town, contains a cluster of buildings, a number of concrete fire pits hold metal cages for the burning and all round a lot of, and a lot of wood. Strong and young, men move slowly, stepping up from Ganga where large, flat boats have shipped in wood. You know those pics youve seen by Selgado? Well he's missed a trick. But there's not a lot of nobility here. Of the buildings one contains an incinerator, one a hospice for widows awaiting death and propitious flame and the 3rd, a blood red temple. The first two have a mid C20 Soviet appeal. Thr 3rd is frankly a bit scarey. It's all a bit, well last we we were rowed past. It's Death Camp Ghat says I in my willingness to name a thing no matter It is disturbing. Maybe it is a bit Death Camp. Death is difficult. Cows, dogs, smoke from dying flames. It's brutal.
My weaver mate pipes up, "Ah this man, good man". Up comes a bloke what manages the ghat. Softly spoken with calm eyes he starts to tell me about the functioning of the place. Some mention of money is made as chip in towards the widows funeral costs. That's natural, this fella's showing an interesting me around. Yeah, that could happen. So I have a slow walk and talk about the place. I'll spare us all the deets, some may be accurate, some not, but worth repeating is my mate Sanyam's note that those who have achieved samadhi (his guru) - enlightenment - are buried, their bodies considered clean. I think I've got that right. I watch a shaven headed bloke, middle class Indian from his portage - and that he can afford the ceremony - donned in white dhoti, take a straw from the funerary fire that has burned for quite some time and off he go. Five times around the body and then set flame. His grief, my leisure.
We walk away, fifteen minutes showing. Some money towards costs. Sure. I have 700Rs. 500 seems good. Some reticence, wood is expensive. Have the other 200. Empty wallet showings. Only money for chai. And I wander off to the chai stall. To watch right. All good. Then the guide comes over. All okay? I understand? No problem. Maybe have more money at hotel? Hmm... Nah, no more cash except for chai. we say farewell but after sales service noted.
So even at this point I feel positive but something is sitting wrong. Some nuance I picked up and chose to ignore. Reading the above plenty nuance eh but that's not how it plays out. I walk to breakfast - break out other cash stash for muesli and coffee. Still all is good. I feel weird even having suspcious thoughts. Back at the hotel. Nagging voice. Just a quick internet: 'Manikarnika Ghat scam'. So we know how that went. But what a complicated set of feelings. Scammed for seven quid. Meh. Scammed: ego bruised. Scammed: good lesson, cheap learning, this is how we become deceived. The other day some fella in robes and with ash on forehead tried to pull some brahman blessing bullshit followed by request for finance. FUCK OFF. Really irritated me, claiming god for money. And so somwhere in all this I feel abused, my own complexity of grieving opening me to the unlikeliness of it all. BUT seven quid... really, Ted. Shut up.
Oops: look at my pic, mark of ash from the sacred fire on forehead, says 'one born every minute'. Most auspicious.
Here's all the shirts viewed from below. Finally, almost had a decent night's kip last night, after six weeks maybe getting the hang of the heat. Which is a shame because too soon I'll be back in blighty, boring on about India and how we don't...
But more pointedly, I'll be struggling to deal with 12c when it's been mostly 32c + for weeks. I'll be shivering and moaning and, most terribly of all, receiving no sympathy whatsoever. And I won't be wearing that table for two gingham confection nearly every day and washing by hand at night. Why I choose to wear it is two parts utility to one part styling: it's all about the pockets. With two snug breast pockets each secured by a bomb proof popper, you can stash your day needing cash away safe in the knowledge that you don't have to wade through a chai wallahs months wage to find the 12p you need for yr brew. As all good English know, flaunting your wealth is dreadfully declasse. The cotton is of a light weave so unlike the pink shirt.you don't start sweating as soon as you don it and yet unlike the floaty silk affair, whose purpose is only to be perceived in a light eves wind upon a tropical shore, it sits where it's needed. And what the hell, it's LA thrift provenance is cool.
So, sayonara Varanssi, let's hope my hacking cough disappears on the train, sure to return as soon as I reach Kolkata. Chiilum anyone?
In the persistence of the heat and contrary to all home behaving a roughly sculpted bottle of sugar water backed by the marketing budget that made Xmas (and as a child that and Easter were the only times I ever drank it) sits at my table. A glass lemon ginger honey in defiance of this persistent cartaarh cough,.a thali is coming. Dinner. Or supper. Or tea. Choose one as befits your mum's station.
On the ghats today, in the midday heat, a balmy 39c, I walked. I soak my hair and tie it up in familiar 'i thought that a hat' style, the drying dread cools my head, the scent informs all dogs 'one of us'. Actually not quite all of us cuz this fella [see above] is a one off. Id stopped at a chai spot, a Baba more beardlock action than owt hawks 10rs/- brews to mostly western folk. He's contrived a fine shade structure and usually two three folk are here. Chatting with two young Israeli women (don't mention the you-know-what) and a resident Baba ( sadhu are sposed to wander every three days but ...meh, all good) when the dogs begin to bark. Now sleeping dogs are all along the ghats but slowly a fun built, a hue and cry ensuing so that maybe twenty dogs whose paws were pretty shallow in the gene pool were all making bother. And the cause of that fury. This fukker. To quote Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now 'What balls'. This fella, out for a Sunday promenade was looping down the ghat gingerly pursued by the whole extended family. Astonishing. All those dogs but nott one stupid enough to get so close that Fang here might rip his throat out. I saw mateys gnashers on snarl and I was umm... Unsure. Kali the Destroyer mooched a good two clicks up.and then... Muthfukker, sauntered back, a whole heap of hounds in cautious pursuit. Those bitches (and dogs) got owned.
One of the joys of the ghats is watching the semi feral hounds doing basically unmediated dog stuff. It's like dawgs in the park but rawer, and more truthful. We neurotically impugn upon our dogs lives, sowing confusion with the signals we give to their canine interactions. It's not quite the veldt but the dogs here plsy, grumble and occasionally have non fatal scraps. All is peaceful. But where did that dog come from, a dive deep down to a darker pool than all us other hounds. Anyway short long, I anticipate an RSVP any moment, Garth the Decimater is most likely at home right now packing his bone dog bowl and teeth shsrpeners, checking Brockwell Park on Google earth. "I'm not expecting any trouble"
To the station to see Sanyam off, and to help him with his luggage i.volinteer to caery the 32kg bag of stuff. He's here for stuff so it's most reasonable though in an expedition duffle so fiddly to move without another's assistance. Through the alleys, careful not to bowl over the small ladies, the children, the infirm and to tuk tuk. I was in this town 29yrs ago, arriving from Bombay by 35 hr train journey. Three months into my trip I was finally enjoying myself. I remember a quiet town, a confusion of alleys, a cheap dormitory room, the easy company of a group of other westerners. I avoided the bhang lassi, led my paranoid chums back. And then one cool morning we clambered onto.a bus and drove north for the day arriving in Kathmandu at dusk.
Varanasi, polluted and always busy, use hiorn. Round here they're knocking down the houses and the shops to make better the tourist experience of the sacted jyotirlinga in the golden temple. I can imagine these medieval streets gone, parks and them on the diagrams for the folks. Some nice shops no doubt, good tourist dollar hoteliers. Like a Hadj commerce operation.This is Modi's town, full on bang yr drum intentions. Make money, make ideology. How happy the two are. "Mankind will not be free until the last king is strangled with entrails of the priest." To no doubt misquote Diderot.
God is great. Hari Om.
Coughing coughing, both of us have acquired a magnificent hacking cough, proper India dawn chorus. Air quality is poor, the dust storm a few nights ago stirred up all manner of nastiness and laid us both low. Something learned: never go out in a dust storm ( and in sheltered alleys mind) without protecting your respiration. We got ill. It's obvious after the fact.
What else learning? Varanasi is a complex tourist town drawing in many for spiritual doo dah. Pilgrims like a spot of retail, sundry services that may include three card monty.will follow. Don't be distracted by the Godness, other forces will arise, many of them malign.
The burning ghats ( and no doubt their outpourings are part of the pollute problem) are not a romantic relationship with death beyond our ken. Here dark forces step with the light, the fury of Thanatos abounds and with it strange qualities adhere. Respect death. Why the fuck a bunch of western women were floating just off shore of someone's funeral thinking it was okay to wield their fucking phones I do not know. Must say this really surprised me. What planet are these folk on? If I popped along to their grans funeral and filmed the whole thing with a bunch of my Armani clad chums how would they react? Manners please.
Bicycles are an artefact from the future.
I've always maintained no circumstance involving a dog could not be improved by the addition of a monkey. Well, as we're seeing Varanasi is chokka with dogs. Most satisfying. So walking out of the hotel this morning what should we find but a whole of these fellas, above our heads, lining our way. I recant. These little bastards are viscous punks, the crackers of the down town scene, they're hustling, cussing and generally bringing a low rent vibe to the neighborhood. Quick to rob, fast to snarl their pointy little teeth and nasty little arms are just way too dexterous.
In the middle of old town and out of the window of my room the neighbours have this amazing patch of garden. I'm reminded of Marrakech ( oh gawd, that's a little Sunday papers like what I have just been grinding my teeth; Observer, you) and the surprise of some oasis within a riad. But to realise that admidst the knotted passages and shabby ways lies such charm is to testify to my own ignorance. More so really when my own garden (more Observer type tedium coming up) is such a hidden delight.
Anyway all of this is me waiting for the windows 10 update to complete. It's taken days to snatch the while thing off of dodgy WiFi and now it appears the update is similarly lethargic in its installation. But out the window the soft play of a garden hose, a lad waters the lawn, a phone conversation in Hindi, the odd monkey screech, birds cheep. It's a Sunday evening here.
Bit cooler, not so poorly...
The by hand graphics work of the sign writers here is a joy. Bearing in mind the part of town we',re in is contained within a maze of alleys, the frequent appearance of the many signs makes passage possible. At first ones hotel can only be located by following a chaotic thread of waymarkers, the battering of age having reduced my short term memory the more, the hotels name I biro onto my hand. Dragging luggage past the line-making devotees doesn't really help, they obscure the path, I was lucky to be taken in train by a young fella who showed me the hotel. A diabetic (apparently) he brought me to the hotel and refused a tip. He wanted to meet next day. Id forgotten by then...
Meanwhile over at cheap hotel... Actually not cheap, we're away from that crazy freak scene in a fairly pricey 850rs. (?9) joiint by the vishwanath (golden) temple. There aren't any westerners here apart from Sanyam and I, and without wanting to sound pious it feels good to separate from the conversations one so easily falls into around other 'travellers'. Also we have unbridled access to the never ending pilgrims making darshan (viewing of God), the much belove 'small ladies' of an earlier post. Varanasi,'s a complex place but riverside, this town of 1.2m is full of essentially tourists, here for spiritual purposes. A busy infrastructure is in place to help remove their money. Our money.
Water bottle salesmen, we salute you. 30rs. Yes please thank you.
I could post all day. Every degraded surface, exhausted and put to use facade, palimpsest fascia. This city, ancient site of pilgrimage revels in its antiquity. Some many westerners but so many more Indians making darshan, a city with thousand and thousand. That'd be a crore or lakh or whatever it takes to inumerate... Today I'm I'll though. System weakened by an infection that hasn't figured its way through. So not yr guts a running yet but waking in the night shivering, almost welcome this, to hunker under two sheets... That's India, poorly goes with the territory. Better is coming...
We walked (we? friend Sanyam arrived two days ago) up the ghsts to Kashi today.The bridge in the distance is the road rail bridge crossing ole Mother Ganga to the north, fair old schlep in the morning heat. I say morning, we left by half seven but that's just too late. I'm lying in the hotel now, lethargic fan slugging away, plain and simple, knackered. Like yesterday it's 39C, in F that translates as Fukking Hot. Too much doing leaves us exhausted, dehydrated (other beverages aside I drank 6l water yesterday plus electrolytes). Just ain't 21 again, just not used to over 35.
Much of the city is alleyways so movement isn't so difficult even at the peak of the day but excessive exposure is too much. A beer would be nice but utterly pointless, not to be doing. I'll just buy another 2lbittle of water. Here for six weeks the drinking the water game is not on. Not enough time to be I'll in. But the pile of used bottles in my room shames me. Need to find a solution that doesn't involve all this plastic. Take rest.
'Mske line', night stick soldiers address the small ladie we see hete. I love this crew, often shaven headed, renunciate, they make pilgrimage preparing to move to a more contemplative part of their life. A gentle mob, ladies in their fifties and sixties, bundled together, up from the country, consolation in their numbers, assailed by turns: charlatans and saints, shops of spiritual tat; youth hooting down alleys on m/ bikes, antediluvian cows, the women's very own faith now turning in their favour as they steal away from death. ' 'Make line', small ladies. The rrverside ghats - steps that rise from mother Ganga up into the city - pass into a maze of ancient alleyways stepped in the patina of centuries. Up one of those alleys towards my guest house they pearl, shepherded by irascible soldiers. They make pilgrimage these followers of shiva to the golden temple [not confusing Amritsar], one of the twelve sacred Jyoti lingam sites, sacred to himself. Stuck in a mucky knock down build other tit for tat Moslem Hindu willy waving competition, the golden temple in all its sacredness is potentially at risk of daft git with bomb syndrome. Wikipedia seems to favour a Hindus here first account.
Small ladies, day trip to Blackpool, London for a show. In awe but never overawed. We salute you.
So all that faff and I get to bunk here. Top bunk, 2nd class - as many have always suspected - no AC. Not bad provided your understanding 5' 10". Alas - as many of you have suspected - I'm over... Still it's about four quid for the 650km journey and there are three ceiling mounted fans that do a great job of moving the hot air around, creating that heady student days fan heater experience. Meh, it's India so suck it up... Sleep is possible though over night I wake up at each stop, but at some point the consciousness becomes quite satisfying, in that way you know you can turn over, it's not a work day. Somewhere in the cold something odd: it's almost quite cool. A shuffling under the lungi to wrap the body against the night. After a month of (frankly) too much hot, a little too much cold is satisfaction. More sleeping.
The journey began three hours late, another is added for a laff, taking the cooler hours I to the hotter ones. As the morning rolls round, torpor is the adjective. Listless lying in top bunk, some reading, wallahs hawking chai in paper cups, water, snacks. Slow train to Bihar, every stop in this impoverished state. After swinging modernity of Kolkata, village life brings bright saris, weathered faces, gnarly feet. This is the India I remember.
To cap off this hectic48 hour trek from Laos, I scour Varanasi station: I must have the only tuk tuk driver with a fierce cocaine habit. I find the cunt. He drives like a nutter natch, foists a viscous price upon my exhausted self, of course, but to cap it all he takes me about half a km from my hotel and says, just there... Forty minutes crawling the back streets, looking looking... Bastard. Got me when I was weak, when I was hurting. If I see his... Zzz
The train arrives eventually, a long long thing into which billhook swinging stevedores cajole huge sack cloaked bundles with a mixture of live and necessary force,, as if marshalling immensely fat ladies at an opera. Frenetic evening busyness, these chaotic dealings stir my recall of loading mail trains on the Xmas over night post office gig in the early 80s. Late show of socialist Britain, endless bandisge between rail staff and depot workers: sleep deprivation and chucking mail sacks around. Sausage sandwiches and constant tea. Before pouncy coffee.
This 'india' moment elicits a rush, get the big camera out and photo fellas playing up for the camera. Doh, mistake. Jobsworth lad, squad of soldiers tells me off " You may be getting a charge' . No permission. Meh. Polite, smiling, calm. Show him a picture of a train door blah blah artist blah
Moving moving... This one's the board at Howrah station in Kolkata. The Doon Express is delayed by four hours. Thats my ticket to Varanasi. Waiting... And in waiting, sat on the floor along with everyone else in the cavernous cowshed I draw some unwanted attention. A young and decidedly dangerous woman in bright fuschia shalwar, filthy barefoot, fierce and a couple of wayward lads in off the street all dirt attire appear. Now she's the one. How young 17 maybe. 19? Hard and smart and who can imagine where and what. Their eyes suggest glue. I must look like money. A plastic bag of riice and daal is opened and suddenly, unseen before, she takes a baby from the arms of one the men and places it on the lungi I use as protection against the floor. I smelt something but didn't see that coming. Eating motions are made. I'm babysitting. Baby is... maybe 9 months. No one lets me near them this young. He barely crawls, head maybe supported. After a few minutes I'm in for a penny. Pick him up, support head. Support head. Place him in my cross legged lap, play with his feet. That works. Amber eyes stare unblinking but pleasure. Tiny fingers reach for tiny toes. Some successes. Arched body clutching at feet.
She's asserting, thrusting clumps of daal wet rice into the mouths of the men. People stare but, you learn to ignore. Now food is over. Bestial she is next to me. Cerise perhaps. I return baby. She dumps him on the floor. He's mine for a100rupees (?1.10). She has six. Papers appear. Money. Baksheesh. Etc. No. Okay, so this goes on for a while. I'm impassive, quiet, the baby is returned to me... She's got that crazy touch that ain't going no where. Ah! I return the baby to one of the men, the one who seems less invested. The one who will have to pick up the pieces if it goes badly. And now it occurs the men see me tall for the first time. Less sure. But she keeps on coming. I tell them what I think. Stand up, collect my stuff and walk about thirty meters and settle down. It's over.
Of course now I know what I should have done. Given her 100 and photographed them in the middle of this station. A win win. That Cerise. Or not.
Ugly. What a harsh world. How hard.
This is the kind of thing I find myself doing. And in it I delight. Scurry away in me room, all the odds and sods of stuff I drag around get pulled out. I recommend most highly a funnel and electrical tape. A headtorch is good, a pair of glasses if yr eyes are even one minute past 20/20 because trying to do fiddly tasks in low light is hard hard. And other stuff no doubt but here im using the funnel to direct electrolytes into am empty bottle and then of course water to follow. I've managed to avoid the shits so far but with all the sweating I see no harm in staying ahead of the curve. I love a vit c tablet in for taste and bang, 1.5 litres gone in no time. The constant need to hydrate when yr avoiding the tap water us tedious but I don't have time to be Ill in my six weeks so by any means...
Yay! Back to mother India. Waiting at Bangkok airport to make the two hour hop back to kolkata.its weird, just walked into the departure lounge for the flight and in a moment went from the bland corporate world of travelling through strip mall Thailand to the folk kipping all over the place, brought their own dinner, extended family ramshackle India. Shoes off, luggage yes luggage, babble. It's love hate for sure, but in amongst these clich?s there's something truly true. Gotta love that old India thing, 1.2 billion reasons say indeed. Its hard to identify, India is oddly infuriating yet somehow there's such love, something we can just glimpse twist our ethno-centric fingers. Them Indians, them fingers twixt i view...
Bus stop manicure, the fumes off of the Udon Thani bus, a border palaver like it is always. Small leakage of monies, quid here, ten bob there, waving of passport. Like bureaucracies everywhere, be calm and still, gentle smile, polite. Maybe should have got my nails sorted to detract from general scruffy hippy demeanour. Is fine. All is fine.
Bloody hell. Enlightenment, here now and forever always in every moment that is was and will be. All is one, everything connected across all space and time. God. Stick that in your pipe missus. Hari Om tat sat. You can pronounce it love if you choose.
In my twenties, returning from seven months in West Asia, my avowed athiesm took a bit of a hit. I'd read the tao of physics and Huxley's the perennial philosophy, a foundation for what was coming. Up in the Himalaya the sliow shifting as I read the Snow Leopard became a rush of comprehending when I returned to London. A great big penny dropped. I saw it all. To my poor flat mates I was behaving very oddly indeed, and undoubtedly a 'professional' , especially then, would have something to say, and do, but I did no harm, slept and ate little for a couple of weeks and bounded around with an all seeing comprehension of the inter-connectedness of all things. Probably happens a fair bit to young folk back from such trips. As my journalist friend once managed to assert hamfistedly in print 'in fact he was mad'. Well, not so mad but certainly a bit overwhelming. Anyway, such moments come rarely and take an awful lot of processing but in the decades since I've come to understand those days as a gift. They firm the core of my belief. To have experienced that perception was a gift, albeit one I'd saved up for myself.
All these enlightened beings eh. Thats yr Buddha for you. Love.
Just discovered it's Good Friday. Odd that these matters float by, so preoccupied am I by temple iconography... Pah, I'm prroccupied by a desire to get more then four hours sleep a night. Lay awake last night for like, ages, and then about ten minutes after I fell asleep dawn started hammering. I think my window is adjacent to the next door mcmansions' air con because like a tubercular whale it's given to fits of wheezing groaning, each out pouring timed to my slip into nod. I'm drinking a coffee in a kind of post tenkio coffee emporium clearly aimed at an ex pat community. Right now I dont mind if Nippon makes another crack at SE Asian domination. As long as I can sleep some... This caffeine may induce a temporary psychosis. If I do damage to one of the half wits who parks their dreadful 4*4 pickups on the pavement... Well then you are my witness. Have I mentioned the Hummer? I'll get a selfie (accursed term), the irony being it must be owned by the mobile shops padron, the store that announces ''selfie expert' amongst a whole parade of retailers hawking the same phones. So, not so different to home.
Yes, I'm overtired. This is a tree in a wat by the coffee store. Perchance to dream...
My last major trip to this neck of the woods was nigh on thirty years ago. Then communication was conducted using aerogrammes mailled home and received at poste restante addresses, a mailbox at the post office in larger towns. Yr Bombay, yr Bangalore yr Kathmandu, that kind of thing. You would declare an address and people would write to you. You could then visit that address and collect yr mail and... declare a fwd address, requesting yr mail be sent to yr next PR. I report this if only because it all seems so utterly ridiculous now. I spent three months in India to receive only two letters from home. Somewhat adrift in my mid twenties, I was at times especially lonely. I rocked up in Nepal to discover a bundle of mail had been sullenly chasing me across India. It was like birthday and Xmas all at once and I still recall the glee with which I devoured them over choccy cake ( it was Kathmandu). So this time out what really strikes me is the ubiquity of the smart phone and very cheap data plans and easily (tourist anyway) accessed WiFi. Yes Ted we know, you write every day. Well true, but it's to say the ennui doesn't have time to gather. It's a connected world and a part of me grieves for it but, and here's the snappy Buddhist inset, change is all. Still aerogrammes to Kolkata pls... Not that I'll be looking but it'd be a magnificent gesture.
In 'after the ecstasy the laundry' jack kornfield posits that attaining enlightenment is not so very difficult. What then becomes tricky is life afterwards. Unless you stay up the mountain, taking the life of a renunciate or a mendicant, you have to then carry yr knowledge of ecstasy back to the mundane world of laundry. Looks like these lads are letting someone else do the socks but hey, all praise the vision of oneness they have attained. As for the rest of us, I can make no stronger recommendation then JKs book. It's a font of sublime compassion thatll have you in tears of joy and tears of sadness on subsequent pages. My one book on that desert island, it could well save you when you truly need a loving friend.
And round the corner to the WTF wat. This is by way of CONTINUED from a few pics below... On one side of the wheel we find a realm of torture, degredation and (presumably?) death. Poetically I read it as, in life is suffering, this too will pass. But what if there's something else? I imagine this imagery derives from harsher realms, more difficult life, pre-buddhist thinking. But what if it also alluded to a connection with more subtle realms? Tantra provides a safe passage into such domains, the discipline protecting the traveller from madness whilst bestowing powers we can not comprehend because of the coarseness of our experience.
Certainly there is historical precedent for attempts to harness these forces for worldy ends. Those crazy Nazis had a go. Indeed you might argue they succeeded, finding the means to draw on dark animal desires to assert that nutjob ldeology. Who knows what any of us might do given utter impunity, channeling dark residual forces to the will of the id.
I'm confused now, not clear altogether what I'm trying to express. I'm away to Varanasi soon and then a trip to Kali ghat in Kolkata. Maybe some more thinking but the agora baba are on here somewhere... Meanwhile Hari Om tat sat.
So mostly my writing has been the result of caffeine and sugar. Today I'm gonna try lunchtime drinking. Went to the organic veg mkt this morning, a shopping list that really caused problems. The Lao ladies laugh at me but I'm used to women laughing at me so no problem. Did buy a garlic press in addition to a slowly assembled list of vegetables. Hands up if you know what lemon grass looks like? No me neither. Anyway after that and still speeding on this morning's coffee - car chase across central ldn involving Nicholas Cage plays in the background - I wander over to a Wat, a temple complex. As a kid I'd have known what wat but frankly meh. Still good times, slow schlep clockwise and then the hall where some well fed monks are eating. After, what i take to be the cooks, chow down along with a fella who looks to have an opioid problem and another more down and out. A dog and a couple of cats roam hopefully. The hall is huge - I'm sure there'll be a pic soon - a series of tableau decorate the interior, not doubt loosely prescribed iconography playing out the Buddha's story. Next stop enlightenment. This ceiling rose, above, caps the whole thing a good 10m above the ground. The mundane and the ineffable intermingle. My iffy past in yoga nags at me, ive had my time in the great hall, known moments of near oneness, damn, as the storm of the acid subsides I've truly belonged. Perhaps I'll have a couple of beers with my veg n rice...