City of Light

In a balanced universe, you can’t really have a city of darkness unless you also have a city of light.  As such, this week’s story is the companion piece to last week’s story.  It is also one of my personal favorites  For many years, I told several different versions of this to various audiences.  Indeed, if you are a friend of mine in the real world you have probably heard it before. Nevertheless, it was never printed or published in written form until now.  It’s amazing how much the world can change in just a few short weeks.    Happy New Year!

 

CITY OF LIGHT (Varanasi, India; January 1, 2001)

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

The sun is high in the morning sky, when by train I arrive.

The smoky platform is busy and lively but not overwhelming. I was here in this city two weeks ago so everything is familiar, but somehow different. The train station is awake. Instead of sleeping piles of flesh, the humans are up and moving around now. Positive energy lights up the air. “Tchai, Tchai,”“Omelet, Omelet” shout out the vendors. Crowds circle around me. “Rickshaw sir, you want rickshaw?”

I know where to go today.  I’m not confused. Up the stairs, to the left, then right.  I exit the building and find myself by the cluster of rickshaws. I need a rickshaw to the ghats.  There is an empty cycle one right there. I’ll take that. “Twenty rupees to the ghats?” I say to the driver (peddler). Rickshaw man smiles big and shakes his head yes. I climb into the seat and off we go. My golden chariot takes me into the magical kingdom.

I climb down from the bicycle rickshaw near the main ghat and I am immediately swarmed by an enthusiastic crowd of entrepreneurs offering me services. “Tchai sir, hello, you want tchai?”  I shake my head. “Not now,” I say with a smile. “Shaving sir?  How about massage?”  “Or maybe you want hashish or Chinese opium?” “How about hotel?” Yes; first things first; I have to find a place to stay. This time I have a lead.  The British guy, J., is at Baba’s Guesthouse.  He informed me by e-mail that it is cheap and good. “Where’s Baba’s?” I ask the kid who mentioned hotels. “Follow me, I show you,” he says.

I follow the kid and he leads me through a maze of narrow streets to Baba’s front door. “Baksheesh?” he asks. I hand over twenty rupees. “Thank you very much,” he says. “Anything you want. Hashish, opium, you ask me.”“Okay,” I answer, “see you later.” Unfortunately, there are no available rooms at Baba’s. But J. is there so I can leave my big backpack in his room while I look for the perfect place to stay.   J also has hashish.  And he offers to adjust my attitude in order to facilitate a successful quest for accommodation.

Manali cream; Charas; is very special hashish. Everywhere you go in the world, they sell hashish. They always say, “Manali cream, the very best, I have hash from Manali.”  Most of the time, it’s a lie. It’s hash from a nearby field or from Mexico or Colombia or Morocco. But sometimes, it’s the real thing. Manali is a place in Northern India where they have been growing marijuana and making it into hashish for literally thousands of years. They are the true professionals; the experts… the masters of hashish. The young stoner kid, J., went on a pilgrimage to Manali to learn from the very best. He brought some of Manali to Varanasi. We share a morning joint and watch the sun rise above the mist of the Ganges River. Ahhh… and now it’s time for some tchai.

The perfect spot for warm beverages is down beneath Vishnu Guesthouse just above the water on the ghats. There is a tchai stand that serves only tchai, and biscuits and cigarettes. It’s a family run operation with a mother and six kids.  The father is dead so the oldest son, Pacalou, is the one in charge. He speaks some English. He knows words but not grammar.  He frequently reverses word order.  “Tchai, sir, you want?” “Black tea, you want?” He’s a lanky teenager in a bright red sweater.  He is ever smiling and always trying out new English phrases. “Today is full power, right my friend.” The whole family is wonderful and their customers love them.  Lots of travelers gather near that spot; all along the steps and walls of the ghats. Foreigners relax there; smoke cigarettes, drink tchai; play chess, or backgammon or karom board. Mostly though, they conversate about big plans or big places they have been to or are going to. Pacalou and his brothers run around serving tchai. It is high energy and full action.  Indeed, it may very well be the nerve center of the whole wide world.

“We’re gonna get bhang for breakfast,” says an English guy named S.  He and G. (from Holland) stand up to leave. “Anybody care to join us?” they ask.

“Not me today, I have to check airline tickets,” says one traveler. “No thanks, that stuff tastes like shit,” says another. “It’s well worth the flavor, I’ll come along,” says somebody else.  J. stands up to join the group. “How about you?” he asks me.  “Have you tried the bhang from the government shop yet?”

“No thanks, I just got here,” I say. “And I have to find a hotel this morning. Maybe another day.” I finish my tchai and pay the bill.  Then I head into the maze to find a hotel.

“You want hotel, friend, I help you,” says another young kid offering his guide services. “Sure why not?” I say, “Lead me to cheap hotels.” “How much you want spend?” he asks. “One hundred rupee, no more,” I answer.

The young kid leads me through the maze. The first stop is Vishnu Guest House but only dorm rooms are available and I really want my own room so we continue.  Second stop is Yogini’s but they only have double rooms and no singles. The third stop is Ajay’s guesthouse.  They have a nice room with a good view but it costs two hundred rupees. That’s beyond my budget so we keep looking. Sita has decent rooms but they cost one hundred fifty rupees.  That’s not bad but it’s not perfect.  Maybe I will go back if I can’t find better. The next hotel is a nameless cheapy; only seventy rupees. But it’s a shit-hole room like a prison cell. No way, I learned my lesson before at the Shanti Guesthouse.  I will not stay in misery no matter how cheap it is.

“Next room not far,” says my young guide, “but very hard to find. I think maybe you like.” I follow him down a very narrow passageway; turn left, then right; another very narrow passageway; then turn right again. The Modern Vision Guest House is the name of the place.  We ring the bell and a very beautiful young woman answers.  She is perhaps eighteen or nineteen years old… an Indian knockout. “Yes, we have single room,” she says with a smile, “just open this morning. Very nice room; you want look?”

Up the stairs we go.  It’s a long circular staircase with a very steep up, up, up. The walls are being painted at the moment.  The color scheme is bright green and bright blue for the background with some kind of mural in the foreground. Up, up, up we go. “It’s a rooftop room,” says the pretty young lady, “very nice, cheap price.” We go up the final step and out onto the roof. “You like sir,” she says.

The room is perfect. Windows face south, east and west. It is right on top of the roof. Out the door is the deck and the Varanasi skyline. “How much?”  I ask. “One hundred rupee,” she says.  “I’ll take it.”

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

Rooftop life in Varanasi, the magic is very alive.

It’s all about kites; hundreds of kites; maybe even thousands. Looking out from my rooftop, I see the many many rooftops stretched out all around me. Upon these rooftops, there are children and teenagers and adults who fly kites. The kites come in many different colors and each color supposedly represents a different Hindu god. Black, white, red, green, purple, yellow, and orange. And the gods do battle in the skies above. It’s an elaborate game, really… a truly incredible fantastic game that the whole city plays.  The kites are outfitted with tiny blades so that they can crash into other kites and thereby cut their strings.  The object of the competition is to knock each other out of the sky. KATOM! is the victory shout. A green kite is cut down; it drifts free of string and falls into the labrynthian maze of the old city. Somewhere, far down below, children scramble to collect that green kite and attach a new string.  They bring that kite to another rooftop and the game goes on and on.  I watch from my rooftop as the many many colors dance about in the wind.  They fall from the sky but are always born again….

I still need new eyeglasses. Why not go on a quest? I go down the circular staircase and into the labyrinth of twisted  narrow streets; tall buildings; alleyways; staircases; tunnels and dead ends. Ahh… now I know where I am.  This is the restaurant street. There are all kinds of food options here; local Indian and cheap Western traveler food.  There are also souvenir and postcard shops; clothing and music stores and internet café’s. I stop for chow; omelet, toast and coffee and then head back into the twisted streets. I turn left; then right; then go straight.  In a matter of moments, the monstrous incredible maze has swallowed me up again.

I walk for what seems like hours in every direction until I reach a major intersection. There is a swarm of people and rickshaws and cars all crowded together on the main road.  I am bombarded with questions as I look around in confusion. “Silk sir?” “Change money?”“Hashish, good quality,” “I have hash from Manali,” “You want something sir?” “Yes,” I answer, “I want vision. Where can I find it?” “Government bhang shop there sir.” “I have Chinese opium.”  I shake my head no as I turn round and round in circles.  “No thank you. I don’t need bhang now.  I need vision.”

Where am I? I can’t see well. The world is fuzzy and chaotic and overwhelming. I am totally and completely lost again. A friendly looking old man in bright orange robes approaches me. “Hello my friend,” he says, “you want something?”  Frustration consumes me and the old man projects an aura of calmness and peace. “Yes, uh, I want, uh. Where am I?  I want to go back to the main ghat?” I ask. “I can help you,” says the nice old man. “I go that way now. My ashram is by the main ghat. Come, follow me.”

So I give up on eyeglasses for now and reverse my direction to follow the old man. We walk several blocks until we stop at a lassi shop. “Good bhang lassi here, you want?” says the old man. “Sure, why not?” I answer.

The old man has a regular lassi and I have a bhang lassi. I don’t get the full power kind because I am afraid of the consequences.  Instead, I opt for medium range.  Afterwards, we go back into the streets; back into the winding maze… twisting and turning down alleyways and narrow passageways.  The old man talks as we walk. “I am important man here,” he says.  “I Brahman high priest. My ashram by main ghat. Everyone respect me.”

Indeed, everyone we pass knows the old man. They bow to him and greet him enthusiastically. “Come, visit my ashram,” he says to me as we emerge from the labyrinth and find ourselves by the main ghat. He points to a stone staircase that leads up to a very old building.  “My ashram, follow me,” he says.  We go up the staircase and into the ashram.

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

The game of life is so much fun, into the experience I dive.

I remove my shoes before entering. To the right, there is a shrine to Hanuman, the monkey god.  The sculpture is painted bright orange with flowers at the base.  The Brahman bows to the shrine and I do likewise. To the left, there is a big square rug.  Upon that rug, sitting with crossed legs, Buddha style, are three Sadhus. They have really long gray dreadlocks and really long gray beards. They smoke a chillum and pass it around. “Come, my friend,” says the Brahman, “Sit.  You want to smoke with Sadhus?”

I walk over and sit near the Sadhus. They open the circle for me and the Brahman but they do not speak. They finish the chillum and prepare another as I watch. Hashish is mixed with tobacco in the exact and perfect proportions. The Brahman moves closer and puts his feet next to me. “Sore feet,” he says, “please massage.” I am slightly baffled by the straightforward request. “What?” I say, “I don’t understand?” “Yes. It is big honor,” he says. “I’m important man. Many people want massage my feet. Please, go ahead.  You can.”

I look at his feet. They are tired, old and worn feet. I look at the Brahman.  He is an old man with a big smile.

What the heck. Why not? I massage the Brahman feet. The Brahman smiles. The Sadhus pass me the chillum and I interrupt the massage to smoke. After I take a great big hit, I continue massaging the old man’s feet. The Brahman smiles angelically while I massage, smoke, massage, and smoke.  That’s right; here I am, massaging sore feet and smoking hashish beneath the shrine of the monkey god.  How weird is my life?

Seriously, sitting among Sadhus and a Brahman smoking chillums packed with charas is the typical Indian experience.  There is, perhaps, no better way to understand their culture.  Sadhus are Hindu holy people who renounce all material wealth for the sake of spirituality.  They give up everything; all worldly possessions. Some of them even give up wearing clothes.   Sadhus travel throughout the whole country with belgging bowls, a few rags and very good hashish. Sadhus gather at temples and ashrams to smoke the sacred plant and worship gods. Sadhus are considered special or holy and to help them out is supposed to be good karma.  More importantly, to smoke charas with Sadhus is a very high blessing.  Brahmans, on the other hand, give up nothing but obtain everything. They are the highest Hindu caste. Usually, they are very wealthy and they use their wealth to build fancy ashrams and finance elaborate worship ceremonies. Brahmans are the leaders of the community and people go to them for advice. In exchange for advice, the people give the Brahmans gifts. Brahmans use the gifts to build bigger and more beautiful ashrams. More people go to the bigger and fancier ashrams and give more gifts.  It is the business of celebrating gods.

The Brahmans know, of course, that it is good karma to be nice to Sadhus. Accordingly, the dirt poor but holy Sadhus are often invited to smoke the sacred plant and hang out with the Brahmans at the fancy ashrams. I sit there among them.  I’m smoking with the Sadhus and massaging the Brahman’s feet.  It almost seems like some crazy dream.

As of this particular moment, I am also very, very stoned. The bhang lassi from before combined with the chillums now is double trouble. Light sparkles dance in the air before me. Electricity tingles on my nerve endings. The Sadhus laugh as they demonstrate chillum techniques… teach me the way. Meanwhile, the Brahman smiles knowingly as I play with his feet. The skin is calloused and rough.  He really needs the massage.

Occasionally, other people enter the ashram and sit next to the Brahman. They speak with him briefly in Hindi and then give a present. Sometimes it is tobacco or hashish or jewelry or flowers. Then they leave. I stay there smoking chillums and massaging feet. The Hanuman statue lurks over my shoulder.  He is the monkey god.  This particular sculpture or statue is very life like. Is he looking at me? Between visitors, the Brahman talks to me in broken English about Hindu gods.

“Hanuman very important,” he says, “We must honor and worship; Shiva more important. Are you, my friend, Christian or Hindu?”

“I believe in all religions,” I tell him, “but I don’t really belong to any one in particular.”

“You no worship gods,” he says in disbelief.

“I worship all kinds of gods,” I say, “but I have my own way.”

“So no faith?”  he questions.

“I have been to many places in this world,” I answer, “and have come to know many different gods and many different religions.  For me, at least, they all reveal the same universal truth but they use different metaphors and symbols to explain what that truth is.   I have no need for faith because I know truth and I really love all the beautiful stories from everywhere.  Hanuman, for instance,” I point over my shoulder to his statue. “That monkey god up there. He is one awesome character in a truly amazing tale.”   I flash a smile.

“Yes, yes” says the Brahman, “I think you understand.  You very good man. You want worship Hanuman.”

The chillum is passed to me and I take another very big hit.  When I am finished, I hand it off to the Sadhu on my left and look back at the Brahman. He is smiling from ear to ear and staring into my eyes.  I have this strange sensation that he is trying to hypnotize me. “Yes, my friend, you are very good man,” he says. “And because you good man, I bestow special honor on you. I, Brahman, will allow you to organize tonight’s Hanuman festival.”

My very stoned brain is now flying in circles around the room as I attempt to communicate.  “But I don’t understand,” I say. “It’s very special honor,” he says. “But I don’t know what to do,” I say. “No problem, we show you,” he says, “You give eight hundred rupees and we take care of everything.”

I laugh.  “Oh, I get it, you want money,” I say.

“Yes, yes, eight hundred rupee.  It’s very special honor,” he insists.

“No thank you, my friend,” I say calmly.  “I can’t.  I never give money for gods. I have a feeling that they don’t like it.   And as I said before, I like to worship in my own special way.” The Sadhus laugh as I stand up and bow politely. I exit the ashram…

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

Stoned on the ghats of Varanasi, the carnival comes alive.

Down the steps of the ashram, I see a peanut dealer. He has a big round face and bulging eyes. I buy a bag and an endless smile takes over his face.  I continue walking and eat freshly toasted peanuts as I go. “Postcard sir, you want postcard?” A little girl approaches me. She is tiny and only about 10 years old.  She closes in and shoves a packet of postcards in my face.

“No thank you,” I say, as I step back and away, “but you sure are cute.”  She smiles slightly… a tiny smile to part the sea of despair.  I reach out the bag and offer her peanuts.  She takes a handful and her smile grows very big. She has exceptionally bright teeth against a backdrop of very dark skin. One front tooth is obviously missing. Long matted black hair twists and curls around her face.  “Very good postcards, you want look,” she says enthusiastically. “No thank you,” I repeat as I smile and keep walking..

A man walks up to me and grabs my hand. “Hello my friend, your country?”  He shakes it vigorously but with strange affection. Suddenly, the hand shake transforms into a massage.  “Oh no,” I say.  “Yes sir, head and shoulder massage, Only twenty rupee.” He looks enthusiastic and determined.  He smiles bright but I just can’t do it. “Sorry, my friend, not now.” I pull my arm free and keep walking.

All along the ghats, people are plunging into the Ganges River. They are bathing in the sacred water that looks and smells like a sewer.  “Boat sir, you want boat,” says a very old man with long gray hair.  He smiles really big to show off that he still has three teeth remaining. “No thank you, not now,” I say. The sun is falling in the afternoon sky. Kids are running around and playing games.  There is laughter and fun everywhere. “Shaving sir, you need?” says a big fat bald man. He smiles big to reveal teeth stained from chewing that weird red shit. “No thank you,” I say, “not yet.”  The popular tchai stand  is up ahead.  I wonder what’s going on with the traveler crowd now.

“We’re taking a boat to the other side for sunset, fancy joining us?” says S. to me as I approach along the water.  Pacalou’s brother has a boat ready. J., S., and P. are climbing aboard.  “Yeah sure, why not,” I say and I hop in. The boat pushes off and we float to the middle of the sacred river.  J. rolls a joint. P. rolls a joint. S. and I relax. The sun changes from yellow to orange as it slowly falls behind the city. The boat lands on the other side and we get out and walk. There are no buildings here; only sand.  It is crusty river bottom sand. When the river is full, this part is under water. I take off my shoes and walk barefoot on the sand. Mostly the crust is firm enough to hold me but sometimes the crust breaks and my feet fall through and feel the sensation of cool beach sand. This is kind of fun. But we have gone far enough.  Let’s sit, light those joints and watch the sunset….

The sacred plant burns, the smoke circles and an amorphous conversation flows between us.  Who says what; I’m not sure.  The words are random and the voices vary. “It’s the end of time, I reckon, that’s what this place is,” says someone. “When it all goes down, the whole world will be like Varanasi,” says someone else. The orange ball of sun turns pink. It’s behind the buildings now. Stone temples cast shadows upon the river. Beams of light shine through the crevasses in the buildings to splatter the horizon with a mosaic of shadow and light. “Tomorrow’s the last day of the millennium. What do you make of that?” “End of time, it’s all going down.” “But anybody got any big plans to take on in the new century?” “Anything and everything is possible.” The bright red sun filters into pink along the edges. The skyline is completely irregular. Every building is an original. There is no plan. It’s chaos architecture in a bright red light. And there; rising above the magical wonderland, are the kites; hundreds of kites; thousands of kites; dancing in the wind.  “Madness reigns in Varanasi.   That’s what it’s all about. And when the bullshit collapses, madness will reign in the whole wide world.” A few puja offerings are set afloat. Tiny flames are now bobbing up and down on the water. Half of the sun is still visible in between a temple and a hotel. Pink splashes the whole horizon. Slowly, the sun disappears.  “I guess we should head back,” says somebody.  “Yeah, tomorrow’s the big day,” says somebody else.

We stand up and walk back towards the way we came. Crusty sand crumbles beneath our feet. Pacalou’s brother is waiting with the boat.  We are back afloat on the river. We pass through the floating candles and arrive once again in the holy city.  Completely exhausted from the fun-filled day, I return to my rooftop room and  collapse into a nice deep sleep.

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

It’s the very last day of the twentieth century and I awake because my room is alive.

“Hey you, get out of here.” There is a monkey in my room. He nears my backpack and I threaten him with a book from the bedside table. He smiles in response to my threat as if to say, what me, no way man, I wasn’t gonna touch it,  and walks casually back towards the door.  He opens it and exits.

I get up and get dressed and walk outside my room to see a swarm of monkeys on the roof. I close my door tight.

The monkeys watch me and I watch them. They sit like Buddhas on the corners of the deck. They make kissing gestures and screech. They run and climb up the clothes line. There’s a mother with a baby attached.

The nearby rooftop is covered in monkeys too. It seems like there are hundreds within a fifty meter radius.  It’s a monkey invasion. They are running around, screeching and invading houses as they look for food. The ones on my rooftop are watching me. They are wondering if I am a friend with food or an enemy with a stick. I walk around the monkey circle. I never get too close and never get too far. It’s amazing really; an omen perhaps. Look at all the crazy monkeys.  They are everywhere and they are smiling at me.  The universe is putting on a monkey show just for my entertainment.  Wow.

“Hey, hey, hey,” the owner of the guesthouse shouts as he comes out onto the roof. He has a stick and he runs around threatening the monkeys. They all run away and jump to other rooftops.  Now the owner and I stand together and watch as the swarm of monkeys makes its way across the rooftops. They do mischief at each and every stop. “Crazy monkeys cause much trouble,” says the owner. I laugh, “but they are fun to watch,” I say. “No, no, no,” says the owner emphatically, “red monkeys always bad. Only Hanuman good.” “Hanuman?” I say, “you mean the monkey god?” “Yes, yes,” says the owner, “four hundred crazy red monkeys in Varanasi, but only one black face monkey. Only one Hanuman.” “There really is a Hanuman?” I question. “Yes, yes,” says the owner, “and if you ever see him; it is very good luck.”

The owner does not hang out for long to discuss Hanuman.  He returns to his room and leaves me to watch the crazy red monkeys cause trouble on other people’s rooftops.    It is shortly after I’m alone, that my mind is struck with the inspiration. “Why not,” I say out loud. “It’s the last day of the twentieth century; I should probably go out with a bhang.”

I head down the circular staircase and out into the early morning streets. Most of the shops are closed at this hour, but a few are popping open. On one corner, a female dog with five puppies curls up next to a smoldering fire.  I move through the alleys and up a staircase. I go around a corner and into the main street. Here is some action.  I see the fruit and vegetable market. There’s a banana dealer.  In honor of Hanuman, I will get some. I buy a bunch of bunches and stuff my backpack full.  And then I make my way to the main ghat because I know that the beggars line the staircase there. Sure enough, they are all very happy to see me when I deliver the Hanuman special. Everyone loves bananas and they are quite nutritious too.

After my offering, I return to the main road and follow the crowds. I get lost in the flow but I don’t panic.  A wave of humans carries me along until I reach the big circle. The government shop is just ahead.  Right there near the milk dealers is a little blue building. I’m slightly nervous but it is perfectly legal. I hand over four rupees and the man puts a green lump in a piece of newspaper and hands it to me. Now I have bhang so all I need is curd to mix it with. But wait; what’s that? There is an optometrist shop on the corner.  It is right across the street from the bhang shop. I can’t believe it; new eyeglasses are finally possible.  I go look inside and find a man who smiles big. “Eye exam and glasses twenty-three dollars,” he says. “Okay; let’s do it,” I respond.

Bhang is low grade marijuana that is used in cooking. I take the eye exam and order the eyeglasses before I eat the bhang. The glasses will be ready in three hours. I return to the ghats and buy a bowl of curd. I sit on the steps of the river and mix the ingredients. Sweet curd is absolutely delicious. Bhang tastes like shit. Together it’s not bad.  But nothing happens right away and probably won’t happen for a while.  So I walk to the Tchai stand where the travelers have gathered. It’s the last day of the year…  it’s the last day of the whole darn millennium and optimism abounds.  Everyone has big plans for a great future. S. wants to design clothes and Varanasi has cheap fabric and cheap tailors. His eyes glitter because the dream is possible. P. plays the tabla.  He recently abandoned the real world to follow the drum.  Drumming is the dream and Varanasi  is the place to play.  D. is from Israel and he says he’s a prophet. He was called by god to attend this year’s Kumba Mela festival. He’s renting a boat in Varanasi to paddle upstream to the party.  J. talks about Manali… the stoner’s paradise.  He wonders if it is possible to just move there permanently.

Yes, yes, the bhang works. I start to float, to glide. Everything really is possible. If you have a dream, pursue it.  Poet, prophet, artist, adventurer?  What to do?  What to do?  “I fancy adjourning to a rooftop for joints and karom board,” says someone.  “I second the notion,” says someone else. A small group stands up to head for the rooftops. But not me.  I can’t go because I have to pick up my eyeglasses. “I’ll meet you later,” I say.

There are two ways to deal with the labyrinth. You can try to figure it out and control it or go with the flow and let the labyrinth take you.  Really, the Varanasi maze is simple. At the very center is the bhang shop.  Crossing each other at that center are the two main roads.  One road is perpendicular to the river and it connects the train station with main ghat. The other road is parallel to the river and it connects the first and last ghats. In between those two crossing main roads, there are an infinite number of intertwined, inter-connected alleyways and unnamed streets. To search those streets and alleyways for something in particular is a nightmare. But to float in those streets and see where they take you is a miracle. The bhang helps… really, it does. Once you know the center, you can always find your way. I drift my way through those crazy streets and end up back at the vision store.

I have brand new spectacles and a bhang buzz on the last day of the 20th century. It’s a very strange combination. The bhang dematerializes deconstructs breaks down and eliminates individual matter. Particles fade to nothingness as the force elucidates the flow of energy.  Meanwhile, my eyeglasses focus, construct, build up and clarify individual entities. Particles become more defined and the flow of energy blurs into the background. Bhang and eyeglasses are the opposite. With both at the same time, the spectrum is complete.

So, here I am, wandering in the wonderland; the carnival; the fun house. I check out the sideshows and the freaks and the games and the rides. “Hello friend,”“You want something?” “Change money?”“Hash from Manali?” “You want wife? Girlfriend?  Boyfriend maybe?” “How about Chinese opium?”“Brown sugar?” Everything is available. It is the extreme humanity buffet. Occasionally, I return to the rooftop to smoke joints and play karom board. I watch the kites for a while and relax with other travelers. But then, I go back to the fun house; the labyrinth; that crazy world of perpetual possibility. It’s the last day of the millennium; the end of time. The whole world is at my fingertips and god is everywhere…

I watch the floating candles dancing on the river.  I listen to the bells clang and hear a hymn off in the distance. I follow the flames downstream towards the music.  Back at the main ghat, I see Brahman priests on platforms with torches and incense. They move in sync with the music. A little girl approaches me. “You want make puja offering?” She smiles like a cherub and holds up a leaf with flowers and a candle. “Yes little girl, as a matter of fact, I do.” “Ten rupee” she says and the exchange is made. I take my offering in hand and walk towards the platforms. I step in among the people and let the flow of humanity take me to the water’s edge. I light the candle and set it afloat.  My offering joins the others floating on the sacred river. I step back and walk away.

“Hello again my friend,“ says the friendly old Brahman from the other day. He is smiling in his orange robes as he approaches and shakes my hand. “Hello,” I say. “You want come to my Ashram?” he says. “Not now, maybe some other time,” I respond. “I can show you worship of Hanuman,” he says. “Do you have money now?” “No thanks,” I say, “I already made my offering.”“But puja is offering to Shiva,” says the Brahman; “offering to Hanuman is different.”

Up ahead on the steps, I see the beggars from this morning. An old woman with missing teeth smiles because she recognizes me and remembers the bananas. “Yeah, I know,” I tell the Brahman. “Right now, I gave puja to Shiva. But this morning, I gave offering to Hanuman.”

“But how?  What you do?” says the Brahman .  “You no come to my ashram.”

“Like I told you before,” I respond, “I like to worship in my own special way.”  I turn and walk away from the Brahman and up the steps. My head is drifting. I feel sleepy again. The waves of people take me in the direction of my guesthouse.  I need rest, I need to stop moving and relax. I go up the stairs to my rooftop room and lay my weary body down.  There is silence… quiet… sleep.

What is the essence of wonder? From where does the light derive?

The end of time, a beginning I find, when a very special messenger arrives.

It is all like a dream, really, but I awake long enough to see the big moment pass. I share a chillum on the roof with two French guys and two Koreans. There are fireworks as well to mark the moment; explosions of color above the mythological city. But then, I go back to sleep for dreams, dreams and more dreams. I dream of floating through space. I am drifting in the land of the possible.  Opportunity abounds and the choices are infinite. Which way shall I go?

I awake, sort of, and see the first glimmers of dawn. It is sunrise on the new age. Maybe I’ll write a story to honor the birth of the twenty first century. I grab my small backpack.  It contains a notebook and a joint. I get dressed and exit the bedroom onto the roof. The sky is light blue. A mist hangs on the river. There is no sun yet, but it is very close. I find a chair and sit down. I open my backpack to retrieve the notebook. Hey, wait a second, there’s a banana in here. It must be a leftover from this morning’s Hanuman feast. I’ll have a banana for breakfast perhaps.

SCREEEECH!!!!! A very loud scream pierces my ears and I look up from my backpack. There he is sitting with crossed legs, Buddha style, on the corner of the deck. It is the black faced monkey; Hanuman. He’s staring at the banana in my hand. Believe it or not, he speaks “Your offering is accepted,” he says, “now hand it over.”

I toss him the banana. He catches it and starts peeling “But I thought you were just a story,” I say, “I didn’t think you were real.”

“You’re having a dream, I’m not real,” says the monkey as he shoves the peeled banana into his wide open mouth.

“A dream huh?    What’s the dream  about?

“I’m a messenger,” says the monkey as he chews the banana loudly with intermittent slurping noises.

“So what’s the message?” I ask.

“Tell your stories, Pat, share your dreams.”

“What?” I question, “I don’t understand.”

And then he laughs.  He laughs like only a monkey can laugh.  And the laugh gets louder and louder until it is no longer a laugh.  Then it is a full-throated, howling screech… SCREEEEECH!!!!!!!

I awake in my rooftop room. The first light of day glimmers through the window. I get dressed and go outside. There, on the rooftop across the way…screeching, screeching, screeching… is the black faced monkey. It has grey fur and a very long tail.  It really does look like a god among monkeys.

The hotel owner comes out on the roof.  “Look.  Look.  It’s Hanuman,” he shouts. “Very good sign. Great way to start the new year.”

The sun rises over the sacred river and the new age begins…

 

If you liked this story, perhaps you would like to buy one of my books.http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/patryantravels

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