City of Darkness…

For several years around the turn of the century, I went through a phase where I thought I was a poet rather than a  story teller.  During that time period, I went on three of my winter wanders.  One season I was in South America, another trip I was in India and another journey brought me to Southeast Asia.  As a result, three of the notebooks from my scribbly notebook collection of  world traveling adventures are filled with incomprehensible epic poetry rather than my normal rambling prose. Some of the stories from those trips are rather incredible and definitely worth sharing but, unfortunately, the only written versions I have are in the form of vague and confusing, poems.  What can I say, I was overly creative with form and messed up all the substance.  So now, here in the present (December 2015), I am attempting to transform those old confusing poems into brand new stories.  I like to think of it as the re-incarnation of words.  This week’s story is my first attempt at this process.  This real crazy story did  indeed happen to me (as best I can recall) in Varanasi, India.

CITY OF DARKNESS   (Varanasi, India; December 17, 2000)

What is the flavor of darkness? What is the scent? The sound?

I arrive at three in the morning, and darkness hovers around.

The train whistle blows as we pull into the station and I am greeted by a smoky platform and rushing crowds of people. The flow of humans moves in both directions simultaneously.  I hop from the train with my pack on my back and am immersed in the middle of the swarming masses.  Which way do I go? The crowd surges up the stairs and I am swept along.  Strange little men reach out to touch me and offer their services.  “Rickshaw sir, where you go?” “Rickshaw, Hotel, Rickshaw” “This way my friend, follow me.” There are tchai servers, peanut sellers, omelet makers and everything vendors. The lepers huddle in the stairwell and reach out their stumps as I pass.  “Rupee, rupee, rupee,” they say, over and over and over again.

Everywhere is bustle and squirm as the floor is covered with people sleeping in rags.  It is big mass of human flesh like a single living organism.  It is tough to decipher where one human ends and another begins. The odor of sweat mixes with roasted  peanuts and burning garbage. There is choking smoke and foul air. Don’t step in the shit… human shit, dog shit, chicken shit and shit from some undetermined species that I don’t even want to think about. How can there be so much shit inside the train station? Finally, the exit.

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Not the Typical Indian Guru

Not the Typical Indian Guru

I never had a guru or spiritual leader or specific teacher whose message I follow.  Instead, many different humans have played that temporary role for me for brief periods of time.  This is the story of one of those people… and one of those brief periods of time.

I met Sunny at an outdoor café in Pushkar, India sometime around the turn of the century.  He was, perhaps, the wisest man I ever met.   I’m not sure if holy is the right word but he had that way about him… a sacred sort of presence.  I only knew him for about five days and I only talked with him at the café.  But we had several lengthy conversations over tchai and bhang lassis as we watched the crazy corner street traffic from our outdoor tables.  Truthfully, at the time, I didn’t put much importance on the conversations because I was distracted by a delightful little romance with a pretty young German woman.  But now, 15 years later, I’ve mostly forgotten the romance but I still think frequently about those conversations with Sunny.  I wonder why that is?

When I first saw him, it was kind of a mind twister.  I’d been traveling for several months around India but had only just arrived in Pushkar in the early morning.  As per my usual routine, I dropped my backpack in a cheap room and went looking for a centrally located café.  I found one on the corner of the main square and took a seat at an outdoor table.  That’s when I noticed two blonde haired backpacker guys sitting at the table across the aisle from me.  They were having a very animated discussion with an older local man.  The older man had long greasy grey hair, dark skin and shabby Indian clothes; he looked like he belonged in Pushkar.  He might even be a Sadhu except a real Sadhu would not be sitting in a café.   The strange thing was that the older guy answered the young guys back in their European language (Swedish, Dutch, or German?).  Not just a word or two, but full, complete and apparently complex sentences.  I remember even now how my brain was slightly confused by the situation because the language coming forth did not match the character speaking.

Later in the afternoon, on that same first day in Pushkar, I return to the centrally located café.  The house is packed this time and the server points me to the one empty seat.  I’ll be sharing a table with the strange older guy I saw in the morning.  He speaks to me in English.  It is one of the six languages he speaks.  He says his name is Sunny.

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