“Sharing a Berth with a Dead Man to Varanasi”

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India Travel Diary 19  : From Kathmandu to Varanasi (Benares) 

Wednesday April 3rd 1991

We spent the next two days checking out Bhaktapur Durbar Square and a Shiva on Snakes temple, we took pictures and people chased us away, the dogs howl all night on the full moons in Kathmandu because the monkeys come into the city and it keeps the dogs up and working there howling chords. At one of the Temples, I was sitting eating some trail mix when a large red monkey jumped up from behind me and sat a foot away looking at my food. His eyes were on the plastic bag, and he kept looking at me then the food; then in an instant he grabbed the bag. Foolishly I did not let go the bag and we locked eyes, I refused to let go and was challenging him but in my head a voice was clearly saying “Let go, don’t take this guy on”. Still I refused to let go as I looked into his eyes and received a clear telepathic message “I could rip you to shreds in an instant silly man”. Then to my surprise, he let go in a audible huff shoving the bag towards me and jumped away in an instant. I sat there paralyzed and relieved thinking how stubborn and stupid I was. We headed home to reflect, shower and rest. Sabu did get a picture of me and the monkey in our showdown, I will be posting only images of India in a forthcoming post “Nuttin’ But Pics o India”.

I decided to write a letter to the Fastwurms about how things were when I left for India and the prospects of having the group breakup, etc. We had set up the room with candles and had decorated a small fort around us. Sabubu painted while I wrote the letter.

I really didn’t understand how they felt they could micromanage my life, the cult aspect of it was a bit shallow and phony, the smugness made me uncomfortable and slightly twitchy. I already had expanded far beyond my expectations by taking on this trek through the Indian subcontinent and into the foothills of the Himalayas. I was feeling like letting go of all the pain of receiving the Dear John letter from my fellow Wurms. I was well beyond this, so I was asking they reconsider the implications of what they were proposing and the outcome. With all that I had experienced to this point I was ready to share some new outlook on future work. 1990 had been an extremely busy year; we had managed to climb out on top, a lot more visible than we had ever been, we where set to have a quintessential Canadian Art Experience.  

 Friday, April 5th 1991 VARANASI-BENARES, Uttar Pradesh

 Altitude 88 feet above sea level, hot and dusty

Sabu resting before the night from Hell
Sabu resting before the night from Hell

 Such an aversion to uses after the Kathmandu coffin buses that we took the train from Raxal and went way out of our way to Samastipur Junction. We thought it was just a short trip, but it turned out that we were back in the land of conflicting information and as it turned out it was a dusty train night through the heat of the northern plains of India.

In the final train to Varanasi, we found our seats in second class, there was a dead body on my seat, and the men moved it into the lowered seat above me. The guy taking care of the body slept in the opposite top bunk above Sabubu’s side of the berth. The body was wrapped in orange, red rags and a long white flowing scarf. The rail car had no shocks and I spent the night clinging to the bunk as I was repeatedly slammed down on the hard dusty vinyl, sometimes being slammed from six or ten inches in the air. The dead mans keeper kept snoring all night with Sabu kicking his bunk from time to time to interrupt  his nasal horn blasts.

 The window was open to keep the air circulation and smell down, but it also let in clouds of dust, to add to this night through hell, was the dead man’s chatta (white scarf ) around that fluttered through the air like a long silk snake. At times I would awake from a brief rest from exhaustion to have my face covered or being tickled by the dead man’s scarf. I kept grabbing it and flinging it back up, but soon enough it was back in my face, I finally had to get up and tuck him in while trying not to get flung onto him.  We got in at 7:30 AM with a film of dust on us. Two men came in and took the ultra rigid dearly departed of to the ghats, when we got out of the train station his relatives were busy tying him to the roof of a cab; to the ghats my good man. All the dirt on us had us looking more indianoid than ever. We stepped out onto the train platform in the early AM, the smell of incense and shit filled the train platform, where Sadhus (Holy Men) got off the train along with business people and families traveling.

Sitting down by the Ghats
Sitting down by the Ghats

Varanasi is the Hindu hub of for the dead on their way towards their next incarnation. This is the most hardcore Sadhu fashionistas we have ever seen, naked suffice a conch shell tied on with a lace as a protective cover for the package. Well smothered in a white powder which is Dunni, or burnt cow dung, the hair is really natty, ultra natty dreads, conks that have conquered gravity well beyond anything anywhere else on this planet, and to complete the look is the long pickle fork or trident representing they are followers of Shiva. Walking out of the train station bodies are being tied to cabs, or auto rickshaws to go to the ghats.

 Saturday, April 6th 1991

After a long rickshaw ride we found the Om Taka Taka Lodge, we checked in, showered, made love laughed and slept. Then we woke up washed our laundry  and got dressed to go change some money somewhere, somehow. We ended up near the Golden Temple where  bodies were wrapped in red and gold on stretchers,were  being carried along to the burning ghats. We bm’ed for cash and went searching for food which took most of the evening. Varanasi has this Madurai kind of madness thing going, one saying we heard from a rickshaw driver with a wistful look in his eyes “ Ah, to die in Varanasi is most Auspicious, so beware when crossing the street, the cab drivers will run you down”. To live and die in Varanasi also known as Benares is  a sure entry into Hindu Heaven, we have yet to see a model of this heaven though we have a few postcards. Back to the lodge to sleep and dream to awake in the early am for a walk by the ghats at sunrise. Hot still air, the smell so enveloping, kinda sticky smoke wafting, and somehow I found it  soothing and  reassuring, this smell of the dearly departed burning corpses at the ghats.

 Sunday, April 7th 1991

Got up with the sound of azan and went out down the street leading to the Harischandra Ghat, where the burning of untouchables takes place. I felt compelled to be a stand in relative and sit by and meditate and watch the Ganga flow. We walked along the Ganga and got a boatman to take us out onto the water for a better  witnessing of  the daily assembly of thousands that bathe, pray, cremate, and inter mingle. Moona Kal is our toothless oarsman. We saw many bathing Hindus doing there morning ablutions and prayers as the various ghats prepared wood pires for the days cremations. Our lodge is at the Harishandra Ghat, we had to get a postcard because photos are forbidden. I got to row my baby on the Ganges, made our oarsman a bit nervous he was worried his boss might see him relaxing and possibly assume he had made me row, so we gave him some more rupees to relax and enjoy the ride for a while. We raced the other tourist boats and we did manage to get some great photos as we moved up the river.

Our faithful oarsman Moon Kal
Our faithful oarsman Moona Kal

 Later we went to the Mother India Temple, which houses a marble land relief of the entire subcontinent from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka. The marble is forty by forty feet in size, they should have a replica of this at all the airports when you arrive so you can get a better understanding the vastness of this place. We did the Bm and also got our tickets to Agra for Wednesday. We rickshawed  around town then went home for rest from the crowds and slept to the sound of rolling thunder and pelting rain but soon the sun returned  along the Ganga, while we slept part of the hot day away to awake after four  hours or more.

 Cremation uses 360 Kilos of wood and costs approximately five hundred rupees, the Harishchandra’s or Untouchables had there own ghat, relatives would come to Varanasi and sit along the street leading to the ghat and beg for money to buy the wood to cremate their relative. Sometimes this could take weeks or even months, this was a health hazard and so the government installed an electric crematorium and the fee is 50. rupees. I was told that people who die of cobra bites, smallpox victims, children and Brahmin Holy Men are wrapped in cloth and rocks and simply slipped under the Ganga.

In monsoon season the river can rise more than twenty five feet, as you go along the river you can see the markings on the steps and buildings of the highest monsoon seasons with all the record breaking years marked in white paint. Some of the floods have made it a long way up into temples and peoples homes.

There are over twenty five ghats for various sects, Jains, Brahmans, Nepali, Southern Tamil, Rich Man and of course Outcasts.

 In the evening we went to a bargain basement wedding ceremony where the minister priest sadhu just recited long prayers like songs and did some aside and commentaries and jokes, he was self accompanied on the harmonium along with a group of musicians on stage behind him, also along with them a young boy dressed as Lord Krishna and six young girls danced out the wedding proposal and beatroval . Then a another Sadhu came and did a show , all of this by some miscommunication with our rickshaw driver that was suppose to take us to a Sitar concert but instead took us to a wedding. We laughed and sang and dance and had great food and left in the dark hallucinating from all that energy, everywhere Muslims recovering from Ramadan, and ready to jump Sabu, we hurried home. We painted and did some yoga then slept. that’s the night of bad dreams including the one I just wrote down, it seems I am getting these weird tormented Fastwurm dreams on a regular basis.

 Dream Demi Lune

…in a hill village near a khola I am speaking with Kim and Dai about Fastwurms, Dai insists that the group as it exists must be dismantled and I must be rid of, Kim is quiet and I am on the verge of tears but Kim and I don’t talk but mill around the camp. Then there is an attack on our camp and everywhere there is panic and people are being slaughtered. I can’t find Kim or Dai, I then look at the ground and it’s all blood and mud and art materials running in colors along body parts. Then the sun runs behind a dark cloud and everywhere as the sun disappears descends death and ruin. I see a cat with a blanket, and it is telepathic and it tells me it is going to get very cold and allot of people won’t survive, as the cat nestles amongst the recently slain corpses for some last remaining body heat. Then in the dark I start up this short mud hill, when I get up there I slip and when I get up my eyes are sealed shut. I lift a motorcycle from the mud and one of the fighting warriors gives me the hand of a young maiden and tells me to take her away from this place. Then Sabubu and I are in the khola, in the sunshine both cackling and laughing trying to wash down our Tibetan medicine balls.


4 Replies to ““Sharing a Berth with a Dead Man to Varanasi””

    1. For me India is the centre of our world, all begins with India.. even as a young boy I had this incredible attraction to your country.. thank you


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