Rereading Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journals.
With his reticent longtime Harpo Marx lookalike lover Peter
Orlovsky, Ginsberg spent nearly two years in India in the early 60s,
much of it in Kashi and Bengal.
He inscribed that sequence in a delirious prose-poetry filled with
misspellings and awkward grammar to convey immediacy and zero
At one juncture Ginsberg and Orlovsky were arrested as vagrants;
the Kashi police asked for their papers.
“What is it about India that you like so much?” one of the baffled
cops asked him.
Ginsberg “liked” the corpses cremated in the burning ghats,
describing the process in grisly detail, snapping photos of
severed corpse fingers and feet.
Ginsberg liked the sacred cows that wandered around the burning
ghats at midnight eating “the rush ropes left behind on the sand near
the woodpiles on which corpses wrapped in white cloth are
He liked to shit his dysentery into the holy Ganga.
He liked to detail graphic sex-play with Orlovsky while both were
suffering with dysentery and tropical illness.
He liked to shriek back at old beggar-women.
He liked to feed bananas to monkeys.
He liked–was irresistibly drawn to–the squalor.
Already notorious for Howl and Kaddish, Ginsberg was a hell-bent
motherfucker in his late thirties who didn’t stop doping.
Opium, morphine, heroin, bhang, hashish, atropine.
Swallowing, shooting, hanging with the wacked-out sadhus who all
seemed to be doping with him.
He described dreaming while on and off the dope, dreams
contradicting or merging with whatever the “reality” was / is of Kashi.
Always compulsively extroverted, Ginsberg referred constantly to his
“Beat” mates: “blowing Jack” [Kerouac], writing to Burroughs,
Snyder and Corso, fantasizing sexually about Neal Cassady.
He referred to visionary poets like Blake, Whitman, Rimbaud, Dylan
Thomas, who in crucial ways seemed to him versions of the ancient
Indian poet Kabir: holy Hindus.
What Ginsberg was finally doing in his shamanic kamikaze way was
seeking that luminous vibrating inner void,
celestial white noise,
beneath, between, within the lepers, untouchables, malformed,
burnt corpses, squalid mania.
Did he find it?