Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 7, 2015

Assi Ghat, Benares
Saturday, 11/7/15 dusk

I ask the tuk-tuk wallah to please wait as I climb out a few streets
from Assi Ghat.
I pass a dilapidated building on the left with the words Shreeman
Infrareality inscribed on the frayed wooden lintel.
I purchase a small bag of unshelled peanuts for 10 rupees and sit
on a backless stone bench fronting the Ganges.
Almost immediately an old sadhu, barefoot, in a tattered saffron
lungi, his few teeth stained red from betel, shuffles up to me,
extending a veiny long hand.
I give him a ten rupee bill.
He swivels his head in that indescribable way Indians have meaning
any number of things.
Here it means the saddhu wants more money.
I give him another ten rupee bill and he shuffles away managing to
elude a cow directly in his path but stepping into a fresh cow patty
with one bare foot.
A portion of patty adheres to his foot, but he doesn’t stop until close
to the river where he squats and consults his mobile.

A posse of underfed brown mutts sidle up to me shyly, one with a
distended pregnant belly; I toss them unshelled peanuts.

The Ganges at dusk is turbid, shaped like a half-moon, which is one
of Lord Shiva’s numerous attributes.
Kashi (known also as Benares and Varanasi) is said to be Lord
Shiva’s city.
Indian men and boys wearing frayed trousers, lungis or striped
underwear shorts walk, talk, squat.
Some hold hands or have their arms around each other’s shoulder,
a relaxed tenderness.
A child maybe a dozen feet to my left squats and shits on the
pocked stone pavement.
You need supple hamstrings to squat so low to the ground and
impoverished Indians have them.

Girls and women walk by talking, holding hands; most wear calf-
length kurtis and pajama-like leggings after the Sikh fashion.
Others wear saris.
A grown female’s uncovered legs are not to be viewed in Benares.

Close to the turbid river are small carts selling samosas and sweets,
instant poison for the westerner’s tender tummy.
I watch three Americans, two males and a female, who pause near
where the child was shitting.
While the female caresses her mobile the males, one with head
shaved, the other with dreads, compare tattoos, talking loudly,

As I was making notes, microscopic creatures were biting my chest
and arms, they could be fleas, possibly sacred. Who knows?
I put my notebook in my bag and get up to leave, but I forget where I
am and end up lost.
My getting lost is a common occurrence.
I finally manage to find a tuk-tuk (not the one that is some place
waiting for me) which maneuvers manically through the bumpy
chaotic traffic to my boarding house eight-and-a-half kilometers
more or less to the north.


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