Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 17, 2015

Ganges Dawn

Predawn, everyone’s awake, Kashi’s jumping.
Excluding the homeless thousands who are unawake.
I’m walking cautiously to the ghats in the semi-dark through littered
streets, trying to distinguish trash from cardboard and newspaper
humps of low-castes sleeping, groaning while sleeping.

Do they dream while they sleep? Is it a collective dream? Has their
2000-years of servitude infected their dreams? Can ideology, if
caste consciousness may be called that, imprison dream, arguably
the only uncolonized space left? Yes, it can. Even as the sleek white
Mercedes bulldozes the rickshaw off the road and the rickshaw
wallah accepts the aggression as his due, absolutely without

Cremation-white smoke curling, the ghats are alive.
I’m led down steep stone steps to the primary burning ghat:
Manikaranika, whose prideful motto is: There is never a moment
when a corpse is not aflame in Manikaranika.

I read that on a postcard for tourists.
Another card in the same set has a photogenic, photoshopped army
of “warrior priests,” Shiva worshippers, muscular ganja smokers,
naked, smeared with ash, holding hands in dreamspace, en route to
the dream within a dream.
Edgar Allan Poe’s phrase.
Poe felt too much, it killed him, I admire him even more since
coming to Kashi.

Dim light in the eastern smog: dawn closing in.
On one of the steep steps, death smoke rising, leading down to the
river, a macaque monkey family of 7 or 8 is calmly grooming, picking
Hindu devotees, no fuss, step around them.

I’m in a flimsy rowboat moving northwest, trying to keep from getting
splashed, sun not yet visible.
I’m sharing the boat with a rat snuggled into the port side.
I thought the rat was a goner but saw the long tail jerk.

The rower is a slender teenage low caste-barefoot boy chewing pan,
spitting into a small basin by his feet.
He points to a crumbling palatial structure looming over
Manikaranika Ghat.
Maharajah of Jaipur own, he says.
Why not? Maharajah gazes at death. Royal get-away-from-it-all.

Bathers and washers are in the shallows, scrubbing and grooming
each other.
Brahmins with sacred threads, not just Brahmins, both genders,
near naked, middle-aged and older, gargling the sacred water filled
with ash, body parts, dogs, dead sacred cattle.
White smoke rising.
Crows and lapwings circling.
No vultures oddly.

Other small row boats pull alongside, low-caste women selling
sweets, trinkets, postcards.
I buy a card set featuring the digitally altered warrior priests for 50
My boat wallah and other boat wallahs shouting to each other in

Shouting, plash of oar, bird caws, crackling corpse fires, sacred
chanting—the sounds seem to break apart into a white noise.
Starboard over my right shoulder finessing through the smog, finally
a bit of gold.
And here come the mosquitos, I forgot my DEET, hope they’re not
The rat twitches its tail.
Good, we’re in this together.

Suddenly a black myna, related to the starling, lands on the prow
and stares at me with its keen black eye.
The young boat wallah turns and whispers to me hoarsely, with
There, sir, the sun!
Even as I see the golden disc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s