Sunday, July 02, 2006

Varanasi notes - The woman who wanted nothing, and the man who lost everything

We expect many widows there but find only one. She sits on her haunches at the door to an open floor overlooking the cremation grounds. The floor has a thin mattress, a bundle of belongings, and a stick. We ask her age. Ten years over a hundred, she says. At eleven years of age she was married to a government man who handled four temples along the river. He died when she was a child, and she raised the children. Her children have not forgotten. They persuade her to return, and she refuses everytime. Why should I go there? I have my dharma, and all I need are prayers. Two weeks ago a cow tipped her over, hurting her arm and chest. It was my destiny, she says. It's all been written. Now I wait to die. My grandchildren and children visit me. I don't want to leave Kashi. I want liberation.


The tout sat beside us while she talked. He teased her. She smiled at him. You're lucky she's in good spirits, he tells us, because she uses that stick quite a lot. She has an evil temper. He asks her with the mock genuineness of a reporter: tell us, what do you ask god for in your old age? None of your business, she shoots back. Alright then, he tries, which god do you pray to? She catches on and smiles: no priest has asked me that question, so how can you? Alright then, he says again, pray to god that he takes you happily. Her eyes bulge upon hearing this and she looks at him in horror. He smiles and she erupts in laughter. He makes sure she wears old age lightly.


The tout was on everything you can think of. His forearms still have scars that testify to years of drug abuse. I've left everything now, he says. He used to have a house, land, and lots of money, my own guide confirms. He traded in everything for a prolonged high.