JUST HAD MY FIRST ENORMOUS ASIAN INSECT ENCOUNTER as I was sitting here trying to get my thoughts to direct themselves towards the production of writing—don't know how it got in here—there was a loud sort of report against the window screen and it just appeared—but it went out dead, flushed down the toilet like a (large) goldfish. . .slap! went my sandal on the bathroom floor. . .A long, full day, full of many changes of mood—note: I am not the only unstable person in this city at this time—everybody's sort of crazy with Holi coming in just two days.

Autorickshaw at 5:30 am to the river, didn't know what to expect, hadn't realized there were so many tourists around, my own hotel being so deserted. . .entire riverfront industry devoted to taking tourists out on boats for hire, and then preying upon them once they're powerless, on the water. . .picturesque little man slipping up beside in his little boat hands you some bowls with flower petals and wicks to float on the water, little lamps, very picturesque; then awhile later he's back, demanding 100 Rs. apiece (I gave him 20 Rs. in all but winning the difficult argument didn't make having had it at all any easier to bear—well, maybe just a little bit easier); then of course the boy rowing the boat does a slow half-circuit of the riverfront (much less than half, in fact) with frequent pauses and go-nowhere tackings, then rushes back (against the current!) at the end of just that little bit less than an hour to where the autorickshaw driver waits—he wants to take me to Sarnath and to a famous sari shop—he keeps pressing: what time this? what time that?, like a small child; I finally put my finger to my lips and tell him to hush. . .I'll save describing the sights, I'm going back tomorrow, leaving at 5:00 this time so need to rest.

After boat ride, had driver (name, Papu) take me back to the hotel; ate expensive breakfast; called home, expensively, to give them the number; then the desk clerk wouldn't put the call through to my room when Dad called back—cut him off and insisted I come downstairs to talk there—convinced he just wanted to eavesdrop I was not very pleasant about having to do so. . .Wanted very much to leave India, immediately. . .Instead, napped, woke up, sat outside for lime soda and snacks finishing Diane Eck's excellent Banaras; at 3:00 headed out for the river again—hotel guy stuck me with a bicycle rickshaw driver who wanted me to walk for an hour in the Old City and then come back to where he'd park, for the ride back—another argument when I just paid him off, 20 Rs., instead. . .he had a special sari shop in mind, too. . .

Finally, freedom. Set out to find the Kal Bhairo temple to propitiate that god at the outset of my stay, as one is supposed to do—and I found it right away, went in, gave out money from every orifice to the temple attendants—a cash colonic—got in exchange (visibly) an orange tika mark, some ashes, a thread mala and bracelet with replacements. . .Wandered then through narrow streets hoping to emerge at the river—and did, eventually, at Gaya Ghat; walked downstream from there, enjoying life, taking pictures (I'd forgotten my camera in the morning—a good thing, as it turned out), dealing with excitable crowds of children already playing Holi, pink dye, green dye all over their hands, faces, clothes and hair—they throw color at the dogs, who are all over pink and purple splotches. . .Nice dogs here, not so underfed looking as elsewhere; the one in the Kal Bhairo temple, licking himself on the steps in front of the god (who rides a dog) was especially handsome. . .Crowds of boys and men play tennis ball cricket on the ghats. . .At Scindia Ghat was taken up by a man who wrote his name in my book—a faith healer, self-taught mystic, local character I suppose. . .Walked aways along the river with him, past the big burning ghat. . .more tomorrow.

Hotel de Paris, Varanasi
3.21.97

 

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