A LONG DAY OF SIGHTSEEING, a long day of Papu. . .had hoped to be down at the ghats this evening but couldn't figure out a way to break free. . .there may be no nice way; we'll see tomorrow, when I try for sure. Breakfast at hotel: mood poor, service bad, room hot, all alone; table in center set for what turns out to be a large group of Japanese girls (they've been out on the front lawn at sunset tonight being "treated" to the monkey marriage act and a snake charmercobra at half-mast, hadn't seen one of those yet but only peeked tonight. . .not my dime); there are other signs of increased habitation at the hotel, but I'm so unused to speaking to people at this point I'm sure it won't change my solitary dining situation in the short time I've left. Anyhowdidn't want to spend the whole evening writing hotel/shop/transport trivia. . .although I must mention that just now, as I was sitting here congratulating myself on having managed to have the room cleaned while I was out, a knock comes on the door from an incomprehensible little man on the staff who enters and before I can stop him proceeds to sprayfor bugs, from an old-fashioned pump/spray contraptionwhat must be a combination of kerosene, urine and lye in most of the corners, many of the crannies, some of the nooks and almost all the easy-to-reach places in the room (except the bathroom), rendering it uninhabitable. . .
It occurs to me that I have fallen under an evil spell that imprisons me here in the cantonment, here in the precincts of the hotel, here in the description of hotel existenceunable to write about anything else, or so it seems (I'll be on the vergeand then something happenslike surprise fumigation. . .); I am as if cursed. Am I being punished for having chosen not to stay by the river? For not being heedless enough of my comfort to choose the poorer air, the filth, the bugs, the beggarsthe poetry of Banaras that draws my fellow tourists to riverfront dives. . .Tourists, but in guises, attitudes, in some cases torpors, that go with the landscapethat are Banarasby now. . .The wanna-be sitar masters and the tabla-dabbling public time-beaters and the supremely self-pleasuring wooden flute-tootling greeters of dawn. . .as well as all those who are primarily visual in their effects, and who uphold the picturesque as causethe aesthetes, in Banaras for the beauty, the beauty: monomaniacal, all-but-monocled boulevardiers turned out with every understated elegance at hand to spend the best-lit hours in desperately bored prowling. . .and all the all-popular, ever-revolving multitudes of mentally self-immortalizing on film: the solitary-in-the-middle-of-a-bathing-platform book readers, the wrap-around sunglass-wearing non-smilers (Asian), the female danglers of bare leg from heights. . .Among the Indians threading and weaving their daily way among all these people who are not Indians, are the small, thin, uneven-faced women who collect the dung off the ground with their hands, leaving finger-scrape marks through the green-brown traces, and pile it into round shallow baskets that fit on their headsthe women carrying wet cement at construction sites also use these basketsfor transport to where collected dung is piled; then they (or other womenI'm not sure how or whether the labor is divided) shape the dung into patties and slap it on a wall to dry, leaving a small bare handprint in the middle of each patty; from a distance the walls along the ghats appear to be covered with even rows of huge brown spores. The dung women dress in threadbare but bright sarisone I saw was in pale rose pink, another in lime and parrot green.
Got a close look at one of the post-Holi still-performing in tents "girls" today and it was maleI had peered hard at some of the singers I'd seen from a distance before now, sensing there might be a switch on (the suggestion of sexual underworld was heavy enough and there is this tradition, about which I am not well informed, of a caste of eunuch entertainers in India), but this time I was close (in the autorickshaw, but close) and there was enough eye-contactenough darshanmade for me to detect the mocking/challenging drag queen face-to-the-world ethosso very familiarin the gaze returning mine. . .After this began noticing the extraordinary amount of eye contact one makeseven from the back of an autorickshawwhile passing along a busy (or even not so busy) stretch of road in India: people are looking, looking; many people aren't moving at allthey're sitting cross-legged on their carts or just inside their shops, stuck there selling things; or they're lying on a string cot, propped up on one elbow, maybe sick, maybe dying, maybe just lazing; or they're in a rickshaw too, auto or bicycle, or in a tonga, or in the back of a jeep, or the back of an oxcart, being transported.
Hotel de Paris, Varanasi
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