“You are a very tolerant person,” she said, apologetically.
You’re faith is ridiculous, and so are you, I thought, baring my teeth silently in what I hope passes for a smile.
Well, that may be a harsh assessment. True, it may seem absurd to disregard evolution as an elaborate scam, while believing Krishna (the blue-skinned, flute-playing deity and lord of all creation) danced on a hundred-headed snake monster by this tree here, it’s five-thousand years old! Really!
And yet, from the inside, it works. Beautiful temples, chants, and texts – these things are real. These things are true. Who among us isn’t guilty of believing in some ridiculous thing or other? It’s what makes us human. Bah! Tolerance can be a drag, sometimes.
I am certainly grateful to Alla for her help. This can’t be overstated.
And Yet, And Yet
Something about Vrindavan did rub me the wrong way. Perhaps it was Alla’s motherings, ministrations, and preaching. After all, I had come here to escape these very things. Perhaps it was just the jet-lag. And perhaps it was the city itself.
Well, not even a city, really. A small town. A small, filthy, starving town. There was garbage and sewage everywhere. It stank. Whether man or beast, all creatures there seemed to have been reduced to scavenging. I am glad to be gone from there.
Of course, there were sights to be seen. Temples galore, holy Goshala gardens, the sacred Yamuna river, wherein Krishna is said to have bathed. However, I was glad to discover, behind both these facades, in the back alleys and ways, Vrindavan’s true life. There, people go on about their business calmly and pleasantly. It still smells awful.
I took the night train from Mathura to Allahabad. I count myself fortunate in two things:
1. The train arrived only seven and a half hours late.
2. I boarded at the station of origin, ergo on time.
(I tried to record the sounds of midnight snoring in the cabin. Please let me know if I succeeded.)
I quickly realized something: I’m a city boy. Always have been. Bustling Allahabad suits me much better than stagnant Vrindavan. Surprisingly, it’s actually cleaner here. But the main difference is the feeling that this place has a life of its own. It’s not waiting hungrily to feed off mine.
I made a new friend today! His name is Martin, and he’s a Czech psychologist. We are now sharing a room. I have spared you the images of my previous Allahabad accommodations. Some things are better left unsaid, and unseen. And unsmelled. Too late for me on all counts.
More Friends Than I Know What To Do With
“What your name? Which country you from? You have girlfriend? Why no girlfriend!”
Here in India, I have so many friends – being a white man elevates me to the level of a celebrity. Everywhere I go, people stare, wave, smile – and talk. Some of them even want to have their picture taken with me. I would like to do them all justice by describing each and every one here, but I’m afraid that’s impossible. Let me just mention a few here:
Sanjit, Anand and Amit, the Mumbian Yoga teachers.
Ram and Vishal, the local computer engineering students.
Arjun, the vendor at the kiosk next to the Allahabad central post.
And many, many others, including a few nameless (as far as you’re concerned) Yogis at Kumbh Mela.
Wait… What’s a Kumbh Mela???
Kumbh Mella – The Big One
“The Last Ardh [half] Mela, in 2007, attracted more than 70 million people – the larget-ever human gathering. The next Kumbh Mela will take place in 2013. Expect a big one.”
-The Lonely Planet
Kumbh Mela. It’s here, and so am I. Yesterday evening, I went to check it out.First impression? Tents. Tents, everywhere. As far as the eye can see. Quite overwhelming. I went to see the temple of Hanuman, then plunged, headfirst – into the river.
The Sangam is the intersection point of three holy rivers: The Ganga, The Yamuna, and the Saraswati. People come there for their sacred bath, especially during Kumbh time. I’m sure it’s horrifyingly polluted, but no more so than my room. What the hell, right?
On January 27th, there’s going to be a full-scale ceremonial Kumbh dipping. February 10th is going to feature an even bigger festival.
There’s too much to tell. If this takes half as long to read as it did to write, I pity you. I’ll try to be more focused in the future, and pick a few events to tell in more detail (and maybe also find an internet cafe with a faster connection – optimist’s assessment.)