Calvin’s Turn, Or: A Stunning Revelation

Hi! I mean, hello there, readers! I don’t really know how to start this thing…

This is Calvin writing, by the way. I promised Shai I would narrate the next post, which is this one, so I guess it’s the current post, but it was the next post when we talked about it, and… you get the idea. You can see I’m not very practiced at this.

Anyway, so before I get to the main event, let me tell you some more about the events so far. Let me think a moment… Oh! He never did tell you about the Kumbh, did he? That lazy bum. How could he have left that out? He should write more.

Well, so when he came to the Kumbh Mela festival, also known as Maha Kumbh, which means “The Big Kumbh,” Shai did what he has done consistently during his travels so far: He walked around aimlessly, until he found someone to talk to or a place for the night, or just simply got tired. When this happened, he would sit down. If he was in the mood, he would write, which proved to be an ill-conceived notion, as any such attempt quickly drew a circle of silent, staring onlookers. Well, sometimes they were silent. For some reason, the image of a man bent over a notebook fails to convey, in India, the message that some privacy might be desired. To be fair, they’ve probably never seen privacy to know it. I sure as hell haven’t seen any in this country. And do you know what? Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe it’ll help Shai grow, and I know we all want that, because we’re his friends, right? Otherwise why are we reading his blog? (Or writing it, as the case may be. How did I ever agree to this?)

So one of these times, Shai is sitting on the sandy bank of the Ganga (is he following these holy rivers around on purpose?) and trying in vain to write, when along comes a strange pair, an Indian Guru and a Frenchwoman, and conversation ensues. It goes something like this:

Shai: “Wow! Someone I can speak Englsih with! Do you know where else in the festival I can find such a thing?”

Leela: “Yes! There’s Pren Baba in sector 9 [was it sector 9? I think there was someone in sector 9], there’s the Rainbow camp, there’s…”

Shai: “Whoa! Back up a moment. Did you say ‘Rainbow camp’?”

Leela: “Yes, they’re in sector 7.”

Shai: “Great! I’ll find them!”

And he did, and he stayed there for three weeks, never visiting any of the other English speaking Babas. Lazy bum…

Oh, wait! Before I forget, I just have to point something out. Shai mentioned something about the festival site being at the intersection of three holy rivers, and, while he was only repeating what he has been told, I must make a slight correction: You see, while the Ganga and Yamuna flow visibly into each other, the Saraswati river is… How did that Indian boy put it? “here in spirit.” That’s India for you – you can never really tell what’s going on physically, and what’s going on spiritually, and what’s just plain old miscommunication. Well, nine times out of ten, it’s miscommunication, but knowing that still isn’t very helpful.

So Shai decides he’ll find the camp today, and then come back tomorrow with his things from the room. Only he isn’t counting on how long it’s going to take to find, and by the time he gets there, it’s long past dark, and it’s getting cold, and this camp is a tiny clump of disorganized tents way out at the very edge of the festival area. Shai would have turned back the moment the tents cut off as though sliced with a knife, giving way abruptly to an empty desert, and he never would have found it, but Panama Baba said “Come, it’s just a little further,” and then there it was.

So Who Are The Rainbow People?

And why was their camp so isolated from everyone else? Well, there are different views on that. Some say it was their own choice. Some say the Indians wanted to keep them out of sight, to avoid trouble. We may never know the true answer, but they both seem plausible. The whole of the Kumbh Mela grounds is considered a temple, which means – no sex. Maybe that’s why, say some, they wanted to make sure and move the Rainbow camp off said grounds. Just sayin’.

They’re Hippies, of course! A modern take on the classic theme. Beads, and drum circles, and hash – at the Kumbh, they fit right in. Of course they didn’t really, and every one of them drew just as much attention as Shai did. In fact, he soon came to think of himself as one of them.

You know Shai, though. He’s a good boy, though he can be a little koo-koo in the head. He tried a few puffs, coughed his lungs out, and decided that smoking wasn’t really his thing. Nor did he have any sex, either, more’s the pity. In fact, he was sick half the time he was there, and positively miserable. I think it was being surrounded by friends. He just couldn’t handle it.

Shai did have some great adventures in and around the Kumbh, though. If he would get off his lazy bum bum and fix his camera, I could show you pictures of people jumping off dune-cliffs, Indians watching porn on their cell-phone, and the mysterious and allusive Cowamalope (Shai came up with that name himself, and it was approved by Alexis – the only other witness of this strange, Indian, kin of the Yeti and Unicorn.) And that would just be one day’s worth!

Let me summarize and move on, because this is getting out of hand: During these three weeks, Shai ate for free, slept for free, showered seldom (but bathed often) and spoke more German than Hindi.

Moving on.

Well, much as I’d like to tell you about Rishikesh, I should be wrapping this post up, and there’s still something I must do.

You see, a fortuitous turn of events led Shai somewhere… quite unexpected.

“So you can get me a ticket to Israel and back?”

Shai asked, incredulously. As well he should be, for while the ticket to Israel went through smoothly (and mind you, this is for an Indian value of smooth), it’s the ticket back that’s proving somewhat tricky. So, yes, Shai is in Israel right now. He’s a little embarrassed about this, so I feel it’s my duty to out him.

So, you see, he’s hiding at home, still somewhat in shock and denial at being back in his beautiful homeland, but if you were to give him a call and pull him outdoors, he would actually be very grateful.

I’m trying to convince him to keep up the blog, even while he’s here. It’s good for him. For instance, when a pretty woman told him she follows his blog, it positively made his day. So help me, and together, perhaps we can convince our dear Shai to stop being a lazy bum, and start being an industrious bum, instead – in Israel!

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Too Little, Too Late

The flickering shadows of treetops on my eyelids were blocked by a second, deeper shadow, and I slowly opened my eyes to see a strangely dressed man standing over me. His face was completely shrouded by a hood, but I knew who he was.

“Calvin, what are you doing?” I asked, exhasperated.

“I just thought I’d remind you,” he replied, “that it’s been quite a while since you’ve written in your blog. For that matter, you’ve been neglecting your own personal journal, and your photography.”

“Well,” I muttered, “can’t it wait? I’m resting.” I replied, and then did the napper shuffle: I rolled over, closed my eyes, and hoped he’d go away. When his shadow failed to be removed, I squinted up at him again.

“Say,” I wondered aloud, “why are you dressed up as the angel of death?”

“This? This is my Purim costume.”

“But it isn’t Purim.”

“Isn’t it?” He replied, and I knew he was grinning smugly, because I had played right into his hands. Sitting up, I saw that the treetops were gone, and so was the sunlight. I was sitting on top of a building in Varanasi, and it was night-time.

“Would you like to explain?” Calvin asked slyly, “or should I?”

“I’ll do it,” I muttered dejectedly, resignedly accepting that my nap was officially over. You see, Calvin is my imaginary friend. It gets lonely, sometimes, traveling alone. But that’s how I want it. I’ve been enjoying spending some time with me. It makes a lot of sense, then, that any account of my recent travels should take place mostly within my own head.

“And with me.”

“Yes, and with you.”

“So why the name, Calvin? It’s a bit Christian, isn’t it?”

“It’s like Calvin and Hobbes, except this time Calvin is the imaginary friend. I thought it would be a nice reference, with a pleasant little reversal.”

“Liar. It’s just the first thing that popped into your head.”

“Second thing, thank you very much. You almost ended up being called Benedict.”

“What’s up with the Christian names?”

“I don’t know. Do you mind?”

“I don’t know. It’s your mind.”

“Well, let’s get on with it, then!”

“Hey, buddy, you’re the narrator. Don’t look at me.”

And so I am.

“Next time, you’re narrating.”

“Fair enough. So, explain it!”

“Explain what?”

“That you’ve been reduced, by your laziness, to a clip-show of recent highlights, rather than a calm, coherent, blog post.”

“That’s quite enough out of you, thank you very much.”

Where were we, then? Ah, yes. Sitting atop the Varanasi Chabad house. Down below was the cloth-walled dining area that had been erected for the celebration. I’m rather sure there was an awning of some sort, but in this imaginary account, we can see everything from above.

Everything would include:

Some twenty Jews, sitting around two tables, one for men and one for women, with a cloth divide in between. Of said Jews, one was me, one was drunk, one was a racist, and one was our host. It is unfortunate that the racist and the host coincide.

I would like to make a correction: Most of us were sitting. One of us was lying in a pool of his own vomit. He was repeatedly rolled out of it, and persistently rolled back. He was the drunk one.

The culprit was obvious: The table was decked not only with many dishes of excellent food, but  also with many bottles of not-so-excellent Vodka. What can I say? It was a good night.

“Tell them how you broke vegetarianism.”

“No!”

“Well, then, tell them about the Bhang Lassi.”

“That was later. And absolutely not!”

“Well, then, would you like a cup of Chai?”

“Always.”

“Chai!” cried the entrepreneuring vendor as he climbed onto the bus, immediately after it had bounced to a halt. “Chai, samosa! Chai!”

“Over here!” cried Calvin, and then had to wait while the man squeezed his way through passengers and baggage to get to us.

“Two, please.”

Sipping chai on the bus, waiting for it to resume its journey, I contemplated India and its endless peculiarities.

“They don’t ever say please here, have you noticed?” I commented out loud. It was one of the first Hindi words I asked about, and I used it often, but I almost never heard it used.

“Same goes for ‘thank you’,” Calvin agreed, “It’s a cultural thing.”

“So, wait, is this the bus to Lucknow, or the bus to Haridwar?”

“Honestly? I can’t tell.”

“Come on, Calving, I narrate, you’re in charge of the scenery. It’s only fair. Do your part!”

“Well, what do you want me to do? I can’t tell Indian buses apart! They’re all the same shuddering, drafty, over-crowded raj-era derelicts to me. The view is always the same everywhere, too.¬† Tell me, honestly, that you can do better.”

I couldn’t, so I kept quiet. Which was fine. A long, night-time Indian bus ride is a great time for quiet contemplation. The ricketiness of the bus combines with the disrepair of the road for quite a bumpy ride (no one ever fixes anything in India: They just build it, and then watch it rot.) The turbulence rocks me like a cradle, even as it verges on the unpleasant. This combination is rather typical of India.

“In fact,” I state, coming out of my reverie, “I invented you on a bus-ride, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did, and I’ve got a thousand Rupees says you can’t remember which bus-ride it was.”

“A thousand Rupees is nothing…”

“So which bus ride?”

“Not the one where I sang for them… I know! It was the one where I was reading Sherlock Holme and Dracula from my Magical Indian E-book Reader!”

“There were at least three of those, not including the one with the singing.”

“Ow!” I yelped, for just then a particularly violent bump left my backside quite sore.

“Ack!” I cried again, blinded by the sudden brightness of day. “For Shiva’s sake, Calvin! What did you go and do that for?”

He just grinned at me. “It’s your penalty for failing the bus quiz. Besides,” he laughed, “don’t you want to tell your readers about your safari adventure?”

I looked around, and realized where we were. The bump had been especially painful because the bus had been transformed into a many-seat, open jeep, which was surely the only man-made vehicle, other than a crashing aeroplane, that could out-bounce an Indian bus. Sitting in the back was the worst. I kept having to dodge whipping branches, which distracted me from looking for tigers.

“Introduce Sunny,” Calvin urged.

“This is Sunny.”

“Hello!”

Now, I know what you must be thinking, but you are quite mistaken: Sunny is not a caucasian woman, but an Indian man. And no, we didn’t see a tiger.

“Man, I’m tired.”

“What?”

“Sorry, Sunny, I was talking to Calvin. Calvin!”

“What?”

“I’m tired. Can’t we finish this blog post already?”

“But you haven’t said anything about Rishikesh yet! And there’s the whole story of, you know…”

“Shhhh! You know I can’t talk about that!”

“OK, OK! Sheesh! Relax! Let’s publish this, for now. But there’s still lots to write, so let’s hope your diligence catches up with your adventures.”

“No, Calvin. Let’s hope it doesn’t.”

 

P.S.

Thank you all for reading and enjoying, and for urging me to write on! I am both flattered and touched.

One other point: My amera has suffered a nervous breakdown, so until I get it fixed, no photos.