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!”
“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.”
“Well, then, tell them about the Bhang Lassi.”
“That was later. And absolutely not!”
“Well, then, would you like a cup of Chai?”
“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.
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.”
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.”
“Sorry, Sunny, I was talking to Calvin. Calvin!”
“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.”
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.