Skip to content

Varanasi & Ganga Ma

 

_dsc8759

VARANASI — It is the black hours before dawn. The boat pushes out into the slow current. The ghats and towers of the ancient city are outlined in the light of dim electric bulbs and small fires. Those lights create a half circle of light over the river that fades into the black of the sky and the uninhabited sand-dunes of the other bank. It is quiet and my mind keeps whispering to me, “You are floating down the Ganges in the dark. You are finally here.”

There is the soft splash of the oars and I can hear the water drip from the wooden blades before they bite again into the flow. From somewhere behind us chanted Hindu prayers carry over the dark water of the holy river.

We glide by people bathing and praying on the darkened steps. The air is cold, cold enough that were I not consciously enjoying it after so long in steaming Bombay, that I would don a jacket. I shudder, imagining the icy waters carrying the Himalayan chill of their glacial beginning but when I plunge my left fist into the water I am shocked to find it very nearly hot.

The moment comes when the black of the madrugada shifts without warning to the first light of dawn, when you realize you can see beyond your cone of blackness. It is grey, then pink, then blue, then day.

I am floating down the Ganges by the banks of Varanasi._dsc8947

l1002234-2 l1002378-3 _dsc9118
l1002847 l1002850 l1001923-2-copy
_dsc9081

The Camel Fair of Pushkar

l1001175l1001504l1001256l1001253 l1001310 l1001215l1001313 l1001238-3l1001291l1001681

Ganpati Year Two

l1007755-3_dsc7627 img_2320 img_2342 l1007385 l1007511l1007452 l1007479 l1007521 l1007556 l1007605 l1007703_edited-1 l1007767 l1007781 l1007812

Time of Monsoon

 

P1020721

L1004809 2

L1004943 2

L1004866 2

Night City

L1004519 2BOMBAY–Rush hour starts late by American standards. At 8 a.m. the traffic is light. At 4 or even 5 in the evening the traffic is insane but light by Bombay standards. 7 p.m. is a madhouse of trucks and horns and motorbikes and rickshaws and trains and buses heading home into the evening.  The city only really comes alive at night.  It comes alive at night then starts late the next day.  For all the day’s bustle of trade and commerce, it is the night that everyone is looking forward to.  It is the night whose cool shadows salve the burns of the day.  It is the night whose shadows provide a sense of solitude, a place where one can be alone or find privacy in a lover’s arm.  It is night where the long sea walk of Marine Drive is lit up like a string of electric pearls and called The Queen’s Necklace.  It is through these streets that the yellow and black cabs ply their trade.  Painted with names like, “Night Queen,” and “Speed,” they race towards assignations, strobe lit by dashboard shrines to Ganesh.  It is night where the lights of temples and liquor bars and sidewalk stores provide islands of neon gaiety in the humid blackness of Bombay.  It is a night of film stars and music and a little glamour for the millions who struggle through the day and it is the darkness of gangsters and women being sold in cages and the quiet noises of people sleeping under tarps because there is nowhere else.

L1004514 2

The Coming Storm

Mumbai cloudsMUMBAI—There were drops of rain on the windscreen this morning. The surface of the Sea Link bridge was wet and there were towering grey clouds in the near distance pierced by light grey rays of sunlight. The news tells of rain in the countryside, rain to the east, rain in Sri Lanka. The official start date of the monsoon is June 10, just days away, but aside from a drop here and there, it is dry. Each morning I wake before dawn. There are clouds to the north, clouds to the east, and the scent of something like storms on the morning wind.

Last year the rains began as we were told they would. They came for days on end, obliterating the boundary between water and air. Streets flooded, trains stopped running, and we settled in for the long haul. Then they stopped . “This is usual,” people said with confident authority, “The rains cease for several days then come back even harder.” But the rains didn’t come again. The monsoon failed. People talked of how the crops would not grow, how ruined farmers would die by their own hand, how the hot season would be even more unbearable, parching a soon to be withered land. The rains never did come again. They stopped 10 or 11 months ago and it has barely rained since. The land is parched and withered. Farmers have killed themselves. Streets melt and lakes dry up.

There is something about this time of year, some strange energy. Last year I blamed it on a particularly malignant case of jet lag and a bad reaction to the anti-malaria drugs I was taking. I couldn’t sleep. I felt sick and dizzy and, at the same time, as if I were jacked into the energy web of Mumbai itself. My body vibrated with strange tension, connected directly to the manic life all around me even as I lay in bed. Nights were spent awake or in a semi- lucid state of fatigue-altered consciousness. Days were dreamlike, nightmarish times of heat and light and sweat, until I felt not only ill but half-mad. Finally I realized it was the malaria medicine. I stopped taking the mefloquine and the worst symptoms subsided in days. It was jetlag as well and, minus the toxic effects of the malaria drugs, I finally began sleeping normally, sleeping to the roaring white noise of the rain outside. I began to sleep and heal and adjust.

But now it is time again for the monsoon and I feel much as I did a year ago. The awful symptoms of the mefloquine are long gone as is the disorientation of the jetlag. I have acclimated to the heat and rarely get sick. But that strange feeling of being electrified has returned. The days pass in a heat-stunned daze then, come evening, I am wide awake. I lie in bed and when I do sleep I know I am asleep. It feels as if Mumbai and India and Asia are one enormous capacitor storing up energy, building up a charge of heat and light and human friction and that I am in the middle of that humming, sparking thing. And, like last year, and all the years before, there will be no relief until the stored energy is discharged in the cataclysm of water and storm called the monsoon.

The Gateway To India

L1002218

A Moment in Traffic

MUMBAI — I had been out photographing the streets of south Bombay all day.  It is the hot season.  I was tired and on my way home and almost ready to put my camera in its bag.  We stopped at an intersection and I looked over to see a little girl staring at me.  I stared back and just as the traffic began to move I remembered my camera, put it to my eye, and pressed the shutter release.L1002925 3

Bring the Mountain to Mumbai

Koolar & Co. is one of the remaining Parsi cafés in Mumbai. It sits at a point and is full of polished wood and mirrors, old movie posters, and all sorts of advertising for Mountain Dew. There are Mountain Dew signs within and without that make the place glow green.  You can get a mutton kheema sandwich. You can get a spicy five egg wrestler's omelet and a masala chai. But you cannot get a Mountain Dew.

Koolar & Co. is one of the remaining Parsi cafés in Mumbai. It sits at a point and is full of polished wood and mirrors, old movie posters, and all sorts of advertising for Mountain Dew. There are Mountain Dew signs within and without that make the place glow green. You can get a mutton kheema sandwich. You can get a spicy five egg wrestler’s omelet and a masala chai. But you cannot get a Mountain Dew.

Up From Underground

The woman sat on the steps and the commuters parted around her like river water around a stone.

The woman sat on the steps of the underground and commuters parted around her like river water around a stone.