MOTHER OF 300 MILLION, MOTHER INDIA

I walked along the Ganges today, ghats on my right and incredible slums and poverty on my left. Ghats are platforms and steps, stone or marble, leading down into the water in India. People wash their clothes, their bodies, their hair. They play, swim, and let go of the ashes of their relatives, who have been recently been cremated on the highest step of the ghat. I listened to someone explain the steps of the process and watched one body burning beneath a pile of wood. It felt more like part of the cycle of life and death than being in a traditional “funeral parlor.”

I hired a young man to walk with me and explain some things. He helped me stay aware of the social cues I’d be expected to know, like don’t take photos when the police are around, because of the tension with Pakistan. Raju showed me where the famous poet Tagore was cremated, which has become a devotional place.

I saw cobra handlers open baskets and stir the snakes into raising their hoods, while men tossed coins into the baskets, then I watched the cobras drinking milk from a cup. I saw huge, painted clay deities like Hanuman and Kali wrapped in garlands of flowers from devotees. Then I walked to the flower market under Howard’s Bridge, mind-boggling in the number of flowers and the handiwork to make those garlands.

I met what must have been a test for me, a test of my patience, in a beggar who had flawless English. He demanded to know where I was from, so I told him, thinking that would shut him up…wrong. “You are USA, I am a crippled man, you should give me 100 rupee’s!!!” It was everything I could do NOT to answer him. Namaste.

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I walked along …

I walked along the Ganges today, ghats on my right and incredible slums and poverty on my left. Ghats are platforms and steps, stone or marble, leading down into the water in India. People wash their clothes, their bodies, their hair. They play, swim, and let go of the ashes of their relatives, who have been recently been cremated on the highest step of the ghat. I listened to someone explain the steps of the process and watched one body burning beneath a pile of wood. It felt more like part of the cycle of life and death than being in a traditional “funeral parlor.”

I hired a young man to walk with me and explain some things. He helped me stay aware of the social cues I’d be expected to know, like don’t take photos when the police are around, because of the tension with Pakistan. Raju showed me where the famous poet Tagore was cremated, which has become a devotional place.

I saw cobra handlers open baskets and stir the snakes into raising their hoods, while men tossed coins into the baskets, then I watched the cobras drinking milk from a cup. I saw huge, painted clay deities like Hanuman and Kali wrapped in garlands of flowers from devotees. Then I walked to the flower market under Howard’s Bridge, mind-boggling in the number of flowers and the handiwork to make those garlands.

I met what must have been a test for me, a test of my patience, in a beggar who had flawless English. He demanded to know where I was from, so I told him, thinking that would shut him up…wrong. “You are USA, I am a crippled man, you should give me 100 rupee’s!!!” It was everything I could do NOT to answer him. Namaste.

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Tom’s Talking Show Tells it Like it IS

I walked through the poor neighborhood by Ghirish Park around 7:30 am today. Santanu told me it would be a good place to get lost in. “No one will bother you,” he said. And he was right, no one did. They were busy with their own lives: washing themselves, washing the dishes, ironing shirts, selling woven trays, slicing and selling fish, Making necklaces out of flowers… slaughtering goats.

A group of boys gathered around a paper mache Ganesha, painted pink with gold-trimmed jewelry. They just poked at it. The older boys tried to shoo the younger ones away but they wanted to have their pictures taken by me. No shyness in these new ones. They are all beautiful, many are charming.

I was drenched with sweat by the time I was done, but gratified that I now had images I cared about, around 188 of them. I’ll try it again tomorrow, I think. Ramadan has started, with fasting for Muslems.

Did I mention the snakes? Two young men came up with baskets, they lifted the lids,  SNAKES. I screamed, they laughed, then they ran away. Were they cobras? I don’t know, but everyone else just went about their business as if I wasn’t there, which is good for me.

Watching my food and water, my body is adjusting to the time zones. Monsoons daily for about 30 minutes, then nothing. The sun came out today for the first time! Very bright, very very bright.

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Expect the Unexpected – Friends Everywhere

I met the owner of the Fairlawn, where I am staying. “This is the last of the Raj Hotels,” Ms. Smith said emphatically, “No more.” And she should know, she’s 91 and tells her history to all who come to stay or visit. She is Armenian and begins the history lesson with genocide against the Armenians by the Turks. It’s a survival story ending in the building of an oasis of green and luxury, exactly in the middle of Calcutta. That became the hotel I am in, with its flocks of ceiling fans, dozens of china vases, knic-knacs, straw flowers, and other memorabilia, which must be gifts of guests – judging by the numerous countries represented,

I will add that I first met her this morning as she emerged from her private rooms on the second floor, accompanied by two attendants. “Good morning, how do you like my hotel?” she asked. “I don’t like it, I LOVE it,” I replied, sensing she possessed a sense of humor. “Good,”she said, “Look around and read that bullshit on the walls… that’ll give us something to talk about…” Ms. Smith comes down every morning, exquisitely made up, in a lovey dress and jewelry.

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Expect the Unexpected – Friends Everywhere

I met the owner of the Fairlawn, where I am staying. “This is the last of the Raj Hotels,” Ms. Smith said emphatically, “No more.” And she should know, she’s 91 and tells her history to all who come to stay or visit. She is Armenian and begins the history lesson with genocide against the Armenians by the Turks. It’s a survival story ending in the building of an oasis of green and luxury, exactly in the middle of Calcutta. That became the hotel I am in, with its flocks of ceiling fans, dozens of china vases, knic-knacs, straw flowers, and other memorabilia, which must be gifts of guests – judging by the numerous countries represented,

I will add that I first met her this morning as she emerged from her private rooms on the second floor, accompanied by two attendants. “Good morning, how do you like my hotel?” she asked. “I don’t like it, I LOVE it,” I replied, sensing she possessed a sense of humor. “Good,”she said, “Look around and read that bullshit on the walls… that’ll give us something to talk about…” Ms. Smith comes down every morning, exquisitely made up, in a lovey dress and jewelry.

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IN CALCUTTA AND DOWN SAFELY, SANTANU AS MY GUIDE

I Feel So Alive … and So Lucky to be Alive

DearFriends, the connection here is not so good, I must type slowly, bear with me. Abu Dhabi is a weird vision of the future, as if we built a space station on the moon. The airport is beautiful when you are inside, but when you go outside you cannot breathe, and you cannot wait to get back inside. Everyone there is headed for somewhere else, like Claire Trevor and John Wayne in Stagecoach.

Santanu is showing me parts of Calcutta and how to get around. There is rain, and while it is a nuisance, it keeps the temperature down. The taxi ride back from the airport was the most wonderful experience I’ve had in some time- crazier than NYC traffic with drivers honking constantly, but it turns out the buses actually say “Please Honk,” which means, “Hey, communicate so I know what you want, let me know you are back there!” More Later.

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One wants to spend more time in the Raj…….of course

Monday evening I will be flying to Calcutta, Delhi, and Leh. How did this come to be?
I’ve always been fascinated by the carvings and temples, the fantastic colors, the visions of elephants and tigers. I’ve put this off for years.
Tom gave me his frequent flyer miles a few years ago but I had no idea how many there were. Turns out there were more than enough to get me to India.
Tom was greatly influenced by his experience there in the seventies. What did he see? He carried the words of Swami Muktananda in his wallet ever since his visit. Tom was a very accepting and joyful person and I feel his experience there changed his life and helped the him become the kind and generous man we all came to know.
What does India have in store for me?
I’ll let you know.
‘Namaste.

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