Having so much time and so little to do I don’t feel bad if there are days I don’t go outside. I still wake up early, if I’m feeling motivated I’ll still go to the roof and stretch and sit and quiet my mind while the sun peaks over the mountains. Once I have my groceries there is a certain comfort in not leaving the building. I know outside is beautiful but also full of the usual, people staring, people trying to sell stuff you don’t want, people sleeping under tarps and pigs covered in shit. Taking a day or two off of that has been nothing but helpful.
Days and weeks can pass slowly or slide away and suddenly it’s sundown and although I haven’t done much I’m tired and ready for bed. Even when I don’t do anything I look back and see yes, I did mop the floor, which needs doing since the dust comes in daily through the screen windows. And yes I did laundry although I only had to wash a couple things since I barely wear clothes anyway, when I’m home it’s just a bathing suit or sweat pants and putting it on the line to try only takes hours if that. And yeah, eating dinner on the roof at sunset is good enough for me.
Yes I did make lunch, sometimes I’ll even go around the block for milk, cauliflower, bananas or just a walk to the end of the lane to sit under a roof by the river. Sometimes that’s as far as I want to walk in the heat, I’ll take a podcast down there and sit until it’s over then walk back. Even that turns into a story.
Just going to the bank can be an adventure. Last week I met a woman from south Africa and helped her use an ATM while talking to a local about my tattoos. Then I had to walk to find a tank top because even a t-shirt is too much to wear in this heat, and in walking to and from I walked with a guy from another Indian state while he practiced his English he taught me some Hindi.
Then at dinner sitting alone, talking to my friend in Tokyo via WhatsApp and listening to a podcast I see a monkey climb the fence next to me. He looks down and jumps over another table onto mine, full of food. As soon as it lands I’m eating with my right hand and instinctively shove it off with my left. It goes flying, knocks over my carrot juice and my camera and a chair and is pissed off. Lucky the waiter comes over with a stick and chases it off as I continue eating.
There is so much here I can’t bring myself to photograph. So much poverty, so many sunsets with people working, people sitting in the golden light, the moon rising over the mountains long after midnight. Masses of colours, monkeys, massive fires I can see from the roof.
If you’re in the right mood the wind in the trees can sound like a flowing river, the birds cry encouragement and clouds will spell out your lovers name. If something is bothering you, which in India it can be easy to drown in others sorrows and your own discomforts, you may smack someone who passes too close on their scooter. And hope they turn round so you can toss them off the bridge.
You have to watch what you eat, your sleep must be sound, intoxicants at a minimum, even sugar can set you off if you’re still adjusting the a warm climate. Over population can grind under your skin as you jostle for space on the stairs amongst hundreds of people who are concentrating on buying plastic souvenirs.
The early morning clouds made it possible for me to leave the house. I worked against the wind and crossed the bridge perilously amongst many other pilgrims. It swayed under us as each step my legs were blown off course causing a sea sickness so strong people were holding onto the sides and in the middle was a standstill.
On the other side clouds of sand spread and stood in walls blocking us from going any further.
I stop for tea and sit next to some sadhu and wait, once I’m drinking, no one is around then a little girl comes up and shakes my hand and asks for a photo. Then another older one, then the mom dad grandpa grandma and aunts and uncles, about 12 people gather around with their cell phones out as each of them sits next to me. Eventually I pull out my phone and take their picture and then selfies with each of them until they are all satisfied and shake my hand again and walk away.
Midway through this a sadhu in orange robes, lots of beads and bracelets, asked me to take his photo and to see it, when he saw his face on the back of my camera he knelt down and put his head on my lap and thanked me over and over.
Without the morning rain and the cover of cloud I would never have got that far. Fleeting weather can make great photographs, people blowing away, things falling over. I had set out just to see and came to the bridge and crossed it, then decided to check a road I had been afraid to go down days before. That’s where I found some interesting people and photographed them, and then decided to try to get into the woods. I walked and walked and climbed and got way above the city, in the wind, climbed until I had a 360 view and turned on the Beatles in my headphones, and looked down and saw the ashram where they stayed, saw my apartment, the river looked tiny, the mountains mightier than ever.
Another day another walk to the Ganges. Listening to another podcast. Looking down at the path by the rocks and saw an ambulance with a covered body inside and a man consoling a crying man. Then I took a seat and stared out at the river and as always contemplated the volume of water that constantly flows down from melting glaciers in the mountains, day and night non stop, forever. And not just a trickle, this is full heat of summer, some rivers are dry, this one is lower than the high water mark but still fierce. Still a greeny blue with white caps. Where is it coming from, how is it so eternal? Then looking down there are three or four men carrying wood out to the edge of the river and I know they are going to burn that body from the ambulance.
Soon there are 20 men carrying logs and sticks and brush to that spot. The podcast goes on, someone is talking about Hindu death rituals and how death is the last taboo in the West. It’s the worst thing you can do to someone, it’s not always ok to talk about, it’s scary because we don’t know anything about it because no one comes back, because we’re not supposed to talk about it we’re ignorant and what we don’t understand we fear. Then they carry the body under a sheet out to the river and pour some water over it and put it on the logs and cover it with more sticks and wood. They all surround it so I can’t see much. Soon there is a spark of fire and a few minutes later people are standing way back as the flame grows strong and bright. I can see the heat waves as the orange disappears into smoke into the atmosphere. It is one of the biggest fires I’ve ever seen, I’m about 50 yards away and it looks like the surface of the sun.
The man I saw crying earlier is now clearly not a man but someone around my age probably younger and he is accompanied by two other younger guys. He leaves the crowd to cry alone and people sit with their arms around him. Someone comes and gives him instructions to stoke the fire so he does and then walks away. Soon after that, two people come and shave the heads of all three brothers right down to the scalp as they do with each cremation, shave the family in mourning. Now the fire is barely there and all the wood is turned to grey ashes. Each person scoops some of the river and tosses it on the flames as they walk away and the remains crumble into the rushing water, carried off downstream.