And we walk along Assi’s ghat…one takes my hand and shakes it and holds it in his but only to show me the massage he wants to give me, another offers me a boat ride, a leper lays his stump on the ground and pushes up as high as he can to ask for an offering in his bowl…he pulls me by the sleeve… I turned around to see his worn arm and skeletal knees…and then an old hag, more little boys and a toothless young old woman prematurely with a little girl curly with dark hair and flies…they ask for an offering…I give it, wondering how much there is of truth, suffering, or way of life…
They show no appreciation but how can you blame them? We, tourists, are enormously rich and they-beggars and boatmen, masseurs and hustlers-incredibly poor. In this gulf between what we have and what they do without, it is a miracle that they do not rob you every time you leave the hotel and cut off your feet to take your sandals, that they do not cut you to pieces to eat you leaving your bones as food for the dogs.
Varanasi dogs are the most mangy in the world, covered from birth with scabs and sores. They go in packs with their tails between their legs, biting furiously to move fleas off the sorest scabs, and inventing ingenious ways to scratch all parts of their bodies by practising a kind of kundalini yoga, grasping the skin up to the tail by sliding it between their teeth while rubbing their backs against the steps. And at the same time scratching his head and ears with his hind legs.
It is full of people in Varanasi, including short tourists and others who stay longer to seek enlightenment, do yoga, smoke charas, grow spiritually and liberate themselves… And dozens or hundreds of gurus and guides to help them break out of the prisons of the ego and direct them to ……. or wherever they want to go, and then return home to our Western world lightened, in physique and finances, enriched by the experience and-perhaps-some definitely out of their minds.
The sadhu orange or ash-dust-colored nudes loafing in the shade of large umbrellas and perhaps only chatting and spending the early morning clearing their voices, sputtering and romping and walking lazily toward the river while the kela begin the food search and again smoke, avoiding shit. Because shit is wasted in Varanasi, of all kinds… of cow, buffalo, monkey, goat, dog, cat, bird and good last the human one… And the vegetable one of the rotting yellow carnations, of the residual straw of the… evenings.