Thursday, March 5, 2009

Close to the Source

The henna on my fingers is fading much faster than the curls and flowers on my palms. Henna painting is part of the Indian wedding tradition and I was invited to a huge Brahman wedding. The family is a prominent one, four generations of Ayurvedic doctors had been serving the capitol of that state. The festivities lasted more than the 3 days I was present and culminated, for me, with the bride and groom smartly dressed on a slowly revolving dais on the second tier of a stage built for the wedding. Flowers and glitter, music and 2000 people accompanied them as they placed a garland of flowers around each other's necks. This symbolized the marriage, although they were not allowed to look into each other's eyes until after midnight during another vow and prayer ceremony.

This tattoo marks me as privileged, but not nearly as much as does the color of my skin. The six of us Westerners were like trophies at this event. The press was called and our pictures were posted in the paper, we were interviewed and video taped for the local (I guess) news. Folks seemed most interested in what we think of the Indian culture. For me, it is a culture that keeps on giving.

Last night, I arrived at the prearranged meeting point for the boy to carry my luggage and guide me to the Leela Guesthouse where I had a room reserved. Darkness had just landed to street level as I followed him through the catacombed walkways, just like in the movies, this way and that. The electricity was out save for the periodic light bulbs fueled by private generator. I was led by him and moved by my trust. This is truly a strange new place. This is Varanasi.

The guesthouse looks out on the wide Ganga. Water buffalo and people submerge, monkeys climb in search of food, people talk, sing and laugh, disembodied sounds that remind me I am in a densely populated place.

Just yesterday morning, I walked across the suspension bridge leading from Rishikesh. It was 4 in the morning and the Ganga flowed below, pristine and cold, from close to her source in the mountains. Today, I unpacked in a tiny room located between the two prominent funeral ghats of the oldest city in the world. It is considered most auspicious to have the body burned and ashes sent to the Mother Ganga. Folks painstakingly penny pinch to gather the necessary fee for enough wood to consume the corpse. This Ganga is closer to a different source and is warmer.

When the spirit moves me, perhaps this afternoon, I will walk the short distance to one of these places of mournful celebration. Although I may stick out, with my hennaed hands and pale skin, I walk in the same direction we are all moving in this life, towards the funeral pyre, towards another end.

1 comment:

  1. So like you're a celebrity now, in India, anyway! I'd love to see your henna tattoos - they'll be faded by the time you get back though, won't they?
    I hear the sadness bubbling up at the end of this post - it's good, isn't it, that it's bubbling up? That way it doesn't fester?
    Thinking of you, my eternal little sister, with love. Be well.