India postcard

[From December 2007.]

Today Raju and Sunil took me around the textile neighborhood of Benaras, into factories and dye shops.  We walked around the winding back streets, jumped into tuktuks piloted by their friends and family for free, talked about action movies (they’ve seen them all, dubbed in Hindi).  They were eager to show me how the muslims and the hindus worked together side by side, and seemed impressed that, for some people I said “asalaam alaikum” and others “namaste” and I guess got it right. Then they took me to “Varanasi wrestling,” this bizarre place that looks like a beach volleyball court covered by an awning.  There was a fat guy in a loincloth sleeping there.  In the mornings, at 7am, there’s open wrestling where anyone can jump in and grapple with the reigning champions.  It allegedly gets pretty raucous and crowded.  This is after prayer time, of course.  I guess we’ll go back some morning to see the real things.  Then to the water temple, which is this pretty cool and strange well type place where, naturally, people bathe for fertility.  And they seem to know everything. “That’s where old British woman live for 20 years, very not nice.” “Scooters of this brand cost $600. You should buy one, Professor!” “American woman talking like you stay there for five months, from same place as George Bush.”  (Genevieve, from Austin.) “Rickshaw tourist price to Sarnath 400 rupees. Indian price maybe 50 rupees.”  They promise that in a couple of days they will take me to the area where there is kite fighting, because Assi ghat is “no good for kite men.”

We’re going to Sunil’s cousin’s wedding the day after tomorrow. “Dressing smart!” And if he can scrounge a bike, we’re all going to go on some ride tomorrow to see more distant parts of the city. I’ve observed in them curious signs of piety — they both make prayer signs when we pass lingams and shrines — and good deeds: we ran across the crowd to help a blind guy who had gone awry.  And they are really concerned that I might go ride around town at night where they say there are bad drug dealers. Of course, now that they’ve mentioned it, I certainly want to ride around town at night.