Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Escape to the Ganges

Aap toh bahut alag tourist hain !" I was told when i asked to meet the Aghoris,  translates to "you are not the average tourist i meet every day ." Sounds like a compliment but it wasnt.  It was more of  stop being a pain in the ass ,tourist kinda response. "woh kahan dikhenge ? " [where can i see them ?] He looked at me as though i asked him to donate his kidney.  He asked me for reassurance . "kaun  ? Aghorri ? " Our conversation ended there , when two ladies of the group wanted help looking for a loo.

Yes, I was travelling in a group of 28, more like a tour leader. I usually dont travel with our travel groups but this one was special. All these people were a part of Travel Program in Turkey. So we were filming all across north India. Our last stop was Varanasi also known Benaras. It was my first visit to this vibrant city and I was very excited about it.  This was the only place i could see an aghori.

The word aghori in Sanskrit means non terrifying, ‘a’-‘ghori’ most of the Hindi speaking people would have heard the phrase ghor kaliyug, ghor paap, etc.. it is the same ghor, theoretically these people don’t attach themselves to anything mortal. They do things which a common man finds to be terrifying, so they overcome this terror by going through it, since they do it regularly it is a common thing for them. The Aghori are known to engage in post-mortem rituals. They often dwell in charnel grounds, have been witnessed smearing cremation ashes on their bodies, and have been known to use bones from human corpses for crafting skull bowls (which Shiva and other Hindu deities are often iconically depicted holding or using) and jewelry. Due to their practices that are contradictory to orthodox Hinduism, they are generally opposed. It is also said that many Aghori gurus command great reverence from rural populations as they are supposed to possess healing powers gained through their intensely eremitic rites and practices of renunciation and tápasya. They are also known to meditate and perform worship in haunted houses.  I first learnt about them when a friend mentioned about a national award winning movie and ever since have been fascinated by them.

Mahavir , our local guide told me that they come out of their " dens" post midnight. When my eyes sparkled to that information , my guide looked at me with concern. I knew Mahavir wasnt going to help.  So i asked him, "Chalo theek hai, old salvation house toh dikha do".  

The hostel, a short walk from the Ganges, is a final stop over for elderly Hindus hoping they will shortly end up on one of the hundreds of funeral pyres lit on the riverbank each day.  I see 12 bare, tatty rooms arranged around a courtyard in a 100-year-old red-brick building with green shutters. The atmosphere is far from sombre. While the rest of the world celebrates a new life when a child is born, similarly these guys celebrate death. Its like being on the waiting list to die. Believe it or not, the one stays alive for long is asked to vacate to make space for other ailing ones. This waiting list (to die) has a waiting list.
Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi and having their remains scattered in the Ganges allows their soul to escape a cycle of death and rebirth, attaining "moksha" or salvation.

Soul searching
For me Benaras is all about the faith , the sadhus, the smiles on peoples, the tear that rolls down while praying, the conviction of God which are exclusive to the city. It is weird , intriguing , fascinating and all at the same time. Its a place where Brahmins and Aghoris live in harmony. There is no rule book.
I enjoyed watching the sunrise while on a boat , the ganga aarti , and all the temple visits a lil less than searching for sadhus and old homes. I enjoyed walking through narrow gullys , drinking tea in clay pots , feeding cows on the way, the flower man weaving garlands, chatting with the cycle rickshaw guy, I can go on and on.  Every nook and corner by the river banks has a story. The vivid smell of jalebis , havans, puri bhaji, brewing masala chai, paan masala, weed ,  incense sticks , jasmine flower garlands, ash, sandalwood and even cowdung is all part of the character of this city.

Make a wish
Millions of people come to this city for worship. They are of different caste, creed  and regions. What I saw in peoples eyes is faith. Everything they do is for God Almighty. Some praying for success in business, some for a good spouse  some for an offspring and some for death. 
Its a city of wishes everyone must experience. 

P.S: On the last evening of my trip, as i was walking back to the river bank from a boat ride i spotted 4 aghori sadhus, sitting under a bridge in a dingy corner. I asked a teenage boy , woh aghori hai ? The horror on his face made me break into a smile..  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Made in China

Theres one too many lessons that life teaches us. In the past 6 months , a lot has changed. I have changed and circumstances have changed. I have at-least 20 unfinished blog entries rotting in my drafts. Have I been so busy not to accomplish my entries ? The answer is NO. Have i been lazy ? thats a No too. I lost the motivation to round off a thought. I have experienced far more life's lessons in these 6 months than ever before and most of which are here to stay. Its only stupid not to jot them down and become a puppet of time. Instead make time your puppet and lead. 

The Chinese have given not just the gift of dumplings and mouth watering dimsums, but also a great concept of mindset that is known as mu- shin. Its a paradox that means as simple as "Look at everything, see nothing".  Or to put it another way, absorb the world in all its messy details, but keep your mind free, uncluttered.  This acute mental clarity created by mu-shin is a pre requisite for flawless execution in short - victory. Masters of Karate spend decades achieving this mind set. But even with years of practice, mu-shin is unspeakably heard to achieve. Look at everything , see nothing ? Just try it.

In our everyday life  we do have to take in a lot of shit. If you are an executive, you do this everyday. You look at everything , you have to : the little hurdles of your employes, change in trend, erratic movement of the stock market ,the unexpected changes in key peoples behavior, the aggressive gambit of your competitors.  To be blind as it were to the distractions of hundreds of little questions so that one or two big answers become blindingly clear. In that moment of simultaneous dark and light , competitive victories are indeed won.