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Hindustan on Steroids

Published January 18th, 2013

I was in India...(to be continued)

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Calcutta

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Calcutta

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Benares

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Benares

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Monkey Business

Benares

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Holy Men

For an atheist, being in a sacred city in a country with gods galore is an uncomfortable business. A brahmin puts a tilak -- that signature Hindu red mark of blessing -- on me, and asks for a donation. A minimum of 200 rupees -- just four dollars. Assorted other holymen in every state of nakedness and shavenness beckon me to take their photo (in return for alms).

Later, a temple-boy orders me to remove my shoe, enter a shrine where yet another holyman asks me to repeat prayers after him and touch three gold-plated statues of Shiva Lingam -- literally the penis of Lord Shiva. I am not putting my hand on another man's penis, even if he is "The Destroyer of the Universe". I run away.

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Ramnagar Fort

The Mararaja of Benares -- he who is religiously forbidden to appear eating or drinking in front of anyone -- still lives in this crumbling edifice. I guess his religious requirement makes it quite hard for him to socialize (where would he take his friends out?), and throughout my visit here, I like to imagine him spying on tourists from behind the broken shutters on the parapet windows -- his lineage both a blessing and a curse.

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