Friday, March 24, 2006

I still can't explain it.

You'll feign interest to know that I'm heading into a 17-day silent retreat, starting March 28. The teachers are Jaya and Gemma, two lovely humans who also teach at Bodhgaya and Sarnath, and their teaching partner Ajay. The retreat is held in the foothills of the Himalayas, in a very remote Christian ashram called Sattal Ashram, where there's a lake for swimming and lots of hiking trails in the woods.
You can look forward to more open-hearted drivel around April 20th or so, when I return to Internetland. Nothing is very clear about my travels beyond that, other than getting my glaucoma-challenged eyes tested somewhere, perhaps New Delhi, and maybe volunteering at an orphanage doing some computer training for the kids. 
Okay, maybe just a little open-hearted drivel now: there's a 20 year-old kid here in Rishikesh named Peentu. He's got pretty severe palsy, so he walks very awkwardly, and has trouble speaking. No one knows whether he's mentally challenged as well. He's usually filthy, but he's very good natured, and the tourists and even the locals seem to treat him well enough. We got into the habit of walking every morning across the long pedestrian bridge that crosses the Ganga, holding hands, to the little outdoor chai stall where I'd buy us both a chai. The first time, I watched him closely as he took the hot glass, shaking badly and really concentrating as he brought it to his lips, trying not to spill it. It seemed at the time like the most pathetic, and beautiful, and touching thing I'd ever seen. So vulnerable, and so helpless, and yet he's out in the world, taking care of himself as best he can. I was reeling, somehow, from that the rest of the day, and it brought tears to my eyes every time I thought about it.
The next day, on what became our daily chai pilgrimage, the man handed him the full glass directly, instead of putting it on the table. Peentu struggled to hold it steady, unsuccessfully, and spilled the scalding tea onto his hands, which made him shake more, and even more spilled. I took the glass from him, and he let out a little whimper like a puppy might. So it was my turn to try to hold it together, unsuccessfully. There was something about it that was so touching that I can't explain it. Not even to myself. What is it??
I still have lots of photos over the last couple of months that I like and haven't shared. Well look! Here's some now...
10 photos follow:
A holy man in Rishikesh who gave me a sermon in Hindi, which I didn't understand a word of. I liked it, though!
Love 1
Love 2
Garlands for sale next to the Ganga.
Bathers on a busy morning at the Ganga.
The Ganga from the hotel I stayed at.
School uniforms, if you can believe it.
A bather just out of the water.
The hands of Tingal, one of the lepers I've known since 2001. He used to be a heroin addict, and looked spaced out enough that he still may be. He's also a talented artist.
A saddhu, or holy man.
(The End)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Holy Sidewalk Dentist Baba from Varanasi

You don't get to see this everyday, thank Shiva. My friend Julie had seen a "baba," an ascetic holy man, squatting by the side of the road and fitting people for dentures. Sensing a Kodak moment and relishing all things bizarre, we visited him at his "office," a spot of gravel on the side of the road next to the fetid trough of open sewage we like to call "gutters" here. You think I'm exaggerating.
He was happy to have us visit, and bought us a cup of tea, as we watched him hand-mould a bridge out of some fast-drying resin. We thought it was shocking enough to have his grotty, unwashed hands stuffed into the mouths of his patients. But when we saw a tooth being pulled, also on the side of the road, it made the denture fitting seem tame. But you'll see...
The stories follow below, with the photos.
This is the first patient we saw him working on:
Mr. Dentist-Baba has beautiful green eyes:
We didn't see who he made this full set of dentures for:
These plastic teeth are hand-set into the resin to build the dentures or bridge:
The before:
Forming and fitting the bridge, all in one go, and by hand:
Tools of the trade: a hand-grinder to polish the bridge, bare feet to hold the grinder, an upturned cup where he mixed the resin, the ground whereupon all the tools lay between use, and Julie's foot - witness to it all. The Muslim woman wearing black is the mother of the girl who's about to get a tooth pulled - on the street, squatting by the gutter:
Now that is one happy customer!
Story #2: A young girl gets two scary-looking injections, just next to Mr. Dentist-Baba.
He pulls out the heavy artillery, and the girl isn't even sitting down - she's squatting as Mr. Less-Colorful-Dentist CRANKS on her tooth.We don't know why she didn't faint, because we almost did.
A view of the wider scene, with the baba in the background, and the mother and sister in the foreground:
She used a plastic bucket to rinse out her bloody mouth and spit into the gutter. But she doesn't look any worse for the wear - and she said it didn't hurt. She looks older, but she's only 14.
Mr. Dentist-Baba is happy to show off his, uh, pearly whites, which inexplicably look like mini sushi rolls. The red color on his lips comes from the betelnut that he chews. I really love this place!
Too much love,
(The End)