this post belongs to edition #13 of the language/place blog carnival - the feature theme is: "Lost in Translation", it's online now at I Must Be Off!
THREE CUPS OF CHAI
Some warned me that it would be terribly dirty, especially when it rains, with all the cowpats. Others explained that it is a magic place, and I just have to go there. My guidebook described it as the holy city at the Ganges River. Plus there was a night train, leaving Agra in the evening, to arrive in Varanasi in the morning. Thus, I said good bye to the Taj Mahal, packed my bags once more, and took a rickshaw to the train station, to wake up to a new place some hours and some hundred miles later.
It’s quite hectic for a holy city, was one of the first things I thought when I arrived there. Later I learned that Varanasi is only hectic from the outside. Once you made your way to the inner city, and found yourself a room, the place changes. Behind all those streets, beyond all those motion, there is – the reflection of water. And beyond that, nothingness. No bridges lead across the water. No buildings wait on the other side. It’s a free space, right next to the crowdedness.
At the river Ganges I sat, and watched the water float by. In my hands, a cup of chai, bought from a Sadu, a holy man. It became one of my favourite places, this river side café that consisted of nothing but the steps that had always been there, the teapot of the Sadu, and some glass cups for the tea. It was also the place where I met other travellers - like Mary and Jean, who were coming from Nepal and heading towards Thailand, where I'd been a year before. Sitting there, we exchanged travel tales and sipped tea.
Came the day the Sadu ran out of tea: “Three cups”, we said, like so often before. The Sadu nodded. Then he took his teapot, and walked down the steps. Towards the Ganges. The holy river. Also known as one of the dirtiest rivers of the world. When he reached the water, the Sadu kneeled down. And filled the tea pot with Ganges water. Then he walked up the stairs again, to prepare the tea. When he saw our startled looks, he lifted the teapot, and turned to us. With a gesture of reassurance, he pointed at the teapot. "Holy tea," he explained, enjoying our embarrassment in the compassionate way of a true Sadu: delighted by the experience his teapot held for us.
this is a true story. it's also true that all of us felt just fine after drinking the ganges tea.
another moment from there, in an image-text-installation: sometimes in Varanasi.
more "teacups" from India are included in Masala Moments, my travel novel from India.
previous contributions to the language/place carnival ("Food Slurs", "The Art of it", "Home, the road, and the global village"..) can be found at: life as a journey of language and place