Day Twenty-Six: Diwali Karma and Post-Diwali Belly
It hasn’t even been a full month, and I’m slowly but surely coming out of my third episode of Delhi belly in the last 24 hours – and on all days, I got it two nights ago on Diwali, ironically the ringing in of new beginnings and prosperity. Three bouts of food poisoning in less than 30 days, in a newly vegetarian body -- that’s India for you :(
Varanasi has been my favorite Indian city so far, but I’d be lying if I didn’t also call out the crazy levels of filth you see, smell, hear and feel just about everywhere. Cow poops, flies, sewage water, pollution, cremated ashes, smoky dust, Diwali fireworks and firecrackers `(which honestly just sound like bombs), flying balls of spit coming at you from passing rickshaw drivers, and piles of garbage litter the streets and crevices of the city. It’s hard to believe that a city so dirty can also be so magical.
On to the positive stuff, which begins on the day of Diwali, October 30th…
There’s this saying in Hindi that goes “Sab Kush Malega” (butchered spelling I’m sure) which translates to “Anything is possible.” It’s apparently a common saying here, and my experience of Diwali allowed me to see it for the first time.
The morning began with a leisurely walk from our hostel down to the Ganges. Other than a few obvious direct paths down to the river, the section between the main roads and river is filled with mazes of tiny streets criss-crossing each other. The only way to get around is to memorize local landmarks or ask around, as there are zero street signs. It’s the perfect recipe for getting lost and stumbling on the most unexpected little shops and situations.
We ditched our map after some time, realizing nothing is really drawn to scale, and finally found our way to Vishnu Tea House. After finishing up his morning prayer, Vishnu himself greeted us. He told us that the local Brahmin priests were coming to his shop in a few hours to do Diwali prayer, but that he’d teach us how to make masala tea in the meantime. At only 25 years old, he was running his own shop (having earned Trip Advisor accolades for amazing tea), supporting his family, and decently fluent in 3 languages.
For 2 cups of masala tea, boil together:
· 3 cups of pasteurized milk
· 3 cups of water
· crushed cardamom
· crushed clove
· crushed cinammon
· crushed black pepper
· few slices of ginger for a tasty kick
Couldn’t have had a better morning combo than masala tea and good conversation with Vishnu. We must have stumbled on the perfect person too, because he told us he had a friend for everything we wanted to do – music lessons, massage, a sunset boat ride, etc. “Vishnu” is mystically the Lord of Preservation and Caretaking, which being mystically minded as I am, made everything that much cooler.
After soaking in the tasty spices of masala, Vishnu walked us two shops down to a vegetarian restaurant where we ate ourselves a hearty thali with loads of curries and sauces (cue: this is where the stomach bug began).
Vishnu came back right as we finished up (he must do this a lot because his timing was impeccable), and walked us through a complex maze of streets over to his friend’s house, aka the music school. Amit and Ravi were the two brothers running the school and were carrying the legacy of their grandfather, a famous sitar player, who together with his brothers, handmade sitars and tabla drums. The vibes were instantly cozy and familiar.
To give us a taste of the music, Amit (on sitar) and Ravi (on drums) played for us. And within minutes, their ragas transported us to another time and place, and by the end, brought me to tears. Other than Amit and Ravi, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
True medicine for the soul.
(My recorder ran out of battery, so you'll have to use your imagination)
As if things couldn’t get any better, we soon learned that Amit will be travelling to Rishikesh soon to perform and teach workshops! Perfect for us as we’re heading to Rishikesh ourselves in about a week, and hope to really settle there for some time.
After setting up music lessons for the following day (though my Delhi belly had different plans for me), we left and headed back to Vishnu’s to meet up with his friend for a Ganges River boat ride.
We took in all the views of Varanasi, especially the ghats where the cremations happen each day – much nicer on the lungs when you can see them from a distance. I’ve heard that there’s tremendous wildlife in the Ganges, including long-noses crocodiles and blind dolphins (blind from how dirty the water is), but the only things we managed to see were residual soap bubbles floating by from earlier human baths. Eeeeeek, not for me J
The boat docked, and we had to find some change to pay Vishnu’s friend. As we asked around, I saw a sadhu (Indian spiritual seeker and nomad) looking at me in a curious way. I didn’t think much of it, until I began walking, and heard his voice following close behind me, asking if I’d sit down with him and have a chat.
Very uncharacteristically of me (in India at least), I sat down with Umaih to have a conversation. He told me only two years back, he used to be an astrology professor at Varanasi’s University, and since then has been on his own teaching his ways – I was still skeptical, but okay, still interested. Before I knew it, I was telling him my name, birthday and parents’ names. He looked at both my left and right palms and as he channeled his astrological powers, shared this:
· I am a spiritual woman
· I am a lover
· There are two kinds of people in this world: givers and takers. I’m a giver
· Ages 28-33 are my golden years of true happiness
· I will have two children, my first at 31
· From 65-91, I will live a life like Mother Theresa
· I will live a long life, until 91 or 92
· I have a big mind and think too much
· I should drink more milk
· Be more present
My mind was telling me to run for the hills, but spirit was telling me to just be present, to connect. By the end, he said some prayers for me out loud, and in typical Indian fashion, said “as you like” with his hands open for money. His eyes remained closed.
I can’t describe to you how tortured that moment was. I figured honesty was the best path and told him about the trust issues I’ve developed in India – what is true and what’s not? Who is telling me the truth and who is just taking advantage of me for money?
At that moment, he said “it’s okay, just look into my eyes and you’ll see.” We locked eyes and for a second, all my fears lifted and I somehow could see into his soul. I almost cried. “Sab Kush Malega.”
We parted ways after I offered him what I could with the sincerest gratitude. He tried asking for more, but I stood firm and gifted him my deepest thanks. Creating good karma is not transactional; it has to come from the heart. It’s a lifelong practice.
We spent the rest of the evening wandering the mazes and riverside steps of the Ganges. Fireworks and firecrackers exploded in all directions. Paper lit lanterns floated upward into the sky. The streets were alive with all the colors, sounds, animals and smells of Varanasi. Marigold flowers adorned altars and candles sprinkled vast distances wherever prayer (puja) could be found.
As we already know, my stomach got the best of me that night. As the bomb-like fireworks and crackers blew up the sky and streets, I hunched over the toilet and decided to embrace it all.
“Sab Kush Malega.”