18 The Virtue of Incense

Varanasi Station. The signboard reads “Ladies Waiting Room for first class, second class and sleeper ACC”. It must have been quite a beautiful room in its time. The station itself is quite a nice structure in the colonial style. The room is half full. It has plastic chairs, and a couple of coffee tables being used by ladies as day beds. 2 other ladies spread an old sari out on the dirty floor, and curl up. Next to them a pair of once white men’s underwear inexplicably spread out on a suitcase. Some one is eating grapes and dropping the peel and stems onto the floor. An elderly lady chews paan. The lovely old tiled fireplace has been sealed. A slight reek wafts from the adjoining toilet. Hanging off the high ceiling are 4 dangerously wobbly fans spinning at alarming speeds. This reminds me fondly of the fan in my borrowed room in Bodhgaya. It had 2 speeds – “ready for take off” and “dead in the water”. An Indian man and a small boy wander in. May be they are lost?

Varanasi has been amazing – teeming, overwhelming, bursting at the seams, yet so much history, culture, spirituality. That river, I can’t really do it justice. It is beyond my competence of expression to describe. To appreciate India, one needs to perceive without prejudice, with fresh eyes free of fear, with more than the physical senses. India is a journey into your psyche. She’s the best guru if you let her be.

A sweeper drags a foul smelling broom around. I begin to see the function of incense. I light one. 

A couple with a small bare-bottomed baby come in. “5 months old”, says the proud father. 

“For your kind attention, train number …. Is now running late…” The only white guy on the platform had asked me for clarification. He had a Germanic accent. On striking up a conversation we find out that we were both going to McLeod Ganj. Thus Thomas and I decided to meet up at the end of the trip, i.e., at Chakki Bank and share a taxi to McLeod Ganj. The train journey of over 1000 kilometers across northern India.

I come back to Ladies Waiting room to see the 5-month old being dangled, over the coffee table, now technically a “public convenience”. I light another stick of incense 

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