Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – December 10, 2015

Posted on: December 11th, 2015 by admin


They are blackened. Barefoot. Thin as reeds.
Your untouchables.
–You are not Hindu. You know nothing.

I see them clean your privvies, quarry rocks, balance the burning
upper-caste corpse on the bier with long bamboo poles.
–You imagine seeing. You are not Hindu. You see nothing.

Near the burning ghat, the shrunken untouchable woman in rags
folded on the pocked stone, eyes closed, her blackened child’s arm
extended clasping the small tin pail for alms.
–You are a sentimentalist. You impose your imaginings.

Your devotion is an opiate.
The rupees you spend on festivals to Lord Shiva and to your
promiscuous boy-god Kishna should be distributed to the
The rupees you spend on savaging trees for your high-caste
cremations into the Ganges should be distributed to your
–You are perilously close to blasphemy. Step back.

You take refuge behind the alleged mysteries of Hinduism.
There is no mystery about untouchable chldren born tormented.
That cruelty cannot be obscured, relativized, buried in Hindu
–You are non-Hindu. You see with uncleansed eyes.

You conveniently confuse your religious laws, designed to promote
your own high-caste interests, with justice to the imposed, invisible
–Not at all. You are not Gulliver among the Yahoos. You are a do-
gooder non-Hindu dabbler in a culture you cannot comprehend.

Liberation, nirvana, moksha.
How do you attain liberation from samsara in a culture predicated on
–You make a privileged tourist’s observation. You are incapable of
seeing with the spirit-eye.

Your untouchable suffers silently.
He services you almost ceaselessly.
When he doesn’t service you he is invisible.
If he protests you efface him.
These are humans not vermin.
–You are blaspheming. You are a privileged caucasian do-gooder,
but you are not outside the law.

Apprehend me.
Put me in chains.
–You are an egotist with a martyr’s complex.
Your expressed willingness to sacrifice has nothing to do with the
so-called untouchables.
Joan of Arc is a western not a Hindu conceit.


Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – December 10, 2015

Posted on: December 11th, 2015 by admin


He sat next to me in the densely crowded Delhi airport terminal.
I was reading with some irritation a typically over-ornamented
Thomas Mann long short story.
I smelled him before I saw him–a curious odor–stale, dry, camphor-
As though he just retrieved his garments from a lenghty seclusion in
the closet.
He sat to my left and I partially turned to him.

He was a Sikh, with the traces of a black-grey beard, a big man
wearing a black turban and steel bracelet, 2 of the so-called 5 Ks
enjoined on all Sikh males.
In Punjabi the 5 Ks are Kesh, Kanga, Kara, Kachhera, Kirpan.
Which is to say: uncut hair and beard, wooden comb, steel bracelet,
cotton underwear reflective of modesty, and a small sword to be
used solely in self-defence and in protection of the needy.
The turban is to keep the uncut hair in place.
The camphor odor appeared to issue from the turban.

I conceived the ensuing narrative almost at once.
What else do you do in the chaotic Delhi airport, the tedious but
refined Hun,Thomas Mann, on your lap and virtually everyone
shouting into his/her smartphone?

In 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, prideful Nehru’s prideful
daughter, was shot to death by two of her trusted Sikh guards.
In the bloody aftermath, Hindu supporters of Indira Gandhi brutally
murdered up to 12,000 Sikhs, in many instances amputating their
legs, then burning them alive.

The immediate reason for Gandhi’s assassination was her violent
response to a Sikh seccession initiative in the Punjab area in
northwest India.
Specifically, the Indian army’s so-called Operation Blue Star, in June
1984, when they assaulted and badly damaged the sanctified
Golden Temple in the sacred Sikh city of Amritsar.

Many Sikhs felt and currently feel that they occupy an anomalous,
unrespected position in India, especially among the Hindu majority,
but also among the Muslims.
On the other hand Sikhs are India’s principal warriors who have long
been depended on to lead wars against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and
in Jammu-Kashmir.
During the Raj they served as colonizing Britain’s chief defenders of
the faith.

In the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the large scale
Hindu bloodletting, Sikhs went into hiding and/or disguised
themselves, especially the males, many of whom shaved their hair
and beards.
I remember travelling in western Europe in the late eighties and
meeting Sikhs, especially restaurant owners and workers, who were
unidentifable but for their steel bracelet, which represents their
unbreakable bond with God.

It is thirty years after the assassination, the Sikhs have still not
seceeded, but the history of the assassination and its long bloody
aftermath have become a kind of archeology.
Which is the way it happens.
Sikh males are regrowing their hair and beard and removing their
turban from its storage area in the closet.

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – December 1, 2015

Posted on: December 2nd, 2015 by admin

Hindus & Jews

After the Warsaw uprising, reporters attempted to interview two of
the Jewish insurgents who survived and were moving to Israel.
The two fighters were so enraged—with a furious cold rage—that
they looked through the reporters without uttering a word.

After the Holocaust, surviving European Jews moving to Israel
underwent what can be called an accelerated Social Darwinism from
a mostly selfless social mindedness to what many of us have
witnessed with distress in Israel.

Sitting in a rare Hindu-owned bar in Varanasi sipping Kingfisher and
looking at flat-screen Bollywood fantasies, I see round-faced Indian
men with mustaches posing as iron-jawed heroes and villains.
I imagine them as children, middle-class, coddled by their parents.

I watch them in real time, often thin with stick-out tummies, round
faces, waggling their heads, gesturing with their hands, but not in
the decisively “masculine” way that southern Italian males gesture
with their hands.

Primarily it is the Punjabi Sikhs who have the stern features of
warriors, tested fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Indian in
principle but also separate, always close to secession.

The hungry, invisible Indian low-castes are gaunt and blackened but
not hardened as African slaves like Nate Turner had to become and,
later, Malcolm X, with his intelligent, enraged, cut features.

Am I suggesting that surviving European Jews had to become
harder to endure?
Yes, though like the surviving Warsaw Ghetto fighters, not like their
European genociders.
Not, that is, at the expense of suffering brother and sister
Another fatal irony of history.

Am I suggesting that Hindus have to become hardened to win a war
No longer.
War in the new millennium is increasingly fought online with deadly
algorithms, and middle-class Indians are expert at electronics.

Previously, states like Israel and India maintained well-equipped,
rigidly organized armies and warred, with variable success, strictly
off-line via a traditional, Euclidian–so to speak–perspective.
That centralized perspective has been put under erasure.
Torqued, ruptured, pulverized.

Now an electronic nerd will often make a better “warrior” than the
fierce survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Think of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

I wish, though, that the Untouchables and Indian low castes, who
can’t afford high-level technology, were fierce-minded like the
Warsaw Ghetto warriors and insurgent African slaves, instead of
passively devotional, so they could fight old school in real time for
equal status.

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 29, 2015

Posted on: November 29th, 2015 by admin

Manikarnika* the primary burning ghat in Varanasi
Tourist responses

Words can’t begin to describe experiencing this ghat from a boat on
the Ganges at sunset. I left knowing I had seen a gateway, primal
and haunting.

See sole of people and there touch in hindu. this is place you forget
your identity and become a sant.

Genuinely one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I had
read and heard about it but words cannot possibly sum up the sight,
sounds and smells that surround your visit here. Touts are

If your poor take a swim in the Ganga because your won’t be
permiited to burn. Only for the high caste or very rich.

One of its kind places in world which smells of rotten corpses,
charred beyond any recognition half burnt bodies, thrown into
Ganges. Its a place of blind Faith of people who come here to
renounce and attain Moksha. THE FUNERAL FIRES HAVE NOT
BEEN doused for over a 1000 Years, with more than 300 bodies
burnt here as per hindu rituals everyday, Polluting the river system.
This is the place where one forgets one own identity and realizes
the True Meaning of Life.

Sat here for long hours to see what is life nothing.

It is said that taking bath in Ganga at 12.00 noon will clear you of all
your evil deals. We followed this tradition and had a bath at 12.00
noon during our stay here.

Puh, this Ghat is real intense… i couldn´t bear the atmosphere!
Everything is full with garbage and mudd, just disgusting… plus you
see things you probably wont see… like a foot out of the burning

вот бывают достопримечательности которые как бы посмотрел
и забыл, те не оставили они ничего в тебе, здесь же
проникаешься атмосферой.

This is where life comes to a halt, it was very interesting to see how
the rituals are performed. While we were out on the visit, there were
almost more than 15 rituals happening at the ghat. May all the souls
rest in peace.

Intense and slightly mad place. It has a fiery energy, and it attracts
drunks, stoners, holy men and lunatics.

Why, oh why, would you want to see the last rites of fellow humans?
Yes, Hindus burn their dead, but the morbid curiosity that this ghat
evokes is quite nauseating. We asked our boatmen to get us as far
away as he could.

If you’re really lucky, you may see an aghori sadhu hovering in the
shadows (their temple is nearby), waiting to snatch some ashes of
human remains to paint on his skin, signaling to the world that he is
in league with death.

Only men come to the pyre, as women are thought to be too
emotional to view the burning body. (Some ideas could use
updating!) The oldest son shaves his head and wears white, then
leads the family in placing wood on the fire, sprinkling it with

A game changing experience.

Seen pyare flaming, what a faith of human being on Ganga river
that they want to get Ashed away here in want of Nirvana.

Manikarnika Ghat is one of two sites where cremations are
performed 24/7 out in the open. The other site (Harishchandra Ghat)
can be used by other religions or castes; the Manikarnika Ghat is
reserved for Hindus and handles about 65% of the cremations.
Crematiothen for the Hindus constitutes an interaction with the gods
by which the deceased is given to divinity. By burning the dead
body, the spiritual essence of an individual is released from the
physical body, hence the cycle of rebirth and death can continue.
Fire is associated with purity and power to scare ghosts and
demons. The eldest son walks around the shrouded body five times,
sprinkles Ganges water across the body, puts sandalwood on it then
lights the fire. It takes a few hours for the whole body to be con-
sumed, amidst a crowd of mourners, a cow chewing on leftover
flowers and dogs fighting over a human (?) bone.

This place is neat and lot of rituals are going on for the dead and
fore parents. River ganga is in her full majesty and had a nice bath.
One has to be careful with their belongings and toots.

Buddha instructed his disciples to spend sometime in a
crematorium just to detach oneself with the belief that one is body
and this ghat is an ideal place to do that. wish it was cleaner and
more organised to handle visitors.

The pyre is burning round the clock, If you are lucky you can spot a
Aghori sadhu on the ghats, They meditate on the burning ghats. A
moving experience to see the beliefs and to get remainded That we
all are heading to the end by the day.

Of all the ghats in Varanasi, MaNikarnika stands distinct eliciting
awe and great respect. This is where human bodies are disposed
off. Generally they are cremated, except in five cases–kids under
five, pregnant women, those died of cobra venom, those who
committed suicide, and the low caste, their bodies are tossed into
Ganga tied to a stone. Its really a wonder how the dead bodies don’t
contaminate the river.

Manikarnika ghat, where human being is torched by their loved
ones! We come out of this place with heavy heart, rather our feel
sorry for the departed as well as left behind.

Due to the incessant begging, there was just no way we could feel a
part of the experience of watching the pyres and the grieving
process of such an incredible culture, which was the entire point of
going to Varanasi.

Watch life and death go by with such ease, its such a though
provoking space. I could spend hours there just observing and
soaking in everything and I don’t mean it in a sad way at all.

Quasi come se la morte avesse più valore della vita.

It is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN to take pictures in this place even from
other ghats. When I was there, the relatives of one dead smashed
the camera of a Japanese man Who was taking pictures.

Those who visited varanasi first time should go to the Manikarnika
ghat, have bath and had darshan of the Lord Manikarneeshwar, the
temple in this ghat, then only should perform Main Kashi
Vishwanath darshan.

24 hrs burning ghat–Hindu ritual–visit only if you can handle or
move two ghats further to enjoy your cafe latte in jukaso ganges.

He told me give a “donation.” I told him I had no money to give him
and he called me a liar and insisted I pay a “donation”. He followed
me for a couple mins before I lost my temper and started screaming
at him. By that time some Indian people started to stare and then he
left. A well dressed Indian man who was observing told me he was a
regular scammer hanging out by the burning ghat trying to get
money from the tourists and that the money rarely go to the hands
of where it is needed for wood.

This is not a tourist place but a place of attraction.
Hindus burn their bodies here when someone dies.
The whole thing happens before you when you see the body
transforming to ash, light, heat, moisture and air.
It means human body consists of the five elements and it is again
recycled or reassimilated into five elements.

must visit for them who want to see the reality of human body when
it comes to end and the body for which we care so much. Hindus
believe that death is the last truth of this world.

Na miesta, aké je toto nemôže človek napísať PEKNÚ recenziu.
Pohrebné miesta v Indii majú iné kritérium na to, aby “získali 5

*Advisable not to visit the place on a full tummy.


Truly worthy place for mochhya here.maximum person came kashi
for mochhya,and he want that his last time spend in kashi and after
death his body last fireup here.Very calm place is this manikarnika
ghat. Some problem about garbage and not so clean but overall

I approached this Ghat via walkways and lanes which are also close
to “Blue Lassi’ (well worth a visit, best fruit lassi)

This is the dark hart of the city, where dogs and monkeys sorround
the caretakers of death.

We had been walking along the ghats from the southern end
were taking photos as we went, when all of a sudden, out of no-
where, we were confronted by a group of men. One shouted, ” You
have taken photos of cremation! You must pay dishonour money.

I stayed in Mishra Guest House which is near to this ghat. In the
evening there is a chaiwala serving lemon team for just Rs. 5. The
tea is awesome.

Portal to the Infinite.

Pour nous occidentaux il faut se préparer et alors nous sommes en
communion avec ce ritual.

Highly recommend to adults to get a deferent sense of death. Not
for children. This is death unvarnished and real–not a Disney movie,

He asked for a donation to help the poor buy wood for their pyres
(we were astounded by how much wood is needed and used – not
environmentally friendly at all!)

I went there three times and now looking back the Hindus there are
all trying to scam you

Es gibt hier auch keinerlei üble Gerüche, da das Holz sehr heiss

Nobody should visit this place randomly withought any goal. Only
spiritual seekers should go and witness the rituals to gain deeper
insights about life and beyond…

I watch the mummy corpse of an old woman shrouded in red and
black cloth and set on a bamboo bed. If someone peeled away the
wrapping what I’d see would be the crumbling form of the goddess

*These comments were originally posted in TripAdvisor. I’ve torqued & treated
them into serving a higher purpose

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 29, 2015

Posted on: November 29th, 2015 by admin

Ayurveda (MRI)

Back and upper legs aching after a month in sacred Kashi.
Memo: Do the American thing: some kind of exercise every day.

The small gym, called Bob’s, is two stories above a mobile phone
shop and a mysterious venue called Aryan Academy.
A dozen helter-skelter machines, scattered dumbbells, two tread-
mills, one with unopened cartons stored on it, fierce air conditioning,
too-loud Hindu hip-hop music, and about as many trainers as
clients, including Bob, a large man for an Indian, steroidal, with a
large tattoo of Lord Shiva on his right tricep.
Bob’s not going to work.

The nearest yoga studio via tuk-tuk is seven and-a-half kilometers of
maddening traffic and pollution from my lodging house.
I pencil in yoga studio as a last option.
Brisk walking exercise through the narrow, littered streets murders
the lungs, while dodging traffic and sidestepping cows, dogs,
donkeys, goats . . . distresses the heart.
Stretching and crunches on the floor in my room helps but isn’t
nearly enough.

Another lodging house guest, from Bulgaria oddly, suggests
Ayurvedic massage.
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic medical practice and Kashi is one of
the foremost Ayurvedic centers in India.
Investigation yields several studios in Kashi, one, Sri Ganesh Spa,
fairly close by.
The charge for an hour of Ayurvedic massage is 750 rupees, about
11 US dollars.
I phone for an appointment asap, engage my usual tuk-tuk wallah,
an older man but a desperado in traffic as you must be in Kashi.

Sri Ganesh Spa occupies the second floor of an anonymous,
typically crumbing structure not far from Assi Ghat.
The first floor is given over to KK Kapoor’s House of Fancy Light.
I climb upstairs to the cramped waiting room, dimly lit, large silk on
the wall containing a devotional image of Sri Ganesh, Lord Shiva’s
elephant-headed son, remover (but also creator) of obstacles.
The 30-ish Indian man behind the small desk in white tank top and
white trousers talking on the mobile motions me to sit.
Ayurvedic herbs are showcased in a small dusty cabinet above the

I hear a woman’s voice speaking with authority in Hindi from the
next cubicle and assume she is a masseuse.
I’d prefer a masseuse, but this is India.
A male client will have a masseur and a female client will have a
Transgender client? You will have to consult Sri Ganesh.

The man puts down the mobile and motions me to follow him.
I remove my shoes in the small vestibule then move into the
cramped massage space containing two narrow tables side-by-side.
I undress, put on a kind of loin cloth, then lie down on my tummy
and close my eyes.
A sitar is playing a delicate raga, softly, as if just for me.

He begins with my feet addressing the pressure points forcefully in
the Chinese fashion. I imagine a Siamese cat who sees me from a
distance and darts toward me joyfully, but it is a baby macaque
monkey that jumps into my arms and licks my face, and I hear the
plaintive single note shriek of a scavenging homeless dog side-
swiped by a tuk-tuk, the driver does not look back.

Now the masseur is working on my calves and lower thighs, using
an oil that smells of cardamon, exerting a lot of pressure on my
legs, and a slim Muslim girl in fashionably faded jeans with a burqa-
type veil covering her face is piloting a motor scooter in crazy traffic,
talking and grinning into her smartphone through her mask. Wearing
the explosives taped to her body she boards the crowded bus in
Jerusalem and the ensuing detonation is a dirge on an oud
which resembles a lute. I hear the plaintive single note shriek of a
homeless dog sideswiped by a tuk-tuk, the driver not looking back.

The masseur loosens the loin cloth and kneads my buttocks and
lower back. He adds pressure by putting one knee on the massage
table. A clutch of Dalits, untouchables, very dark, barefoot, with rags
around their heads, are walking north to south, from Tulsi to Assi
Ghat shouting into their mobiles. They live in an impoverished
hamlet without electricity so they have to travel seven kilometers to
a village with electricity to charge their mobiles.

It is now the tabla’s turn; the percussive rhythm intricate but clean,
easy to parse, soft, becoming softer, I hear the plaintive single note
shriek of a homeless dog sideswiped by a tuk-tuk, the driver
not looking back.

The masseur has both knees on the massage table as he kneads
my troublesome back, sacral to lumbar. Providentially the sitar and
tabla are playing together, in and out of each other, softly. I feel the
hard therapeutic kneading and am almost asleep, when he inquires
in English: “Okay?”, meaning “Is the pressure tolerable?” “Yes,” I
whisper. The boys and men who stack the wood, bind the bier,
straighten the burning corpse with long bamboo poles, sometimes
having to puncture the dead body, are Dalits and they look the
same–black, thin as reeds, rags on their heads, barefoot or in filthy
flip-flops. Dogs, cows, pigeons poke at the charred rope and burnt
wood with bits of corpse on it. Black vultures and Siberian gulls
circle overhead at different velocities, gulls darting and screaming,
vultures higher, circling slowly, silently. If they descend too close to
the bier the gulls gang up on them.

He is working on my shoulders and neck, then moving to my head,
and the leopards are killing more Indians in the northern jungles
than before. Officials want to cull the leopards. It turns out that the
times the Dalits go into the deep woods to evacuate corresponds
with the times the leopard hunts, namely early morning and dusk. A
Dalit teenage girl was in the woods at dusk when she heard a big
cat growl; happily she had her smart phone with her and phoned her
father who along with other Dalits charged into the woods with big
sticks. The leopard vanished. The question is will the Dalits teach
themselves to evacuate at different hours to avoid the leopards or
will they lobby to get toilets in their shanties?

Now I am turned around, and he is earnestly at my toes. Hard to
distinguish this “Ayurvedic” massage from pressured hybridized
massages I’ve gotten elsewhere. The sitar and tabla have given way
to popular Bollywood music, as if elegance belongs to my back and
banality to my front. Except for the Dalits, virtually every middle-
aged or older Indian male has a protruding belly. The Dalits are skin
and bone like the cows, goats, like the brown bedraggled mutt that
had the dignity to emit that plaintive single note shriek in protest as it
was sideswiped by a tuk-tuk, the driver not looking back.

As I am leaving the studio the masseur points to what he calls a
steam room—a structure that resembles an MRI tube where your
body is doused with Ayurvedic herb-infused steam.
I say maybe next time, thank him, tip him, leave.
That night my back actually feels worse, but the next night it feels
somewhat better.

On the way back to the rooming house from the massage studio, I
tell the tuk-tuk wallah to be careful about hitting animals (though it
was another tuk-tuk wallah who side-swiped the dog).
He looks back at me uncomprehendingly.

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 26, 2015

Posted on: November 28th, 2015 by admin


After spending decades in the circus, elephants Mia and Sita were
rescued by an animal welfare group on Sunday, and are now en
route to a conservation center on board India’s first customized
elephant ambulance.

The two elephants were rescued by Wildlife SOS on Sunday from
the Great Circus at Thiruvanamalai, Tamil Nadu.

Mia and Sita are the sixth and seventh elephants to be rescued this
year for being illegally used in circus performances and for
documented maltreatment.

Mia had an emotional breakdown three years back and stampeded
through the circus grounds destroying property. As punishment,
circus managers had her chained, flogged and put in solitary
confinement for up to six months.

Wildlife SOS is in the process of accumulating evidence of the
torture meted out to Mia; if successful they will attempt to close the

“With the addition of Mia and Sita to the herd, we have now rescued
more than 10 percent of all the elephants remaining in Indian
circuses,” said Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS. “We
are proud of this progress, but are committed to see this campaign
through to the end.”

Mia and Sita, both in their 50’s, are due to reach the conservation
center at Mathura, 50 kilometers north of Agra, on Wednesday.
Each needs medical attention.

Mia is developing a cataract in her eyes, has painful inflammation in
both hind legs and abscesses in her toenails. Sita’s right foreleg
never healed properly from an old fracture and is fused, so that she
cannot bend it.

Two years ago Wildlife SOS was instrumental in the rescue of Raju,
the elephant who wept after being released from a life in chains for
55 years in another Indian circus, which has since moved to

What they say about elephant memory is true.
Elephants’ brains are much denser than humans’.
The temporal lobes associated with memory are more complexly
developed than in humans.
Vastly more space for remembering.

Mia and Sita’s rescue marks the inaugural trip of Wildlife SOS’s
state-of-the-art elephant ambulance, which is equipped with an
automatic electric hydraulic ramp, showers, dual power supply, and
a dedicated chamber for the veterinary team with washing and
treatment preparation area.

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 25, 2015

Posted on: November 25th, 2015 by admin

Ganges Dusk

Wake up to drums and loud chanting.
6:20 AM. Is it a dream?
Here one wakes from dream into dream.
Every other day is a holy day in Kashi.
Another devotional festival.
Today is Dev Diwali.

But didn’t we celebrate Diwali, Festival of Lights, just a few
days ago?
That Diwali was devoted to the goddess Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s
Dev Diwali is devoted to Lord Shiva’s victory over the demon

On Dev Diwali, which always coincides with a full moon, devotees
take a bath and/or a boat ride in the Ganga, light oil lamps, called
Diyas, do puja, set off fireworks, and make lots of noise.
Devotional noise.
When the sun sets, the steps of all the Ghats and temples are alight
with Diyas, milllions of them.
Yes. Everything becomes exponential in India.

It is Dev Diwali, full moon, and I’m in an old open boat on the sacred
As soon as the moon comes up in the east through the mist the
drums start romping and the oil lamps are lit on each of the 87 ghats
from south to north.
Everywhere is elaborately patterned bright light.
Except for the two burning ghats which continue cremating corpses,
smoke curling over the Ganga.
Fire and water are the two dominant elements for devotional Hindus.

The east where the moon rises is composed of a single sandbar,
construction prohibited because it would interfere with viewing the
the sunrise.
The Mughals ruled India for nearly 200 years, did not worship the
Ganga, and razed most of the ancient temples and other Hindu
structures on the western ghats.
It is a surprise that they did not erect their own structures on the
wide empty sandbar.

The moon is full.
Chanting, music, fireworks, millions of oil lamps and a million or
more souls on each of the 87 ghats raucously celebrating.
Though Lord Shiva is nominally the subject of Dev Diwali, I do not
hear his name invoked in the chants.

I think of carnival among the impoverished, in the Brazil favelas for
A week of sensual-samba-masquerade-mania a year, then back to
shitty bad-paying work, or no work at all.
In the holy Hindu city of Kashi, the carnival (without the sensuality of
course) goes on throughout the year, so that devotion is turned into
an opiate which keeps the millions of impoverished and low-castes
perpetually celebrating.
Then they go home to their squalor.

I notice how many of the poor celebrants snap photos with their
mobile, fulfilling the Prime Minister’s extravagant lunacy of elevating
the afterimage in the process of digitalizing India.

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 23, 2015

Posted on: November 24th, 2015 by admin


Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. Hinduism will endure only so
long as there are Hindus to protect the cow.

–Mahatma Gandhi

The white Mercedes taxi nudges the soiled, underfed, spotted
white calf out of the way en route to the 5-star Hotel in the
cantonment sector erected by the British during the Raj.

Among the outlandish images of Varanasi to a “first world”
traveler, the thousands of cows here, there, everywhere in the noisy,
maddeningly congested city may be the dominant image.

Considered sacred among Hindus, cows are supremely
neglected, wandering aimlessly through narrow streets and chaotic
traffic, scavenging rubbish, including carrion and residue of
cremated corpses, resting where they can.

Only a paucity of “residences” to feed and shelter cattle have
been constructed throughout India.

Moreover, cattle are officially butchered in several Hindu states
and unofficially butchered in many more.

Despite these grim data, cows are nonetheless “sacred” and not
to be physically harmed.

People—notably Muslims—have even been lynched for
butchering cattle.

Without reliable food sources, cattle will wander beyond their
usual margins.

What happens if they wander from the Hindu sector into one of
the two side-by-side Muslim sectors in the eastern part of the Hindu
holy city of Kashi and are butchered?

Motoring through one of those Muslim sectors, my Hindu tuk-tuk
wallah points indignantly to the cavernous slaughter houses on
either side of the narrow road with bullocks lined up to be butchered.

Will the Muslim butchering of a Hindu bullock that the Hindus
themselves butcher unofficially constitute an act of war?

Never mind Gandhi and other reformers, Hindus and Muslims
despise each other.

Each blames the other for immorality, war-mongering, des-
potism, terrorism.

The bloody war in Kashmir-Jammu between Muslims and Hindus
has been raging since the 1947 partition.

It is easy enough to distinguish a Hindu adult from a Muslim
adult, by the cut of the beard, the skullcap, the Arabic as opposed to
Indian dress.

Muslim and female Hindus can be distinguished by their veils,
face coverings, saris.

As in Israel and Palestine, Indian Hindus and Muslims have the
same or similar genetic roots, and without their appendages often
look close to identical.

None of that mattered, and now as planet earth is rapidly winding
down, the mutual animus has become exacerbated.

Why now?

There is a deflected high anxiety in global culture having to do
with the prospect of global warming hastening us to the end.


Acknowledging this insupportable reality seems much more
difficult than ramping up war and entertainment, which are often

The saner but more difficult option would be to strive collectively
in the 11th hour on behalf of the infinitely larger issues of global
warming and despoliation of the planet.

Regarding global warming, world leaders tend to respond in one
of two ways: either they agree, often in a mealy-mouthed way, that
there is a global ecological crisis and claim they are responding as
best they can to become “green,” when what they’re actually doing
is cynically catering to their constituencies.

Or world leaders are too witless or resistant to recognize that the
planet is perishing, and simply deny it while going about business as

India’s PM, an electronics zealot, is especially keen on devel-
oping “smart” cities out of the massively decaying infrastructures of
his country.

Where does that leave the cow in India?

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 22, 2015

Posted on: November 22nd, 2015 by admin


Barefoot, she enters my room and lies in bed next to me on my left
side. I hear the soft jingle of the cheap bracelets about her wrists
and ankles. Predawn dark, I am just awake from a dream or
sequence of dreams:

Donkeys–they seem to have been abused–a mother and foal
edging ahead in the lunatic traffic; a dark-skinned teenage boatman
on the Ganga in the predawn with eroded fingers, as though from
leprosy; an untouchable woman tiny as a child, on the burning ghat,
but away from the pyre, lying folded on the red stone with her
extended hand grasping her empty alms pail.

I can’t see the woman in my arms; she feels small. We embrace
gently, then tightly, our bodies hard against each other, our faces
flush. My hands move up and down her back and shoulders, which
feel thin, almost transparent. Her spine feels knotty from her neck to
the small of her back. Her face is thin, but her lips are full, firm, I feel
her breathing softl, irregularly near my ear. Her face gives off a
subtle tamarind scent.

We stop moving our hands up and down our backs at the same
time. I am back in the dream of the tiny untouchable woman on the
burning ghat, her face hidden in her tattered sari, her body folded on
the red broken stone like a child with her thin left arm extended, her
small brown fingers holding the empty alms pail. I am sitting on a
backless stone bench facing the smoke with my legs crossed and a
notebook on my lap.

I stand and move to her, kneeling to drop rupees into her pail, when
she pulls me down, or I fall of my own accord. Facing the fire, lying
next to her, I take her in my arms.

I am awake, we are in each other’s arms. I can’t tell whether she fell
asleep as I did. I move my hand to her head; her hair is thick and
long, though unkempt. It smells of musk.

As I stroke her head she puts her tiny calloused hand on my hand
moving with my hand as it strokes.

A macaque is grunting outside the window. I stop stroking her head.
We are on the ghat facing the flames in each other’s arms.
She holds me tight, but with the diminished strength of a small child.
Still I cannot separate myself.

Pilgrims pass by. Hindus, non-Hindus. We hear their chit-chat.
They step over or around us without noticing us. Someone notices

us long enough to drop a coin in her tin pail. We seem to have
moved closer to the smoking corpses.

But now I am driving an old tuk-tuk with some difficulty; we are
crossing the River Ganga, west to east, on a suspension bridge
erected by the colonizing Brits.

East of the Ganga is a wide sandbar, officially empty so that the
sacred sunrise can be witnessed by humans on the ghats. About
halfway is an unexpected gap in the bridge and we are forced to
deviate through tiny impoverished hamlets on rocky paths.

The humans, black and barefoot, Untouchables, live in crude
cardboard shanties. Naked toddlers frolic in the dirt and mud. The
paths are so narrow and rocky that the tuk-tuk can barely

Finally we get to the wide sandbar on the east side of the Ganga.
We can see the burning ghats across the river. Erected on the
sandbar slightly to the north is a makeshift temple; I hear chanting to
Lord Rama.

She touches me on the arm and gestures to the temple. I
understand that this is where she worships and back there in one of
the shanties is where she lived or lives.

We are in the room in each other’s arms. It is dark. The macaques
are grunting outside the window. A dog is howling. We are in the
dream, tightly embraced on the red stone while somehow moving
closer to the flames of the burning ghat which continues day and
night. India is vastly overpopulated; there is always another Hindu to
cremate. But if you are low-caste you have to wait your turn in the
grim hospice overlooking the ghat.

Her tiny calloused hand is touching my face tenderly, inquisitively.
My forehead, nose, ears. She strokes my beard, my hair. I hear her
soft breathing. We are embracing again, tightly, as if wanting to melt
into each other.

We are on the pyre at last together.

Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 20, 2015

Posted on: November 20th, 2015 by admin

Buddha Earth

Sitting straightbacked and composed, eyes partially closed, under
the imposing fig tree in Bodhgaya, Siddhartha Gautama is menaced
by Mara, lord of strife and covetousness, who attempts through
deceptions to unseat Siddhartha.

That Siddhartha is sitting steadfastly on Mother Earth rather than
gazing heavenward poses a special threat to Mara.
After attempting without success to seduce Siddhartha with riches,
intoxicants, infinite sensuality, Mara invokes his army of demons
who roar in unison:

You are a common man, yet you presume.
Lord Mara is God.
We, his army, testify to Him.
Who is your witness?

In response Siddhartha, with his left hand, palm up, on his lap,
touches the earth with the fingers of his right hand and the
vegetable earth with its billions of inhabitants testifies silently to him.

Earth’s inhabitants are not just human but animal, vegetable,
petrified wood, the integrated organic pulse that maintains breath
against seductions of greed and power.

Siddhartha’s gesture comes to be called The Earth Witness Mudra.
Lord Mara is dispersed.
Siddhartha Gautama is enlightened.

Buddhism emerges, gains adherents, makes converts of the poor
and despised, fosters the earth, integrates the abstract noun
“compassion,” but then, admonished for its probity, is exiled from the
place of its birth, dispersed round the globe, taking on various
guises according to context, and now, on a globe turning crazily, is
perishing along with parent earth and the collective pulse that
nourished it.

The village of Sarnath, 12-and-a-half kilometers northeast of
Varanasi, is, according to legend, the site of the deer park where
Buddha taught the dharma to five disciples after becoming
enlightened in Bodhgaya. Sarnath is considered one of four sacred
Buddhist sites, each in India. The others are Lumbini, birth;
Bodhgaya, enlightenment; Kushinagar, death.