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August 27, 2005

Lucky Bastard

I was sitting in the hotel internet room last night, literaly crawling the web. They have a dial up connection which they charge thirty rupees an hour for. I come to this broadband internet cafe and pay twenty five rupees an hour for something ten times faster, though still very slow. Anyway, I was sitting there when I noticed that the girl squashed into the minute workstation next to me was using gmail.

Gmail is the mail service from google. It's free, you get two gigabytes of storage and because google provides a novel and fast search mechaism, you don't need to file any of the mails.

I always wanted a gmail account but every time I went to the google website, it said that you could only get one by invitation. So I asked her how she got hers. She told me that her brother invited her and that she had fifty remaining tokens to invite others. She offered to invite me and that made my day. The connection was blindinly slow so I gave her my email address on a tiny scrap of paper and asked her to invite me when she was next looged in. I have not had an invite yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

Anyway, somehow the topic of dead bodies came up. She had not seen any dead bodies in the Ganges yet. So I told her that I had seen two in the space of an hour and I proceeded to describe them in graphic detail. I also told her about the corpse that was stuck on one of the wooden boat landing platforms with just the head sticking out of the water. Some people at the hotel had seen it from the hotel restaurant, but at the time it was too dark for me to see and the next day, it was gone.

After telling her this, her response was something like: "You lucky bastard, I've been wanting to see a dead body all this time and not seen one. And you've seen several." Her friend asked if I'd taken photos, which I hadn't.

I just told the this story to one of the brothers who runs this cafe and he told me that it's lucky to see corpses in the Ganges. I had been thinking it was, so it's great to get that confirmed.

Today I took a boat from Manikarnika Ghat, the burning ghat where they cremate bodies, to Panchaganga Ghat. On the return journey, I passed two more dead bodies! One was female, lying face up, though I couldn't make out what had happened to her head and face. The other, I saw from a greater distance and couldn't make out much of the details.

If you die in Varanasi, legend has it that you will not be reborn, that you will attain final liberation. An ancient name for Varanasi is Kashi, which means light. Kashi is symbolic of the eyebrow center, and the true meaning is that if you die with your mind concentrated there, you will not be reborn. But most people take scriptures literally and the flock to Varanasi to die. In most cities in India, the place where they burn bodies is outside of the city, because it is thought to be unclean. Conversely and perversely, since people dying in Varanasi and considered to be free and pure, liberated, their bodies are burned at two ghats in the heart of the old city. They soak the corpses in water from the Ganges and then burn them on wood pyres. When they're done, for women the hips remain and for men the chest remains. They throw these into the Ganges.

So what are these dead bodies. Children, holy men and women and several other types of people are considered to be pure and their bodies do not need to be burned. So these bodies are just thrown into the river. These are the people I've seen floating by.

I just asked the cafe owner whether some of these bodies come from up in the Himalayas, about a thousand kilometres away. He says that they're we all thrown in nearby. Very soon the bodies sink and just rot at the bottom.


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