People-watching

Quiet times here. Still in Varanasi, which has proven a very pleasant and interesting place to hang out. We’re still here for several reasons – mostly because we like it, but also because we’ve been uncertain of our next move until today. I’ve discussed Varanasi a little in my last post, so I won’t go on about it too much here, but it’s been pointed out that I’ve tended to focus on places in this blog at the expense of people (a fair point – there are so many new places and things to see that it’s easy to overlook the people who populate said places), so I want to write a little about that aspect of this town.

In general, India is a fantastic place for people-watching. This is in part due to the fact that there are *so* many people here – there are no quiet places, really. Any street you walk down will be filled with an assortment of people going about their business – children going to school, various hawkers selling an assortment of things useful and useless, businessmen, beggars, monks, and average people just hanging out. There seems to be a lot of hanging out done in India, incidentally – no-one’s ever in a hurry to do anything much, and people are happy to spend hours on end mooching about drinking chai, chatting to their friends, etc. So in general, there are always interesting people to look at and talk to.

Having said that, Varanasi excels as a people-watching venue, especially down on the banks of the Ganges. Apart from the hordes of people having their ritual dip or washing their clothes, there’s every walk of life hanging around down there. The nice thing about it is how no-one takes any notice of anything anyone else is doing – if there are people pissing in a corner, or playing cricket in the middle of the road, or collecting the cowshit, or whatever, no-one else minds in the least. The unfazedness of the Indians with just about everything continues to amaze, amuse and humble me.

The only people who rather impinge on this, to be honest, are our fellow travellers. We’ve certainly met plenty of locals, who’ve been almost exclusively lovely (even the ones who are robbing you blind are unfailingly polite about it). Westerners, by contrast, are an unfriendly bunch in general – there’s none of the camaraderie that I’ve encountered elsewhere. There are, of course, exceptions to this – we’ve made some lovely acquaintances thus far, some of whom are hopefully reading this – but such people aside, Westerners can be an embarrassing lot.

It never ceases to amaze me how people can rabbit on about how meditating on Om has awakened them to the universal consciousness and the fact that we’re all one, maaan, and the next minute bitch and moan about how a rickshaw-wallah has cheated them out of 10 rupees. I’m not exaggerating, by the way – just last night at dinner, we listened in awe to three British girls spitting invective about how a chai-wallah had charged them 10 rupees instead of 3 for a cup of tea (that’s 10 pence versus 3 for the Brits):

Brit A – They’re just nasty, sad little people for doing that.
Brit B – I just don’t understand it. How can they look at themselves in the mirror?
Brit C – Don’t worry, it’s all karma, y’know? We’re all one, so it’ll come back to them.
Brit B – Absolutely. Anyway, I read this great book by Bill Bryson…

I bit my tongue and refrained from suggesting that 7 rupees is the square-root of fuck-all to them, but a vaguely relevant sum of money in a country where the poorest get by on all of 50 rupees a day. Getting a cup of tea for 10p is still a decent deal in my book. And if they weren’t such ghastly obnoxious bints, the chai-wallah mightn’t have overcharged them. *sigh*

Anyway, that’ll have to do for tonight. Last day in Varanasi tomorrow – after that we board a 30-hour train back to Mumbai in order to hook up with a friend of Leila’s mother’s who’s only in town until the end of Jan.

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