Kevin had decided he wanted to film more of Haridwar. We headed down towards the river, the site where all the action was. Vendors lined the river, selling large, blue plastic containers to the pilgrims anxious to bring home some holy water: blue because it’s the color of Shiva.
After the sun had made its way higher into the sky, I decided to explore a bit on my own while Kevin filmed. As I walked towards the river I passed a group of young boys hitting a rock with sticks in some fashion they had organized.
“Hello!” one of the boys called. “Hello!” I said, “What are you playing?” “Cricket,” the boy said. “Cricket, really? Well, it looks like fun. Have a nice day!” “Have a nice day!” he called. Had I read somewhere, “It is a testament to the spirit of children that they so happily create with whatever they have on hand”? Well, it certainly seemed true here.
Down by the water an elderly man grinned at me with a toothless smile, “Where are you from?” “America.” “America! America rich. Americans are rich!” I debated launching into a discussion on the relativity of wealth, but instead said, “Yeah. Some are. It’s a big country.” I wasn’t sure he understood that reply, so I gestured to the river and said, “It’s a beautiful river.” “River,” he beamed, “Yes. The Ganga. All Indians the Ganga is their mother.” When second man came over to me a minute later, we had virtually the same conversation. Maybe I should have paid more attention to his hands, holding bags of flowers and other ritual items.
This man started to explain something to me like, “The river Ganga washes away to grandmother’s grandfather.” Next thing I know he’s shoving orange marigolds into my hand, asking, “Father?”
“What? Oh, father? My father?” “Father.” “John,” I say. “Father?” His face reflected a bit of irritation. “Yes, Father.” “Grandfather.” “Oh, grandfather. My dad’s father?” “Grandfather.” “But my mom, or my… nevermind. He’s John too.”
“Grandfather!” The guy was looking at me as if I might be a wee bit stupid. “John. John, too.” “Grandmother?”
This went on for a while, and seemed more painful than holy. Then he held my hand with the marigold and had me repeat a few Hindi phrases with him. As this all progressed, it was occurring to me that this was going to cost some money, but it seemed weird and awkward to interrupt a holy ritual to ask, even though I felt the whole thing had scam potential.
A crowd of people had gathered around, to watch the girl get puja, and I would have loved to have known their thoughts on the matter. It always seemed unfair that when a crowd of people surrounded me here, I was the only one that didn’t know what was going on.
In the next second the man asked, “Two hundred fifty rupees.” I nodded. And we said a few more chants and he applied a red paste on my forehead, my third eye. Two hundred fifty rupees seems like a lot for what I had just gotten, but I really didn’t feel like creating more of a scene, or arguing with a potential holy man over five dollars. I handed him the money. As I walked away the wife of the toothless man asked, “Husband?” “Yes,” I turned and pointed to Kevin meandering down the beach with his camera, “He’s there.” “Husband,” she said in a sterner tone, and I think she implied I should be with him.
I was headed that way anyway. When I told Kevin he said, “You know you could have bartered with him.” “I know. I know I’m a sucker but… I just felt funny bartering over a blessing. “