Archives for category: Folk Stories

Eight Finger Eddie’s legacy needs the whistle blown on him. Back in Katmandu, this was the man we all (the Bandit Sister buddies) were told we had to meet. This patron saint of the anti-materialist Goa commune of South India, spent his summers in Nepal, probably to escape the heat. We had a precise address of where to find him, thanks to Jasper® and his unfailing ability to tie dubious connections together throughout South Asia. Eddie was not at home, having returned to Goa something like ten days previous to our arrival at his door, or so we were informed by the very well dressed lady who came to quell the commotion in front of the gate; at a posh townhouse in a very upscale neighborhood of Nepal’s capital city. Eight Finger Eddie sounded like a name of some pool shark who’d hustled the wrong people. Anti-materialism? Enough said.

When our Katmandu days had run out after this last (aborted) misadventure, we flew back to Delhi. This departing Katmandu is where two amazing but very suspect characters, Jasper® & Socket™ (and constant aroma of ‘herbal’ chillums), drop out of our story. Jasper® is now known as ‘The Late Lord Whatever’, born an English aristocrat destined to a next life as a dope dealer running a chai shop in Almora.

At the airport, on arrival in Delhi, an Indian Army major asked my nationality. “USA” I answered. He kept staring at me, but now with a skeptical look and I stated “American.” He accepted my second answer, even if it did not seem wholly satisfactory. Back at the Hotel Imperial, I had a by this time urgent medical matter to attend to. My innumerable sins determined to leave my body by the route of my ear in the form of a fungus (initiated with my ‘cleansing’ bath in the Ganges) had to be addressed. I called the American embassy to ask who they sent their people to, for ear problems. I took this measure because the hotel’s doctor on call had prescribed antibiotics to the Canadian minister for his malaria, at the beginning of our trip. They connected me with a Sikh trained in the USA and I made an appointment.


After a couple of days in Delhi, the Bandit Sister took Sensible Sue, the Montana dyke & Bummer John south, to some baba’s ashram. The Guardian Angel Sister and Old Babette stayed in Delhi. The Tibetan headed north to Dehradun and I was supposed to catch up with him there, in a few days, after I’d resolved the sins in my ear. I’d seen the Sikh doctor and he’d used something like a tiny ball on a wire attached to a power device that made it spin. Inserting this tiny ball into my ear, he powered on the device and beat the sins out of my head. Now I was to use anti-fungal drops in my sinful ear but he wanted me back in a few days, to make certain I was clean. I never returned to the doctor or Dehradun. This was on account of the next day, Indira Gandhi was shot.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

Our days at Chitwan behind us, the bus we hired to bring the group back to Katmandu broke down. The Tibetan stayed with the main group and the bus together with the Angel Sister, while the Bandit Sister, with some of the more adventurous souls, took off up the road to ‘hitch-hike’ back to Katmandu. I rather quickly strode out beyond these people and when about two hundred meters ahead of them, looking back, I saw a commuter bus blow past this crew dressed in western clothes with thumbs out, as though they did not exist. ‘Thumbs up’ likely meant to the driver of this bus ‘it’s all good.’

I’ve worn something resembling a turban exactly twice in my life; the first time in 1972 when hired as an extra; for a movie that bombed at the box office, a remake of ‘Lost Horizons.’ Oddly coincidental, this movie was supposedly set in the Himalayas (however filmed in the USA.) I’d like to believe this dubious literary venture will someday fare better.

While in Nepal, I’d purchased a long piece of brightly colored cotton cloth, a print, and wore it wrapped around my head in a manner similar to some of the locals, enhancing the native dress I’d adopted. Extending my hand, palm down, at the approaching bus, with a sort of wing-flap gesture I knew from Vietnam, the vehicle stopped for me. Climbing onto this typically jammed with people commuter bus at the rear entrance, as there was no possible space to enter at the front of the bus, I sorted the fare by deliberately producing more than it could possibly cost, an Indian twenty rupee note. Nepal was, in those days, a triple currency nation; Nepal rupees, India rupees and American dollars. The India twenty rupee note was passed, hand to hand, from the rear of the bus to the front of the bus, where it was deposited and a Nepal ten rupee note and some coins were passed, hand to hand, back to the rear of the bus and given to me. The simple people are good to, and honest with, each other. I didn’t initially know the fare but the result proved I wasn’t cheated.


^ Similar but my commuter bus was bigger

By using the India currency, it put the curious off the mark. To each language put to me by fellow passengers, I merely smiled and shook my head in the negative. Nobody asked me a question in English and clearly no one suspected I was a westerner. Normal in Nepal or India, this all took place standing at the open rear door of a bus that would see the driver jailed and company shut down, if it were to happen in the States .. there were that many people on board.

I was the first back to our hotel in Katmandu, by several hours. The Bandit Sister and the few with her wandered in next, followed by those who’d stayed with the bus, that evening. Meanwhile, Jasper® was in an ebullient mood, regaling us with stories, no doubt solo immersion in the Katmandu hashish/opium dens had lifted his spirits considerably in our absence. Or perhaps he was actually, genuinely, happy to see us. One story he told has remained etched in my memory, something one such as myself would never be prone to forget. But first: One must understand these sisters have known South Asia intimately since the 1960s. Covering India (the Guardian Angel Sister primarily), Pakistan (both sisters) and Afghanistan (the Bandit Sister primarily), among other nations, if one could reinvent Kipling’s ‘Kim’ as two 20th Century sisters who’d discovered the South Asian street life and could competently negotiate the associated intrigues of the latter era, it would be these girls. With that said, I’ve no real idea what the sisters were doing in Islamabad in December, 1971. Especially considering they were in the company of not only Jasper® & Socket™ but Kathy McNamara! As Jasper® warmed to his story of the hotel room they were together in subject to air-raid blackout during the short India-Pakistan war of 1971, he brought up the fact of former (and much reviled) United States Secretary of Defense and then World Bank President Robert McNamara’s daughter present in the involuntarily darkened room. Then, with an expression of amazement apparently undiluted over the 13 years that’d passed since; Jasper® announced and I’ll never forget this .. “And Socket™ screwed her!!”

Socket™ did not deny anything, rather looked, for the only time ever, somewhat uncomfortable. Normally, he was gathered and complacent image of cool, closely resembling another drummer anyone should recognize, that is if one were to imagine his face thinner & darker:


Who knows what method might have been employed to seduce Kathy McNamara ..  no matter circumstance .. when a daughter of one of the world’s most powerful and evil men is seduced by a village musician from Bihar, that my friends, is the stuff of legend.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

After a late breakfast, we’d continued a short distance on the river and disembarked. Land Rovers brought us into Chitwan and our safari camp, which consisted of somewhat primitive huts surrounded by a wall of some satanic thorn growth that looked truly formidable. Everyone seemed to vanish into this camp; as though no one wished to talk to anyone at this point in the journey. Or perhaps we were all just tired. It was a quiet refuge and a blessing .. I spent the afternoon soaking up the silence. Staff at the camp seemed invisible except when manifest at meal times. I slept soundly under mosquito netting covering my bed, just like some sahib in a B quality adventure movie. Recalling John Lennon’s ‘Bungalow Bill’, our crew who’d been checking out all sorts of Hindu religious experience would, tomorrow, take an elephant ride to check out the park, albeit sans firearms.

Following coffee and late breakfast, the Tibetan & myself managed to avoid whatever morning activity it was the others had run off to experience. It was before noon yet, when a young French couple had been dropped off, and no one from staff was there to greet them. They’d accosted me and I’d told them someone would make an appearance, just to be patient. In the meantime, they decided to have a walk out into the surrounding forest on their own. I told them this was definitely NOT a good idea but with typical French superiority -a roll of the eyes & wave of the hand- they dismissed my advice and wandered off on foot, out the gate and beyond the thorn walls. After, someone from staff made an appearance; there was an elephant ready for the Tibetan and myself.

Now, I’d never ridden an elephant, this was the stuff of Tarzan and Hannibal in my preconceived notions. But here I was, climbing a short stair onto a platform and stepping onto a flat wicker saddle on an elephant’s back. It seemed more of a cargo platform than a passenger seat, as there was no rail, just a sturdy flat surface of woven sticks with some thin cushion strapped on. The mahout was in front of, and lower to us, astride the elephant’s short neck, behind the head. Riding the wicker platform was ok, you soon realized the elephant’s gait was at most, a mild sense of a ship at sea. The Tibetan could understand the mahout’s language and they were conversing. One of the mahout’s statements was, “This is a really good elephant, I’ve had him for seven years and he’s never freaked out.” I pondered that, as I watched him dig his big toes into the elephant’s ears, prodding & pushing inside the lobes, while time to time tapping the large creature’s head with a stick. ‘Please, just make one more trip without freaking out’, was was my thought.

A half hour ride through the forest brought us to an open area of tall reed-like grass and we were pushing forward through this, when suddenly we were among rhinoceros.


We were able to get alongside these large animals that were dwarfed by the creature whose back we were on, if I’d had the mahout’s stick, I could have bent down and touched one, we came that close. The rhinoceros were not in the least disturbed by the presence of the elephant, with no natural sense of enemies between them. It was really quite amazing.

After awhile among the rhinoceros, and a bit more sight-seeing from ‘elephant-back’, we headed back into the forest, returning to our safari camp. The Tibetan’s sharp eye spotted a brown cobra, slithering across the forest floor, apparently cobras get out of the way of elephants, not vice-versa. Then, from over 100 meters distance, we saw the French couple waving from high in a tree .. HALLOOO!! .. they were calling out as loudly as possible. I nonchalantly waved back at these intrepid souls, as though in passing at persons calling out from the far side of the River Styx. The Tibetan and myself briefly speculated at which creature they might have encountered and the mahout did not deviate from our trail. Funny thing is, I don’t recall seeing them again; perhaps they were rescued by the Foreign Legion, with brass anthem and medals all around.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

We left Jasper® & Socket™ waiting for Katmandu to catch up to them, or something upside down like that. Our itinerary now took us out of the city, across a mountain range, and into a steep Himalayan valley hosting the Trisuli river and our raft journey to Chitwan National Park.

On one of our riverside stops, Old Babette had an epiphany of immortal youth, had lost or run out of her lithium actually, and after being fished out of a riverside eddy and narrow brush with death that did not even register in her mind, with wet dress clinging to her thin body, began dancing; imagining herself a siren from the Coen Brothers’ ‘Ulysses.’

She was taken into protective custody by the Montana dyke whose ability to impart reality was better than any anti-psychotic medication. A few short words suffice to explain: This dyke ‘lady’ from Basin, Montana, was veteran of a war that is legend. The derelict Montana mining town of Basin was the preferred habitat of an artist community with a fairly large percentage of lesbians. The town’s bikers didn’t behave in respect to the lesbians and after awhile, when push came to shove, the lesbians pushed the bikers out of town. The Montana dyke was along as an insurance policy-enforcer in the original Montana libertarian style; be as crazy as you please, but don’t cross a line. Old Babette decided to behave.

We camped overnight at the confluence of the Trisuli & Kaligandeki rivers on a sandy spit across from the Devghat temple. We had no idea what the temple was across the river. The ‘Bandit Sister’ and myself swam over to investigate and upon entering the temple grounds, we saw crocodile effigies! “Oh shit!!” was the reaction on realizing we had come so far into the lowlands that we’d entered this creature’s territory and would now have to swim back. I swam on my back returning to the camp, maybe not so much because it is quiet but because I wouldn’t see a croc coming, if that was to happen. Perhaps the water wasn’t seasonally warm enough, for them to be up the river to where we were.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India


On arrival in Nepal we were held up an hour at the airport, with the exception of the Tibetan who magically walked through customs as though he were invisible. The holdup was we weren’t offering a bribe, essentially daring customs to shake us down. Jasper® & Socket™ had departed separately from the group and were coming to Nepal overland, by bus. Apparently there were some issues with them getting into the country in any straightforward way, which by the way, in south Asia includes bribes. If Jasper® & Socket™ had been with us, there’s no doubt in my mind we’d have had all of our luggage gone through with a fine toothed comb. Maybe that’s why the sisters had sent them packing on a different route.

The officers looked totally annoyed at us all, as we pretended to be too stupid to understand the custom of offering a gratuity to speed our entry into the country. Finally they let us in, sans tip. When I asked the Tibetan about his magic act entry, he explained he had no proper passport and could not get a visa. Therefore he’d pressed a 100 Rupee note into a customs officer’s hand with the remark “Here is the better identity” and was waved through without a problem.

Bummer John had to leave his dope in India, as he’d been advised he wouldn’t want to risk the hospitality of a Nepali jail trying to bring it into the country via the airport. Now, at the hotel in Katmandu, he looked even more bummed out. I was relaxed on a 2nd level veranda and noticed what looked like potted marijuana plants on the adjacent building’s rooftop, actually within easy reach. I’d inquired and discovered they were hemp of a variety for making nutritional oil. It was not the cannabis variety that gets you high but more similar to a feral cannabis variety known to dopers in the American mid-west as ‘headache weed.’

Bummer John was too depressed to notice horns had sprouted on my forehead as I went back into the hotel and told him of a discovery he’d no doubt be interested in. Desperate, he took the bait and filched some cannabis flowers off the hotel neighbor’s plants; to my visceral satisfaction when I noticed several hours later his perennial expression of stressed helplessness had degenerated into something more resembling a Van Gogh painting, or perhaps a modern work titled ‘The Scream.’

Old Babette, who to now seemed a perfectly reasonable person, with the singular habit of avoiding Jasper® like the plague, was coming a bit more into the conversation in the absence of Our English Lord Ram Giri. The Montana dyke had been nearly invisible throughout our trip, usually wandering a bit behind everyone else when the group was together, to solo sight-see, with relaxed demeanor and pleasant smile belying eyes that never missed a thing. Sensible Sue managed to adroitly negotiate all of the cliques by now, demonstrating a real cross-cultural talent with an infallible instinct to know when and how to discreetly make herself vanish with upcoming scene not to her taste.

Bummer John had the occasional extended downer (with assists from myself), between consistent lows.

The Tibetan and myself took off into the city to get a sense of things more along the lines of Nepal’s authentic culture than the hashish dens the city is famous for in counter-culture lore, ZZ Top reputedly frequenting these locations notwithstanding. I’d a glance inside the Yin & Yang Café at the western burnouts therein and decided leave that to Jasper®’s ‘alternative’ city tours & interested parties, when (or if) he’d caught up with us.

Katmandu is an interesting city reflecting Nepal’s makeup; proper Nepalese Hindus, others speaking a Hindi dialect my Tibetan friend understood, a Tibetan subculture that was interesting, as well, many proper Tibetans. My friend looked up someone he knew, a Tibetan ‘Foxy’ and had a good visit. After, we visited the temple of the living virgin goddess, a Hindu site where a young girl lives as an immortal until puberty and then is married off and replaced with a new virgin. We visited an open market where I found, and this amazed me, a package of authentic American Camel non-filter cigarettes, and stumbled onto a !Mexican restaurant! precisely on the other side of the planet from Mexico. I sat down and enjoyed a quite reasonable bean & cheese burrito, quite reasonable, that is, if you didn’t mind the Italian red sauce.


The ‘Tibetan’ (L) and myself (R)


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India


Varanasi III

Somehow I suspect the whole of the western counter-culture scene in India has roots in combination of beat poets (YUCK!) fused with LSD via one highly dubious character named Richard Alpert a.k.a. Ram Dass. I recall reading his ‘Be Here Now’ in 1976, as it was recommended to me by a friend I knew from my high school days in Montana. By this time this friend was an enlightened dope dealer, so Jasper® cannot be considered unique in that regard. In fact it was this same enlightened friend had introduced me to the sisters, in 1979, and that’s no small coincidence. Think about it. An enlightened dope dealer in Montana introduces me to the sisters who introduce me to an enlightened dope dealer in India. Goes around, comes around. So, what jumped out at me when reading ‘Be Here Now’ was Alpert, while visiting India, had a yogi eat enough LSD to make five people high for 2 days. The yogi went on meditating and after some hours finally looked at Alpert and flatly stated “So, what?” What Alpert had done was like serving up five Big Macs® to a guy who’d eaten ‘The Texas King’ steak in Amarillo, Texas, in less than one hour (a deliberate bad metaphor.) And that was an ‘Aha!’ moment for Alpert. I happened to have a glossy photo of Alpert came with a magazine together with the book, and I hung Alpert’s portrait on the inside of the door into the rural slum apartment I lived in at the time; and drove slender steel darts into it from an aluminum tube converted to a blow-gun. Reading the book had been a waste of time. Or better said, Alpert writing the book had been a waste of time. Monty Python’s ‘Brian’ had summed it up best: “You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!”

Ok, so I promised Jasper® would impress me and he did; here is how it came off. Following the evening of floating the Diwali candles, we had the next day off, nothing was scheduled. Mid-morning on that day, Jasper® invited me to take a walk to an open market and I went along. We arrived somewhat early, the area was not yet incredibly jammed with people bustling about business and Jasper® dressed in native costume of a sadhu and carrying his large set of fire tongs, gave a sermon. I had no idea what he was saying, as the sermon was delivered in Hindi, but people were stopping and listening, more and more people as Jasper® went on and on. After a little while, he had a devoted audience of more than 100. There was full confidence in the lesson he was delivering, it was obviously authentic, you could judge that from the reaction of the crowd. I’d never seen anything like it; this tall, thin Anglo-Saxon with full beard and long hair dressed as a native holy man and making it work, manifesting his knowledge of the Hindu scriptures to a crowd he pulled out of thin air. I doubt it crossed the mind of a single person present this was an opium junkie. Clearly, Jasper® had put a lot of sweat equity into his learning … and I could only wonder if this suddenly manifest, authentic Nath Sadhu, Ram Giri, was even aware of the other Jasper®.

That evening, the Tibetan and myself rented a small rowboat and went to the ‘Burning Ghats.’ It is here bodies are burned, day and night, prior to the ashes pushed into the Ganges River. In the Hindu tradition, this is a desirable place to end this existence; bodies are transported from far away, those who can afford it, to be disposed of here.  It was well after dark, and when about 15 meters (50 feet) from a funeral, I stopped our boat and we watched. We could hear some conversation and suddenly the Tibetan was translating for me. There was a body, its’ feet sticking out of the piled branches, about to be set on fire and the undertaker was telling a family member of the corpse … “Everything has gone perfectly, don’t mess it up by arguing the price now!”

The next day, we stepped onto a plane to Kathmandu.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

Varanasi II

Jasper® had been eying myself as though I were a freak enigma, I’d noticed. Not more than one sixteenth (my two strongest lines are Dane & Ruysn) of any ancestral heritage, a Vietnam veteran from the Rocky Mountains who domiciled with Blackfeet Indians. I was pitched by the sisters as the ‘wild man’ along on this dubious pilgrimage. Now, it so happened the ‘Bandit Sister’ liked my company and we shared ‘war stories’, not about war per se, but about those numerous compromising circumstance and odd events that make life interesting. And I noticed Jasper® liked to position himself, unobtrusively, so as to overhear our conversation. Clearly, this was about trying to get some sense of just what this strange Ron West humanoidish thing was, without committing himself to direct interaction. Meanwhile, I had determined Jasper® was certainly intelligent but wary of being a fish out of water. He was competent to do a few things in this life; that is superficially escape his aristocratic English origins while alternating between lives as an somewhat infamous counter-culture figure and a nearly authentic sadhu. But, as previously noted by a certain baba, Jasper® could never really altogether live the latter, on account of his inability to surrender the former. And he was most certainly insecure on account of this and protected himself from keenly penetrating intellect that were outside his comfort zone and I was outside that zone. But now this would change.

The sisters had rented a large wooden boat for the day, the kind with a long oar that could be used as a pole, complete with a boatman. We initially used this craft to take us across the Ganges River, away from and upstream from the ‘ghats’, to a beach that was fairly isolated. And it was here several of us did a ritual bathing in the river according to Hindu tradition. For myself, it was an anthropological interest as much as anything, I was along for the ride and curious. Now, this ‘remission of sins’ or ‘cleansing’ is to do with the goddess Ganga and a whole lot of mythic history I won’t go into here. I’ll say nothing to upset this goddess, as I was so loaded with sins, these innumerable acts insisted on leaving my person by route of my ear in the form of a fungus; so effective was this cleansing bath. This fact would detour my fate, at a future time.

That evening, back in the care of our boatman, we lit our Diwali candles in a little boat shaped leaf, and sent them floating on the river. Each of us was supposed to say something significant for ourselves as we, one by one, lit the candle and released these votive offerings to float away. Here was my chance at Jasper® and it broke him down, he was afterwards actually able to open up a little bit and share some stories.


When I’d lit my little fire ship and sent it on its’ short lived journey, I uttered a calm speech that was one part eloquence, one part philosophy and one part self-deprecating humor, all intermixed, as I noted the little boat’s fire sputtered on as my life had sputtered on, against all odds. Jasper® was transfixed, giving me a combined penetrating stare-look of amazement. I’d got to him. Now, I’ll be the  first to admit I have no idea what would be the mental construct of a high IQ having been raised a British aristocrat turned rebellious, and after, living a schizophrenic life bouncing between the drug imbibing western counter-culture and ascetic life as sadhu in India, but I wanted some of his stories. And Jasper® delivered. Looking back, some of what he became comfortable confiding in my presence, is nothing short of amazing. But as my style is deconstructing western culture, a dedicated hobby, I’ll restrict my retelling of Jasper®’s anecdotes to one incidence, incredibly socially incriminating, as well as politically salacious. More on that, later. But now it was Jasper®’s turn to impress myself and he delivered, to be found in the next chapter.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

Varanasi I

On my first full day in Varanasi proper, I dove into the crowd in that city, simply to know the experience. The humanity in motion, in this area of no vehicles, is an experience I won’t recommend to the typical westerner; for the simple reason they’d not manage the etiquette well. It requires an instinct. ‘Like ants’ dwarfing any Cecil B DeMille movie scene, transiting the crowd is like mastering an art. With what seemed two centimeters or one inch, maximum space between pedestrians, if that, in a vast sea of people, all in constant motion, there is no jostling, or even contact, AT ALL. You understand you cannot stop and interrupt the flow and nobody does. Like moving with diverse currents in a river, or rivers within rivers, there are eddies where people ingress, and exit. To intelligently traverse from starting point, to destination, you must know how to read the current and align yourself like a molecule of water within the flow, in the desired direction. Now, having said that, I will add I am not satisfied with the description. Even Saigon, as crowded as the streets of that city could be, and where I had enjoyed wandering on several extended occasions, paled by comparison, this was in my thoughts. The experience really does defy words, at least for me. As I observed all of this, in my first ever immersion in any such circulation of humanity, I somehow managed it. I was later to sort this incredible human density was on account of many tens of thousands of pilgrims in the city, to celebrate Dwali or ‘Festival of The Lights’ And there is no way I was ready for what came that evening.

I’d been out and about until it was past drawing dusk, and with the onset of dark, all hell broke loose. The tens of thousands pilgrims, every citizen in the city, and this had to include every beggar saving for the occasion, had bought firecrackers to celebrate. And these were not the tame explosives Americans played with on the Fourth of July, these were what we call ‘cherry bombs’ & ‘M-80s.’ These were powerful explosive devices and sometimes indiscriminately tossed. One went off about a meter in front of me, about chest height, as I was nearly back into the hotel. I didn’t flinch, by now I was in the psychological combat shell of my war zone days. The din was incredible and only growing. I went to my room and reflected on what it must have been like in Saigon for Tet offensive, 1968, a famously intense battle for that city, an event I missed by two years. This was probably a more intense noise, I thought. The intensity sustained, for hours.

The Asians had come up with an explosive substance to create fire crackers for purpose of frightening away bad spirits, the purpose driving that evening’s chaos. The Europeans, having co-opted the Asian invention, were most adept at utilizing the modified substance, renamed ‘gun powder’, to a metal barrel for purpose of hurling a destructive projectile and world history was changed in a few short generations; with firearms combined to the ‘age of discovery’ and resultant colonialism. I wondered if the irony had ever crossed the thoughts of those Indians who considered the British Raj the work of a demon:

Revolt of 1857

^ ‘Blowing from a Gun’ depicted by Vasily Vereshchagin in his painting ‘Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English’ on the events of 1857. Queen Victoria’s agent bought this painting, in an attempt to suppress it. ‘Blowing from the Gun’ was a means of execution where the prisoner is tied to the muzzle of a cannon, which is then fired, popping the victim’s head about 15 meters (50 feet) into the air, apparently a sort of juvenile entertainment for the executioners

I recall reflecting on these sort of thoughts as I sequestered myself in the hotel for the duration of that evening. The day had, into evening, recalled both; the best and the worst of my experience in Vietnam, an American attempt at social engineering, with hindsight wisdom, I have come to call ‘neo-colonialism.’

This was the only time in India where my nerves were actually somewhat raw, this despite negotiating an exit from some very real violence, on a quite large scale, before the trip was out. Of course my interpretation of the city’s festival is at odds with its intent; but it was Socket™ had informed me the cotton pashmina scarf I’d bought in Varanasi was ‘auspicious’ on account of it was of a checkered design preferred by Indira Ghandi. I’d actually thought it was Palestinian motif. For some, it would seem everything in India is seen in a sense of omen.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India


Prior to this trip to India, I’d had a dream. It’s not easy to describe this sort of dream, an experience that actually does comes across as traveling back in time. In this dream I saw a far away place, not in physical distance but from the very distant past. There was a haze in the atmosphere of what appeared to be tropical landscape, a panorama. There was a single word spoken, Dravidian, and the sensation was profound. After, I had to look the word up. ‘Dravidian’ indicated a people of south Asian origin, I discovered, most of them located in India, indigenous Indians from long ago, if you will. If you took the modern aspect away from the landscape of India in 1984, the two panorama were essentially the same, the dream and the reality. It so happens, my great-great grandmother was Romani of (genetic studies have since determined) Indian-Dravidian descent. I don’t have a photograph of her or her daughter, but I do have a photo of her quarter Gypsie granddaughter, my grandmother (together with my grandfather.) If western civilization doesn’t blow itself entirely to bits, prior to environmental collapse, maybe we’ll have enough time left to sort there is much more to genetic memory than had ever been assumed by science, to now. I was completely comfortable in India, from the beginning, as if it had always been my home. And my great-great grandmother’s genes were turning me black in the tropical sun. Back in Delhi, in native dress, the street vendors were not giving me a second glance.

We’d visited Dehradun, made famous in the West by Kipling, and experienced the very excellent hospitality of a Tibetan community there. One wonders what had gone wrong with Western culture, when compared to people elsewhere, and the many non-European peoples ability to be so much more open, compassionate and welcoming. After a couple of days, back in Delhi again, we departed for Varanasi.

We checked into a small hotel whose proprietor was of the Brahmin caste. The one sister, our patron saint & guardian angel, who’d utilized this establishment in the past, and had earned some privilege for bringing business, clucked about like a mother hen while examining the courtyard inside; finally rendering her verdict .. with stating “I’m disappointed, it used to be cleaner here.” The Brahmin made a point of looking directly at Jasper® & Socket™ when replying “You’re right.” I saw it the Brahmin’s way, the hotel premises looked quite ok.

I knew practically nothing about Varanasi and the week spent there is the stuff of upcoming stories, there was much to experience. But first, our side trip to nearby Sarnath was interesting to me on account of having read Herman Hesse’s ‘Sidhartha.’ That, and the Tibetan and I were becoming quite good friends and he was able to inform myself on much of the history and culture surrounding Buddhism, an interest that was to continue, even if I cannot state I am a good Buddhist or even a Buddhist at all. But certainly some tenents integrated to my ‘practice’ of life are similar or identical to those of Buddhism.

My personal acquaintance Karl Schlesier, the well known ‘action anthropologist’ & authority on Cheyenne culture, once related to myself a conversation he’d had with a friend who was very well studied in Buddhism. Together, they’d arrived at a conclusion – with the exception of differing views on the transmigration of the soul, and a few cultural strictures – the essential underlying philosophies of Cheyenne culture & Buddhism, were remarkably similar, in fact nearly identical. The Tibetan and myself had a very similar experience; between us, we’d come up with around three dozen identical, or near identical, philosophical/cultural practices in day to day life – and related taboos – shared between the Buddhist Tibetan culture he was raised in, and (Cheyenne relatives) the Blackfeet culture I had been immersed in.

What some of my readers might not know is, Buddhism was born in India. Today, India has the 10th largest Buddhist population in the world at seven million. Buddhism once rivaled Hinduism as India’s major philosophy or religion, with Hinduism reasserting itself over Buddhism in India, due to certain historical factors, about 1,500 years ago. The two religions share a ceremony, Dwali, which was interesting to me, having participated in the Hindu tradition on my visit to Varanasi (more on that later) with sending a lit candle to float on the Ganges and 30 years after, having seen monks from Thailand fill a pool at a temple in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to float Dwali candles in the Hinayana Buddhist tradition.

At Sanarth, we walked around the ancient stupas and saw the Bodhi tree. The tree is, according to tradition, an offspring of the very tree Buddha had sat under, at that location, when giving his first teaching.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India


Tales of a 1984 Journey to India

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 1 From Indian country to India

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 2 New Delhi, round one

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 3 On character

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 4 Into the Himalayan foothills

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 5 Sanarth & the Buddha

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 6 Varanasi part one

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 7 Varanasi part two

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 8 Varanasi part three

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 9 Katmandu

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 10 Trisuli River

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 11 Chitwan National Park

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 12 Katmandu reprise

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 13 Back to Hotel Imperial

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 14 The riots begin

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 15 To the Taj Palace Hotel

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 16 Out of Delhi!

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 17 Cairo-London-New York

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 18 Aftermath

My Madcap Adventure, Epilogue (Notes) corrections/disclaimers


Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

All stories copyright Ⓒ 2015 by Ronald Thomas West: For profit & mass paper media redistribution prohibited

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