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Published: August 5th 2010
There's alot going on in Puri.
My train from Gaya was supposed to arrive at 5AM. We pulled into Puri at about 2 in the afternoon. Immediately, I was set upon by a auto rickshaw-vallah, who reacted with surprise, amusement, and respect when I replied to his queries in Bengali.
He took me to one hotel on AK road. I said my price was 150rs, and they had no rooms in this range. The second one we went to, Sri Banajee Lodge, said 200 was the lowest, and then when I did the "walk-away" agreed to 150 a night. I paid in advance for 5 days.
When I gave my passport to check in, the proprieter started talking to me about the problems in his life. I distinctly remember thinking, "I have a good feeling about this place."
I was low on blood sugar and sleep deprived. For some reason I agreed to loan the man 5,000rs. Stupid, yes, but surely I could trust this fat businessman? He promised he would pay me back tomorrow, and made a receipt.
The thought then occurred to me- who does this guy owe money to that he needs to borrow a month's salary (for a richer than average man) from a Chinese school teacher? Where is the dharma in that?
I found my way to the beach through the fishing settlement to the south of the main city. There were many people defecating on the beach. Very few foreigners around. Whenever someone asked me a question in English, I would respond in Bengali.
Ami Seattle vallah. Amar naam apradhi. Apnar des kotai?
I walked around a bit a met a young Kashmiri jeweler friend. Then masala dosa and sleep.
I slept in late. After lunch I had a chat with some bicycle rickshaw vallahs. One was slightly afraid of me.
In Puri, there is an institution known as a Government Bhang Shop. In these small stores, people can but charras and opium. Legally. These shops occur in a few places in India which are holy to Shiva. Lots of the folks around Puri are a bit out of their minds on drugs. Most in a friendly way, but a few in the bad paranoid unpleasant way.
Too many folks injecting heroin on the side of the road. Well, I saw three in five days. Still too many.
Later on, the friendly cycle rickshaw-vallah took me to a small temple where there was an apparent miscommunication. He thought I wanted to purchase something which I absolutely did not want to purchase. He was seeking a commission. At any rate, the ride was free (minus some tea and snacks I bought) and scenic. He brought along his mama
(uncle) for the ride. This man was in his late 50s, very friendly, and with serious substance abuse issues. Within the space of twelve minutes I saw him consume tobacco, ganja, paan, and what I believe was opium. Nevertheless, he was friendly and we were able to have a half-way decent conversation. I was able to explain that I once was a street musician!
When stoned Indians do something silly or get confused, they say naam Shiva.
In the evening, the bokachod mota
who runs the hotel told me he would get the money to me "tomorrow morning". I was beginning to smell the solid waste of bulls.
No money. He says "in the evening". I say "when" he says "8". So I took his recepit and made 5 photo copies. I gave one to my Kashmiri friend, and another to Moona- a friendly local who has a small store on AK road.
Did not enjoy myself this day- too much anger (at myself, mostly) and tension. However, I did meet to young ladies from England who I had known previously in Kolkata. We had a great lunch across from the Jagarnath Temple. And I gave them a photocopy of the money I was due, just in case.
I heard from the "uncle" of my Kashmiri friend that the boss at Sri Banajee Lodge is infamous for ripping off foreigners. The young guy has a theory- too much money spent at the Government Bhang Shop.
I also practiced my I-am-not-pleased-and-powerful-in-ways-you-cannot-fathom stare. The boss man at Shri Banajee Lodge ("the worst hotel in India") broke eye contact. In India, it is not a good thing to owe money to the tallest man in town with the eight-longest beard.
He paid the money.
I met up with the English ladies and their new American friend. This guy was cool. His father was from Gujarat, and he has spent the last five years living (off and on) in Kolkata! His Bengali is great, and, furthermore, he is a musician! Perfect! We jammed and talked all day, minus some eating and a quick swim in the powerful waves. Don't worry Mom, I stayed where I could touch the bottom.
Clarinet + Tabla = awesome.
I moved out of Sri Banajee Lodge ("home of the gaandu
") and into the Pink House on the beach for my last full day in Puri. More expensive, but infinetely better. Ryan (the half- Gujarati Kolkata-vallah), the English girls, and our new friends Tuku and Dilip (locals) went to a beach 30 minutes outside of Puri. After a 45 minute walk through the forest, we came to a long, sandy beach. With no one in site, except for some fishing boats off on the horizon. All day we swam in the (much calmer) waters, built sandcastles, and generally had an awesome time. One of my favorite places in India. There are stretches in this land where you might not realize there are a billion plus folks about. The forest was way cool- lots wind-swept pine trees, colorful bugs, and fungi.
When we got back, I met a couple staying in the room next to me. The man was from NZ, and the woman (24 years old) was from... Seattle of course. Only in India. We have at least one mutual acquaintance.
I checked out at 8AM. Ryan let me keep my stuff in his room. Most of the rain the sky was dumping rain. We watched a Woody Allen film.
In the afternoon I decided to stretch my legs. On Ryan's advice I took my clarinet- and was glad that I did! I played for many small shops. I ran into a homeless man with a big beard, some bags, some flies, and an improvised musical instrument! He could only play two different notes on his PVC flute, but we still managed to jam.
Later, on the beach, I stopped by a tea hut. A middle-aged man started talking to me about how all religions are really the same. "All pastries are good, but they must have sugar." One should not judge the pastry choice of another. Also he spoke of how, after drinking a bhang lassi, his perception changes in ways to be more immediate and also more universal. A very cool conversation- probably because I did very little talking. He also discussed how Islam and Christianity are brothers because lord Ram had two wives- this I didn't follow completely, but the sentiment was nice. He and his friends don't like all the "powder" about, but they don't feel the need to interfere in another's life so long as the other person doesn't cause problems.
We also talked about this (he was happy I knew the term):
Then we had a good ol' fashioned jam circle. Another tabla musician came up and gave me a beat. Pretty soon there were three percussion contributors, myself on clarinet, and the man next to me (the talker) was singing something holy and devotional-sounding. Truly magical.
I will go back to Puri some day (God willing). The only bad thing was in my own mind. Karma will come back to all. The drugged-out dudes were completely friendly once I spoke Bengali. I met the cool people on my way out, so I must return to explore the music.
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