Friday, July 6, 2012

Life and Death in India: Same As It Ever Was

This post focuses on our experiences of daily life (and death) in India--especially in Varanasi, which is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world.

Indians love movies, and for the past thirty years, the Indian film industry (sometimes called, "Bollywood") has produced more films each year than Hollywood.  Above is a photo of Nick and I recreating an arm-wrestling scene Tom Cruise shot in India for one of the Mission Impossible movies.  Also above is a photo of me fake-running outside a bookstore in Panjim which made an appearance in the second Bourne movie.  The film, "Rowdy Rathore," despite featuring the English-language tagline "Don't Angry Me!" is actually a Hindi-language movie.  The four of us saw an English-language movie in Goa called, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."  That movie concerns a group of British retirees who decide to move to a retirement home in Jaipur, India.  It is a good movie to watch if you want to have a taste of India from a westerner's perspective.

We visited one of the most famous cinemas in India, the Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur.  This single-theater cinema seats 1,174 people for each of its five daily showings, almost all of which are sold-out.  Above is a photo of the ticket line at the Raj Mandir at 11:00 a.m. on a typical Tuesday.  Imagine what this line must look like on a weekend!

It was very hot while we were in India: during our final two weeks, the temperatures hovered around 117 degrees each day.  Even the Indians were complaining about the heat, and the locals and tourists alike took to wearing hats and using umbrellas to shade themselves from the oppressive heat.

Another way the locals and tourists found to beat the heat was to swim.

Despite the heat, daily life continued unabated.  Above are a handful of photos of various scenes of daily life we witnessed in India.

Walking around India can be a dirty proposition.  Above are photos of my dirty feet after an afternoon walk in Goa, some cows munching on a large pile of trash beside the road, and a pair of my pants creating some filthy water after a few days of being worn in India.

Despite the dirt, Indians cook some of the worl'd most delicious food, and none of it made me sick even once.

Speaking of food, because cows are sacred to many Indians, McDonald's serves no beef in India.  McDonald's does serve two types of veggie burger.

In the city of Varanasi, considered by many Hindus to be the holiest city in the world, daily life involves a series of daily ceremonies beside the Ganges River.  Above are some photos and videos showing one such ceremony.

Many Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges River remits sins and that dying in Varanasi and having a specific ritual performed ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations.  Above are some photos and videos showing scenes from a morning walk along the Ganges.  Because to many Hindus, Varanasi is such an auspicious place to die, there are many sick and elderly people who come to the city to die.  Depending upon the person, their bodies might be cremated on the Ganges or their bodies might be simply placed into the Ganges with a weight attached to ensure the body sinks.  Below are some photos which deal with the death rituals.  If you prefer not to see photos of human bones, then please quit reading this post now.

Above is a video which shows a funeral "ghat" (which is the name of a section of the Ganges riverbank) prior to a cremation ritual.  Photography of the cremation rituals are strictly forbidden, so I put away my camera for the ritual itself.  Also, the above video shows how closely the swimming, bathing and clothes-washing ghats are to the funeral ghats.

 Sometimes, the bodies placed into the Ganges resurface and are seen floating in the river or washed up on the shore.  I've attached two indicative photos, and refrained from posting the more graphic and disturbing (at least to me) images we saw.

As shocking to me as it was to see human corpses in various states of decomposition scattered among rubbish along the riverbank, it seems to be an ordinary part of daily life for the locals.  Our boat driver seemed baffled that we thought is was noteworthy that corpses were floating in the water beside the places where thousands of people bath, wash clothes and brush their teeth every day.  The three above photos were each taken no more than 15 yards from at least one visible body.  (Notice the skull behind the child in the first photo.)  At some point, in witnessing the locals living their lives in plain view of corpses, it struck me that accepting death as a normal part of daily life may be a healthy attitude, even if I couldn't quite reach that enlightened state during my relatively short visit to India.

Even if we didn't reach enlightenment in India, we certainly had a wonderful visit where we met a wide range of people and briefly experienced an incredible culture which is in some ways vastly different and in other ways not-so-different than our own.

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