Steel Notes Magazine November 2016 - Page 101

www.steelnotesmagazine.com Steel Notes Magazine One hundred rupees was then about $12. I appeared desperate, “I am poor. I am traveling second-class; five rupees is almost more than I can afford.” He started to talk, but almost instantly four other officers appeared. They were demanding 100 each. The price had now gone up to 500 rupees. Looking back on it I don’t know if I was bold or stupid. I’m not sure if I’d become so entrenched in Indian ways, or if I was so financially insecure that I needed to preserve every penny I could, but I continued to bargain. “As I told your fellow officer, I am poor,” I pleaded. “I am not in first class, I have no watch, I cannot pay so much.” Their demand weakened some, and they seemed willing to take 300, but I continued to offer small incremental increases, which was how I’d learned to bargain in India. So many Americans were always meeting halfway. If the price was one hundred, they’d offer fifty, end up buying it for 75 and think they got a good deal. I’d discovered that you may have to go up, or down, many times, but the amounts could be as small as one rupee. I’d started at five for the first cop. Now I was up to eight for each. After more back and forth I made my final offer, 50 rupees for the five of them. Ten rupees each. I held out the money, “Take this 50 rupees and go quickly to find another criminal on the train so you can get more, or take me to jail,” I said. With quick glances at each other, they took the fifty rupees and left. As the dust settled and the train pulled out of the station, I smiled at my nearby fellow passengers, some of whom smiled back while others were either disdainful or distant. Looking out the window at India, and as the train picked up speed, I pulled some of the hash from the pouch I had stuffed down my pants. Holding a little piece in the tweezers from my Swiss Army knife, I warmed it gently with a match and crumbled it into some tobacco, which I rolled into a joint. Lighting up and looking through the old window frame, I gazed out at women wrapped in cotton watering crops from little clay pots, as had been done for centuries, and inhaled deeply. Next stop was Varanasi, India’s holiest city by the Ganga River. This is where Hindus hope to die and to achieve a speedy moksha, or release. It is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, which is not hard to believe once one lays eyes on the historical tableau living and present every day. Half-dressed and naked people smeared in ash, chanting holy verses, scooping vessels of water from the Holy River Ganga, or waving smoking bowls of incense. Dead bodies are being burned, their ashes being consumed by the sky, as cremation after cremation takes place on the Ghats, or steps beside the river. The narrow lanes filled with the flow of humans, animals such as Brahma bulls, horns wrapped in colored paper and ribbons, rickshaws, and dust, all seemed to shimmer before me, like I was peering through a vaporous window from a time machine, gazing back thousands of years. It’s a bizarre energy, primitive methods in modern times, and except for the watches on people’s wrists, and the neon signs, flashing religious symbols and scripture, t aking their place beside powders, pastes, incense, smoke Steel Notes Magazine www.steelnotesmagazine.com 101