The Adventures of Bindi Girl: (2012)

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Authors: Erin Reese
through meditation was that “daily life is enough.” I did not need to challenge myself to do yoga, or anything that required more effort than buying fruits and veggies, staying reasonably healthy, eating and sleeping and bathing. It wasn’t just a physical test. I went through the emotional wringer as well—I could barely keep it together. Mentally? It doesn’t apply. The mental mind is blown to bits in Varanasi. There is no space; no time for logical or rational thought. Varanasi simply needs to be “lived through.”
    After five days, I began deteriorating. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t find my “space.” A strange, crooked little Indian man would show up outside my guest house door several times a day: “Hello friend,” he’d croak through red, betelnut-stained teeth, with a crazed look in his beady little eyes. “Massage today?” “NO! Nahi! NO!” I’d fire back. Then I’d be flashed by “devout” Hindu bathing men on the Ganga, men who didn’t know what to do with their sexuality—repressed beyond control as they wait years for their arranged marriages. I felt sick and turned away, hardly in the mood to cater to their delusions that a white girl was going to appreciate the sight of their family jewels.
    Finally, Holi kicked off with a bang for three days of sheer upheaval: The most boisterous festival in all of Northern India is feted with bonfires at midnight, followed by days of drinking whiskey and shooting colored paint water on each other. All guidebooks advise tourists—especially women, who tend to get groped—to stay indoors.
    As the festival energy was building and boiling, young revelers would threaten to color bomb us as we tried to make our way through the streets. Shrieks of laughter emanating from groups of boys, yelling in Hindi (“You play Holi?”) were startling, as they taunted us with water balloons and water pistols filled with colored paint at every turn. The children’s antics were tolerable and even bordered on sweet as their faces lit up with innocence, play and laughter. The spray-painted kids in all their colors and glory reminded me of Halloween-time festivities in America. It’s the whiskey-swilling, bhang -ed up men I was concerned about, bhang being a super potent form of ganja that is consumed heavily during Holi.
    Finally, I had to admit: the whole stewpot was too much for me. On the morning of the day the moon was full—the peak of the festival—I awoke covered in sweat. The sun was blazing, and I was sweltering well before 7 a.m. I got up, overdressed in enough clothes to cover my arms and legs thoroughly—because this is north India we’re talking about here, not the beach, and a woman cannot show her skin without more hassle and stares. With a dazed look on my face, I headed next door to Niki’s room, knocked, and she opened it. Niki’s own glazed-over eyes looked out at me from a face that had seen cheerier days—and I knew she was in the same state as I. If we had turkey oven thermometers stuck in our brains, they would have been popping out with a bang: “DONE!”
    We headed over to the travel agency, dodging paint splatterers and stepping in puddles of piss and god-only-knows-what substance, and proceeded to book a train outta there for the very next day—festival or no festival. We were out.
    I had planned on staying three weeks. I had lasted seven days. I was not immune to the transformative power of Varanasi. The full moon was exactly 4:05 p.m. (India time)—the exact hour I was blessed with the onslaught of my very own special case of Varanasi “Delhi belly,” now renamed by me as “Shiva’s revenge.” “Well, that’s gonna make for an interesting overnight train journey,” I said to myself.
    My theory about getting ill and enduring diarrhea in India is that heavy-duty traveling holds “too much information” to process, and the body has got to let go somehow; it’s an emotional-spiritual detoxification turning physical. I

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