Research on death in Varanasi

A German girl named Sophia wrote me on couchsurfing for meeting. She asked me about Hindi classes in Varanasi. At the same time I had a tenant named Dave from Fresno who was learning Hindi with Professor Virendra Singh so I introduced Sophia to Dave. She was doing anthropology research from University of Berlin and was interested in the people who come Varanasi to die. I took Sophia to one of the places where Sadhus stay to die and translated the interview.

Sophia was so happy to understand people because I was translating the interview. She asked me if would work for her as translator for next few days. I was happy to get a new job but was worried about work with Amanda, other student from Yale University, who was to visit Benares after few days for her research regarding Coke issue and I had already promised to work with her. I told Sophia about this problem and we decided that I would work with Sophia first and if Amanda comes, then I would go with her.

We went to 3 monasteries and talked people. We went to Machali Bandar Math, Mumukshu Bhavan and Kashi Mukti Bhavan. All these monasteries are for people who come Benares to die. There was a little difference between all those. Machali Bandar Math only permits Sadhus and Sanysis to stay there, Mumukshu Bhavan had non Sadhus also like families, and Kashi Mukti Bhavan is a place for sick people for short stay. The people who are seriously sick and seem like going to die soon come to Kashi Mukti Bhavan becasue Kashi Mukti Bhavan doesn’t allow long term stay.

We talked to a lot of Sadhus and non Sahdus living in Mumukshu bhavan. I was shocked to meet a woman who was in Mumukshu Bhavan since past 30 years and waiting for her death. She came Varanasi with her husband and her husband died after 2 years but she was still alive and waiting for her death. We asked her if she was not worried about her death. But she seemed so happy replying that she wanted to die in Varanasi. She said that she prays to God everyday to give her death. She said that there could be nothing better than if she dies in Varanasi.

We visited two Aghor monasteries also, Kina Ram and Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram. Both of monasteries belong to Aghor society. Sophia was very much curious about the ash that Aghor people use. We asked about it to a lot of people and everybody said that they use it to save themselves from diseases and other problems. They said that ash only works if you have belief in it. They carry the ash when they travel so that they could use it everyday even when they are far away from the monastery.

There is a place in Kina Ram monastery where they have fire going on since hundreds of years, they say that it never got peace. They bring the wood from cremation place, I didn’t understand why they bring the wood from cremation place but there was some religious importance of it. Cremation place is very important for Aghoris. They perform a lot of rituals on cremation place. On the night of Diwali, a lot of Aghoris go to cremation place and do some puja for the whole night.

The second monastery we visited has its name in The Guinness Book of World Records for treating most number of leprosy patients. They have a hospital that uses only Ayurvedic medicines and treat leprosy. They have a school also for street children, a library, a research center and a press where they print Aghora books. They are involved in lots of other social work. This monastery was founded by a Aghor guru called Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram in the year 1962.

They organize group weddings also because they don’t believe in the idea of wasting money like a lot of other people do in weddings. They had organized a group wedding and we were also invited there. I really wanted to see a wedding of Aghor followers because their philosophy is different than general Hindus. The major difference is that they don’t believe in casteism. I was surprised to see that the priest was a Kshtriya, not Bramhan. I asked them about it and they said that anyone who learns religion or Sanskrit could be a Bramhan. I loved it, I really like Aghor society.

We went to Mother Teresa home also to interview people. They were really nice. I always want go there. They help poor and sick people. I saw a lot of mentally retired, sick and injured people. Even though the institution is run by Catholics but they don’t bother people to practice Christianity. People living there are free to practice their own religion. They get veg meal six times a week and a non veg meal once in a week on Thursday. I liked the devotion of the Nuns there.

We went to talk to few Doams also who work at funeral place. Sophia asked them about their job and feeling of people who bring the body there. They told us that babies, pregnant women, leprosy patients, Sadhus and snake bitten people are not cremated, they are drowned in the river. Usually Doams drink and smoke a lot. They asked Sophia also to buy them a bottle of whiskey. We asked them why do they drink all the time and they replied that it is hard to cremate a body when you are normal therefore they drink every time they work.

They told us the idea behind why people come Varanasi to die. They said that when Shiva left Varanasi, he made Vishnu promise him that he will come and tell the name of Ram in everyone’s ear, in the last moments of life, who die in Varanasi. Since people hear the name of Ram when they dieing, they get liberated and this is why people want to die in Varanasi. He said that Shiva has left the city and now resides on Kailash but the city is still situated on his trident. It was interesting.

We went to meet Lali baba also who is an Aghori baba. He is the most fascinating character of Varanasi. Sophia wanted to spend sometime alone at Lali baba’s monastery because she was very much interested to see Lali baba doing his daily routine. She was so happy to meet Lali Baba. Sophia said that even though Lali Baba is very commerical but it is still worth meeting him. I also like Lali Baba a lot.

Finally Amanda came and I had to go back work with her.

Stupid Coca-Cola manager

Once were passing by Coke’s plant in Mehndiganj and saw one house just next to it. My researcher friend was very much interested in interviewing someone near the plant so she told me to ask people if they would permit us to interview them. We were right in front of Coke plant and as I got off the taxi I saw few security guards at the plant gate. They saw me and went inside the plant but I never thought about why then went inside the plant after watching me.

I found one old person in that house who wanted to be interviewed because he was really in deep trouble. I called my friend to come and at the same time I saw the same security guards watching me from roof of the plant. They were standing there and watching me and as they saw a white girl coming towards me then immediately they went downstairs. I thought they just wanted to see what I was doing there.

After five minutes a car came from opposite direction of the plant and one very well dressed guy came to us with 4-5 security guards. He said that he was regional manager of Amar Ujala, leading news paper of India, and doing some research about Coke issue for his next article. He showed me his id card also which was issued by Amar Ujala and after watching this I became sure that he was from Amar Ujala.

He asked my friend about her research and offered to work together. My friend was so happy to meet a Indian researcher who was interested in same subject as her. They both shared contact details of each other. At the same time our interviewee was abusing Coke a lot. He said that he used to be a land lord before Coke came to his area but after Coke he could not grow enough crops even for his family.

Amar Ujala guy said that Coke provides a lot of job to locals but interviewee was not agree with it. He said that his son was a graduate but he had no job so Amar Ujala guy gave him a written paper and said to contact Coke manager with that paper to get job for his son. He said that Coke’s manager was his very good friend. Our interviewee was so happy hoping that his son will have a job tomorrow.

After a while he left and we also completed interview and left. Then we contacted Mr. Nandlal Master to inform him about it and he said that Amar Ujala guy was not Amar Ujala employee but he was the Coke’s area manager. It was shocking for me, I was little scared because they were asking about me to my driver and I had already watched some videos of protest against Coke where bribed police was beating people. I didn’t understand why he told us a lie.

We also did our research and found that he was really Coke’s area manager. His name was Mr. Amit Sinha. He used to be regional manager of Amar Ujala but left the job few months ago and now he was Coke’s employee. The id card that he showed was issued by Amar Ujala when he was working for them but he never returned it.

He called my friend again evening time and asked to meet her tomorrow and they fixed the appointment. He again called night time and this time he was so rude talking to her. He was telling my friend to come and stay with him at his place that night but my friend said that she would feel better if she meets him in any restaurant. Then he said that they will have fun whole night if she stays with him and again my friend said no. But he was kept asking her to come, have drink and fun.

My friend said that she was married and did not want to stay with him and then he said that her husband was not watching her so why not stay with him and have some fun. After hearing this my friend started shouting at him and he hanged up the call. She was so disturbed, I had never ever hoped for this kind of behaviour from a Coke manager.

After this everybody started pressing me and my friend to lodge a complaint against him. But she was not comfortable doing it because she was worried about her name to be public. Mr. Nandlal Master contacted Amar Ujala also and they were also wanted to lodge a case against him for using their name but they wanted a written complaint from my friend which she didn’t want to do.

After few days we visited Coke’s plant after special permission from Coke US and I found his name in the employees list. Everybody was trying to butter up my friend, they took her to all their near by rain water harvesting sites, they had sent over 5 people with her. We visited their three rain water harvesting sites and none of them were near the plant, the nearest one was about 8 KMs away.

After few days Coke’s manager started contacted Mr. Nandlal Master offering some money to get everything settled but obviously Nandlal Master didn’t except it. It was more than 15 days of drama, everybody was contacting me to tell my friend to lodge complaint against Mr. Sinha but she was not agree. Finally she left India hoping that Coke’s manager will be fired someday because all the Coke officers knew about it. But he is still Coke’s area manager.

Because of the privacy, I have not used her name in any of the posts related to her work.

Mehdiganj Conference 30/03/08

It was last day of conference and protest day in Mehndiganj and we wanted to cover it as much as we could. As we reached near the conference place, I saw more than 10 cops sitting there. I had seen the video of protest in the year 2006 when Police bate protesters hard. I was a bit sacred to see them but I knew they couldn’t do it again because everything was covered on camera and Police had to answer the court for beating people.

We wanted to interview few people who were from out of Varanasi. Amanda was interested inactivists from Kaladera, Rajasthan. There is a Coke plant in Kaladeraalso andhave created same problem as Mehndiganj. We interviewed a activist named Mr. Kudi ji who runs movement against Coke in Kaladera. He was very niceand honest person. He told usabout the problem in Kaladera. He told us that they had verygood qualitywater before Coke but now it is very bad.Ithas sour taste and bad smell. TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute) have alsosuggested Coke to leave Kaladera.

He had two other activists with him who were wearing Rajasthani turban.I had heard a lot about length of Rajasthaniturban. I wanted to see someone wearing it.Ihad heard that it could be made of up to 15 meters long cloth. I toldthem to tie their turban. I was shocked to see the length, it was 11 meters long. Amanda and me couldn’t believe it.

After interviewing him, we interviewed a guy from a laboratory based inChandauli district that had done some researchat Coke’s rain water harvesting sites. He told us that he went to several rain water harvestingsites of Coke but no one was working properly. He said that most of the water filter compounds were stuffed withbricks. Coke says that they are trying to balance the ground water by rain water harvesting but hesaid that if there is no rain how Coke could do it. I agree with him. We have less rain sincepast5 years. His ideas were different. He thinks that we should try to bring rain, which is possible by only planting huge number of trees.

Mehdiganj Conference 29/03/08

On the 29th we moved to Mehndiganj around 12’o clock. I was so excited for Medha Patekar. When I reached there, I found Regional Pollution Control officer giving speech. I was shocked to see him. I just couldn’t believe it. He is anti Lok Samiti guy. I had interviewed him 2-3 times with other researchers and he was always so rude with us. I remember once he got mad on us while interviewing him and told me to don’t come again to his office. But his speech seemed so nice, he was talking in favor of Lok Samiti. He said ” I am here because I care about environment, and I am so happy to see that other people also think about it. Usually I am so busy but when Nandlal invited me for this conference I couldn’t stop myself by coming here. ” I knew that everything was a lie.

I asked Nandlal about how he was there. Nandlal said that he went to his office to invite him but he was not agree to come. Then Nandlal told him that if he would not come, he should be ready to face the result. It was funny. During this time Medha Patekar came in conference. She was sitting next to me. She was so simple dressed. Regional pollution control officer wanted to meet Medha Patekar. He contacted Nandlal and Nandlal got him meet to Medha Patekar.

Regional pollution control officer came and touched her feet. Then Medha Patekar asked him about the water and pollution condition in Mehndiganj and he said “water level is decreasing in Mehndiganj.” Then Medha Patekar asked why it is decreasing in Mehndiganj? Then Pollution control officer replied because of less rain. Then Medha Patekar asked if Coca-Cola is doing any damage? He said “NO”. It was funny to hear him saying “NO”. Everybody knows that less rain is the biggest problem in Mehndiganj but we cant say that Coke is not responsible. We don’t have any control over rain but we can control Coke.

While Medha Patekar was talking her, other social activists also jumped at him. Everybody was asking him about pollution level and he was trying to satisfy them but hecouldn’t do it. He was like a goat with 10-15 other lions. He was sweating a lot. He had brought some official documents to show to Nandlal and Medha Patekar. He showed a letter written by Coca-Cola to state pollution control board, Lucknow requesting them to renew their license of waste disposals. That letter was written in July last year.

That officer said that government had not renewed the license yet. As social workers heard it, they all jumped on him. Coke was not supposed to operate the plant even for one day without that license but the plant had operated several times after July. It was a new issue for social activists. They wanted a copy of that document but officer didn’t want to give it to them. Somehow while watching the document Nandlal went to market and got it xeroxed. I also got copies of those documents.

The officer invited Nandlal and other social workers to his office in Varanasi to discuss about the situation and he promissed that help them as much as he can. I know he would not help Nandlal or his organization.
After he left, we went for lunch. After the lunch it was Medha Patekar’s turn to hold the mike. She was something, she was a true lady, very strong. She could make others do what she wants them to do. She had very practical ideas. I liked her speech a lot.

She talked about situation in other states also. She was notonly against bad companies, but she was talking against government policies also. She said about a story from Chattisgarh state where state government had sold a part of river to some private bottling company and that company covered that part of the river with ropes and hanged a board saying that “this river is property of the company andno individual is allowed to use the water of this river without company’s permission.”

It created a huge problem for the people who live along the bank of the river. Sheis still fighting against that issue . After her amazing speech, 29th was over. It was amazing day in Mehndiganj. I heard Medha Patekar and other social workers. I saw Regional pollution control officer sweating. Amanda talked to Sandeep Pandey, Medha Patekar and Amit Srivastava also. It was incredible day in Mehndiganj.

Mehdiganj Conference 28/03/08

I hired my auto rickshaw driver to take us to Mehndiganj. We went to Mehndiganj on 28th of March. We reached there and saw that there was a big conference going on. There were more than 500 people attending the conference. Amanda was shocked to see that number of people. When we reached, there was a musical group presenting folk songs regarding Coke issue. I had already seen them a lot of times and always liked their songs. Ienjoyed them. It was too noisy there but I liked everything. Lok Samiti was to inaugurate a pond in Mehndiganj. There were no famous people when I reached there, everybody was at inauguration function of pond which was about 2 Kms away from conference place. We went there and found that Nandlal Master, Sandeep Pandey and other social workers were distributing sweets to villagers. The pond had already been inaugurated. I missed it but took lots of pictures.
I met Anurag who was Sandeep Pandey’scousin and working with ASHA. He was so interested in people. He wanted to talk everyone. I met Mr. Rajiv who was from New Jersey. He was also very nice man. He was also a member of ASHA. Amanda wanted to interview few people but it was too noisy there so we decided to record the speeches and not interview anyone that day.

Lok Samiti had arranged lunch for everyone. We had lunch with 1000 other people. Everybody was trying to feed Amanda and Dave hard. I don’t know if Amanda likes Indian food or not but Dave was in love with India. He finished all his food but Amanda left the food as she always does. After the lunch we came back to conference place again.

It was Dave’s turn now. He gave a big speech. Anurag was translating his speech. I know he didn’t do a good job but it was OK. Dave talked about a river in the U.S. that got fired because of heavy pollution. It immediately made me remember about Ganga’s future. I don’tknow what is going to happen with Ganga. Well, I liked Dave’s speech. He told about importance of wetlands and government’s role in preventing the environment. He thinks that government should come forward. I agree with him. He was so nice.

After Dave’s speech a lot of other social workers gave speeches and everybody was so nice. One of them was from south India. When he came to hold mike, his first wording was ” I couldn’t speak Hindi because I am from south India. I would give my speech in English and need a translator.” I thought he really didn’t know Hindi. He started giving his speech in English and one translator started translating his speech but he was not happy with translator’s job. Then he started speaking Hindi and if I know Hindi then I must say that he spoke perfect Hindi. There was no problem with his Hindi. I don’t know why he wanted to give his speech in English where 99% of the people were villagers who don’t understand a single word of English. I think he was targeting foreigners, who were in number of 7-8, as his listeners.

As I wrote about literacy in villagers of Mehndiganj, it made me remind about 7 months ago when I was in Mehndiganj working with a student from University of London. We were there to interview Nandlal and fortunately there was some cultural program organized by Lok Samiti that day in village. There were more than 500 people in that program, we were sitting with other villagers. Suddenly Nandlal went on stage and invited my friend to light up the candle and start the program.Nandlalsaid that we have a very special guest from London.

As my friend moved towards the stage, all the people started talking about him. I heard two people talking each other about where London was situated. One of them asked other “Is it far away from Lucknow? Another one replied “What are you talking about. London is near Delhi.” Bothhad already been to Delhi so one of them told other that “I have heard that London is at other side side of a ocean but we didn’t see any ocean while we were going to Delhi” His friend replied that “All the oceans are after Delhi.”

I just mean to say that most of the people in Mehndiganj are uneducated and don’t know anything about what is going on besides of Mehndiganj and that social worker was trying to speak in English. If he was targeting western listeners then it was his very big mistake. He was there to help Mehndiganj’s people not to interact foreigners. Then there was a folk song show again. After it 28th conference was over and we came back to home.

American Biologist at BHU Conference

I had a tenant in my home from USA. His name was Dave. He was a Biologist. He lives in Fresno, California. There was a conference going on in BHU about world environment and my tenant was also invited there to give a speech. It was his speech at 3’o clock at BHU on 28/03/2008. I went there with my another friend from USA named Amanda. She was doing research on history of Coke in India. I was working with her as translator. We all went together to BHU. Dave wanted to introduce his company in India. He loves India a lot. He always wants to come back, live here and learn Hindi. He wanted to tell people about wetlands.

Dave was supposed to give a speech about wetlands at 3’o clock. We reached there at 2.45. We had a special seat of guests. It was my first time when I was sitting at guests seat (thanx Dave). I, Amanda and Dave were waiting for Dave’s turn but unfortunately his turn didn’t never came. We were there till 7.30 but nobody called Dave to come on stage and give an speech. I was not hoping for such a disgusting thing by one of the most famous universities of world. We were all so sad and contacted BHU officials. They said sorry to us and called again next day at 10’o clock.

Next day, we were again on time and waited till 2.30 but nobody called Dave’s name. It was Dave’s speech in Mehndiganj Water Conference at 3’o clock. So, finally we decided to kick BHU out of our mind and went to Mehndiganj. We reached there 30 minutes late but Dave got a chance to speak there.
Dave still wanted to give speech in BHU. He contacted BHU officials again but they had no answer. Well, it was only 3 days conference. So, Dave never got opportunity to speak there.