Amarnath Yatra 2013

Indian Army welcomes the Yatris

Indian Army welcomes the Yatris

I first tried to visit Amarnath in 2010 but could not as the Police stopped us by entering in the Kashmir valley area by saying that the weather was not good and it was not possible to drive on high mountains. Later we learnt that weather was not the issue but the problem was locals of Anantnag and Kashmir valley area attacking the pilgrims. We were literally shocked and sad to hear that we were not allowed to travel in our country and people of our own country hate us. After that incident I had promised myself that I won’t go to Kashmir ever until the India-Pakistan and Kashmir issue is solved. But the only next year I made a road trip to Leh via Kashmir valley, talked with people and learnt a lot.

Viccky, Chintu, Driver and I (Left to right)

Viccky, Chintu, Driver and I (Left to right)

That experienced changed my view and motivated me to plan another trip so that I could experience and learn more about the people living in that area, their issues and problems. My friends were planning a trip to Amarnath in June this year and I immediately subscribed to it with so much excitement and hope to learn and experience more Kashmir. The Supreme Court of India was very strict this year with number of visitors and their health condition. The Supreme court made it mandatory for every pilgrim to go through necessary health checkup and proper registration because more than 250 people had died during the Yatra in 2012. Because of ecological concerns of the Amarnath glacier, the court also ordered to limit the number of visitors at 7500 per day.

Baltal Basecamp

Baltal Basecamp

We applied for our registration and health checkup in Varanasi. We had to go through the health checkup at first at our government district hospital. The procedure was insane as it involved a lot of bureaucracy and that same crazy behavior of government officers. The health checkup included three tests : A general blood test, orthopedic test and a very mysterious naked body checkup:) I call it mysterious because the doctor did not tell me why he wanted to see me naked. hahaha. Anyways, the blood test was fine but the orthopedist was so busy on phone that he did not perform proper checkup instead just stamped the paper saying that everything was all right.

Rates for tents

Rates for tents

That naked body test was so funny. There were all aged people in the line everyone was either laughing or kind of upset coming out of the doctor’s room. I also had the same experience when I came out of the room. The doctor asked me to stand about ten meters away from him, take of my pants and then cough. When I asked him what was this test for, he just looked at me with anger and asked me to do my business. Most probably he wanted to check hernia, I am not sure. Anyways, after getting the health certificate we had to go to Punjab National Bank because this bank was authorized by Amarnath Shrine Board to make the registration. There was a fee of Rs. 30 to get the registration but it was all right.

We wanted to go on Yatra through Pahalgam checkpoint but it was already full for sever

Helipad at Baltal

Helipad at Baltal

al days so we got permission from Baltal checkpoint. Most of the people prefer to start the yatra from Pahalgam as the route to Amarnath cave is very steep from Baltal side. Anyways, we got our so called health certificate and registration paper without going through proper health checkup. We started our trip from Varanasi by taking a train to Jammu. It was a 28 hours train ride hence we decided to stay over night in Jammu and take a rest. We started our journey again the next morning and our plan was to reach Baltal base camp by the same evening.

Beautiful nature

Beautiful nature

It was kind of surprising to see the number of Police and Army here and there but its quite normal in Jammu and Kashmir. Anyways, another shocking thing was police checking on the way to Baltal, We were stopped several times on the way, even in Srinagar where they wanted to see our registration certificate, check our bags etc. It was still 3 hours for sun to set and we were hardly 2 hours away from base camp and suddenly our vehicle was stopped and asked to park in an Army base camp. Once we entered in the base camp, we saw minimum of 200 other vehicles of such people like us who wanted to go on Amarnath yatra. We asked others about why they were stopping the yatris but nobody knew the answer.



Even Army people did not want to tell anything. They had arranged free water, tea and snacks but we needed an answer. Finally we asked an Army guy who looked from South India and he said that people from Anantnag area were attacking the vehicles of pilgrims therefore for security reasons the vehicles were stopped. He also mentioned that the traffic will be allowed again once the security is arranged on the street. It was so sad to hear such thing but what to do. We were waiting at that Army camp for two hours and finally heard that now we could start again. The fleet was guarded by Indian Army and they were with us until we crossed the sensitive area.

Pilgrims on the way to the Holy cave

Pilgrims on the way to the Holy cave

But it took a lot of time and we were stopped again around 70 KMs from the base camp and we had to spend a night at another Indian Army camp. There was a huge langar setup by someone from Lucknow. I had heard a lot about langars enroute to the cave but it was the first time when I saw one and I was really impressed. They had almost all of the food I can buy in my city, they were offering free blankets, hot water and several other services and everything was free of cost. Anyways, I did not eat there as the line was also huge. We hired a tent for Rs. 700 and spent the night there. The tent was small but there was nothing better than it. There were only 4-5 restrooms for maybe 5000 people so we did not take a risk and started our journey early in the morning time the next day.

I near to the Holy cave

I near to the Holy cave

We arrived at Baltal around 8 am and were planning to start trekking immediately but could not as our registration was valid for 3rd of July and we were in Baltal on the 1st. I was the only person in my whole ground who had not been to Amarnath  before and everyone was telling me that the date doesn’t matter, what matters is the registration certificate. Hence we were quite sure that we would get to go on the 1st even our registration was valid for the 3rd. But because of strict orders of the Supreme court all of the rules were properly followed, rarely happens in my world:) We tried our best by talking with Police but it seemed impossible for us to start trekking that day. So we started looking for a Langar to stay and luckily found one run by someone from my own city.

Super crowded near the cave

Super crowded near the cave

When they heard that we were from Varanasi they immediately offered us free sleeping arrangement with free food, hot water, clean and private washrooms… what else do you need, it was just awesome. We spent that day just wandering around, looking at different langars, talking with people, testing different food etc. Since our registration was valid for the 3rd and it was the 1st, we did not know what we were going to do the next day. Everything was so restricted that it was not even allowed to go further away from the base camp. We met with an Army guy the same evening who suggested us to reach at the entry gate at 4 am the next day. He said that if we can reach that early then there is a possibility that we will allowed for yatra even a day early.

The black is not clay, its dirty snow

The black is not clay, its dirty snow

We had two seriously fat guys in our group and they were having really hard time in walking. Walking on high altitude mountains was a serious problem for them. Everyone suggested them to take helicopter service which would reduce the journey by 6 KMs. I had also never sat on a helicopter so I also decided to go with them. The next morning all of my friends, excluding my two fat friends and me, left the camp 3.30 am and luckily they were allowed to start the yatra. We arrived at the helicopter station around 7 am bought our tickets but the process so crazy that it took us 7 hours to get our boarding pass. I am not joking, it literally took us 7 hours. The guys working at the ticket counter did not have a computer, they were managing all the data on register.

Local phone booth run by solar panel

Local phone booth run by solar panel

I could easily see that they were not trained at all and did not know what they were doing. The helicopters were standing and waiting for passengers and they could not sort out who to send in which helicopter. It was seriously frustrating and hilarious. Finally we boarded on the helicopter at 1.30 PM. It was a very short journey of 7-8 minutes but good enough to get a sense about this flying machine, I liked it. The helicopter left us at Panchtarni which was 6 Kms passing the cave on the other side (en route to Pahalgam). The walk to the cave was seriously steep and fat friends could not walk hence they got on a pony. There were more ponies than human which was a serious pane. The route was very steep and narrow and then thousands of ponies running continuously was just too much.

Indian army offering warm water to the pilgrims

Indian army offering warm water to the pilgrims

The dust and all the shit of ponies was kind of killing the experience but the nature was absolutely fantastic. Beautiful clean rivers, water falls, mountains, snow, green valleys, lakes…it was amazing experience to hike. I had to walk on snow at several place en route to the cave. Finally I reached at the cave but the line was huge. I had to spend around 3 hours in line and then I finally got inside the cave. Everyone in the line was talking about the holy pigeons. But different people had different stories. Some of them were saying that the real holy pigeon is white, another one was saying that the real one is always with its pair… Anyways, I got to see several, minimum of 10.

Security everywhere

Security everywhere

I was seriously excited about seeing the Shivalingam but at first I could not really understand where the lingam was because there was snow everywhere in the cave. Other people in the line showed me a 4 feet tall piece of snow and referred it as the lingam. They said that other pieces of snow represent Ganesha and Parvati. I paid my respect and came out of the cave. It rained continuously when I was line and since I was not wearing my shoes and had not eaten  anything since that morning, I felt affected by hypothermia. I was dizzy and felt seriously confused. I had never experience such physical condition before but I knew what it was.

Inside a langar

Inside a langar

I immediately tried to find a langar where they were offering hot Kheer. It was just like heaven to have found some food. I felt a lot better after having it. I also found my friends who had left early morning on foot. We decided to leave cave area and try to walk back as much as possible. We had decided to reach Seshnag by the night it did not work. The Indian army had closed the exit point at Panchtarni by 7 PM and it was not possible to go further. We rented a tent and spent night there. The next day we started walking back early in the morning time and reached Seshnag by 12. I know that we could have made it much more faster but I always to see the lake at Seshnag and spend some time there so we walked slowly, enjoyed the nature, talked with people…

Snow everywhere

Snow everywhere

We were only three friends who wanted to stay over night in Seshnag and rest proceeded  to Pahalgam the same day and arrived there by the evening. One of my friends brother in law, Mr. Amarpal Sharma who is a member of State Assembly in UP from Sahibabad, runs his own langar at Seshnag. We stayed at his langar overnight and it was a very big relief. They provided us private tent, comfortable bed and private clean washroom. We relaxed overnight there and the next day proceeded for Pahalgam. I had always wanted to visit Seshnag lake but I noticed that nobody was going down to the lake. Everyone just walked the lake on mountain and literally there was no one other than a few pony owners. We went down to the lake and it was amazing. The lake was crystal clear with blue water.

Beautiful nature

Beautiful nature

But my friend said that he had seen change in the color of the lake because all of the waste created by hundreds of tents at Seshnag is drained into the river. This was very sad to hear. I asked one of the pony owners if they drink water out of the pond and he said they used to but not anymore because of pollution in it. He also seemed very concerned about the pond dying. I don’t know when our governments will become serious about the dying nature, seems like they have learnt nothing by the Ganges. Anyways, we left the lake and started walking towards Pahalgam. We arrived there after three hours and then took a taxi back to Jammu. We were back in Jammu the same night around 3 AM. The yatra finished but it raised several questions to me :

1) Amarnath shrine board and Jammu Kashmir government’s attitude towards the yatra and pilgram.

2) Jammu and Kashmir state police behavior

3) Locals behavior and their feeling about yatris visiting their land

4) Threat to the environment in the name of religion and pilgrimage

5) Social harmony

Pilgrims and Ponnys

Pilgrims and Ponnys

Going back to point number one- Amarnath shrine board and Jammu Kashmir government’s attitude towards the yatra and pilgram. This was a very strange thing I noticed that the Amarnath shrine board and Jammu Kashmir government did not seem helpful at all. All the people run langars and pilgrims were complaining about the Shrine Board and Jammu and kashmir government. The people who run langars were saying that it was very easy for them to run their langar until last year when Indian Army was given responsibility to organize the yatra. But this year its state police and Shrine board organizing the yatra and they are trying to make it as complicated as possible for langars to survive.

Indian flag, just love it

Indian flag, just love it

They said that everyday and several times some officers from either the Shrine board or the government come, try to inspect their services and always say that something is not correct. It was really funny to hear that they had made it prohibited for langars to serve anything cooked in Desi Ghee and sweets like Gulab jamun. Their argument was that Desi ghee is very heavy and people can get heart attack by eating anything which is made of desi ghee. They were just trying somehow to disturb the langar runners. By law they had prohibited carrying any plastic and were literally each and every person’s pocket and bags to see if anyone was carrying anything that had plastic. I was really happy to see such action to protect environment but after a while I realized that this rule was only for pilgrims and not for the locals at all. Locals were openly selling plastic packaged food and other items and nobody was there to stop them.

Sheshnag Base camp, Himalayas & Sheshnag lake

Sheshnag Base camp, Himalayas & Sheshnag lake

Point number 2- Jammu Kashmir Police was so rude and cruel to the pilgrims that I never felt safe around them. They stopped us at several places on the way to the base camp to check our identity, luggage and our pockets in such a way that we were terrorists. The local drivers also informed us to be more careful when being checked by such officers because sometimes they already have some illegal items with themselves which they put in the luggage of passengers while checking their bags. Just looking at them was really horrifying experience. Once our vehicle was stopped on the way to the base camp and we were asked to just wait at a parking place where there were already more than a couple of hundreds of vehicle were waiting.

Indian Army medical camp for pilgrims

Indian Army medical camp for pilgrims

We had no idea why we all these vehicles were stopped so we tried to contact some police officers there but again they were so rude that it seemed like they wanted to kill us. Finally I saw an Army personal and contacted but his behavior was completely different, he was so polite and answered all of our questions and finally we learnt that we were stopped because the locals were attacking the vehicles of the pilgrims hence extra security was needed. Finally all of the vehicles were released in security of Indian army that helped us crossing the area where tension was. I also spoke with several Indian army guys regarding their view on Jammu and Kashmir police behavior and even Army guys said that if Indian army was not present in the valley then forget about locals even the police would kill the pilgrims. It was very very unhappy feeling to see state government behavior.

Sheshnag Lake

Sheshnag Lake

Point number 3- In my view most of the locals do not like pilgrims at all. They literally called us Indian and made fun of us wherever and whenever it was possible. I could easily see hate and anger on their face for me. The locals attacking the pilgrims is not a new situation at all in the valley area and I had read about it so many times but when I went through it personally then I realized how horrible the situation was. I once talked with a guy from Punjab who runs a restaurant during the tourist season and he told me half of the people of valley area support outsiders visiting their land half area completely against it. And even the half who support it are the ones who somehow make money out of tourism. If there was no money for them they won’t support it either.

Sheshnag Lake

Sheshnag Lake

One of the stops during the journey was Sheshnag which is named after a beautiful Himalayan lake Sheshnag Lake. Most of the people just stop here to take rest and then continue walking, nobody really goes close to the lake but I did. The lake was beautiful but again I experienced something which turned all of the joy to a sad experience. I went to visit the lake with my two friends Sonu and Kuvar. When we arrived, there were no other tourists but we saw a few locals (lets say 8 or 10 young boys) who were just hanging out having fun. As soon as they saw us, their behavior changed immediately. They started throwing stones towards us, were using abusive words, a few of them got naked so that we go fight with them. All of those guys were the once who make their living by renting their ponnys to the pilgrims, very sad and scary feeling. And it was not only at Sheshnag, we noticed similar or worse behavior everywhere in the valley area.

A dead ponny in the lake

A dead ponny in the lake

Point number 4- Because of no regulations environment is seriously harmed by the pilgrims. I saw garbage and plastic everywhere. The snow had turned black in the entire route used by the pilgrims. All of the camps discharge their entire waste, including raw sewage, directly to the nearest river or the pond. Sheshnag had minimum of 100-200 camps offering lodging and food to the pilgrims. I am sure that minimum of 4-5000 people were sleeping everyday in Sheshnag and entire waste was being directly discharged into the Sheshnag lake. I also spoke with a few locals of that area and they said until 10-15 years ago when the yatra was not so popular and the number pilgrims was also not much the primary source of their drinking water was the water coming from Sheshnag lake but its impossible for them to use that water anymore because of all the raw sewage and other waste in it which comes directly from the camps of the pilgrims.

It only looks clean, it has sewage in it

It only looks clean, it has sewage in it

And this situation was not only at the Sheshnag area but it was at all of the spots wherever camps are situated for the pilgrims. There was no waste management at all and imagine the waste created by hundred of thousands of people every year who do the yatra. There is no proper waste management anywhere in India and we are used to it but seeing such beautiful and sacred place going in the same condition like any other Indian cities was one of the most disappointing feeling for me. I had a chat regarding this issue with one of the camp owners and he said that their feeling is also the same like us and they are more than willing to provide whatever is required to make the situation better and have contacted the concerned departments and government but there is no help at all. I don’t know how long those glaciers will be able to survive and we need to understand that if those glaciers area not there there then even the Amarnath won’t be able to survive there at all because he is also made of snow.

Indian Army temple

Indian Army temple

Point number 4- It is my personal opinion that the best human feeling is the harmony with the people around us and worse situation is when there is attraction or harmony in people’s relationship. It was not my first visit to the valley area, definitely first time to Amarnath but I had been to Kashmir several times before, and I have realized one thing for sure that the people of Kashmir do not like the people who come from out of valley area. There are several groups with different demands. Some of them want to go with Pakistan, some of them want to have a free nation, some of them don’t like the pilgrims because they are non-Muslims and some of them want to convert everyone to Islam.

Water everywhere

Water everywhere

And this movement is so strong that they have no space for outsiders. They just hate anyone visiting their land. As an outsider, for themselves, I could not enjoy as much as I could have if they were welcoming to us. The biggest reason behind my travel is to talk with the locals and it was impossible to interact with locals in the valley area. In fact I was surrendered but only because they wanted to sell me something or were begging or cigarettes or candies. The poverty in the valley is so extreme that you might encounter with groups of people begging of chewing gum if you are chewing one or they will ask you get food from the pilgrims camps for them. Other than this they have no interest at all which was very sad feeling for me. If they can just maintain social harmony then their entire situation could change in one tourist season.

A waterfall

A waterfall

Kashmir is like a heaven for Indians and everyone wants to go there but just because such experience I had, not many people return back or recommend others to visit. Tourism can bring huge amount of money to the valley which could solve most of the biggest problems they are facing but just because of the bad information spread by the locals militants and other groups they have no respect at all for tourists. It is very unfortunate situation and someday Kashmir has to come over it otherwise they will be in the same condition for coming unlimited years as they are now- poor, violence, illiterate and overall seriously crazy. The great poet Amir Khusro wrote a poetry in Persian to describe the beauty of Kashmir in this way- “Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast, Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast ” meaning “If there is a paradise on earth,It is this, it is this, it is this.”

Anyways, the nature was beautiful and the experience was once in a life time experience. I hope that someday there will  be peach and prosperity in Kashmir as well and the attitude of people will also be welcoming and they would also be proud of their Indian identity just like any other Indian citizen.

Bharat Mata ki Jai, भारत माता की जय

Bharat Mata ki Jai, भारत माता की जय


Untouchability/ Impurity

The idea of unaccountability has always been part of Hindu culture but it also changed the way everything changed over time. If we look at real idea of unaccountability then it is completely karma based and anyone can become untouchable or impure by doing certain karma at anytime in their lives but at present certain communities are considered 24 hours untouchable. The best examples in my city are the people who work at cremation sites.There is so huge discrimination against them that the community doesn’t seem to have any hope. Even they don’t consider themselves as someone who can even dream of changing their lives.

I still remember when I worked with CBC a few years ago on a documentary project which was about filming a young Doam (the caste of people who work at the cremation grounds) whose father was still involved in the cremation ground but the son was either studying computers or working at a multinational company and at one moment we thought that it was impossible to find someone in such condition because no family had ever sent their kids to the school. Anyways, something magic happened and we found an amazing person for our episode, in fact it was the best story of the series.

Something really in interesting happened with me last night which made me write this story and really made me think if there is any impact of education on Indian society or not? Are we still stuck with that crazy system of unaccountability/ impurity / discrimination of the basis of somebody’s caste? And the worse thing is that nobody wants to think about the real idea and just want to go with the present system. One of my friend’s father died yesterday and I went to the cremation ground with my two friends who are my age graduate living in so called educated Indian city.

Both of my friends were really concerned about getting touched by anyone at the cremation ground because it would have made them impure or untouchable. The idea of impurity associated with cremation says that whoever participates in the funeral becomes impure until they have taken a bath again. They were planning to keep a distance from all of the family members, even my friend. They warned me also to not get touched by anyone but I did not know how to make it happen. I was going to my friend father’s funeral and I knew that at least I was going to hug him or touch him to show my sorrow and support in this difficult time.

Anyways, I arrived at the cremation ground and saw my friend standing alone and looking at his father’s funeral. That feeling of seeing my friend was so strong to me that I could not stop myself by going close to him. My other friend’s, who were concerned about getting touched, also came with me. I was talking with my friend and suddenly I noticed that two other friends who had come with me were gone now. They were standing kind of 20 meters away from me. Suddenly the friend who father had died started crying and now I could not stop myself by putting my hand over his shoulder. We were standing like this for a while and then I went to my other friends and we returned back home.

But the most interesting experience for me when I started my motorbike to drive back home. It was the same motorbike I had used to reach at the cremation ground with two other friends but now they did not want to ride it. We were three on one motorbike with me being the driver and my other friends were asking each other to sit on the bike first so that they don’t touch me. Anyways, they also came on my bike and we all drove back together. The next day one of those friends came to me and said that he had to change his clothes and take a bath before entering in home only because I touched someone at the cremation ground and they got touched by me.

I thought about it a lot and was wondering if this idea of impurity is more important than showing your support to a friend who is facing a death of a family member? Anyways, I think I just did not do anything wrong, in fact I did not do anything, it was just my human feeling which made me touch that friend. I also want to respect traditions but definitely can’t compromise with my social duties.

Rapes and women rights in India

Woman rights have always been a very issue in India ever since it was affected by invaders. And now the situation has become worse. If we look at India before invaders came, we see that India was a very liberal society with woman and men both having equal rights. But as soon as invaders came, they changed Indian society completely. They implemented so many rules to keep women behind curtain which kind of separated them from the society and caused serious discrimination against them and now these practices have become part of life in India. I travel a lot across India and as a person interested in human behavior, I try never to miss any opportunity of talking with people, doesn’t matter what subject.
Every once in a while I encounter in such conversations where people are talking about girls and just listening to them gives me a sense about how do they see woman, even who are their family. People react in seriously strange way when talking about woman. Three of my friends have daughters and I still remember that when I spoke to them first time after their baby was born, all of them told me somehow the same thing that were happy EVEN if the baby was a girl. I mean if someone becomes a parent then naturally they are happy and there is no need of mentioning whether they got a girl or boy. I could easily see that they were so happy, just as any new parent, but at the same time they were depressed also. There was definitely something missing out of their happiness.

The compliments of others who came to visit the baby at the hospitals were also very strange. They would come and ask if it was a male or female baby and as soon as they heard that it was a female baby, they would go like : Oh, but its not a problem, now the world has changed and girls are also doing so many nice things. These kind of compliments easily showed that the people already had an idea in their mind that the parents were not so happy. Noticing such behavior raise serious question of gender issues in India. We heard about Damini rape case in December last year and I noticed how big news it had become. Everyone was talking about it, people were protesting on the streets, media had nothing else to talk about other than this rape case, our politicians got a news subject to talk about : the party in power was promising some serious step and the opposition party also got an issue to make the other party look down.

I was wondering why everyone was so serious about this particular case when such things have been happening and will happen, because I don’t have any hope from the government at all and police is cent-percent corrupt, in future as well??? What about other Daminis who were also raped and murdered in the past? There has not been a single day ever since Damini was raped when some other girl was not raped in such or worse condition somewhere in India, including several in Delhi itself. It is my daily routine to read newspaper as soon as I wake up and I never find my newspaper not talking about some rape case somewhere in India. Reports are same more or less everyday that a girl was raped and thrown somewhere in either half naked or fully nude condition:  when family went to the police asking them to register a complaint police did not register the complaint: but when media got involved, police registered the complaint: ministers also promised something etc.

I have read several articles saying police itself raped someone inside the police station. I also read an article about a 40 years old woman who was raped by 3 men. When she went to the police station, the Police did not register her complain. When media heard about the issue and contacted to the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police), the SSP himself said on camera that this woman was lying. She was too old get raped. In fact he asked media why someone would rape her if she is already over 40??? I was like what the hell is this? We all know it very well that it is very complicated for a person to get their complain registered and police does it all the time because once they register the complain they have to solve it also and Police never have time to solve any problem, they are always busy either relaxing, making fake reports, taking bribe or planning to torture someone without any reason but having such kind of excuse from a very responsible and senior police officer??? Later the SSP was suspended but I know that he will be back soon.

Last year an IAS officer tried to rape a 16 year old girl on a running train. Under pressure of other people traveling on the train, police had to register a complain but the very next day media reported that several ministers and other big officers either went to the police station or made a phone call asking police to take the complain back. But since the issue had already been noticed by media, police could not do anything and case was still going on. Finally last week I read another article in the news paper saying that the District Magistrate case was closed in the lack of evidence. The District Magistrate never spent a night in the prison and the case was also finalized only within a few months otherwise India has got most number of legal cases pending in the whole world and usually it takes years for a case to get finalized.

Another horrible case, I would say the worse one is of Sonali Mukharjee, a girl from Dhanbad, Jharkhand (Previously was part of Bihar state). Three boys from her neighborhood attacked her with acid while she was sleeping on her roof top in 2003 and the boys who attacked her are out of prison having fun or planning to attack another Sonali and no one talks about her. The only mistake Sonali did that she refused love proposal of a boy and that’s all. He attacked her with his two other friends and threw acid on her face. Sonali’s story is that she belonged to a poor family. Her father was a security guard at some residential building which means not more than Rs. 5-6000 of income per month. Her mother was a house wife and she had a younger sister as well.

Sonali was so smart in studies that her school had given her life-long scholarship, she was so popular in her school and her parents were so proud their daughter. She was also a National Cadet Corps cadet. In 2003, almost one and half months prior to the incident, three alleged assailants – Tapas Mitra, and his two friends Sanjay Paswan and Bhrahmadev Hajra – told her that she was a Ghamandi (arrogant) person and they would teach her a lesson. Her father later complained to the families of the three men. On 22 April, when she was asleep on the roof of her house, she was attacked with acid and left with a burnt face and other severe injuries. Her sister was also injured in the incident. She was studying sociology honours in a Dhanbad women’s college and also juggling a job with a private firm when the horrific incident occurred.

Miss Mukherjee and her family were then forced to abandon their home in Dhanbad, and her mother slipped into depression. Her father Chandi Das Mukherjee said, ‘We appealed in the high court… Nothing happened. They were sent to jail but were released soon after… Now they are busy enjoying their lives.”The law against acid attackers needs to be made tougher. Otherwise we will have many more Sonalis. Police sources said that the victim and her family members are afraid since two of her attackers, Tapas Mitra and Sanjay Paswan, were released on bail six years ago. The third accused Brahmadev Hajra was let off as he was a juvenile at the time of crime. She also pleaded with the Indian authorities to help her find justice, or else allow her to die.

A report about Sonali asking for either justice or mercy killing:

Sonali appealing people to help her by signing a petition

After all these things Sonali never got justice and the criminals are enjoying their lives, maybe planning to attack another Sonali. I just don’t understand all these craziness and in fact it is increasing. More and more girls are raped everyday and different people have different opinion about it. I have talked with several people on this issue and most of them, over 90%, blame girl’s dressing and modern life style. Many people also blame poverty, illiteracy and even Internet. Neither of these sound genuine cause to me. If its girls dressing or modern life style which motivates people to rape them then what about that 5 years old girl who was raped brutally in Delhi and so many like her are raped every day in our society. We heard about her only because media paid attention otherwise I can guarantee that so many other kids are raped everyday but we never hear about them.

I have also heard of so many cases which took place in rich and highly educated families which clearly shows that this problem is not limited amongst poor or illiterate class. I went through a very interesting conversation about Damini rape case in January when I was traveling on a train from Pune to Varanasi. I was in non AC sleeper class which is mostly used by lower middle class families. All of the people around me where from Bihar who were working in Pune and now going back home on vacations. I heard them talking about how do they find people living in Pune so different than the people living in Bihar. They were saying that all of the young people of Pune waste their whole time with their partners because the parents have got a lot of money and kids don’t care about their future at all.

They were also saying that they see young couples kissing in public spaces or showing other form of PDAs which cause frustration amongst the people like themselves who come from other cities or states where they never see such thing happening. They said that Damini was also raped because of such reason. The people who raped her came from Bihar, and as per the people sitting on the train, it was not their fault that they raped Damini but it was Damini’s fault that she was out with her friends in midnight watching a movie. They were saying that the people who move to big cities to work always leave their wives back at home. And if they see such activities like kissing or something else then they also feel like having sex and since their wives are home, either they have quit their job to go back home or find someone in city where they are at that moment.

And definitely nobody would quit the job, instead rape someone in the city. It was a horrible communication but at the same time it showed the mind set of such people. PDAs is serious issue in India. I know that everyone wants to do it but they don’t because of the local culture. But its becoming more and more common which means more and more people are upset with it. I have heard several incidents when a couple was beaten only because they were found kissing. There is a park very close to my place and it has become kind of love nest amongst young people of my city. I know so many people living around the park area who say that every evening they hide somewhere behind the trees trying to find a couple kissing or doing something else and if anyone is found then they either throw stones at them or just jump in between and say that they also want to kiss the girl or just chase them away and later disturb the girl.

I have noticed if people find a couple kissing then they thinking that the girl wants to be kissed, just by anyone and hence they also deserve a kiss. I used to go sit behind the park every night with my friends, have some beer and enjoy the quietness. I noticed certain people who would come every day with a flash light and try to look everyone sitting here and there. It was a very strange thing to see same people every day and once I asked my friends from that neighborhood about those people and they said that these people basically try to find couples kissing or having sex. And if any couple is found doing anything other than talking then problem for them. These people threaten the couples and in some cases beat the boy, kick him out and then have sex with the girl. I have talked with so many people about what do they think about a couple kissing in a park or just at any other public space and most of them have really strange ideas.

I was once talking with one of my friends, who is my age and is a software engineer and he said that if a couple is beaten because they were found kissing in public then there is nothing wrong with it. He thinks that public places are open for all aged people and kissing is something very very sexual and private. In fact he  asked me how would I react if I see a couple kissing in a park where I am present with my family. I don’t know what would I do, most probably just not pay attention to them and let them enjoy their private moment. I have no idea what is the reason behind all these problems but rapes have made the situation worse and it seems like its not going to change soon. But if I have to make a guess about my society, I would say it’s the Police, government of India, late and corrupt judiciary, some cultural problems and regular sick mind which is causing all these problems.

Police is 100% corrupt and they never want to register complaints because if they register a case then it becomes their responsibility to clear it and in any case any Indian police officer can be bought by offering some money. Corruption in police has caused serious problems in India. I feel like Police is somehow responsible for all of the problems we have in India. Late judiciary is also a very big problem in India which basically somehow motivates people to do crime. People know that if the go to a court then it will take 30-40 years for so called judgment to come. And in any case there is always a way : after district court, its high court : after high court, its supreme court : after supreme court, it’s the parliament and after parliament it’s the president where one can appeal. I know several people who were able to get the hearing delayed just by offering a few hundred rupees as a bribe.

Government also makes so many promises but never does anything. All of the political parties do politics in the name of caste, religion and region. They have nothing to do with development, education or any other issue that we are facing. I think that governments can do anything if they are committed to make a change but they don’t have any interest in such issues. Nature is dying, crime has increased, poverty is increasing, inflation is on top, scams are the biggest in the world…but government has no time to think about these serious issues. They are always busy in talking bullshit and doing scams.  India has so many problems coming from its culture. For an example, the problem of hierarchy on the basis of somebody’s caste or wealth. People evaluate themselves by their caste and literally talk about it in their regular conversations.

I know many people who belong to Kshatriya caste and they always say that they have politics in their blood, they are always the best fighters because they belong to Kashtriya caste…although they are really stupid. The male dominant culture in India is also causing such problem like discrimination and violence against women. I find present India really weird because woman power is worshiped by worshiping Goddesses when they are dead statues but real woman are raped so brutally that it becomes an International news. India, particularly Hindus, have a great concept of respecting woman. In fact the term used for women is Shakti which means power but I don’t know where all these concepts are lost? Female infanticide, depressed woman, violence and discrimination… after looking at the present condition of woman in India, it doesn’t seem like there is any concept of worshiping Goddesses or respecting Goddess power at all.

I am upset, India is upset, Mother India is crying and we need to change the situation. Lets pray that India gets its glory again and we become a really great nation where there is no discrimination against anyone….

A painting at Assi ghat

A painting at Assi ghat

Juna Akhada Peshwani

In Hinduism, Akhara (also akhada) is an association of the different sects of Yogis, also known as Sadhus (Hindu Renunciates). Its history dates back to the eighth century when Adi Shankaracharya established seven Akharas. Some yogis revere Gorakhnath as the founder rather than Shankaracharya. The 7 ancient Akharas are Mahanirvani, Niranjani, Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Akhara. Today there are 3 major Akharas (Juna, Mahanirvani and Niranjani) and 3 minor Akharas (Atal affiliated with Mahanirvani, Anand affiliated with Niranjan). Traditionally during the Kumbh Mela, the Naga Sadhus, and the ‘Akharas’, lead and initiate the bathing rituals, before the general population steps in.

Since these group of Sadhus reside in different parts of India, they all have to gather together and then they follow the festival or whatever the reason could be. There is also something very important process of participating in the festival which is called Peshwani. Basically Peshwani is a procession organized to show the official arrival of a group of Sadhus in a city. The same Peshwani was organized by Juna Akhada in Varanasi during Kumbh Mela 2013. I had heard a lot of Peshwanis but had never seen one but luckily this year I got an opportunity to see it. I made a video also which Peshwani of Juna Akhada in Varanasi on 2nd of March 2013 :

Exorcism at Harsu Baramh, Bihar

I grew up in the society where talking about ghosts, demons, spirits… is part of life. There were places where I asked not to go during certain time of the day and nights because it was believed that there were ghosts around those areas and I literally followed it. There were minimum of 10 such places only around my home. Anyways, I have became more interested in ghosts within past 10 years but my interest is in finding why people believe in ghosts and how it affects their life. I never want to miss visiting a place which is supposed to have some power of dealing with ghosts or just talk with someone who says that he is affected by ghosts or can deal with ghosts.

I have already visited so many such places and have talked with so many such people. I have been hearing about a place called Harsu Baramh for really long time which is only 70-80 KMs from Varanasi and is supposed to be the place where one can get rid of any kind of ghosts and demons. The word Harsu Baramh is made of two words- Harsu Baramah. Harsu was a bramhin guy and Baramah is a particular kind of spirit which has access to limited number of people in certain area. Baramahs don’t fly or take a train to affect the people away from their locality.

Another belief about Baramh is that it is unsatisfied or disappointed soul of a Bramhin who wants to be worshiped. The story of Harsu is that he lived in a village called Chainpur, in modern day Bihar, with his family and worked as a Bramhin. He was donated a huge house which was located right in front of the King’s palace. His home had two minarets which were in fact taller than the minarets of King’s palace which made the queen upset. She saw it as her disrespect and asked the king to do something so that minarets at her palace looks taller than the minarets at Harsu’s home.

The king also did not like that Harsu home’s minarets were taller than the minarets of his palace and he ordered his army to knock down the minarets at Harsu’s home and burn the whole house. His solders knocked down the whole building and burnt it. Harsu was on work when his house was being burnt but when he heard about it, he ran towards his home. When he reached home, he saw his family dying by being burnt alive and building completely destroyed. Harsu got so angry that he cursed the king that he would become a Baramh by killing himself and would then take the revenge.

Harsu Baramh also jumped in the same fire and killed himself. Harsu was back later in the form of Baramh and killed the king. This idea is so strong amongst the community that they recognize Harsu as the king of Baramh and now there is a shrine located in the same village where Harsu came from. People believe that if a person is affected by ghost and no one is able to help him getting rid of the ghosts then he should come to Harsu Baramh. I also decided to visit Harsu Baramh in order to learn more about the idea of ghosts and exorcism. It was a Sunday the day I visited Harsu Baramh and I was expecting to see a lot of people but shockingly there were not many people.

When I visit any regular temples or holy shrines then I try to be respectful to the people and their beliefs but don’t follow all the rules. I don’t feel comfortable making any kind of offering, whether in form of cash or food or sweets or anything, at the temples because I know that as per real religious rules these things are not important. But when I reached to Harsu Baramh, I was so nervous that I decided to go with all the rules of that particular place. I was nervous because I knew that it was not a regular temple and the people who were there believed in the ghosts more than the God himself.

Anyways, I bought some sweets to offer at the shrine in order to be completely normal visitor. I don’t know how to explain what I was feeling when approaching to the shrine but I was not feeling the way I usually am but at the same time I was so excited. I arrived at the shrine but found it black, smoky and really strange place. There was nothing going on, that place had a really empty feeling. There were a few people working as a priest and maybe 20-30 people behaving strangely. The regional idea in my locality is that when somebody is affected by ghosts they move their head in circle, women open their hair, hit their head on the ground and try to hurt themselves and we call this process in Hindi- the person is playing.

And another idea is that when someone affected by ghosts arrive at such places like Harsu Baramh then they immediately start to play. So I saw those 20-30 people playing. One of them was really funny. I saw him arriving inside the shrine premises. He looked completely normal when he arrived. He was holding a towel and went at a corner and sat their quietly. He looked at the shrine for a few minutes, folded his towel, kept it right in front of himself on the ground and started hitting his head on the ground which means he started playing.

He used the towel so that he doesn’t hurt himself. I saw another lady who was playing. She would play by shaking her head, rolling her body on the ground, making some strange noises and then look at others around her and then sit quietly. Anyways, it was very interesting to see those people but I felt so sorry for them. I was like how come someone could really hurt themselves only in the name of ghosts who are never ever been seen by any person in the whole world. I understand it very well that we get to see what we want to see and if there are people who believe in ghosts then they get to see them.

Its sad for me to see that there are people who are more concerned about invisible pain than the visible pain. Its impossible for me to imagine the mindset of such people who believe in the ghosts and kill their time, money and themselves by going to such places where they can get rid of their ghosts. The shrine at Harsu Baramh was so strange that I did not even think about taking a picture. Every place has a unique feeling but Harsu Baramh had no feeling at all. When I go to temples or other religious places I feel something there because there are a lot of people doing the same thing.

Especially when I go to any Hindu place then I find it very energetic because Hindu religion is a very loud religion and people sing chantings loudly, play drums, recite mantras together which makes the place very energetic but Harsu Baramh was a sad and strange place with complete empty feeling. Later I learnt that it was my mistake that I went to Harsu Baramh on Sunday because Thrusday is the important day for the shrine when hundreds of people come. Anyways, it was good that I got some entertainment and went on a long drive which I always enjoy. I think this journey of finding a ghost will continue for me as I have not been successful so far!!!

Public Display of Affection in Europe and India

a young couple walking in Budapest

Public display of affection is something not seen at all in India. Actually its very strange here. The people who love each other are not supposed to show any physical intimacy in public whereas regular friends can hug each other, hold hands and sometimes kiss on cheeks. Holding hands and hugging is the most common act of physical intimacy seen in India amongst same sex person but it doesn’t mean that they are homosexuals. Its again very strange that homosexuals never want to hold hands, hug or kiss each other in public because homosexuality is very very hidden and homosexual people don’t want to express their sexuality. I have met so many Europeans and Americans who always thought that same sex people holdings hand of each other are homosexual because this is how it works in their world.

a middle aged couple in Vienna

Usually friends do such things and there is no idea making love behind it. If people see a couple kissing or hugging they want to watch it. Holding hands is kind of becoming common and is not kind of issue anymore in big Indian cities. Anyways, I have also grown up in the same culture where I never saw any act of physical intimacy in public. My city gets a lot of western people from all over the world who some time kiss and hug in public so at least people in my city have an idea about it. Every once in a while we see some crazy drunk westerner making love on the street. Making love doesn’t mean having sex but finding a westerner kissing or hugging is not something unknown to the people of Varanasi. Doesn’t matter whether they have seen it or not but they are very well aware of this culture.

an old couple in Vienna

I think that having sex or watching people having sex has always been one of the biggest attractions amongst us humans in our whole history. But the world has changed a lot within past a few decades. There are several countries and cultures where sex is discussed, is opened (doesn’t mean in public: in fact there are places where people can go in groups and have sex but is usually a group activity rather than a public activity), people have a choice and it is seen in a very different way than the it is seen in my culture and country. This idea of watching people making love or just seeing them in their undergarments is very exciting for Indians because we just don’t see such thing happening. And whenever we see someone in such condition, most of the time they are western people.

an old couple in Vienna

I am very well aware that a lot of people go to places like Goa in India just to watch western woman in bikinis. In fact, when I went to Goa first time in my life it was also to watch western girls in bikinis and find cheap alcohol. To be honest most of the woman I saw in Goa were old with ugly bodies:) Still when I see someone kissing on the street my eyes like to stop and watch it. But I usually try to avoid it because I don’t like to disturb people but my mind still talks with me about that picture while I am trying not to watch them. I think situation should be the same with most of the Indians, even the ones who try not to watch people kissing or making love. And I don’t really mind it because we just don’t see such thing happening and foreigners should also learn about these cultural issues before coming here and try to respect and be respected. But at the same time we can’t blame foreigners either because it is very important part of their culture.

a newly married couple in Buda

Anyways, I got to travel to Europe (Hungary, Austria and Slovakia) , in fact anywhere out of India for first time in my life a few weeks ago. Everything was different than what I was used to hence everything was a shock, in fact very interesting shock. I don’t want to discuss about all those things in this post but I would like to discuss the idea of the importance of physical intimacy and public display of affection. I had started seeing couples kissing, holding hands, sitting on the lap, caressing, nestling… as soon as I crossed the immigration area at Delhi airport. The most interesting thing was that very good percentage of Indians were also involved in such act who usually never do such thing in public.

a young couple in Vienna

It seemed like they had planned to do it as soon as they leave India but could not wait for the flight to land:) haha. Maybe they had not planned it together with their partners but they had planned it with themselves for sure. Experience make us feel comfortable and I could easily see that Indians were not comfortable doing what they wanted to and looked completely inexperienced. hahaha. I am sure that they did not want to do sex in public but they just did not know what they were doing. They didn’t seem comfortable even in touching each other but they were trying their best. I am not making fun of those people I saw at the airport but It was really funny and interesting both for a person like me to see them. Because I just don’t see such thing happening in my society by the locals and they had changed their as soon as they crossed immigration area at the airport.

even statues were making love

When I arrived in Europe I saw people kissing and hugging just everywhere even inside a church. They were very comfortable with it and it seemed like it was just not an issue at all. I saw people kissing in the train, at the crossings, shopping malls, restaurants, zoo…just everywhere. It seems like kissing is as important as meat to Europeans. I saw all aged people, literally as young as 14 years old kissing in public. Kissing seems very important to Europeans. Once I saw a young shop keeper smooching her boyfriend in front of the customer and the customer waiting for them to finish.

couples at Szimplakart pub in Budapest

I was very well aware about this culture in Europe years before I went there but I was still surprised when I saw it first and my first few days were shocking for me in terms of seeing people making love on the street. I think I had stopped noticing or watching it after a week or so but it was something which won’t go out of my mind soon. In fact once I was discussing this issue with my host Attila and told him about how I saw Indians involved in physical intimation in public at Delhi airport or in Hungary or other European countries I visited and Attila was so surprised and he asked me why Indians don’t do such things in India also if they like to do it.

men and women dancing together at a cultural event in Kesthai, Budapest

Attila had already spent more than an year and half living in India and he was very well aware of what I was talking about. I did not know how to make him understand but his question was very genuine that why don’t we do it if we like to do it? I knew the answer but it was hard for an European mind to understand. Sex is very very hidden in India, even talking about it with parents and unknown people is something which just doesn’t happen. Everyone does sex but they don’t want to talk about it. I have met so many people, to be honest all of the people all I meet, who find such sexual acts like cunnilingus and several other sex positions very exciting but they never want to admit that they do it with their partners and always relate with something coming from the western world which is very dirty, disgusting and unnatural. haha

temple art in Khajuraho, India

I am sure that everyone does it but they just don’t admit, even when they are talking with their friends. It is again very interesting for me to see why people relate such sexual acts with western world when all of them are mentioned in Kamasutra or if they are present on the temples of Khajuraho and several others all over India. I think we were practicing all of those acts way before western people started talking about it, at least it was very open part of the society thousands of years before the first sex museum was opened in the world or anyone ever tried to document sex in this whole world. Anyways, my issue is about present India so I should about present.

A young couple in Bratislava, Slovakia

I just mean to say that sex is a very very hidden act in India which is one of the reason why we don’t see public display of affection in India. The second biggest reason behind this issue is the safety of woman in India, woman rights issues and in fact safety of couples also who dare to show physical intimacy in public. It was hard for Attila to understand why someone could be upset by watching others kissing but I understand it very well. Anyways, Attila only seemed upset and I could not satisfy him with my answers. The world knows how Shiv Sena was targeting people celebrating Valentines Day in India. If we try to learn how they were protesting against the festival then we can see that they were not actually looking for people celebrating the festival but mostly they were targeting the couples.

In fact kissing is seen as a form of greeting also in western culture. Men are kissing each other in a wedding part for greeting.

They wanted to beat the couples who were found together watching cinema, hanging around in the park or other public places. So it clearly means that they were protesting against the people and not the festival itself. And I know it very well that the all the people who were protesting against the festival either had a partner whom they went out with to celebrate festival the same day or definitely they wanted to have someone. And I personally know so many people from my own city, who were part of the Shiv Sena and were targeting people celebrating the festival, now are either married with the someone whom they loved or they have girlfriend.

a view of Rajdari waterfall from Devdari

Only after a week after I returned from Europe I went to visit a water fall 50 KMs from Varanasi called Raj Dari. This water fall is a very famous picnic spot for people living in Varanasi and nearby districts and hundreds of people visit the fall on Sundays during rainy season. I was there to find rock paintings and to watch people. The whole region of Chandauli district has several sites with ancient rock paintings and tree fossils which are said to be around 1400 million years old. While I was looking for ancient rock paintings I heard a group of people shouting which made me look at them

Couples bathing together in public is no problem in Europe

It was a group of like 15-20 men, all different aged, mostly young who were taking a bath. A young girl who was wearing Punjabi suit was also taking a bath hardly 20 meters away from them. She was with her boy friend and wearing Punjabi suit mean her whole body was covered with cloth. That group of 15 men was taunting at her. They were calling her with the name black panty. And they were doing it repeatedly in front of hundreds of other people who were there. They were taunting such things like- call us also, we are also very good…

usual scene at bathing places in Europe

The couple was doing nothing other than taking a bath, even they were not kissing or doing anything which can be considered as a sexual act. Her dress was also not different than bathing dress of woman in India. I am 100% sure that it happened with her only because she was with her boyfriend. Most probably such thing would have not happened with her if she was with her parents. It happens with woman even when they are with their families as well but it is more likely to face such situation when they are with their boyfriends. The girl was so nervous and uncomfortable with the situation that she came out of the water and walked away from there.

Even when she was walking away another group also joined and they all started taunting at her with vulgar languages. I know that such things are less likely to happen in big cities and one of the biggest reason behind why such happened is because those people were locals and there was no security at all. But the question that raised in my mind was-

  • Does a girl need security if she wants to take a bath at a water fall?
  • Are couples not allowed to be together?
  • What do such people think about the the couples who kiss or hug, do the think that the girl wants to be kissed and hugged by just anyone on the street or do they think that she is a slut?
  • What about freedom to express your feelings?
  • What about constitution of India which allows us to choose our life partner?
  • What about constitution of us human beings which allows us to live and let others live?

a couple in Bratislava, Slovakia

There are thousands of questions but its very sad that because of such practices we just don’t have any answer for them. The bitter truth is that if we try to study the mentality of such people then we find out that if they see a girl doing anything which can be considers a sexual act, even kissing or hugging, the girl is immediately thought to be a slut who is wanting such thing to be done with herself by just anyone. In small Indian cities and villages If a girl is found in relationship with anyone boy then people talk about it and now the whole neighborhood wants to try that girl out.

I don’t know what is right or wrong but it was really upsetting for me to see how that girl was being taunted and abused only because she was with her boyfriend. The radical and nationalist groups in India relate such things with something coming from the western world and we should not allow such things because it is against Indian culture. But I think we as a human have a human culture before we get into any particular country’s culture. Love, hate, emotions, feelings are natural human behavior and it just can’t be stopped. And in any case if something hurts us then we should try to control ourselves first and then think about others.

I still don’t know whether my Indian system is better than what I saw in Europe or not but one thing is very sure that woman are living in very tough condition in India. If we just look at this data it can easily tell the story about woman in India. But one thing I would like say for sure that whatever I saw in Europe looked really lovely and I saw Indians also enjoying it in Europe and missing in their own country. Jai Hind. I got a funny picture online which shows the difference I am trying to talk about-

Is beer sacred than Whiskey?

I have a friend who has a strong belief in spirits, ghosts, demons and they affecting your life because somebody (usually your enemy) has sent them to destroy your life or sometimes you just made a mistake like peed on a grave yard or on a Pipal tree or there are a lot of other mistakes one can make to make ghosts destroy their life. This friend believes that he has some kind of unknown supernatural power which affects his and his family life. He has been trying to know about this power by taking help of a Guru (exorcist) so that he can make his life better.

Its very hard for me to believe in such things but it has always been a very interesting subject for me hence I follow such people and like to talk with them. The Guru who has been helping my friend told him that the spirit which is related with my friend needs certain kind of attention and respect and if it doesn’t get that respect or attention then it will destroy my friend’s life. The Guru suggested certain kind of rituals which usually take minimum of an hour everyday. The Guru suggested my friend to come see him on every Thursdays as it is some kind of special day for dealing with spirits and don’t drink whiskey or any other strong liquor.

He also suggested my friend to spit on every eatable item, especially milk, before bringing it inside the home and only then consume it. He said that there are so many people on the street who can damage his food (mean send ghosts in his food) only by looking at it from their evil eye. The interesting thing is that my friend literally follows it. The Guru suggested him to not eat anything alone, if other people don’t want to share his food then he should throw a small part of the food. I have heard about such believes several times but the issue with alcohol and spitting on the food is something really strange.

My friend says that his Guru has become very famous, powerful and rich now because his suggestions are always very helping and all kind of people come to him and like to give him money. Now the Guru owns several buildings in Varanasi and now he has three assistants. I asked my friend what was the difference between beer and whiskey, after all both of them have alcohol but my friend said that the spirit who has affected his life doesn’t like whiskey and in any case his Guru also drinks beer. Sometimes his disciples bring him bottle of beer as offering. Now I knew the answer why beer is more sacred than whiskey.

Since his Guru likes beer now he has made a rule for all of his disciples that spirits don’t like whiskey and they like beer. hahaha. But one thing I never understood that why he suggested to spit on all the eatable item before bringing them inside the home. It sounds disgusting but sad thing is that people believe in such things. I should really appreciate the smartness of the Guru that he is make people do such things that they won’t ever do usually. My friend sometimes seem to like his Guru a lot and sometimes he seems kind of disturbed. Sometimes he says that his life has not changed at all since he has been seeing his Guru and sometimes he says that whatever he has is because of the blessings of his Guru.

He says that there was huge tension in family before he started going to this Guru but now there is no tension at all. But whenever there is any tension he is upset with his Guru. He says that his sister was having problems with her husband. In fact the husband was kind of prepared to divorce his wife and then my friend suggested his sister about this Guru and Guru solved all of the problems by organizing some rituals. The Guru said that there was a ghosts in their house who was creating all of the problems but he controlled the ghost and thrown him out of the house by the rituals.

It still doesn’t matter to me if someone believes in such things or not but I feel sad when people with limited amount of money go to such Gurus and loose all of their money and finally they nothing to do. The something happened with my friend also. He is unemployed but he had a plan to start a business. He worked on a project, made some money and seemed so excited for this new business. The same time Navratri (nine nights festival) also came which is a very important time for the people who believe in the ghosts. They do some special rituals during this time.

My friend also started going to his Guru everyday during Navratri and by the end of the festival he had already spent good amount of money he had made by working on that project and now he did not have sufficient balance to start the business he wanted to. He was unemployed before working on the project and he is still unemployed. I feel when I see him but it is impossible to make to him understand that he should believe more on himself rather than his Guru. Anyways, I hope someday things will get better with him.

Another project with VPRO

VPRO hired me again for their documentary project called From Bihar to Bangalore. This documentary project was bigger than the last one I worked with them in 2011. The host of the show Mr. Jelle Brandt Corstius wanted to show how India changes from one city to other. I was responsible for organizing their work in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle spent 4 months studying Hindi and exploring India to prepare for the documentary. I met him about 3 months before the crew arrived in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle told me that the whole world knows Varanasi but they only one classical picture of Varanasi but he wanted to show something different.

We went to a few places which is shown in all of the documentaries about Varanasi. Apart from those regular places we went to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan where they allow only 15 days of stay for the people to die, we met with Mr. G. D. Agarwal and the king of Doam society. They wanted to interview one of the members of National River Ganga Basin Authority also. I suggested them to interview Mr. Rajendra Singh because I was very well aware of his honest activism for environment, especially Ganga but we could not schedule an appointment with him as he was going to be busy somewhere else during the filming time.

We decided to work with Mr. B. D. Tripathi, professor at BHU, instead of Mr. Rajendra Singh. Mr. Jelle was very much interested in the king of Doam society, the people who work at the cremation ghat. Arranging an appointment with him was kind of a pain because this person was seriously commercial. The only thing he cared about was money. VPRO wanted to film Shivratri festival in Varanasi and I arranged the filming at a temple called Tilbhandeshwar with consent of the temple management committee and Shivratri organizing committee.

Everything seemed very well organized. I knew what we were going to do and when. Everything went smoothly except filming at the Tilbhandeshwar temple and interview the king of Doam society. When we arrived at the temple to start filming, it was too crowded. We got in the temple and by the time we were going to go on the rooftop to film the preparation, a policeman stopped us. He said that filming inside the temple was not allowed. I told him that I had permission but this guy just did not want to hear anything.  One of the persons from the management committee also said that it was not problem for them but he still did not allow us.

VPRO understood that it was not my fault but it was crazy to see how this policeman behaved us. The king of the Doam society was also a crazy guy. He did not want to speak anything, his answers were too short and finally we decided not to work with him. We filmed a Sadhu also at the biggest Ashram in Varanasi which was very nice. The Sadhu was very cooperative and he invited us to join him at his personal Ganga ritual. VPRO just loved this footage. Everything went very well and finally we completed the filming in Varanasi and VPRO told me that it was one of the best episodes they had ever produced.

work with Richard Dawkins

Mr. Richard Dawkins in Varanasi

It was something that I had never expected but I got to work personally with Richard Dawkins. Actually BBC world and Channel 4 were making a documentary together and Mr. Dawkins was the host of this show. The name of this documentary was The meaning of Life. I got a call from the director of the show 10 days before the shooting was going to be done in Varanasi and they wanted me to organize their work. They contacted me only 10 days in advance because they had already hired some production house company in Delhi which had promised them to organize their work in Varanasi also but they finally they seemed unable to do it. So they found my blog and contacted me to manage their work in Varanasi.

Mr. Dawkins and I

They were looking for the people who have been discriminated against in the society for the reasons they are not responsible for. They had chosen two kinds of people to work with i.e. a Dalit and Hijras. They wanted a Dalit boy who was discriminated against because of his caste, had to suffer a lot but he struggled and finally he had a stable life. They wanted Hijras because Hijras society has always faced discrimination because of their sexuality and they wanted to hear their stories. They wanted me to do the research to find the right people and schedule interviews.

Mr. Dawkins and Babu

I had already done such kind of research several times and knew exactly where to go so it didn’t really take me a lot of work. I just had to make a few phone calls and everything was organized on my end. One of the guys from that Delhi production house company came to Varanasi two days before the crew was supposed to arrive to check if everything was all right and in any case they needed to show that they were working really hard. Anyways, this guy wanted to meet with the people whom I had chosen for the documentary.


He was a nice person just trying to prove how experienced and knowledgeable he was but I was not really impressed with him because first of all he had taken the responsibility that he could not fulfill and secondly he was just trying to impose his ideas on me and the people whom I had chosen whereas I knew very well what I was supposed to do because I was talking personally with the director of the show and I knew what I needed to do. Anyways, finally the crew arrived and I was more than super excited to see Mr. Dawkins. It was really funny that I had not even heard about Mr. Dawkins before but when I asked my western friends they were all like he was one of the most famous scientists present in the world, a celebrity, a star…

Mahendra with Mr. Dawkins

I read a wiki article about him and I also realized that I was going to meet with someone really important. I was super excited to see him but at the same time I was super nervous also. It happened for the first time in my life that I was nervous about working with a westerner. I don’t really have good experience of working under an Indian because I worked with Indians for a really little time so I am a little bit nervous whenever I have to work under an Indian boss. I do kind of good work as a boss for Indians but I am not really comfortable working under some local guy.

Mahendra with Alison, the director of the show

I have always worked with Westerners and I also very comfortable with them but it was first time in my whole professional career when I was seriously nervous. When I saw Mr. Dawkins first time I could not dare even to shake hands with him. He was very reserved and a serious person even with the crew members. The director and other crew members would plan the shot and then just ask him to act like that. Mr. Dawkins would either come on camera to interview people or sit alone and watch the surroundings. He was like a super star for sure.

The crew

Finally I made myself strong enough to go and say hello to him. Maybe it was second or third time in my lifetime when I called someone Sir. I had already planned what I was going to tell to him but was so nervous that I forgot everything and ended up saying that- Sir, I read a Wikipedia article about you a few days ago and I really impressed with your work and think that you have done really good work. I was thinking like, “Hell, how could a person like me evaluate work of such a scientist like Mr. Dawkins. hahahaha.” Mr. Dawkins response was very polite and he said, “Yes, I also think so.”

I did not know what to tell him so I just started talking about how my western friends are big fan of him and what did they tell me when I first told them I was going to work with him. Anyways, I had chosen a Dalit boy named Mahendra from a village called Mehdiganj which is situated around 20 Kms from the Varanasi city. Mahendra works with an NGO called Lok Samiti as a teacher and is expert on RTI. Everything was set to start the filming and they needed a translator. They asked the Delhi guy to translate the interview and he immediately surrendered, I am 100% sure that he did it only because he was also too nervous.

He grew up in Delhi, went to an English medium school where they speak English as their first language and his Indian English was way better than mine but still he did not want to translate. He wanted me to translate for Mr. Dawkins. Again it was first time in my life when I said that I did not want to translate because I was also so nervous. The crew was stuck in between me and the guy from Delhi. He was smoking like a chimney and my heart was making sound like an Indian train. The crew requested me to translate and finally I had to agree.

I did not know what was going to happen but I started. I was listening to every word very carefully and tried my best to translate and finally everything was good. The interview was really nice and I was appreciated for my research of finding a right person for the interview and translation work. I was really happy and kind of proud. This happiness and proud feeling gave me enough strength to ask Mr. Dawkins to have a picture together with him but fortunately Mr. Dawkins came to me asked to have a picture of Varanasi crew with him. I was so happy to have a picture with Mr. Dawkins.

The second interview was with a group of Hijras. We arrived there the next day. Everything was all set and we completed the interview. We had organized a dance performance of Hijras because this is what they do when they go for work- perform certain kind of traditional dance, sing traditional songs and bless the baby. Hijras have this really strange reputation that they go naughty with their clients, tickle them, sometimes jump over their clients and maybe even go nude in front of just anyone. During this performance Mr. Dawkins was sitting on a chair, watching the performance and everything was being filmed.

Hijras asked me if they wanted me to play with Mr. Dawkins (playing means tickle him, kiss him or maybe ask him to dance with themselves) and I asked the director about it and she said that it doesn’t sound bad. I indicated the Hijras to go for it and two of them went to Mr. Dawkins and started doing all the naughty things. I could easily see the angry face of Mr. Dawkins, he was face was just red. As soon as the first performance was over, he asked the crew to send him to the taxi. I was a little bit concerned about him being angry but the crew said that it was fine. In the second performance the whole crew danced with the Hijras and had fun.

Finally the work was over in Varanasi where I spent hours watching and listening to a person like Mr. Dawkins who is very controversial for ideas of being atheist, anti-religion and having no existence of Gods and Goddesses. I have grown up in a country which is birth place of three major religions of the world. I have grown up as a Hindu and Hindus believe that there are 33 million Gods and Goddesses. I grew up in a city which is known as cultural and religious hub of Hinduism so I grew up hearing about religion, Gods and Goddesses and have seen religion being a serious part of one’s life.

I always believe that religion is like a government, a serious belief, a Windows operating system for the computer and if it is corrupt then we need to change it or replace it with the virus-free version. I believe in Vedas which gives the real idea about Hinduism and I like to be a Hindu. The best thing I like about Hinduism is the openness, flexibility and respect for everyone and this is how I like to be (note- these ideas exist in real Hinduism, not the present one that we practice nowadays) but Mr. Dawkins was really extremist about his ideas. I really respect his ideas of Gene-centered view of evolution, concept of the meme,  advocacy of atheism and science but I really wondered blaming a religion only by looking at wrong parts of it is good?

His questions with the Dalit boy was like- Do you think that you were discriminated in the society? Do you think that you were discriminated because of your caste? Do you think that this idea of castism comes from Hindu religion and finally do you admit that religion is bad? Only by asking these four questions within five minutes how come someone can declare a religion bad? I wondered why he did not ask about how the idea of castism changed over time? I wonder even if Mr. Dawkins was aware of it. Maybe he was just told that there is huge discrimination against people based on their caste and and made a few questions for them.

I believe that the world is about change, things have changed, things are changing and they will keep changing in the future as well. I won’t go against Mr. Dawkins if he start a new religion which has his own ideas but saying really extremely that faith of over 95% people of the world is bad is not something I really respect. I respect Mr. Dawkins, his ideas and he is still like a super hero for me but I would have respected him more if he was more like looking for the reason of change in the Hindu society and then say that look these are reasons behind discrimination against this Dalit boy and if this is what happens then why not become an athiest.

There is no way for me to question Mr. Dawkins and his style of working but I personally believe that he should become a little bit open for other ideas also which has been making the society for endless times. Anyways, it was just an awesome experience to work with a super star Mr. Dawkins who has brought change in the world in positive way and I really wish if I could work with him again.

Indian train

I traveled to Ratlam from Varanasi by train a few days ago to attend a wedding which means over 24 hours of journey. I take train all the time but usually I avoid train journey if it is more than 13-14 hours but this time I had to take this 24 hours train because I had no other option as my ticket was booked by the person getting married and we were going to travel in a group which is always fun. There are several classes in Indian trains such as general class ( no reserved seat for any passenger), Non-AC sleeper class, 3 AC, 2 AC and 1 AC and usually I prefer 3 AC as it is the cheapest comfortable class but this time my ticket was booked in Non-AC sleeper class.

The journey from Varanasi to Ratlam was kind of okay, and to be honest I never got bored because I was with my friends. The journey from Ratlam was kind of an experience. When the train arrived at the Ratlam station we saw that our car was locked from inside and there were people sleeping on our seat. We asked them to open the door but all of them were pretending to be not hearing us. Finally we had to enter in our car through another car’s door. When we asked those people sleeping on our seat to leave they just did not want to hear us. All of those people had wait-listed tickets which means their seats were not confirmed yet.

We requested them first, then started shouting and finally we had a fight with them. Finally after 45 minutes of requesting, shouting, fighting and war, we got our seats:) I had already traveled several times in Non-AC sleeper class but this time it was an unique journey as I saw something that I had never seen before. In Non-AC sleeper class, anyone is allowed to come hence all kinds of services are offered by unauthorized people. Someone comes selling chai, someone comes selling books, someone comes begging… but this time I saw snakes in the train.

I saw a group of snake charmers showing snakes to the people and asking for money and people were offering money to them as snakes are related with Lord Shiva and are considered holy in Hindu religion. I was really surprised but was laughing at the same but it seemed really strange to me. Snakes in the train and no one to stop them? Anyways, I was able to film it. Enjoy!