Tour package of Varanasi

I recently worked with a travel agency as a mute guide with an Italian group. Actually the group already had an escort who knew Benares very well but he did not have a tourist guide license so I was hired just to be with the group as their mute guide. I had already worked with so many tourists as a tour guide in Varanasi and all of them were my direct clients but had no experience of working with a group which was traveling through a travel agency so I was so excited for working with a travel agency for the first time.

I was asked to meet the group at Sarnath where they were going to arrive directly from the airport. I met them at Sarnath and the escort asked me just to be with him at all the entrance points of the monuments. The group went first to the Sarnath ruins and I saw the escort explaining something in Italian for like 10-15 minutes  and then he gave free time to the clients and came to me. Now the clients were alone wandering here and there in the ruins which seemed like a nice idea to me.

After the ruins we headed to the museum where the escort explained only four statues and then again gave free time to the clients and came to me and clients were alone again. I asked him if he had asked his clients about whether they want his company or they want to be free and he said that he never asks, he just tells them in a very professional way to go explore the place on their own. This sounded a little weird to me. I also give free time to my clients but I ask them first about it. Anyways, I don’t know if my style is better or his style. It seemed like the clients never complained about it so it was fine.

After the visit to the museum we headed straight to the hotel which was really surprising to me because the clients did not get to the visit the Buddha temple and the Bodhi tree which is really an important place for all the Buddhists and Hindus. In fact these are the only places where you see something alive going on and where people do rituals which seems more interesting than visiting a museum or a ruins. Anyways, clients did not complain about it and I think the reason behind it was that they did not know about these places.

After checking in the hotel, the clients were given an hour to be ready to visit the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Finally I met them again at the Dashashwamedh Ghat where there was a boat already waiting for us. We took the boat and headed to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremation ground. We hardly spent ten minutes at the cremation ground and headed back again to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to see the evening time ceremony.  After the ceremony the clients went back to the hotel and I went back home.

I met them again next morning for a boat ride at 5 o’clock and we did a boat ride for about an hour and then just walked inside the narrow BCE time alleys and went to Vishwanath Temple (The Golden Temple). The clients went inside the temple with the escort and I was just waiting for them outside. After the visit to the temple their tour finished. It was a really different experience for me but I was always thinking about those poor clients who spent only 20 hours in Varanasi, wherein they spent at least 12 hours in the hotel, 3 hours in the bus and hardly 5 hours exploring the city where one can easily spend three to four days and even this much will not be enough.

After completing the tour, one of the clients asked the escort to take him to the old city because he wanted to photograph the people and their daily lives and the escort asked me to take him to the Dashashwamedh Ghat area. The escort had asked me not to take the client further away than the Dashashwamedh Ghat area and just give him some free time. We took an autorickshaw and went to this place but as soon as I got off the vehicle and asked the client if he would like to go alone or wanted me also to come with him, I could easily see how confused he was.

He asked me to come with him and I took him to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the vegetable market and then walked again inside the alleys where there was real life of Varanasi. And the client was just surprised, shocked and happy also.  He told me that they never get to see a such place as where I took him. He took a lot of pics and was asking so many innocent questions and by hearing his questions one could easily say that he did not know anything about India. I took him to a vegetable market and he asked me if it was a vegetable market for people living in the slums. But when I told him that this is how our vegetable markets are everywhere he told me that he did not get to see anything like this before in his entire trip.

Once I asked the escort about how much the travel agency charged them and I was shocked to hear that the clients had paid about Rs. 20,000 ($500) per day/ per person. There were six people in this group so that means Rs. 1,20,000 ($3000)  for those 5 hours of travel and accommodation in Taj hotel and they did not even see that Buddha temple, Bodhi tree and people doing their business on the road and along the river which I have noticed as being the most interesting thing for a foreign visitor to Varanasi. I feel sorry for such kind of tourists but maybe they want this, who knows? Anyways, it was a good experience for me to work with them.

Widows in Vrindavan

I worked again with Irene who was doing her M.A. from Ca’Foscari University of Venice and her research topic was Hindu widows. I had already worked with her in October 2009 in Benares but this time she wanted to visit Vrindavan because she had heard a lot about Bengali widows living in Vrindavan and how important this city is for Hindu widows. I contacted my friend Yashu who lives in Vrindavan and asked him to help as I also did not know much about Vrindavan. He promised to help me and in fact he arranged everything- hotel, food and many interviews also.

Irene had already heard about Bhajan Ashrams (ashrams where chantings are organized) working in Vrindavan and she wanted to visit them and see if it was possible to interview women there. I had also heard about widows working at Bhajan Ashrams before but I had no about idea of how big and how many Bhajan Ashrams were there in Vrindavan. I think there was at least one ashram in each alley and few of them were really huge, having three-four thousand widows under the same roof.

These bhajan ashrams are run by rich religious people. They give Rs. 2 and a little bit of rice and a little bit of lentils to each widow chanting for three hours. They have two to three shifts of work. The first shift start around 8 o’clock in the morning whereas the last shift of work ends around 6 o’clock in the evening. Not just any widow can enter in any bhajan ashram and start chanting and then get some money. They have to get registered with the ashram first and then their timing is decided and only then they can work.

There are thousands of widows living in Vrindavan and most of them, over 90% come from Bengal and do not speak any Hindi. Some of them live in a government widow ashram, some of them stay at private ashrams, some of them have rented a room and  some just sleep somewhere on the road or along the river Yamuna. Over 95% of the widows living in Vrindavan make their living from working at bhajan ashrams and begging. All of these women go to bhajan ashrams in the day time and then beg in evening and morning time when there are more pilgrims going to the temples.

Vrindavan is also called city of temples, there are around 5,000 temples in Vrindavan and this city is considered as a holy place amongst Hindus so hundreds of thousands of people visit the city every year. And since people visit the city for religious purpose, people donate a lot of things which makes Vrindavan a good place for begging. It was very sad to see the number of beggers in Vrindavan. I think most of the widows living in Vrindavan are involved in begging.

We asked them why did they chose Vrindavan only and why not some other place like Varanasi or Haridwar as they are also sacred cities for Hindus. Most of them said that since Vrindavan is very popular amongst Bengalis, most of the Bengali widows come to Vrindavan. We asked them why Vrindavan is popular and most of them did not know the reason behind it but one lady who was not a widow told us a very interesting story about why Vrindavan is popular amongst Bengali people.

She told us a story of two brothers who used to work as a cashier at some king’s palace. Once they were working at the king’s palace and while working they ordered a glass of water with sugar but by mistake the servant mixed salt instead of sugar and gave the drink to those two brothers. They drank it and did not realize that there was salt instead of sugar because they were too busy with their work. But later when the servant realized that he had made this mistake by giving salty drink instead of sugar, he went to those two brothers to say sorry.

He told those two brothers that they he had mixed salt instead of sugar in their water but those two brothers did not believe it. The servant told them again the same thing and then these brothers asked the servant that if he had mixed salt instead of sugar then how come they did not feel it while drinking it. And the servant answered that since they were too much busy in their work, they did not realize whether there was sugar or salt in the water. Both brothers were shocked to hear this and this feeling changed their whole lives.

They thought if they would have worked with the same honesty to find the God, the way they had been working for the king, they could have found God. This was the moment when they decided to leave the materialistic life and devote themselves completely to the God. They left their job and came to Vrindavan, which used to be a jungle those days, to meditate and devote themselves completely to the God. They became so popular amongst people that the king of India decided to meet them. When the king came to see these brothers, they were sitting on a ghat along Yamuna river and meditating.

The king told to one of the brothers that he was so happy with their devotion to the God that he wanted to do something for them. He offered any kind of help or money they wanted. These brothers asked the king to get the broken stones repaired at the ghat. The king started laughing and went to see the ghat. But when he arrived there he found that this whole ghat was made of precious stones. These stones were so expensive that they were not available even in the palace of the king. At that moment he realized the supernatural powers of those brothers and immediately went back to them and said that he had realized his mistake of offering just anything.

He said that he was unable to give them what they already had but he still wanted to give something to them. He said to those brothers to that he would donate them all the land he could see from his eyes at once. One of the brothers stood up and looked around and finally all the land they could see from eyes by standing at one place was donated to them and this land is what we call Vrindavan now. So the people meant to say that the city Vrindavan was established by Bengalis and this is why it is so popular amongst Bengalis, very interesting story.

We could interview only ten women in a city where there were thousands of widows because most of these widows did not know any Hindi and I did not know their language. Anyways, we visited a government widow ashram also. There were two government run widow ashrams- one run by the central government and other one was run by the state government of UP. The ashram run by the central government seemed more organized than the state government one. It was new building with at least 500-600 rooms. There were about 2700 widows living in the same building.

We met a government employee there who was working as a helper. We asked for permission to take interviews and he seemed fine with it. He said that all the widows staying in the building come to him everyday in the morning time to get free grains which are provided to them by the government. He said that we could interview them when they come. We were just sitting there and I noticed a lady watching us from another building. She called me and started asking me why we were there and when I told her about Irene’s research she said that it was not allowed.  She asked us to go to the district magistrate and get permission from him.

It seemed really strange but we could not do anything. We did not understand why she was stopping us. Then we went to the biggest Bhajan ashram of Vrindavan but the same thing happened there as well; they did not allow us to talk with the widows there. Finally we reached to the state government run widow ashram and met the security guard of that building and explained the project to him. He was a really nice guy. He said that the officers were not at the ashram now and told us to complete the interview before she comes back.

I asked him why he was telling us to complete the interview before the officer arrives and he said that officers do not allow anyone to talk with widows living there. I asked why they don’t allow and he answered that since both of the officers working at the ashram were completely corrupt and eat the pension money which comes for the widows, they do not want others to know about it. I was really sad to hear this. He said that the government provides a monthly pension to the widows but these officers keep half of it for their enrichment and give only half to the widows.

He said that first of all they ask for Rs. 300 to all the widows just to get them their pension registration card and then they say that it takes about a year for pension to start when in fact registration is free and the pension is started within only a few days. He meant to say that the officers keep all of the first year pension money for themselves and then start pension from the second year and they give only half of it. We asked him how many widows were living at that ashram and he said about 300 which means these government officers steal Rs. 90,000 per month.

He said that they give a small percentage to other government officers also like the district magistrate and other people but most of the money goes to them. I was seriously shocked to hear all of these stories. I just could not believe how someone could take money of those poor women who work for only Rs. 2 and a little bit of grains everyday? Anyways, now I knew the reason why that other government officer at central government run widow ashram did not want us to interview women living there. It was very sad but this was the truth.

We realized that it was very difficult to interview the women living at ashrams so we decided to interview the women who live independently. We started visiting widows at their homes and started talking with women on the road or living in small ashrams. All of them had seriously sad stories. Most of them were married at a very early age and their husbands also died soon after the marriage. They were not allowed to study and finally they decided to leave  home and come to Vrindavan. Some of them left home because their children did not care about them.

We interview to a few Bengali women who said that they stay for about 11 months in Vrindavan, save some money and grains and then go back to visit their family and give all of their savings to their children. We noticed something really interesting- that idea of the reason of their widowhood is sin in their past life was not so popular amongst Bengalis whereas widows from North India had this strong belief that the reason of their widowhood in the present life is because of the sin they had done in their past lives.

Most of the North Indian people believe that the biggest discrimination with widows happens in the Bengal region but the Bengali woman whom we talked with said that they never felt discriminated. It was really strange to hear them saying this. I think that they do not see the discrimination; as a discrimination, they think that this is the way it should be. Anyways, we all know that widows are discriminated all over India, but the biggest discrimination is there in Bengal region.

We got to interview a few Hindi speaking non-Bengali women also. We asked them why did they choose Vrindavan and they said that since Vrindavan has a lot of Bhajan ashrams where at least Rs.2 with some grains is provided, it was a good option for them come to Vrindavan instead of dying at their place. It was a very interesting answer but I do not know to what extent it was true. We interviewed a few widow women who said that it is much better to stay at home and find a job rather than going to an ashram and living like a beggar. I liked this idea better.

We asked all the widows about the remarriage of widows and we noticed something really interesting that most of the widows who were close to 70 years old said that remarriages should happen but all the widows who were close to 40 or 50 said that remarriage of a widow a big sin. They believe that the God has given them punishment in the form of their widowhood life and they should respect it because if they do not respect it then they will go to hell and will become a widow again in their next life so it is much better to live like a widow in one life rather going to hell and becoming a widow again in the next life.

I think the reason behind older women believing in the idea of remarriages was they had already seen their whole lives and now they were alone and helpless so they they think that it is much better to remarry and have a family whereas young widows can take care of themselves hence they believe in living alone. Anyways, it is only my idea; I still do not understand what could be the reason behind it. After coming back from Vrindavan we decided to contact some religious person to ask him questions about what is there in Hindu sacred texts for widows.

We met a woman who had done her Ph.D. in Sanskrit and works as a katha speaker at several temples and ashrams in and out of Varanasi. We asked what could be the reason behind a woman becoming widow and she told us several interesting things about what is written about widows in Hindu sacred texts. She said according to Hindu texts if you try to disturb a couple or make them marry with someone else forcibly, this could also cause you lose your life partner in your next life. I asked her what if a man does it and she said that the rules are the same for men and women both so men can also be punished in the same way.

The second reason could be if you are married but you have relations with other people. There are two kinds of punishment for this sin- one is that when you go to the hell, you have to make relations with a burning iron body and the other is you could lose your life partner in your next life. She said that making relations while in the menstrual cycle could also be a reason of widowhood in next life. All of these reasons seemed genuine to me and made one thing clear that love marriages were accepted in Hinduism and there is a very hard punishment for not accepting it. I think the parents who do not want their children to marry with their girlfriend or boyfriend should think about it now, otherwise they could become a widow in their next life:)

After studying Hindu widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi, I have developed this impression that the widows who decided to stay with their family and find a job, even small, are much more happier than those widows who decide to stay at Ashrams or go begging. I do understand where did this idea of staying at ashrams and discriminating against widows came from, but the situation is very sad and corrupt government officers make the situation more sad. Again I see only one solution of this problem- education, education to women. I believe that if women are educated and have working skills, they can at least try to find a good job and live a better and happy life. But lets see when the government of India will become serious about education for women.

Hindi classes with Italian cultural center

I have been doing something for the past two months that I had not done before. I am working as a Hindi teacher with the students at Centro Risorse India center. I am giving walking classes which is very interesting and fun but sometimes it is really boring when I meet someone who is really beginner. I was asked to give walking classes by Marco, the chief of Centro Risorse India center, about two months ago but I was not really prepared for it because I had never done it before but Marco told me to just try it once and if I like it, they would give me more work.

I also had two-three free hours so I decided to go for it. I worked with a girl named Caterina first time. I took her out and we started talking in Hindi. But I thought that only general communication in Hindi would be no fun for the students so I thought why not make it interesting by choosing some topic about Benares or anything in India and talk about it and it worked very well. Caterina, a student from University of Venice was my first student and I took her out but I was a little nervous first day. I chose the topic ” History of Nagwa” for my first day of work. Nagwa is the neighborhood where Caterina lives.

We talked about Nagwa for a while and then we talked about a few controversial political and social issues of Nagwa and spent two hours only talking about them and finally the class was over. Now I have worked with many students after Caterina and I like this job but only when students know good enough Hindi to express themselves in Hindi. I like this job because its not only me who talks about India or Benares in front of a foreigner but I also get to learn about foreign countries and culture by talking with foreign students.

Once I got a student who just did not know any Hindi, it was super frustrating. I finally told her to work on Hindi grammar first and then contact me. The students I have worked with have given good feedback about my work and now the university wants to give me some kind of language and teaching training in Venice for a month which sounds exciting but I am not sure if I should go there because they want me to come to Italy in June when I want to go to America. I will see but if there will be any opportunity for me to visit neighboring countries of Italy after the training then I would love to go there.

Italian language course

I have joined Italian language course. I have always wanted to learn any foreign language but there was not much opportunity for me in Varanasi as BHU and Sampoornanand Sanskrit Universitiy were the only two places in Varanasi teaching foreign languages and BHU did not allow outers and going to Sampooranand was just like waste of time. I was not so interested in Italian but I enrolled for the classes thinking that if I would wait for BHU or any other place then I would not be able to learn anything for years.

I wanted to learn German and Sampoornanand University offers 6 months diploma courses in six or seven foreign languages and German is also one of them. I had enrolled for German classes about four years ago but did not go there because they were just not running the classes properly and I was so worried about it. The other students at the university told me to not worry about it because they give certificate to each and every student whoever enrolls for the program, even if they do not pass the final exam. So finally I decided to stop going there.

This Italian language course is run by an Italian institution called Centro Risorse India. Centro Risorse India doesn’t only teach Italian to Indians but they also help Italian students in India and I work as translator at Centro Risorse India Varanasi branch. The whole course is of 50 hours, 3 hours on every weekends. The classes take place at a school near Godoulia. They have two teachers. One of them is an Indian girl from Delhi who also works for Centro Resource India, Pune center and other girl is an Italian scholar who speaks good Hindi.

There are 6 students including me. One of them is also a tour guide and works with Japanese tourists. Other one is a Hindi teacher. Our teachers are very good. They are not using that traditional method of teaching where they use only books to teach. They put us in different kinds of games, role plays and make us talk often. I don’t really know how long would it take me to start speaking or writing in Italian but it seems so hard and confusing. The pronunciation and grammar is something completely new to me. I will try my best but lets see how long does it take.

Widows in Varanasi

I worked with a student named Irine from University of Venice who wanted to study widows in Varanasi. She was more interested in prostitution of widows at widow ashrams in Varanasi. I asked her how she decided to chose this subject and she said that she watched the movie Water and got interested in this subject. I also liked the subject very much but I was not sure if I would find some widow to ask them questions about prostitution. But this subject was very interesting to me so I agreed to work with her. I did some research and found that there was a government widow ashram near my home.

We went there and found that there were about 18 widows living at that ashram. The ashram did not look in a good condition. There was a garden and free space but the building was not maintained well. It looked like a building built in early 1900. Somebody at the office told me that there was a rich pilgrim from Kolkata visiting Varanasi who met a widow somewhere at some Ghat and heard her stories which made him think about building a widow ashram in Varanasi. He built this building and gave it to the government and now the building is looked after by the department of women welfare for the government of Uttar Pradesh.

This is the only government widow ashram in whole Uttar Pradesh. There was a woman in-charge of the office. I explained her about Irine’s project and she allowed us to interview widows there. The Ashram was divided into two parts- one for the women who could take care of themselves and one part of the ashram was for the women who were not physically fit. The widows have to cook food for themselves. They get only Rs. 550 (US$ 12) per month by the government.

All the widows and the office in-charge told us that government did not send any money for the past three months so widows did not have any money at all. The office in-charge told me that there are few local people who are regular donors to the ashram and their donation and government money together keeps the widows alive otherwise only government money is not enough and I also believe it. Rs. 550 for one month, how can someone survive with that much money for a month?

The widows who are fit enough to take care of themselves live on the ground floor of the building and other woman who are too old and not physically fit live on the first floor. Government has provided a small gas stove to all the widows and each widow cook food for herself on her own. Ashram has a kitchen also where food is cooked for the women who can not cook food and cooking is done by a office staff. There is a washing machine to clean the laundry but I am not sure who does the laundry.

The rooms are big and there are four beds in each room. Irine wanted to talk about prostitution of widows at widow ashrams but I did not know how to ask widows about prostitution. All of the widows at that ashram are over 65, few are over 80. We decided to visit the ashram again and again, become friends with widows and office staffs and then see if something comes out. We asked about other widows ashram in Varanasi to the office staffs and they gave address of two other ashrams in Varanasi. One was very close to my place which is called Mata Anandmayi Ashram.

We went there and found that Mata Anandmayi Ashram is basically a school for girls to study religion. The peon at the office told me that there were over 20 widows also at the ashram but the manager of the ashram was so rude to us. He did not want to talk about anything. He just said that they do not keep widows at their ashram. I don’t know why he did not want to talk about their work but it was strange. We could meet or talk with anyone at the ashram but the rude manager and peon.

We went to one other ashram called Birla ashram at Chowk, Varanasi which was built by Birla family. There were about 20 widows living there but we could not talk with any widow the very first day. We met a crazy woman who was wife of some IAS officer. I don’t know how she had a room there, although she was not a widow. She told me that her husband had arranged a room at this ashram for her as she wanted to stay in Varanasi for religious reasons. She also did not want us to talk with widows at the ashram.

She asked me to come after few days because she wanted to talk with someone at the office back in Kolkata first. We talked with her for a while and then decided to leave for now and come back again. We went there after a few days and fortunately this crazy lady was not there this time. We met a widow but she was busy that day. She told me that most of the widows who live at Birla ashram work as cook at different houses. She told us that the Ashram doesn’t provide anything but a room to the widows.

I am not sure if the Benares office eats everything and doesn’t provide anything but rooms or this is how they work but it sounded strange to me because there were a few women who just could not do anything. When widows die, they inform the family and if nobody comes, they just cremate the body sometimes in traditional way and sometimes at electric burner. All of the women whom we met were over 60 which was a clear indication of change in the society.

The life stories of widows was really sad and interesting. Different widows had different stories behind leaving their homes and staying at the ashrams.Some of them were kicked out of their home by their own children, somebody was kicked out by their daughter in laws, somebody just did not want to stay with the family as they felt like they were an extra burden to the family. But there was something common in most of the women that they were married at a very young age. It was crazy to hear that some of them were married only when they were 6 or 7 years old.

If I remember correctly, I met over 5 women who were married at the age of 6 or 7 and their husband died when they were only 10. They just never lived with their husbands. We interviewed a woman from Chennai who was the smartest woman amongst all we women we met at both ashrams. When Irene met her first time, her first question to Irene was- who is the prime minister of Italy nowadays. She was married at the age of seven and then lived with her parents for four years because her Gauna had not happened. Gauna is a part of Hindu weddings which is about the bride living with her parents for few days or sometimes few years, depending on the family, even after getting married.

She said that she went to live with her husband after six years of her marriage at the age of eleven but she was again separated from her husband for an year because of some family tradition of her husband’s family. She was not allowed to sleep or even talk with her husband for one year, even they were living in the same house. She used to cook the food for her husband but would sleep with her sister in laws. She lived in the same house where her husband was living but she could not even talk to him and after an year her husband died.

She said that she just knew that her husband had died but she did not know what husband mean. Her parents brought her back to their house and she led her whole life living with their parents and sister. She said that after few years when she came to know that her husband was already dead and she would not be able to marry again, it brought her vairagya and decided to study and work. She could not go school for long time but she studied at home and started giving classes to students. She used to teach maths and science to the students of up to class 10th.

After her parents died, she went to live with her sister and stayed there for several years. But few months ago she felt like she was an extra burden to the family and decided to leave Chennai. She came to Benares to commit suicide. She jumped in the Ganga but was saved by a boat rower. The boat rower informed the police about it and police sent her to widow ashram. Now she prays everyday to die. Her story was really heart-touching but she was really a brave woman. She was just awesome.

She explained us south Indian tradition for widows which sounded a bit different than north Indian tradition. She said that once the husband dies, the widow is brought somewhere near the river and her hairs are shaved. She said that widows are made sit seperately and family and neighbours bring sarees and throw at widows face from distance. They don’t even come close to the widow and give the saree. Something seemed different in south than north which was widows in south India are allowed to wear either white or red saree whereas in North India widows are allowed to wear only white and I have not heard of people throwing saress on widow’s face but when I think of widow’s condtion, I feel like this could be possible in north as well.

We asked all the woman a common question which was why somebody becomes a widow because Irine had read that Hindu widows believe that they are widow because of some sin of their past life and each and every widow were agree with this idea. We asked if they think that a widower is also a widower because of some sin they did in their past life but here answer was different. Widows said that men have different life, they can be fine even if they are a widower so definitely they must have done some sin but their sin is not as big as a widow’s sin.

There is a very strong idea amongst widows that they must follow all the rules made for widows which are like not eating tasty food, not talking with any male, not going out, not wearing colored clothes, not getting involved in any kind of celebration etc. which means anything that makes a person happy. We asked all the widows about it also and everyone but that Chennai woman said that all the widows must follow these rules because this is the way they can fix their sins and if their sins are not fixed then will have to live in hell after they die.

We asked if widows should marry again and a few, hardly 3 or 4, of them said that they should but most of them said that a lot of widows marry nowadays which is really bad. They must follow the traditional widow life. Some of them seemed angry talking about how widows marry nowadays or how they dress in colorful clothes or how they go out. It was strange. But I noticed one thing that none of the widows were educated except one Chennai and one Benares woman and all of them were married at very young age.

One of the widows at government ashram who was from Bengal told me that widow life in Benares is crazy. They are discriminated everywhere. They are not allowed to participate in any wedding. Nobody likes to see them. If somebody sees them while getting out of their home, they get back into home again and rest for a while and then come out again. Because it is considered a bad luck to see the face of a widow. She said that widows are never ever invited to any wedding as it is believed that shade of a widow can make the bride widow.

All of the widows at the ashram were living there because of religious choice but it is hard for me to believe that it is real Hindu practice. I am sure that real Hindu religion doesn’t discriminate between men and women and gives extreme importance to women so I think that the ideas that widows at ashrams are following are also given by crazy Bramhins and Khstriyas of middle age. It was hard for me to believe how the widows are punishing themselves.

I have learnt a lot while working with students but one of the most important things I have learnt is that Brmhins, Khatriyas, English, Muslims or anyone who ruled India did serious damage and condition of women in India now is terrible, only and only because of them. I think only education can solve this problem but the way Indian government is providing education, it seems like it will take ages for women to get equal rights and come out of these crazy ideas such as following strict widow life and punishing themselves.

Good people and bad people look for jobs

The title of this post is upside down because I have noticed a few things where quality is thrown out and garbage is being collected by our people and government. First off I want to talk about my brother who is an Italian interpreter and works for a very big travel agency in India. He lives in Delhi and has been working as interpreter and escort with Italian tourists and researchers for the last two years. He doesn’t have a tour guide license but he has very good knowledge.

A lot of Italian travel agencies recommend him for their groups. He started working two years ago and his first group was of only two people. His last group consisted of sixty people. It means that he progressed rapidly. He has to hire a government-authorized tour guide in all the cities he goes to with his clients because non-licensed guys are not allowed to work. The guides that he hires are supposed to be quiet and let him work. They are hired just to protect him.

A lot of government authorized guides don’t like him anymore because he gets big groups, and those guides have to be satisfied with small groups. Last week he went to Jama Masjid in Delhi with his clients but he was stopped by the licensed tour guides at the entrance gate. They asked for his license but my brother did not have it, but he had a licensed guy with him. Government authorized guides asked this other licensed guy if he knew Italian. This other guide was a English speaking guide and did not know any Italian.

Government authorized guides told my brother that he could not go inside the Jama Masjid because neither did he have a license nor the licensed guy know Italian. Even though they are not authorized to check the license but they did it. All the guides have same license, it doesn’t not talk about any specific language. You just need to have a license and then you can work. But those government authorized guides wanted my brother to have an Italian speaking guide. I am sure this was all done to disturb him.

At the same time another group of my brother’s travel agency came at Jama Masjid and they had an Italian-speaking government guide. My brother sent his group with this Italian-speaking guide but he could not work. Same thing happened with him in Rajasthan also and again he had to find an Italian speaking government authorized tour guide. Finally he gave up and has stopped working now. He says that he will work with a few groups that had already propositioned his travel agency to send him with them and then maybe not work in the future.

He is not working this year. Now he has switched to operations. He never worked in operations but now it is his compulsion to work in this new department. He says that maybe the government guides will never let him work in the future therefore he needs to learn something new. I am not concerned about his future because he is very smart and can get a job very easily but I think about the politics in tourism industry. A guy who has very good knowledge and experience has been thrown out and the other guys who are outdated and don’t know anything are given work and support. UPSIDE DOWN.

Another story is about one of my relatives. He is a twenty-four year old guy who never wanted to go to school. He always wanted to be a criminal. He has been arrested by the police several times for several reasons. He went to school for a few years but never as a student. His father works at a Sanskrit university in Benares. He arranged 10th and 12th class certificates for his son by bribing some school in the state of Bihar. Later he arranged a graduation degree from his university. Now the son has a graduate degree without going to school ever.

His father got him admitted in a B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) course somewhere in a university in Gujrat state. This was also done by bribing because the son never participated in any kind of admission test. The son still stays at home and is involved in the same kind of bad work that he has been doing for years but his record at the university is maintained properly. So after three years he will have a B.Ed. degree and will become a teacher. His father says that he can get a teacher’s job at some government school for his son by bribing government officers.

Last year I saw a news paper advertisement for peon job in the municipality of Benares. The requirements for this job were 8th class passed certificate and knowledge of bicycle driving because peons are supposed to visit the nearby areas and watch the illegal construction. But a lot of Masters and Ph.D degree holders had applied for this job. It shows that even Masters and Ph.D degree holders have no job here. Finally the municipality invited all the highly educated guys for the interview, and Masters and Ph.D degree holders got jobs as peon.

They said that since they were facing job problems, they decided to just start something. Now Ph.D degree holders will drive bicycles and watch the illegal construction and report it to the municipality. Their whole lives labor did not help them. I am sure they will be involved in lots of bribing because peons get very little money and usually they bear their expenses by getting bribe from the people who do illegal construction or do any kind of municipality-related work.

So a guy who never went to school will become a teacher in the future and the guys who have Pd.D degrees are working as peon in this municipality. I was wondering what my relative could teach to the students- how to loot people? or how to beat someone? And the guys who did research, did a lot of labor have the lowest job in the industry. UPSIDE DOWN.

Tour guide for Italians

I worked with Gianni and Marco, two Italians, as their tour guide in Benares from 19th to 21st. They contacted me through Giona, the Italian guy I had worked with last week. Gianni works in Event sector and Marco was a Architect. They were staying in Ganges Views Hotel at Assi ghat.

They had only two days for Benares therefore we could not go to all the places we wanted to. We missed Tulsi Manas temple, BHU Museum and Kina Ram Monastery. It was raining hard and Boat ride was also prohibited by Police when they were in Benares. But we had two short boat ride (evening and morning) from Assi to Pandey ghat.

We went to see a religious lecture also at Marwari Sewa Sangh, Assi which they liked a lot. They bought a lot of stuffs like a Shivalingam, a bull statue, a big candle holder which is used for Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat and lots of toys.

Italian guest visits Aghori society

I worked with a Italian guy named Giona Peduzzi. He contacted me first on couchsurfing asking to meet for a drink. We sent a lot of emails to each other discussing about tour of India and finally he told me arrange his tour of Banaras. He lives in Rome and works for Channel 5, the biggest private TV channel of Italy. He is a show designer and writer. He said that he writes two shows and both of them are Saturday night shows.

He arrived Benares on 6th of August and stayed until 9th of August. I had arranged his accommodation at my guest house. We went to Mother Teresa Home, Aghor monastery, Maths (where people live to wait for their death), Sarnath, Tulsi Manas temple, Sankat Mochan Temple (monkey temple), BHU, Durga temple (Ram nagar) and we visited Lali Baba also.

He was most impressed by meeting and talking to people. We went to Machali Bandar Math and talked to

I and Giona at Assi ghat

I and Giona at Assi ghat

one Sadhu who had been living there since more than 30 years and just waiting for his death. He accepted Sanyasa when he was only 50 years old and now he was over 80. Giona was shocked to see a person waiting for his death since more than 30 years. It was not shocking for me because I had already met this people while working with Sophia, an anthropology student from University of Berlin.

Giona liked Lali baba a lot. He said that Lali baba was the most fascinating character he had ever seen in his life. He liked the way Lali baba dresses himself for evening aarti, his garlands, skulls and lali baba using computer to chat. We went to Mother Teresa Home also. This is the place where I don’t want to go but cant stop myself by going. I don’t want to go because there are lots of mentally retired and sick people who cant even talk properly.

But I cant stop myself by going there because I want to do something for those people. I asked Nun about what do they have for entertainment of the sick people and she said that they have some music but occasionally like on festivals. I wanted to give a television to the monastery but she didn’t accept it because it was never used in past and she didn’t want to start anything new. I don’t understand what is bad about having a television to entertain sick people.

We went to Aghor monastery also where we visited their hospital, school and library. Giona was surprised to see their Guinness Book of World Records certificate which they have got for treating most number of leprosy patients in the world. I like this place a lot, I visit that hospital every time I go there. Giona wanted to go to Bodh Gaya for a day and then to Mumbai. He wanted to see a movie or TV serial shooting in Mumbai. I called Yogesh, who is a production manager in Bollywood, to show film city to Giona. He got agreed, I hope Giona will enjoy Mumbai with Yogesh.